Page presented by Bill Tillier.
Created in 1995.
This website presents an archive of the work of Kazimierz Dąbrowski and provides an overview of the theory of positive disintegration. The theory outlines the development of personality and the achievement of one’s unique and authentic self. The interested reader will also find a complete bibliography of Dąbrowski's works and works related to the theory, as well as an archive of these related works.
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Born: 9/1/1902 Klarów, Poland Died: 11/26/1980 Warsaw.
▣ 1.1 A short introductory film. By Zeke Degraw, used with permission.
▣ 1.2 Four seminal quotes set the stage.
1). "Personality: A self-aware, self-chosen, self-affirmed, and self-determined unity of essential individual psychic qualities. Personality as defined here appears at the level of secondary integration" (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 301).
2). "The propensity for changing one's internal environment and the ability to influence positively the external environment indicate the capacity of the individual to develop. Almost as a rule, these factors are related to increased mental excitability, depressions, dissatisfaction with oneself, feelings of inferiority and guilt, states of anxiety, inhibitions, and ambivalences—all symptoms which the psychiatrist tends to label psychoneurotic. Given a definition of mental health as the development of the personality, we can say that all individuals who present active development in the direction of a higher level of personality (including most psychoneurotic patients) are mentally healthy" (Dąbrowski, 1964, p. 112).
3). "Intense psychoneurotic processes are especially characteristic of accelerated development in its course towards the formation of personality. According to our theory accelerated psychic development is actually impossible without transition through processes of nervousness and psychoneuroses, without external and internal conflicts, without maladjustment to actual conditions in order to achieve adjustment to a higher level of values (to what 'ought to be'), and without conflicts with lower level realities as a result of spontaneous or deliberate choice to strengthen the bond with reality of higher level" (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 220).
4). "Psychoneuroses 'especially those of a higher level' provide an opportunity to 'take one's life in one's own hands'. They are expressive of a drive for psychic autonomy, especially moral autonomy, through transformation of a more or less primitively integrated structure. This is a process in which the individual himself becomes an active agent in his disintegration, and even breakdown. Thus the person finds a 'cure' for himself, not in the sense of a rehabilitation but rather in the sense of reaching a higher level than the one at which he was prior to disintegration. This occurs through a process of an education of oneself and of an inner psychic transformation. One of the main mechanisms of this process is a continual sense of looking into oneself as if from outside, followed by a conscious affirmation or negation of conditions and values in both the internal and external environments. Through the constant creation of himself, though the development of the inner psychic milieu and development of discriminating power with respect to both the inner and outer milieus—an individual goes through ever higher levels of 'neuroses' and at the same time through ever higher levels of universal development of his personality" (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 4).
These quotes capture the heart of Dąbrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration. The theory describes a process of personality development—the creation of a unique, individual personality.
Most people become socialized by their early family and school experiences. They largely accept the values and mores of society with little question and have no internal conflict in abiding by the basic tenets of society. In some cases, a person begins to notice and to imagine 'higher possibilities' in life. These disparities are driven by overexcitability—an intense reaction to, and experience of the day-to-day stimuli of life. Eventually, one's perception of reality becomes differentiated into a hierarchy and all aspects of both external and internal life come to be evaluated on a vertical continuum of 'lower versus higher.' This experience often creates a series of deep and painful conflicts between lower, 'habitual' perceptions and reactions based on one's heredity and environment (socialization) and higher, volitional 'possibilities.' In the developing individual, these conflicts may lead to disintegrations and psychoneuroses, for Dąbrowski, hallmarks of advanced growth. Eventually, through the processes of advanced development and positive disintegration, one is able to develop control over one's reactions and actions. Eventually, development culminates in the inhibition and extinction of lower levels of reality and behavior and their transcendence via the creation of a higher, autonomous and stable ideal self. The rote acceptance of social values yields to a critically examined and chosen hierarchy of values and aims that becomes a unique expression of the self—becoming one's personality ideal.
Dąbrowski acknowledged the strong and primitive influence of heredity (the first factor) and the robotic, dehumanizing (and de-individualizing) role of the social environment (the second factor). He also described a third factor of influence, a factor emerging from but surpassing heredity—"its activity is autonomous in relation to the first factor (hereditary) and the second (environmental) factor. It consists in a selective attitude with regard to the properties of one's own character and temperament, as well as, to environmental influences" (Dąbrowski, 1973, p. 80). The third factor is initially expressed when a person begins to resist their lower impulses and the habitual responses characteristic of socialization. Emerging autonomy is reflected in conscious and volitional choices toward what a person perceives as 'higher' in their internal and external milieus. Over time, this 'new' conscious shaping of the personality comes to reflect an individual 'personality ideal,' an integrated hierarchy of values describing the sense of whom one wants to be and how one wants to live life. With the new freedom and force of the third factor, a person can see and avoid the lower in life and transcend to higher levels. The 'ought to be' of life can replace 'the what is.' It is important to realize that this is not simply an actualization of oneself as is; it involves tremendous conscious work in differentiating the higher and lower in the self and in moving away from lower selfish and egocentric goals toward an idealized image of how 'you ought to be.'
The idealized self is consciously constructed based on both emotional and cognitive foundations. Emotion and cognition become integrated and are reflected in a new approach to life—feelings direct and shape ideas, goals and ideals, one's ideals work to express one's feelings. imagination is a critical component in this process—we can literally imagine how it ought to be and how could be in this establishes ideals to try to attain.
Initially, people who are acting on low impulses or who are simply robotically emulating society have little self conflict. Most conflicts are external. During development, the clash between one's actual behavior and environment and one's imagined ideals creates a great deal of internal conflict. This conflict literally motivates the individual to resolve the situation, ideally by inhibiting those aspects he or she considers lower and by accentuating those aspects he or she considers higher. At the highest levels, there is a new harmony of thought, emotion and action that eliminates internal conflict. The individual is behaving in accord with their own personality ideal and consciously derived value structure and therefore feels no internal conflict. Often a person's external focus shifts to 'making the world a better place.'
▣ 1.3 Two depictions of the levels of the theory.
In describing development, Dąbrowski elaborated two qualitatively different experiences of life—unilevel and multileveled—divided into five levels. These two main qualitatively different stages and types of life are the heteronomous, which is biologically and socially determined (unilevel), and the autonomous, which is determined by the multilevel forces of higher development. Level I is heteronomous, aka unilevel. Level III and above, autonomous (multilevel). Level II is transitional, a brief intense time of unilevel crisis—a test of character from which one normally will either regress or advance.
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▣ 1.4 Be Greeted Psychoneurotics.
From the Filmwest movie, Be Greeted Psychoneurotics.
Suffering, aloneness, self-doubt, sadness, inner conflict; these are our feelings that we have not learned to live with, that we have failed to appreciate, that we reject as destructive and completely negative, but in fact they are symptoms of an expanding consciousness. Dr. Kazimierz Dąbrowski has spent 45 years piecing together the complete picture of the growth of the human psyche from primitive integration at birth; the person with potential for development will experience growth as a loosening of the stable psychic structure accompanied by symptoms of psychoneuroses. Reality becomes multileveled, the choices between higher and lower realms of behavior occupy our thought and mark us as human. Dąbrowski called this process positive disintegration, he declares that psychoneurosis is not an illness and he insists that development does not come through psychotherapy but that psychotherapy is automatic when the person is conscious of his development.
To Dąbrowski, therapy is autopsychotherapy; it is the self being aware of the self through a long inner investigation; a mapping of the inner environment. There are no techniques to eliminate symptoms because the symptoms constitute the very psychic richness from which grow an increasing awareness of body, mind, humanity and cosmos. Dąbrowski gives birth to that process if he can.
Without intense and painful introspection and reflection, development is unlikely. Psychoneurotic symptoms should be embraced and transformed into anxieties about human problems of an ever higher order. If psychoneuroses continue to be classified as mental illness, then perhaps it is a sickness better than health.
"Without passing through very difficult experiences and even something like psychoneurosis and neurosis we cannot understand human beings and we cannot realize our multidimensional and multilevel development toward higher and higher levels." Dąbrowski.
▣ 1.5 Dąbrowski captured the essence of psychoneuroses and development in his poem: Be Greeted Psychoneurotics.
▣ 3.1 TPD 101. Overviews.
▣ 3.2 TPD 201. Primary PowerPoint.
▣ 3.3 TPD 301.
▣ 3.4 TPD 401. Secondary PowerPoint.
▣ 3.5 201/401 Appendixes.
▣ 3.6 201/401 Master References.
▣ 4.1 A full bibliography of Dąbrowski's work and works related to Dąbrowski's Theory.
▣ 4.2 Synopsis of Dąbrowski's major English books.
▣ 8.1 Wikipedia Page.
Note: this is an open webpage that anyone can contribute to or edit.
▣ 8.2 The Kazimierz Dąbrowski Medal
▣ 8.3 Eugenia Dąbrowski.
▣ 8.4 Dąbrowski’s Grave.
▣ 8.5 Dąbrowski in Edmonton.
▣ 8.6 In Memoriam.
▣ 8.7 Videos of Dąbrowski.
⧈ One of Dąbrowski's early students, P. J. Reese, made two half-hour movies of Dąbrowski. These have been digitalized and posted to YouTube.
⧈ In about 1965, Leo Mos was asked to host a graduate seminar asking Dąbrowski questions about the theory. This turned into three videotaped sessions.
The Polish website dedicated to Dąbrowski.
▣ 8.9 More Dąbrowski [older material].
▣ 8.10 Dąbrowski Related Web Links.
▣ 9.1 Issues.
▣ 9.2 Dąbrowski’s Levels.
▣ A.1 Posttraumatic Growth.
▣ A.2 Positive Psychology.
▣ A.3 Psychopathy.
▣ A.4 Maslow's Ideas.
▣ A.5 Maslow Bibliography.
▣ A.6 Stanley Milgram: The literature.
◼ B. Webpage Information.
▣ B.1 Contact:
⧈ This site was first posted October 26, 1995, and is maintained by Bill Tillier, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
▣ B.2 Other:
⧈ Website credits and copyrights:
⧈ The material on this site is protected by the provisions of the Copyright Act, by Canadian laws, policies, regulations and international agreements. Such provisions serve to identify the information source and, in specific instances, to prohibit reproduction of materials without written permission.