Theory of Positive Disintegration 101: On Becoming Your Authentic Self

Theory of Positive Disintegration 101: On Becoming Your Authentic Self

Do you ever wonder why some people go through a life-altering crisis only to come out the other side stronger and more at peace with themselves, while others fall apart and struggle to carry on?

It’s hard to predict who will rise from a tragedy like a phoenix from the ashes and who will need all of their strength just to keep their heads above water.

We all hope to be in the former category, of course, but it’s tough to know how we will respond to a disaster or crisis that causes us to question everything we thought we knew.

One psychological theory aims to clarify how such transformations occur, and the types of people who are likely to take advantage of such an opportunity for growth: the theory of positive disintegration.

The word “disintegration” might throw you off – this word is usually applied to situations where something dissolves entirely, burned to ashes, washed away by a tide, or swept into nothing by a strong wind.

However, this word is key to the theory. According to the developer of this theory, it is when tragedy strikes and our previous sense of self or identity is swept away like leaves on a breeze that we are at our greatest potential for growth. When we begin to question not only what we know, but who we are, we are able to pick up the pieces of ourselves that we want to keep, leave the ones we don’t and construct a new identity that is authentic to our true selves.

Of course, it doesn’t always take a tragedy of massive proportions to spark such a transformation, but one observant psychologist noticed that such circumstances are excellent catalysts for change and set off on a philosophical journey to find out how personality development unfolds.

The theory he outlined is one that has survived several decades and remains a persuasive and influential theory, particularly for understanding and encouraging the development of gifted children.

Read on to find out more about what sets apart those who thrive after upheaval from those who hit a wall in their development or even regress.

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The Theory of Positive Disintegration

This theory of personality development through integration and disintegration was developed in the 1960s by Polish psychologist and psychiatrist named Kazimierz Dąbrowski. Dąbrowski’s childhood was profoundly influenced by World War I, which began when he was only 12 and continued through several of his teenage years.

Through his firsthand experience with the tragic outcomes of war, Dąbrowski observed that some individuals fell apart while others experienced meaningful personal growth. As many others did before him and many have done since he asked: “Why?”

The answer he put together to this question became the theory of positive disintegration, which in turn laid the foundation for modern theories of post-traumatic growth (Tillier, n.d.).

While there have been many distinct theories of personality development, Dąbrowski’s is different from most in its emphasis on the role of psychological discomfort in development. Some theories of personality development hypothesize relatively smooth transitions from one level or stage to the next, but positive disintegration’s development is driven by inner conflicts, angst, and even trauma (Mika, 2005).

Dąbrowski noticed that those who harness the potential of a crisis or trauma tend to have a kind of psychological extra-sensitivity or “overexcitability” that leads them to experience crises in “a stronger, deeper, and more personal manner” (Tillier, n.d., p. 1).

These individuals were more likely to react to traumatic events with self-reflection, an act that can propel them into and through the five levels of development Dąbrowski laid out. The drives that propel individuals through development can be described as:

  • First Factor: this factor draws from the most basic and instinctual level of the self; it is the expression of genetic instincts for survival, including hunger, sexuality, and competition.
  • Second Factor: external influences from our education, relationships, and general social environment comprise the second factor; this factor drives most of our day-to-day behavior, as socialization and conformation often take place without conscious thought about how we are making our daily decisions.
  • Third Factor: the third factor is the autonomous one; this factor is the result of conscious choice about what we value and what qualities and desires we will reject or pursue. The third factor drives us to behave in ways that we feel are more authentic to our true selves (Tillier, 2016).

 

You may have noticed that these three factors (very) roughly correspond to Freud’s theory of the three components of the mind. The first factor is similar to Freud’s id, the part of the mind concerned only with meeting survival needs and acting on animal instinct. The second factor shares some similarities with the ego, in that both recognize the importance of interacting with others and taking cues from our environment. The third factor mirrors the superego’s focus on what we perceive as right and wrong and draws from our personal morals and values to drive decision making.

While Dąbrowski likely did not intend to map his theory on top of Freud’s components of the mind, it is interesting to note how influential Freud’s ideas were on psychological theory in the early to mid-1900s, and even still today.

With these three factors in mind, let’s take a look at the five levels of development proposed by Dąbrowski.

The Theory of Positive Disintegration personal growth

What we call normal is really a psychopathology of the average, so undramatic and so widely spread that we don’t even notice it ordinarily.

— Seph Fontane Pennock (@SephFontane) 15 Augustus 2015

 

Five Levels of Development in the Theory of Positive Disintegration

First, a note on progression through these levels – not every individual will progress smoothly through these levels. In fact, it seems that only those Dąbrowski recognized as high potential or highly overexcitable individuals are propelled through all five levels and emerge with a fully formed, altruistic personality, while many find themselves stalled in one of the levels of disintegration (more on this later).

The descriptions of these levels are drawn from Bailey’s 2010 article on Positive Disintegration.

Level One – Primary Integration

Primary Integration is the most basic, primitive level of development. This level is driven by the first factor, with the satisfaction of basic needs and desires as the individual’s only concerns. Those at this level (generally young children) have no need for deep or meaningful relationships with others, and disregard empathy, sympathy, or any acknowledgment of the needs and concerns of others (Bailey, 2010).

Level Two – Unilevel Disintegration

Level two is governed by the second factor and focused on conformity and social comparison. In this level, the individual is concerned with “fitting in” and is easily influenced by their social group. Some individuals at this level will begin to question the values and beliefs imposed upon them by their social group and will begin the process of discovering their own personal values and beliefs.

Level Three –Multilevel Disintegration

Individuals who began questioning their own beliefs and values in level two will begin to form their own beliefs and values in level three. They will notice the discrepancy between “the way things are” and “the way things ought to be,” a realization that will likely spark negative emotions, such as shame or guilt, as they look back on their mistakes and question themselves and their moral standing.

Level Four – Directed Multilevel Disintegration

The questioning and discovery of level three give way to increasingly goal- and value-directed behavior. The individual realizes who they are and who they want to be, and how they must act in order to be authentic. Those at level four truly care for others and act in accordance with this empathy.

Level Five – Secondary Integration

The highest level of development in Dąbrowski’s theory is marked by alignment between personal values and behavior, and the individual tailors their actions to work towards higher goals such as the betterment of society in general. The individual has formed their ideal personality and experiences peace with one’s self. All motivation is in the higher forms of empathy, autonomy, and authenticity.

Once again, you may notice the influence of another psychological theory in the description of these levels: Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This influence is no mistake – Dąbrowski was a friend of Maslow’s and an admirer of his work (Tillier, 2013). They disagreed on some key points of development, you can see the hierarchical development of increasingly actualized personality in both theories.

 

Overexcitability

According to Dąbrowski’s theory, some people have a higher development potential than others. This doesn’t mean an individual is predestined towards a specific level of development, but that there are inherent tendencies related to the development of personality. This inherent potential is influenced by the other factors that drive the development process.

Overexcitability falls within the factor of inherent or genetic predispositions toward development. According to Dąbrowski, overexcitabilities are “higher than average responsiveness to stimuli” (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 303).

These overexcitabilities can manifest in five different domains (Bailey, 2010; Mendaglio & Tillier, 2006):

  1. Psychomotor Overexcitabilities
    Individuals with psychomotor overexcitabilities will likely have excess physical energy, talk more frequently and faster than others, tend towards impulsivity and competitiveness, and may turn to excessive work to deal with stress or other problems.
  2. Sensual Overexcitabilities
    These individuals have a heightened response to the senses and may feel an enhanced need to touch and/or be touched. They may overeat and indulge in many superficial relationships, but they will also likely have a wide range of experiences interacting with others due to an aversion to loneliness and enhanced need of attention from others.
  3. Imagination Overexcitabilities
    Those with imagination overexcitability have a tendency towards visualization, and are likely to be inventive, highly imaginative, intuitive, and have a greater capacity for the use of imagery and metaphor.
  4. Intellectual Overexcitabilities
    Intellectually overexcitable individuals are persistent and voracious learners with a capacity for intense concentration and theoretical thinking. They will likely ask many questions and have an affinity for logic, puzzles, and mysteries. 
  5. Emotional Overexcitabilities
    Those with emotional overexcitability will likely form strong attachments to people, places, and things. They may be highly inhibited, enthusiastic, and concerned about others, social justice, and their own sense of responsibility. Generally, these individuals are able to effectively feel and internalize the emotions of others.

 

Overexcitability positive disintegration

According to Dąbrowski, individuals with overexcitabilities have a greater potential for personal development because they foster a different perspective on the world and drive a more personal and meaningful interpretation of one’s experiences (Dąbrowski, 1972).

While the presence of overexcitability on its own is not sufficient for progression through the five levels and the achievement of the highest level, it plays a large role in the individual’s potential. Special talents and abilities and a strong third-factor drive to self-expression also influence one’s development potential.

Research has shown that the most gifted and talented individuals are also likely to have at least one type of overexcitability (Silverman & Ellsworth, 1981).

 

Evidence for the Theory of Positive Disintegration

Much research has been conducted on Dąbrowski’s theory, and while there is no clear connection between higher developmental potential and higher development achieved, much of it suggests that the theory is a useful way of conceptualizing personality development.

For example, several studies have contributed to the idea of overexcitabilities driving behavior and career choices, among other things (Chang & Kuo, 2013; Lysy & Piechowski, 1983; Piechowski & Cunningham, 1985; Piechowski, Silverman, & Falk, 1985).

Another study by Miller, Silverman, and Falk (1994) showed that development potential (measured by overexcitability) is strongly associated with the level of development.

Researchers Mofield and Parker Peters (2015) recently confirmed the hypothesized relationship between overexcitabilities and perfectionism.

Among other explorations of the theory of positive disintegration, these studies suggest that Dąbrowski’s theory offers a useful, if not entirely comprehensive, perspective on personality development.

 

Applying This Theory to Counseling

Due to the nature of overexcitable individuals, especially children, many of them may end up needing the help of a mental health professional to cope. For some, the overexcitabilities may leave them bursting with energy, psychological, emotion, physical, or otherwise. For others, their overexcitability may manifest in eccentricities or behavior that is outside of the norms of normal behavior in their social group.

In addition, while some overexcitable individuals are propelled through the stages of personality development, others may struggle with their overexcitabilities due to an environment that does not foster development or even actively inhibits development.

In general, those with overexcitabilities will likely need extra care, time, and/or attention in counseling. Their extra-sensitivity to their environment and to their own feelings and sensations may make it difficult to concentrate or to see things from the same perspective as others. While this different perspective may sometimes be a boon for these individuals, it can often be a hindrance as well.

When working with overexcitable individuals, it is important to remember that, according to Dąbrowski himself, even those with the most development potential can be stalled or stuck in their development due to their environment and social group. It is vital that you help provide that safe and nurturing environment that will facilitate development into their full potential. For some of these individuals, the counselor’s office may be the only place where they are encouraged in this journey.overexcitability Applying This Theory to Counseling

The most effective types of treatment or exercises will depend on which kinds of overexcitabilities the client has. What works for someone who is emotionally overexcitable may do nothing for those with intellectual overexcitabilities, while the activities that help the intellectuals thrive may be absolutely pointless for those with psychomotor overexcitabilities. Whichever type of overexcitabilities these individuals have, there are specific strategies for counseling them that can help.

Baily (2010) lists the following counseling strategies by type:

Psychomotor Overexcitability Strategies

For those with excess physical energy, Bailey suggests helping them find constructive ways to release this energy. Physical therapy and sensory integration techniques may help, in addition to relaxation techniques. For those with the most pronounced cases of excess energy, medication may allow them to better focus and concentrate on the task at hand and help them develop or practice strategies for self-control.

For example, meditation, mindfulness exercises, deep breathing, and other simple and easy-to-do relaxation techniques can make a big difference for individuals bursting with energy.

Sensual Overexcitability Strategies

Bailey recommends that counselors help individuals who have sensual overexcitabilities to develop greater self-control and encourage self-reflection. Those easily overloaded by sensual stimuli can benefit from recognizing their triggers, understanding their responses, and taking steps to lessen the frequency of derailment in their day-to-day lives. Physical therapy may also help these people or desensitization techniques to help them shed their most intrusive responses to overwhelming stimuli.

Imaginational Overexcitability Strategies

While it is not necessarily a bad thing to be overly imaginative, those with a higher tendency to lose themselves in their imagination can potentially lose themselves in more negative tendencies, such as delusions and other detachments from reality. To help these individuals stay firmly rooted in reality, mental health professionals can focus on steering them towards creativity rather than isolation. Sometimes this group will need help to keep from blurring the line between what is real and what is fantasy.

Intellectual Overexcitability Strategies

For individuals with intellectual overexcitabilities, psychologists and counselors can help them balance their tendencies towards intellectual pursuits with other important developmental activities. These individuals may end up neglecting their emotional and moral development to pursue only intellectual achievement.

When counseling people in this group, it may be helpful to teach them strategies to counteract this over-intellectualization and encourage them to use their imagination more often. Encouraging them to spark an interest in an artistic pursuit like music or art can help them balance out their activities.

Emotional Overexcitability Strategies

When working with emotionally overexcitable individuals, it is important that mental health professionals understand their unique perspective and the unique problems that come with this perspective. They may need validation from others and recognition of who they are as individuals. They may also need extra support and empathy.

Psychologist Elizabeth Mika (2002) encourages the use of therapies such as cinematherapy (using movies to reflect on the self and further development) or bibliotherapy (using books to reflect on the self and further development) and the instruction in relaxation techniques such as those listed earlier. In addition, reframing techniques may help these individuals see their problems and their tendencies in a new light, which can lead to reduced distress and a greater appreciation for the unique aspects of the self.

 

A Take Home Message

In this piece, I’ve given a brief overview of Dąbrowski’s theory of positive disintegration, a grand theory of personality development rooted in a young boy’s observations of the nasty business of war. While such tragic and profoundly life-altering experiences are excellent propellers of personal growth, they can also leave people feeling stuck.

This theory attempts to explain why some push through the experience and emerge as better, wiser, or more authentic versions of themselves, while others break apart and struggle to put the pieces back together.

I hope this article has given you a general understanding of the theory of positive disintegration, but if anything here has sparked your interest I encourage you to continue learning about this theory of personality development. A short article can offer a good bird’s eye view, but for a greater depth of understanding I suggest adding the following readings to your list:

  • The Organized Multilevel Disintegration as an Emerging Order by Krystyna Laycraft (slideshow)
  • Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration by Sal Mendaglio (book)
  • Positive Disintegration by Kazimierz Dąbrowski and William Tillier (book)
  • Personality-Shaping Through Positive Disintegration by Kazimierz Dąbrowski (book)
  • Mental Growth Through Positive Disintegration by Kazimierz Dąbrowski (book)
  • Psychoneurosis is Not An Illness: Neuroses and Psychoneuroses from the Perspective of Positive Disintegration by Kazimierz Dąbrowski (book)
  • Dąbrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration and Giftedness: Overexcitability Research Findings by Sal Mendaglio and William Tillier (article)

 

This theory is one that I found both intriguing and compelling, and I hope that I have presented it in a way that is true to its nature.

Thank you for reading, and please don’t hesitate to leave us any comments or questions you have! Are you familiar with this theory? What do you think of it? Does it help explain some of your own observations on personality development?

  • Bailey, C. L. (2010). Overexcitabilities and sensitivities: Implications of Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration for counseling the gifted. Counseling Outfitters. Retrieved from http://www.counseling.org/resources/library/vistas/2010-V-Online/Article_10.pdf
  • Chang, H., & Kuo, C. (2013). Overexcitabilities: Empirical studies and application. Learning and Individual Differences 23, 55-63. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2012.10.010
  • Dąbrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness. London, UK: Gryf.
  • Lysy, K. Z. (1979). Personal growth in counselors and noncounselors: A Jungian and Dabrowskian approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
  • Mendaglio, S., & Tillier, W. (2006). Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration and giftedness: Overexcitability research findings. Journal for the Education of the Gifted 30, 68-87.
  • Mika, E. (2002). Patterns of overexcitabilities in gifted children – A study. In Proceedings from the Fifth International Conference of the Theory of Positive Disintegration, Fort Lauderdale, FL.
  • Mika, E. (2005). Theory of positive disintegration as a model of personality development for exceptional individuals. Talent Development Resources. Retrieved from http://talentdevelop.com/articles/TOPDAAM1.html
  • Miller, N. B., Silverman, L. K., & Falk, R. F. (1994). Emotional development, intellectual ability, and gender. Journal for the Education of the Gifted 18, 20-38.
  • Mofield, E. L., & Parker Peters, M. (2015). The relationship between perfectionism and overexcitabilities in gifted adolescents. Journal for the Education of the Gifted 38, 405-427. doi:10.1177/0162353215607324
  • Piechowski, M. M., & Cunningham, K. (1985). Patterns of overexcitability in a group of artists. Journal of Creative Behavior 19, 153-174. doi:
  • Piechowski, M. M., Silverman, L., & Falk, F. (1985). Comparison of intellectually and artistically gifted on five dimensions of mental functions. Perceptual and Motor Skills 60, 539-549. doi:
  • Rivero, L. (2011, July 11). Diagnosis normal: Bright, conflicted, and out of sync. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-synthesis/201107/diagnosis-normal-bright-conflicted-and-out-sync
  • Silverman, L. K., & Ellsworth, B. (1981). The theory of positive disintegration and its implications for giftedness. In N. Duda (Ed.), Theory of positive disintegration: Proceedings of the third international conference (pp. 179-194). Miami, FL: Xerox.
  • Tiller, W. (n.d.). The theory of positive disintegration by Kazimierz Dąbrowski. PositiveDisintegration.com. Retrieved from http://www.positivedisintegration.com/
  • Tillier, W. (2013). Biography of Kazimierz Dąbrowski. PositiveDisintegration.com. Retrieved from https://positivedisintegration.com/dabbio08.htm
  • Tillier, W. (2016). Dąbrowski 101: An introduction to Kazimierz Dąbrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration [Presentation]. PositiveDisintegration.com. Retrieved from http://www.positivedisintegration.com/Dabrowski101.pdf

About the Author

Courtney Ackerman is a graduate of the positive organizational psychology and evaluation program at Claremont Graduate University. She is currently working as a researcher for the State of California and her professional interests include survey research, well-being in the workplace, and compassion. When she’s not gleefully crafting survey reminders, she loves spending time with her dogs, visiting wine country, and curling up in front of the fireplace with a good book or video game.

Comments

  1. David

    AWESOME! I have had a bit of a complicated “Awakening” metaphor – its like I WOKE UP AND THE UNIVERSE AND PLANETS ALIGNED AS THE SKY CRACKED OPEN FOR ME – and then someone else reached over and hit the snooze button for me because i didn’t grasp that my fearful-avoidant attachment style didn’t have a physical embodied sense of “FEAR” I knew risk, but general FEAR for us is TOO NORMAL and unless differentiated its hard to notice that’s what is holding us back. Also if you ever get that kinda “planets aligned universe opens euphoric peak experience” moment – NO it does not mean pass go and collect $200. Especially if you realized you woke up in a Narc family – it means run and go learn boundaries because – SON – you just went from the emotional armor of a tank – to that of a child riding their first bike who got picked on an made fun of by everybody at school that day for the first time. Yeah – your feelings in your body may have just Organized and you can finally make sense of them all. But you went from when things going well and being able to stare death in the face and laugh to being like “Please dont kill Bambi!” kinda sentiment. (wow this was quite a whirlwind of a transition and a hell of a moment to have literally my entire life flash before my eyes as well as a cascade of brain changes start occuring perceptually that were hard to actually explain. i just know boundaries became better able to perceive and grasp and i understood socially people much better and other things. i think i got my “earned secure attachment” as i had prepped all sorts of information prior to this in the process of getting ready to write my life story as well as reading emotional agility , how emotions are made, and the emotional brain. family history back to the 1940’s rebuild the bio psycho social model of me and my family’s adhd and other things and also built what i call the intergenerational health mosaic that silently rolls through time leaving a wake in its path.
    well then – i learned what “Emotional validation” was and tried teaching it to mom when i was living at home after job loss. (apparently being an expert bulldozer works for awhile but then catches up to you, it worked because they come back and apologize to you when your stuff works because you where in fact right. it doesn’t because eventually you piss of the wrong person. you notice above the brain reorganization, a lot of the bulldozer part was because of how i grew up and i’m coming out of that now. and learning connection and intimacy skills boundaries and other things.)
    its totally right we may be more unsure of our selves and oscillate between a variety of relationship types to superficial to deep ones and more. that mirrors my life.
    All I know, I was thankful a friend kicked me in the ass after the job loss and i had a girl dump me (who basically was a female version of me, good for self awareness at least and helped connect things in my life later)
    Sitting there, no job , no relationship and had just been insulted sexually (apparently that dont work right when your depressed – go figure)
    though dang, hearing that at that point in time – when i had broken up with another girl who wasn’t willing to own her major depression despite what i was trying to do to help, i noticed prior to all this some had “rubbed off on me” in my thinking but i had kept it quite for most part.
    then all this happened and it blew up – chaos theory – when it rains it pours!
    “at least there is no place but up from here” i thought. it did get lower – for once i had the universe and everything open up after my buddy kicked my ass and told me of all the people he knew i needed to go be a doctor because he knew i wanted it still.” ( child hood trauma i realized has a nasty habit of following you and just when you resolve the conflict of “can i actually do this” and the answer it “affirmative yes” it rips that carpet out from under your feat with a thyroid disorder and deep depression following with the emotional management skills of someone coming from a narc family with a fearful-avoidant attachment. yeah – i was resilient AF to begin with, but fell apart it seemed at those uncertain things that just became reasons to feel broken as it was a feeling i knew all too well growing up with developmental trauma on top of it. Am i gifted by the official def. no, but i’m def smart, though let’s be honest, i’m adhd too and make enough stupid decisions or lack thereof to make up for it..lol. “I’m smart – i just make stupid decisions at times” i joke in a self deprecating way. one of my top strengths is restorative in gallup strengths finder – broken is just another stop on the road.
    Futurist is as well, so i’m chasing that point where i can transcend myself, and chase and lead people on a wild vision of the future by healing the past.
    Over excitable in a number of ways – that is for sure though. I think i hit most of those you mentioned. Def appreciate the ideas. Nice thing, i know that in the right enviroment or managed right by self or others, i will actully have a high tendancy to perform better than others precicley because of this overexcitableness.
    I loved i had a freind of mine who could always recognize one of “my ideas” growing up. i asked him “wtf how?” we met in youth group. and he would come over to our small group and the other kids would tell him what we were doing. and he would be like “are you sure this isn’t one of dave’s ideas” and he would look at me he said and pointed out “i know how to recognize your ideas by the fact that ‘they are always a tad out there’ and ‘you’re always super exited about them'” I hear that and am like – yeah, guilty …lol. I get engaged for sure. Even now, just they start becoming more involved and realistic strategy and influence based. im kinda trying to integrate a model of various psychological social pscy, interpersonal neuro bio – trauma informed care – attachment styles – motivation -neuroscience – psychiatry – personality research theories etc – and eventually marketing and advertising as well as persuasion science into a single lattice of understanding. why – i want to go take over the world – or at least the one im looking at and after growing up the way i did – i dont want to be beholden or controlled by anything, i get that feeling of being “left out in the cold” and that aint happening again. I shall use my power for good though, and be learning intimacy and connection skills further (i missed a few chapters in the book socially due to trauma i realized)
    i have had to learn in this process a couple things.
    Faith over Fear (and you must have an emotion concept for fear if fearful-avoidant as you cant sense it typcially in your self)
    Seek Betterment not perfectionism
    Try to be Goodish not Good/Bad (black white)
    Meditation is hugley important for truma if you can – otherwise get with trauma informed therapist pronto.
    below fear and powerlessness on the upward spiral – its rock bottom and thats a continious process improvment seek and find – heat seeking misscle that is guided only by faith that really what you are fighting – is not what you see before you. for that is not the territory you are fighting, in fact the territory you fight here – its likley invisible to you, and ask you jump in and learn how to crawl fight or connect your way through – you will make progress, you will fail you will make progress and feel great then hit another obstacle and then feel great and then again and again – expect to rinse wash repeate till you figure out how to get your sense of self figured out and rebuilt enough to keep moving forward.
    there is quite a difference between – Desire (future) and Wanting(NOW! Present)
    Should’s Good intentions and Desires Doubts and more = all exist in the future.
    Wanting(a salient sense of motivation of ‘wanting’ if dissociating, this gets disturbed so understand the difference between this and desire and understand not to crap on yourself if you cant find it, it means something is going on and its “NOT YOUR FAULT” ) emotional presence – radical acceptance – negative self talk ruminative thoughts and guilt shame etc = ALL EXIST IN THE PRESENT MOMENT – not all is good – you have 1 job – its to make this moment work using all your EFFORT and reflection and what ever you can do to own this second. and next time you think, reset and recomit what can you do not. just keep going and thats what you need. less known symptoms of depression. depression isnt just sadness. its sadness with Guilt and SELF-BLame and often issues remembering positive memories about the self which reinforces the SElf blame and ruminative thoughts which are repeating negative ‘observations or thoughts that you notice repeatedly.’
    you often also worry in the present now – there is a difference between WISE WORRY and UNWISE Worry – know the difference and define boundaries for your “WISE WORRY”
    Past – this is a story that will change over and over as you learn more – just know what your seeing will soon change but you need to manage the present well to see this change. but if your stuck seeing it a certain way, and reliving it in the present – it can be brought forward and reexperienced. people do after all relive traumas constantly and we need to seperate and leave that behind.
    we do not exist on a time line but rather a world line – time is nother but the obeservation of energy flowing outward to various directions. Time has no physical reference point other than it self. but we do. so treat your self with respect and stop judging, if you have trouble, learn to see it and witness,
    and when i say “STOP X” it does not mean to Supress the feelings or actions totally – its vitally important to recognize and respond to negative talk more specifically as – its not ever specific really and it has no awarness of the bigger picture either (helps to get more specific and big pickture to talk back i notice)
    hope all this helps.

    Reply
  2. Betsy Sproger

    Interesting theory that may explain why some who have had sever trauma, come out of it, over time, with a more developed and more mature personality. And that some get super stuck and stay that way.

    Reply
  3. Kristina Wheeler

    A Very well written article on Dabrowski, I came across him about 30 years ago when trying to identify why I functioned differently from a neurological point of view. Being a profoundly gifted child and going to university and 14 provides one a different aspect of life.
    It continues to surprise me on how few are still aware of his work, especially his amazing poem that speak to the conflict of those that have over excitability. As we evolve as humans, in many ways society is reaching it’s own positive disintegration within its culture through the age of the internet, and it will be interesting to see where it chooses to go and if it chooses to complete the entire process –
    What would be interesting to also see a comparison and if there are correlations between epigenetic changes, Kant’s apriori knowledge and the allegory of the cave that align within this framework – for I think (without empirical evidence or coorelational studies) that we may find close alignments.
    Also within this context, is there any relationship between those that go through these phase and evolve at a higher level descending from parents of mental illness and if there is any genetic identification between those that do and don’t.
    I myself just completed my latest full disintegration and rebuilt, luckily knowing this time what it was, allowing myself the space to clean the ‘slate’ so to speak to allow it to fully complete and it is vastly interesting what is evolving this time at the higher levels and how I’m choosing to use my gifts – the first “altruistic” choice being helping 3 women find their birth fathers which is vast change from the previous volunteer work that I did that was at a much more visible nature when leading several thousand people in volunteer organizations and following as such my writing and artistic endeavours are no longer for “sale” of any benefit and are only to be provided copy write free to ensure those that exist can find beauty within the decay that surrounds them.
    Unfortunately many in the psycho therapy area fail to comprehend this and will slate those in this state in an identity crises and treat patients in traditional methodologies which risk a severe breach of trust as those “processes” are not always based in brute truth – which those in this state depend on to complete the “cleansing” of the old exoskeleton as those that truly meet the guidelines for Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities and true requirement of this process are rare and most are not likely meet those skilled in helping others as mentors in this state..
    Welcome all ye Neuropsychotics.. thank you for helping his work live on..

    Reply
  4. Jojo

    I think I read about this first in my 20’s then it stuck and became part of my self-analysis process. I forgot about the 5 stages but, held on to the elements of disintegration causing, or is it allowing, space to develop? This theme is integral to so many Therys.
    What hit me the most and I continually refer to, is Overexcitability. It helped me deal with my dyslexia and years of being told to calm down, that I was too needy, too loud, talked too much and was, too much! Thanks to Dąbrowski I came to terms with the fact that I overwhelm people and I know that trying to stop it or hide it will and has caused major depression or periods of self-medicating with drugs. I learnt to let it be and have to remind myself every so often with what I call life blowups, that I need to be like this so I can see stuff others cant.
    In the crises I have been through in my life I held on to the fact that my progression as a person is something I cannot control either, the universe steps in and propels me, literally, to keep searching and I am left so often with the clarity that, I didn’t have and still don’t option.

    Reply
    • Courtney Ackerman

      Hey Jojo, thanks for sharing your experience with positive disintegration. That’s great to hear you found it helpful. It’s definitely provoked some interesting discussions and useful insights for me as well!

      Reply
  5. Moelo Mothebe

    I can really relate to this theory, I’m excited that there is a name to what explains why others cope and breakthrough after tragic events. I definitely want to know more about the theory and importantly how as an executive and leadership coach, help others develop that “Development potential” to overcome traumatic events, (the amount of trauma and shocking experiences people go through in corporate environment is real). This beyond the psychological counselling but in the executive and leadership coaching context as well.

    Reply
    • Courtney Ackerman

      I find it easy to relate to this theory as well, Moelo. It’s a fascinating theory with a lot of potential for explaining human behavior!

      Reply
  6. Yithza Davelaar

    I am enjoying your articles so much! I realized while reading that all the courses, workshops and seminars I am interested in are all connected to Positive Psychology. So now comes the challenge. How do I study PP while living on my island. I cannot find any Bachelor/Master study that is given online. Maybe you can help me?

    Reply
    • Courtney Ackerman

      Absolutely! There is a Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania that is a “hybrid” program – meaning that is conducted mostly online with a few in-person visits. It might work for you, if you can manage a few trips to Pennsylvania. You can read about it here: http://www.sas.upenn.edu/lps/graduate/mapp
      I’m not aware of any BA programs in positive psychology, but I may be out of date. If there aren’t any now, I’m sure there will be soon!
      Good luck in your studies! I’m sure you’ll love it.

      Reply
  7. hendrik jan lamsvelt

    I experinced it 101 my self and found out my self it so true 101 . My life is to Shiny Shine !!!

    Reply
    • Courtney Ackerman

      I’m glad you had a positive experience with this theory, Hendrik. Shine on!

      Reply
  8. Bernie

    Does life rally have to be so complicated?

    Reply
    • Bernie

      really

      Reply
      • Courtney Ackerman

        Apparently! But without complication, wouldn’t it be awfully boring?

        Reply
  9. Kelly Moller

    Fabulous review for the intellectual overexcitability, I love learning new perspectives on what feels like the old literature e.g. Maslow’ hierarchy of needs.
    I find myself trying to work out other links, for example, how does positive disintegration meet with the physiological responses to stress, i.e., the release of oxytocin? Does one’s positive perspective of stress have a bearing on the Dabrowski levels within which one operates? Does the health benefit associated with thinking that stress is good for you correlate with a degree of overexcitability or level? (Fuelled by McGonigal’s TED talk on the topic: How to make stress your friend).

    Reply
    • Courtney Ackerman

      Kelly, I completely agree. This theory is fascinating, and the interconnectedness with other theories leads to nearly endless possibilities for research and learning! Thank you for your mention of McGonigal’s TED talk – I’ll have to put that one on my watch list!

      Reply
  10. Jessie van den Heuvel

    This article has been updated on the 4th of August 2017. Please Enjoy!

    Reply
  11. Bhaavin Shah

    This theory offers a huge relief and a correct perspective in a world of quick-fixes. though this article doesn’t speak much of psycho-neuretics which is one of his typical ways to elaborate upon the inner conflict. i seem to be one of those who is endowed with this tragic gift and this theory acts like shade to somebody who spent all his life in sun.
    Thanks for putting this together.

    Reply
    • Jessie van den Heuvel

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your insights Bhaavin.

      Reply
  12. Erik Michael

    Thank you for this article Stephanie i enjoyed your description of the theory. I first discovered the theory at age 19 after years of misdiagnosis by doctors and specialists. Long story short i found great comfort in the theory but had little support with my obsession with it and lost sight of it time and time again. Id turn to councelling that either failed completely or only partially helped but i always would come back to the theory to refresh myself. I had always had a problem understanding third factor and the very powerfull role of the social milieu that had held me back time and time again. Recently i found several video interviews of Dabrowski from 1970 that has helped tremendously with understanding some aspects and most importantly the Third factor is now realized. I am able to observe my emotions and reactions now, i can transform my anger or irritability into love and compassion, my general anxiety into concern for humanity. I think iam on the borderline between lvl 3 and 4 but still working on reactions and impulses of lower lvls. Thank you for listening i did ramble on a bit but there is beauty in complexity 🙂

    Reply
    • Stephanie Diepering

      Hello Erik, thank you for sharing your story with us. I believe that positive disintegration provides this source of refuge for many people who are grappling with forming a personal identity and happiness outside from roles and limitations set by society. I wonder if you would be willing to share the links to those videos here? I would certainly find them helpful as I’m sure many others would too. Best of luck with your ongoing journey!

      Reply
      • Erik Michael

        Here is the playlist off of youtube. A link can also be found on Bill Tillier’s Website dedicated to the theory just click on Videos link.

        Reply
  13. AnnieSebastian

    The article is thought rendering and much appreciated It awakens the learner in oneself.Thankyou

    Reply
    • Stephanie Diepering

      Great to hear from you. Thanks for reading Annie!

      Reply
  14. jos Cletus

    Dr Dabrowski’s Positive disintegration theory is facinating and thought provoking. Compared to other personality theories such as James Fowler’s, Erik Erikson’s, et al.,the focus on the positive in Dabrowski’s theory is really refreshing. The possible dilemma is likely to revolve around the ideal that one fosters in the formative years. Due to an alarming break-down in early integration, there could be delay or distorted process of Disintegration…

    Reply
    • Stephanie Diepering

      Good point Jos! The formative ideal is definitely the seat of much of our negative disintegration however the beauty of taking Dabroski’s model from a positive perspective is that it appears to liberate us from the beliefs that have stopped us from living our ideals. Don’t you think?
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving us a comment!
      Stephanie

      Reply
  15. Dr. ASWINI KUMAR PANI

    It is an excellent and thought provoking article with lot of learning exercises.I am a life coach and mind power trainer and I find it is very useful for me. THANK YOU

    Reply
    • Stephanie Diepering

      Thanks for stopping by Dr. Pani. I am so glad to hear this article was useful. Do you have other topics along this line which you would like to know more about?

      Reply
  16. Jane

    I also found this article extremely interesting. I also think that it is not necessarily a linear progression. Indeed, Level 1 could easily describe a child or adolescent as well as the current President elect of the US. But then, when you look at current suicide statistics amongst teenagers and if you have any experience of them, you know that they’ll go through a phase where they question the meaning of everything, akin to Level 2, but mostly then regress back to level 1 when going on to be young adults, particularly at uni/college. Level 2 describes what could be called a crisis of some sort, aka, the opportunity to shake us out of our torpor and autopilot life, and make significant changes to our value system. Level 3 continues that journey. Level 4 is when we decide to take over and get the external help and structure we need to flourish, usually therapy but also meditation and life coaching. Level 5 could be considered the pinnacle of existence, the highest form of being. How many of us shuffle, zombie like, through life on Level 1? Choosing to either conform or commit crime, but never really knowing our inner purpose?

    Reply
    • Stephanie Diepering

      Hello Jane,
      Thank you for your insights and thought provoking question! I agree that this is not a linear process but rather that it could occur at any point for various parts of our identity and personality formation through out our lives. The idea that we can move like zombies is just the reason we bring you the articles we do, ensuring that those of us that are ready to follow our inner purpose get a road map of sorts to guide us out of conformity and into comfortable authenticity.
      Look forward to hearing from you again, thanks for stopping by.
      Stephanie

      Reply
  17. gailen

    This was a very thought provoking article, I am very much in the phase of trying to figure out who I am now, without those old behaviors and with my life cycle.
    Definitely at a cross road and confused, as I attempt to shed the old parts of myself. In a way this stems from some belief that who I was before was damaged and bad, and now I am trying as if without a map, to change myself and my life.
    Yesterday, I was reading something that made me think about where I am, how I am parenting and who and I how I would like to change. Much of this growth is internal in nature and yet, much is the very need for external life to shift.
    I am a single mom, and I am also an older parent. So, my son’s are going through puberty alongside me going through menopause and trying to dismantle the negative and useless definitions as a female reaching what is mostly described as the Crone stage.
    I see myself brittle and angry with my children and the world, and not always, but this is an external driven change in me.I am ready to become a positive a person and let go of much of the way I have treated myself and believed in myself, When I say external driven, I mean that all of a woman’s life is defined mostly by the various roles she plays and the beauty and sexuality she has and who she serves and now, regrouping and finding myself uncomfortable in just the existence of stay at home mom.
    Wanting my life to feel lighter, and less serious and to awaken. The death of our physical youth .The death of raising children and pushing through the cocoon of fear to get to the other side.

    Reply
    • Stephanie Diepering

      Hello Gailen,
      Thank you for sharing your story with us. This concept of shaking off the old patterns, habits and roles which have shielded as well as confined us an integral part of the disintegration model as we learn the part that we want to play in society. We are constantly playing different roles in our lives and when we reach a point that says “I want to be proud to be this version of me” this is when we know we have reached something authentic and have found a voice worth nurturing. Thank you for sharing your story of struggle and reflection. Please do stop by again as we love to know that the articles we bring are helpful and inspiring to you all.
      All the very best in your process of transformation,
      Stephanie

      Reply

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