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Discovering Dabrowski's theory

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Chapter 3
Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
Michael M. Piechowski, Ph.D.1
started working with Dabrowski in the winter of 1967, soon after taking
a faculty position at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I had previ-
ously heard from an Italian friend about Dabrowski’s theory that
psychoneurosis should be treated not as an illness but rather as a process of
emotional growth. This intrigued me. At 64, Dabrowski made a strong
impression with his goatee, intense eyes, animation, lively gesticulation,
friendly smile, and vibrant voice. I asked for something of his to read.
Besides books published in Poland, he had several chapters in English in
manuscript form. They seemed garbled. I realized that whoever did the
translation did not understand what Dabrowski was saying. Unlike his
French, Dabrowski’s English was too limited to check the translation,
although it was quite adequate in conversation and his seminars.
Dabrowski suggested that we meet on Sunday afternoons to go over
these fractured texts. Sentence by sentence, I asked what he meant, and he
explained. Dabrowski had the tendency to write a sentence where a para-
graph was needed, so I kept asking for elaboration. Bit by bit, his theory
emerged. Dabrowski talked passionately about the inner psychic milieu,
the processes of positive disintegration, multilevelness (often coupled in
one breath with multidimensional diagnosis), and the dynamisms. The
thrust of his thinking was directed toward multilevel disintegration, and it
was about this time that the conception of levels IV and V began to take its
final form (see Table 3.1).
41
1 Michael M. Piechowski, Ph.D., Northland College (Emeritus); Senior Fellow, Institute for
Educational Advancement, South Pasadena, California/Madison, Wisconsin.
Table 3.1: The Evolution of Dabrowski’s Theory
Dabrowski’s theory took many years to evolve to its final form in 1972. There are clear beginnings in his
1938 monograph on Psychological Bases of Self-Mutilation. World War II interrupted his work, and the
rupture was compounded by communist takeover of Poland and his imprisonment for two years. When
after Stalin’s death in 1953 things relented politically to some degree, Dabrowski managed to publish
On Positive Disintegration in 1956,which was later largely incorporated into the English translation as
Personality-Shaping through Positive Disintegration in 1967. The structure of levels was not yet fully
defined, and the main emphasis was on distinguishing unilevel from multilevel growth process.
Dynamisms of Positive Disintegration in
Successive Versions of Dabrowski’s Theory
1964 1967 1970 1972/74/77
Personality Ideal + + + + and DDC on a high level
Autonomy + + V
Authentism + +
Responsibility + +
Education of Oneself + +
Autopsychotherapy + +
Self-Control + +
Self-Awareness + +
Inner PsychicTransformation + + IV shaping, organizing
Third Factor + + + +
Subject-Object in Oneself + + + +
Hierarchization (+)
Positive Maladjustment + +
Guilt ++ + + +
Shame + + + + III spontaneous multilevel
Astonishment with Oneself (+) (+) + +
Disquietude with Oneself + + + +
Inferiority toward Oneself ++ + + +
Dissatisfaction with Oneself + + + +
Second Factor + +
Ambivalences + + + + II unilevel
Ambitendencies + + + +
Creative Instinct + +
a group of
dynamisms
that extend
through more
than one level
Empathy + +
Identification + +
Inner Conflict + +
Temperamental Syntony + +
Disposing & Directing Center + + + +
+ indicates inclusion and description; ++ indicates stronger emphasis on the dynamism; (+) indicates a mention
without description. Dynamisms of Level IV prepare Level V.
Note. In 1964, 1967, and 1970, levels were not described as I, II, III, etc. This appears for the first time in 1972.
42
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
The result of these sessions were chapters in Mental Growth through
Positive Disintegration, a work that owes a very significant part to Andrzej
Kawczak, a philosopher at Loyola University of Montreal, who worked
with Dabrowski for a number of years. Prior to the book’s publication in
London in 1970, Dabrowski had two pieces of our collaboration translated
into French and published in Annales Médico-Psychologiques. The first, on
the inner psychic milieu, contained my initial attempt to create a visual pic-
ture of the dynamisms of the theory that would place them in the order
that Dabrowski felt they tended to emerge (Dabrowski, 1968). He must
have thought the drawing an adequate visual approximation to his concep-
tion of his theory (Figure 3.1, page 44). He used to say that in his mind, he
saw the dynamisms as if on stage, certainly a more animated and dramatic
vision than my two-dimensional imitation of Moorish arches.
The second piece was on higher emotions and values, in which
Dabrowski argued for an objectively based, universal hierarchy of values
(Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1969). As a neurologist, he firmly believed
that as a person achieves higher levels of development, corresponding
changes take place in the nervous system. He relied on a neurological
exam of his own design as an initial assessment of the person’s develop-
mental level.
The first concept for me to grasp was the inner psychic milieu,
defined as the totality of dynamisms emerging in Level III. Dabrowski
believed that multilevel disintegration was indispensable for development.
Little significant inner life exists in Levels I (primary integration) and II
(unilevel disintegration). For Dabrowski, inner life begins with multilevel
processes of introspection, self-examination, and self-evaluation. The vari-
eties of inner conflict between higher and lower in oneself are represented
by the dynamisms of Level III.
43
Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
44
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
Figure 3.1. Dynamisms of Positive Disintegration
(Dabrowski, Kawczak, & Piechowski, 1970)
In the summer of 1968, Dabrowski was invited to the Esalen Insti-
tute in Big Sur, California to give a weeklong workshop. The invitation
came through his contact with Abraham Maslow, who saw great promise in
Dabrowski’s theory as one that emphasized human potential (Maslow,
1968). Dabrowski asked me to come along to help him present the theory.
We traveled in a large group—his wife and their two teenage daughters,
and Andrzej Kawczak and his wife. Looking back, I can say that I did not
fully grasp his theory at the time. My exposition was based entirely on the
discussions and the writing that we labored over. Yet it went well. Being at
Esalen was an unforgettable experience. The Esalen founders, Dick Price
and Michael Murphy, were warmhearted hosts. The presence of Fritz Perls
added color and frisson to the experience. True to type of makers of
theories, Dabrowski and Perls did not have much to say to each other.
The Multilevelness Research Project
Dabrowski was trying hard to get funding for an institute where he
could demonstrate his clinical methods. Because of the generally held view
in those days that emotions are primitive undifferentiated energizers of
behavior, any attempt to distinguish levels of emotional functioning was
deemed unrealistic. And because of widely held views that emotions are
more primitive than cognition and that values are relative and culturally
determined, the attempt to differentiate levels of valuation as levels of emo-
tional functioning was looked upon as quixotic.
Eventually, Canada Council gave Dabrowski a three-year research
grant to showcase his theory through a multifaceted analysis of case
examples. The idea was to ask volunteers to write autobiographies and
open-ended responses to Verbal Stimuli, take an intelligence test, and take a
neurological exam. A clinical-diagnostic interview collected essential infor-
mation about the person. Dabrowski’s principal research assistants in this
project were Marlene King (now Rankel) and Dexter R. Amend. Marlene
King was in charge of the enormous task of collecting the material and
keeping track of subjects, their appointments, and their testing. Dexter R.
Amend worked with Dabrowski on the description and final form of the
neurological exam.
As the project was getting off the ground, I left the University of
Alberta in January of 1970 to become once again a graduate student at the
University of Wisconsin, this time in counseling. My departure did not
make Dabrowski happy. However, our close collaboration continued until
45
Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
1975. The years 1970 and 1971 were spent working together on his book
Psychoneurosis Is Not an Illness (1972). Pages with clarifications, elabora-
tions, inclusion of new clinical examples, and successive revisions grew to a
stack one foot high. As Dabrowski tended to grossly underestimate the
amount of work needed, I was tempted to send my stack of pages to him as
concrete evidence of the amount of labor involved. At one time, I told him
that I was sure it would have been easier to be his patient than to work with
him. He agreed. Still, his sense of urgency about the work made the whole
atmosphere around him charged with excitement.
In the meantime, his research team screened hundreds of subjects by
means of an inventory. In the end, 81 subjects completed the autobio-
graphy and open-ended Verbal Stimuli, for which the instructions were “to
describe freely in relation to each word listed your emotional association
and experiences.” The stimuli were: great sadness, great joy, death, uncer-
tainty, solitude and loneliness, suicide, nervousness, inhibition, inner
conflict, ideal, success, and immortality. Dabrowski and his team sifted
through the accumulated material searching for cases representative of each
level of development.
The initial plan was to develop measures roughly defining the level of
emotional development for a given individual. But emotional development
is complex. Every individual has a developmental “center of gravity” or
dominant level at which he or she functions emotionally and intellectually.
Leaning away from this “center”—now toward a lower level, now toward a
higher one—is to be expected. In every profile, there will be residues of pre-
vious developmental levels, as well as precursors of higher levels—those
toward which the individual is moving. Consequently, one cannot hope to
find individuals narrowly confined to only one level. Furthermore, not all
dynamisms are activated uniformly. Some advance and some lag behind,
while others may never be brought into play. No cross section of develop-
ment can represent only one level (unless it be Level I). A new method of
analyzing autobiographical material was needed.
Dabrowski’s way of reading the material was to look for key emo-
tional events to assess the type and level of development. He used to
designate the level of an identified dynamism or emotional experience as,
say, II or III. But he also made intermediate designations, for instance II/III
(more II and less III) or III/II (more III and less II). Now this is subtle! Not
infrequently, he would give a dynamism a different name. I was beginning
to see that some order must be introduced here—the theoretical terms
46
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
ought to be consistent. And this is how the final structure of the levels
became fixed. In order for an analysis to be possible, the dynamisms had to
be defined and their list closed to stave off any of Dabrowski’s further
inventions.
Devising a Method of Analysis
The autobiographies and Verbal Stimuli so selected were sent to me
for analysis. It was up to me to figure out how to analyze them for
dynamisms and telling signs of developmental level. Since no single case
qualified as representing Level IV, Dabrowski decided on Antoine de
Saint-Exupéry, the French aviator and author of the Little Prince,Night
Flight, and Citadel, who perished on a reconnaissance mission over the
Mediterranean in 1944. He was 44 years old. His notebooks and letters had
adequate material for a developmental analysis.
The question of method was simply this: how to read the text to iden-
tify all of the indicators of developmental level in a consistent way so that
the qualitative process of identifying the terms of the theory could produce
quantitative results for comparisons. At this point, I had no training in psy-
chological research. I was trained first as a plant physiologist and then as a
molecular biologist. I knew that scientific inquiry begins with a question
and observation and that observations can be counted. I needed units of
analysis. The Greeks conceived of atomos as something so small that it
cannot be cut any further, the ultimate uncuttable unit. I decidedto cut the
text into the smallest swatches of text that remained coherent and could be
understood if read apart from the rest of the text. I called these units
“response units.” They varied in size, just as analysis by paragraphs would
have units of varied size. I learned later that what I did was to prepare the
text for content analysis.
The task was to tie the terms of the theory to personal expressions of
experience. On the first reading of each unit, I tried to decide whether, in
what was being expressed, one could identify a dynamism or any other tell-
ing sign of a level. This was tedium of the first degree. I tried to determine
the developmental level of the expression. Incipient and weak expressions
of dynamisms were designated as “precursors.” After reading all of the units
for dynamisms, I then tried to discern whether any of the “functions” were
represented. This was tedium of the second degree, and the more bother-
some of the two. Then, I noticed that people describing their experiences
were also showing overexcitability. I found it virtually impossible to rate the
47
Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
units simultaneously for dynamisms and overexcitabilities. These terms are
conceptually very different and require a different mental set. Conse-
quently, they had to be rated in separate readings of the material.
Why wasn’t there a second independent rater, one may ask. The
answer to this is simply that I was alone with the task, 1,437 miles away
from Edmonton, and I was developing the method as I went along. But
even one rater can be checked for reliability, as I explain later.
In the end, six cases were completed plus Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Because each response unit was a sampling event to fish out the theoretical
terms, the number of response units, rather than the number of subjects,
constituted the proper N here. The final N was 866 response units. Table
3.2 shows the age, intelligence, the number of response units, and the
number of ratings for each subject (Piechowski, 1975b).
Table 3.2: Subject Data (Piechowski, 1975b)
Subject Age & Sex IQ Number of
response units
Number of
ratings
no. 1 23, M 115+ 46 53
no. 2 23, F 129 96 117
no. 3 44, F 117 112 194
no. 4 17, M 120 162 325
no. 5 20, M 108 155 294
no. 6 34, F 140 182 346
Saint-Exupéry 44, M not known 113 261
866 1590
Each response unit was rated as follows. First, I attempted to establish
whether the expressed content was a manifestation of one of the develop-
mental dynamisms. Sometimes more than one dynamism was identified. If
none was identified, then I tried to identify what aspect of behavior could
be discerned—e.g., sadness, joy, anger, fear, etc. These expressions of
behavior Dabrowski called “functions.” Next, I assigned a level to the
response unit. The level rating has nine possible values: five full levels—I,
II, III, IV, and V—and four midlevels—I-II, II-III, III-IV, and IV-V. When
this was done, I read the material over again for the presence of forms of
overexcitability.
48
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
Converting Dabrowski’s large conceptions of levels—rich structures
made of many dynamisms—into a numerical expression raises the ques-
tion: Where does a level begin and where does it end? The Roman numerals
for levels needed to be converted into the range of values obtained from
averaging all of the sampling events for a given subject. Therefore, values
2.0, 3.0, and 4.0 are the modal values for the three levels. The range of
values for Level II would have to be from 1.6 to 2.5, for Level III from 2.6
to 3.5, for Level IV from 3.6 to 4.5. Level I is left with 1.0–1.5, and Level V
with 4.6–5.0.
I made a graph of the distribution of dynamisms in the material of
each subject (see Figure 3.2, page ). Each instance of a dynamism was repre-
sented by a dot, which was placed in a slot reserved for that dynamism. The
vertical scale held the dynamism slots, the horizontal scale the actual
number of instances a given dynamism was counted. Stacking the graphs
showed that, moving from the lower- to the higher-level subjects, the
appropriate dynamisms of higher level become more frequent, while those
of lower levels diminish in frequency.
49
Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
50
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
Figure 3.2. Dynamisms of Positive Disintegration
in Six Subjects and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Each dot represents a single occurrence of a given dynamism. II, III, and IV refer to developmental
levels. C is a group of dynamisms that extend through more than one level. (Piechowski, 1975b).
It occurred to me that one could compare Dabrowski’s intuitive, clini-
cal assessment of the developmental potential (DP) of each subject with the
values obtained from the equation DP = d + oe (read on for an explanation of
this). The subjects’ DP values were then placed on an arbitrary metric scale
extending from 0 to 50. Dabrowski’s values were placed on the opposite side
of the scale. The agreement was fairly good (Piechowski, 1975b).
Furthermore, Dabrowski’s neurological examination is composed of
14 items. Each item produces one level designation. The sum divided by 14
showed close agreement with the level index obtained from autobiogra-
phies. The agreement of the neurological level index for each subject with
the value obtained from Verbal Stimuli was again quite close, except for
no. 6 (Table 3.3).
Table 3.3: Level Index from Neurological Examination,
Autobiography, and Verbal Stimuli (Dabrowski and Piechowski, 1977)
Subject Neurological
Examination
Autobiography Verbal
Stimuli
no. 1 1.27 1.31 1.33
no. 2 2.18 2.29 2.28
no. 3 2.40 2.42 2.43
no. 4 2.33 2.22 2.30
no. 5 2.62 2.66 2.92
no. 6 2.79 3.21 3.41
Post Facto Empirical Tests of the Theory
So what was finally accomplished? The detailed, atomistic content
analysis of the autobiographies and Verbal Stimuli made possible three
empirical tests of Dabrowski’s theory. The possibility of such tests did not
present itself until after the ratings were done.
The dynamism ratings from each subject did form a cluster. Each
cluster corresponded to part of the overall spectrum of dynamisms from
Level II to V. The material from each subject provided a developmental
cross-section. These cross-sections overlapped and together reproduced the
complete spectrum. This made one empirical test of the theory.
The second empirical test was provided by checking the constancy of
DP. DP was calculated by adding the frequencies of dynamisms (d) and
51
Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
overexcitabilities (oe): DP = d + oe. The relative frequencies varied, but the
sum was expected to remain constant. When the material from a chrono-
logically written autobiography was divided into two halves—early and
later portions of life—the DP value was very close for the two halves. How-
ever, between the first and the second half, the balance of dynamisms and
overexcitabilities changed dramatically.2
The third empirical test compared clinical intuitive estimates of DP
for each subject made by Dabrowski with the calculated values obtained
from the content analysis. These two sets of values showed reasonable
agreement (Piechowski, 1975b). The close three-way agreement between
the level index obtained from the neurological examination with the
indices obtained from autobiography and Verbal Stimuli serves as an
additional test.
No doubt, the question exists whether all of these values and compar-
isons are completely independent from each other. Since there was no
possibility of carrying out a blind analysis, I made every effort to be meticu-
lous about dissecting the material as consistently as possible—and the
correlations for split halves showed that it was—in order to be able to arrive
at a reasonable pool of quantitative data from which to reconstruct the pat-
terns predicted by the theory and test some of its basic assumptions.
52
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
2Test of Internal Consistency (from Piechowski, 1975b). There were four rating categories:
dynamisms (D), dynamism precursors (P), functions (F), and overexcitabilities (OE). For a
given subject, the total number of ratings was b = D + P + F + OE. A unit may have zero, one,
or more ratings. The total number of units for a subject was a. The ratio b/a was called the
yield (Y). The ratio Y was useful as one test of the internal consistency of the rating process of
the one rater, myself. Calculated from each half of the material from each subject—thus 14
pairs—it gave the not-so-shabby .97 as the correlation for these pairs.
Another test of internal consistency was the computation of the value for developmental
potential from DP = d+ oe [as above], where d is the frequency of expressions of dynamisms
in a subject’s material and oe is the frequency of expressions of overexcitability. The material
from each subject was divided into two halves. The DP was then computed from each half
independently. The correlation between these 14 pairs of values was .94.
As development advances, expressions of dynamisms increase in frequency, while expressions
of overexcitability decrease. One could speculate that the raw material of overexcitabilities is
being transformed into specific intrapsychic agents of inner transformation. One of the
autobiographies (no. 6) showed this trend, as it had a consistent chronological order. I
divided it into two parts, from age 3 to 15, and from 16 to 35. In the first part, the proportion
of expressions of overexcitabilities was 46% and of dynamisms 38%. In the second part, the
overexcitability portion was 17% and the dynamisms portion was 61%. The sums were,
respectively, 84 and 78, which is pretty close. One could conclude from this that
developmental potential remains constant.
The Good Form of Dabrowski’s Theory
From this detailed effort grew my understanding of the nature of the
dynamisms and of the structure of the theory. I learned that to gain the
working knowledge of a theory, much labor goes into understanding it.
The process of trying to recognize the expression of a dynamism, an
overexcitability, or a “function” in the varied ways people described their
feelings and experiences was, in a way, my field experience. I gained more
respect for other theories when, years later, I taught theories of personality,
because I knew that I had not lived with each theory as I did with the theory
of positive disintegration.
As a proposal for my dissertation in counseling, I presented two com-
pleted papers—one on the theory, the other on the research described
above, already submitted for publication as one monograph (Piechowski,
1975b). I felt that this was more than enough. I expected the counseling
faculty to be duly impressed, since instead of a proposal, I was offering
work already completed and with some substance. But because the theory
was unfamiliar, they failed to be duly impressed. They asked me to make a
comparison of Dabrowski’s unknown theory with theories that were
known to them, specifically Carl Rogers’s client-centered therapy and
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and his concept of psychological health. In due
course, I carried out the comparison, not only with Rogers and Maslow,
but also with 10 other theories of counseling and psychotherapy
(Piechowski, 1975a). To do this, I studied the nature of scientific theories
and the concepts on which they are founded. I could see that the concepts
of Dabrowski’s theory had good form. As a biologist, I knew that the con-
cept of levels, with their structure defined by dynamisms, was a good
concept. The overexcitabilities were not only good descriptive terms but
also had a biological basis as the ways in which a person’s nervous system
handles experience. What made these terms good was that they described
properties that were part of a person’s biological makeup. Thus, the theory
was constructed with terms that allowed measurement, and the measure-
ment made possible the study of individual differences. It must be noted
that the developmental theories of that time—Piaget, Kohlberg, and
Loevinger—presented presumed universal patterns with no provisions for
individual differences at any level.
As a former molecular biologist, I could see that Dabrowski’s theory met
the criteria of a scientific theory. The theory of positive disintegration had good
formal structure, was empirically verifiable through research, and had
53
Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
provisions for uncovering individual differences (Piechowski, 1975a). This is
why it appealed to me from the beginning. Worth pointing out are the 72
hypotheses formulated by Dabrowski and Kawczak that give the theory a
well-articulated, formal definition (Dabrowski et al., 1970).
As I was coming into contact with psychology, I could not under-
stand the long-standing divorce from biology, especially the human brain.
Seeing the exclusive focus on general laws of learning and general personal-
ity, I asked: Where do they address individual differences? I’ll give one
telling example that is still largely in force today. So much effort has gone into
studying and measuring intelligence, and yet little research by mainstream
psychologists has been directed to where intelligence is expressed most
sharply—in highly gifted children and adults—and with an enormous range
of individual differences that are far from being fully investigated.
Limited DP Is Not Necessarily Limiting
Developmental potential is a necessary concept in Dabrowski’s theory
to explain differences in attained level of development. Barry Grant, whose
research on moral development I discuss later, pointed out that spelling out
unequal endowment for development creates one of the strong objections to
Dabrowski’s theory in egalitarian-thinking educators and social scientists
(Grant, personal communication, March 24, 2007). My counter to this is
that under optimal conditions, even children with limited developmental
potential can grow up to be good citizens with a strong sense of fairness.
An illustration to make this point comes from a longitudinal study of
adolescent character development by Peck and Havighurst (1960). In that
study, one boy, Ralph, was at age 17 self-reliant, responsible, endowed with
a sense of fairness, well-liked as a team member and as a leader, unafraid of
authority, and virtually free of adolescent conflict and rebellion. The secret?
A family climate that fostered trust and autonomy. His developmental
potential, seen through the Dabrowskian lens, was quite limited. There was
little evidence of intellectual, imaginational, or emotional overexcitabilities,
but under optimal family conditions, his development was unhampered.
(Growing up on a farm had a lot to do with it, too, through many opportuni-
ties to develop a sense of competence.) Peck and Havighurst placed him in
their highest category of maturity of character: rational-altruistic. A limited
potential does not limit a child from becoming an upright, positive human
being, provided the conditions of growing up are close to optimal, as they
were in Ralph’s case.
54
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
Arthur was a different boy. Overweight, aloof from others, bright but
often hostile, imaginative but self-centered, impulsive but conflicted and
guilt-ridden, he grew up with a mother who openly disliked and ridiculed
him. His father, who lived elsewhere, had no interest in his son and only
tolerated him. Yet the team of observers, to whom Arthur was the epitome
of emotional immaturity and instability, noted that by age 17 he had
become more stable and had more self-control. They said—and this is
highly significant in light of repeated observations, tests, and interviews over
a period of seven years—"Nothing and no one in particular has helped him
of late years." In my view, without his intelligence combined with his strong
imaginational and emotional overexcitabilities, he would have ended up in
an institution—mental or penitentiary. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that he
did grow and become more mature, because he had the capacity for intelli-
gent emotional assessment of others and himself, despite the absence of a
nurturing and modeling adult. Arthur is a striking example of strong devel-
opmental potential overcoming an extremely unfavorable environment.
The Problem of Primary Integration
After getting my degree in counseling from the University of Wisconsin,
I took a faculty position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
My first graduate student, Margaret Lee Schmidt, chose for her Master’s
thesis the comparison of Kohlberg’s and Dabrowski’s theories (Schmidt,
1977). Her analysis led her to several conclusions, three of which are rele-
vant here. One, that the first four stages of Kohlberg’s sequence of moral
reasoning are encompassed within Dabrowski’s Level I (primary integra-
tion). Two, that the study of authoritarian personality (Adorno,
Fraenkel-Brunswick, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950) was the best description
of behavior characterizing Level I. And three, that Level I is not a personal-
ity structure, but instead is the result of limited developmental potential of
people trying to survive in a ruthlessly competitive and economically
uncertain world. While Dabrowski, just like Adorno et al., viewed primary
integration as a rigid personality structure, now it makes more sense to see
it as the outcome of social conditions. If people are operating at Level I, it is
because this is the condition of their world, not because they are consti-
tuted that way (Piechowski, 2003).
The growing understanding that depression in men often manifests
itself by outbursts of workaholism, anger, irritability, shaming, and blam-
ing (Real, 1997; Scelfo, 2007) should prompt increased caution about
55
Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
assigning Level I to observed behavior. Furthermore, there is nothing
primary about primary integration. It is not the starting point of develop-
ment, and it conflicts with our evolutionary design for primary affectional
attachment (Bowlby, 1969). We are born as social beings programmed for
social interaction through cooing, smiling, and calming in loving arms.
Asocial character develops because of emotional injuries that repeatedly
break the bond of attachment. If it looks like an integration, it is due to the
defensive armor to protect oneself from emotional hurt.
Levels are not real; they are abstract concepts (Piechowski, 2003).
They do not have a beginning or an end in the manner of stages of develop-
ment. It cannot be said that a newborn has a personality; therefore, primary
integration cannot be assigned to a baby. All of these arguments force us to
reconsider the concept of primary integration.
Self-Actualizing People and Level IV
For one of the readings in my course on personality, I chose Maslow’s
Farther Reaches of Human Nature, published in 1971 after his death. His
frequent reference to self-actualizing people as the measure of psychological
health and as a standard of right and wrong persuaded me to read his
descriptions of self-actualizing people. Reading it was an aha! experience;
here were rich descriptions of the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of
people who were like Saint-Exupéry.
Using the Saint-Exupéry’s material, I set out to identify the character-
istics of self-actualization. First, I compiled a list of descriptors of
self-actualization from Maslow’s chapter in Motivation and Personality
(Maslow, 1970), in which he delineated 16 characteristics of self-actualiz-
ing people. Then I tried to identify these characteristics in each of the 113
units from Saint-Exupéry. The task of working out the intersection of the
16 characteristics of self-actualization with the 30 dynamisms of
Dabrowski’s theory was extraordinarily tedious, yet deeply satisfying. Of
Level III, only two dynamisms, hierarchization and positive maladjust-
ment, were strongly represented in Saint-Exupéry’s profile, but of Level IV,
all but two were present. There were no traces of Level II. This, to me, con-
vincingly demonstrated that when Maslow described self-actualizing
people, he was looking at the same kind of people on whom Dabrowski had
been formulating his idea of Level IV (Piechowski, 1978).
As Saint-Exupéry was Dabrowski’s choice, I submitted the paper
under my name and his. I sent a copy to Dabrowski but got no response. It
56
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
took almost two years before I got the galleys. They came without Dabrowski’s
name on them. As it turned out, he wrote to the editor of Genetic Psychology
Monographs asking that his name be dropped from the paper. To his credit,
he did not block the publication, but it was odd that he did not inform me
of his decision. So I asked him, and he explained that every paper on his
theory should have his name as the first author. However, there was also
another reason. He felt strongly that Maslow’s belief that satisfaction of
lower needs would more or less automatically move people toward self-
actualization was fundamentally wrong. He didnt know that Maslow had
changed his position and realized that self-actualization does not necessar-
ily follow satisfaction of all of the needs below (Maslow, 1971). I believe he
must not have read Maslow’s description of self-actualizing people nor
gotten through my paper (it is rather dense). His conclusion was that his
theory and Maslow’s could not be commensurate. He never understood
that by providing a theoretical structure for Maslow’s concept of self-actual-
ization, his theory was showing its power. Here were two independently
developed conceptions that had a perfect correspondence. How often does
this happen?
Objections to equating self-actualization with Level IV came not
only from Dabrowski but also from people who read Saint-Exupéry’s bio-
graphy and found that his relationship with his wife was less than ideal and
that he had a mistress. This violated Dabrowski’s saying that people at a
high level of development have deep and loyal relationships. However, a
person’s profile cannot be expected to conform completely to ideal type—
Maslow did list imperfections in the characteristics of self-actualizing
people—and additionally, the idealism of a person expresses the level
toward which they are moving. An analogous case can be seen with Leo
Tolstoy who, after 10 years of happy marriage, acted on his ideals of a
simple life, renouncing his wealth and, instead of writing, dedicated him-
self to educating peasant children (Marsh & Colangelo, 1983). With 10
children to raise, his wife objected to this radical curtailing of income, and
this caused serious conflict.
The study of Saint-Exupéry paved the way for an analysis of the
self-actualization profile of Eleanor Roosevelt, and of her personal growth
and inner transformation (Piechowski, 1990; Piechowski & Tyska, 1982).
Other case studies of self-actualizing people based on the framework of
Dabrowski’s theory followed (Brennan & Piechowski, 1991). Any attempt
to negate the validity of Saint-Exupéry’s self-actualization profile would
57
Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
have to face the similarity of his and Eleanor Roosevelt’s profiles, despite
their vastly different personalities. There is also the striking similarity in
their philosophies of life. They both stressed the necessity to be actively
engaged in life, be it socially, politically, or creatively. This is what makes for
living fully. They both tended to be concerned with problems that are uni-
versal and central to human existence, and to the existence having meaning,
and they both wanted to awaken their fellow human beings to the utter
urgency of these problems (Piechowski & Tyska, 1982).
The fit between Level IV as the structural skeleton and self-actualiza-
tion as the flesh of rich description with which to cover the bones is too
good not to be true. Rev. Charles Payne produced a case study of the emo-
tional development of Paul Robeson—singer, actor, and a protest leader, a
man of high moral stature—showing him to be both self-actualizing and
meeting Level IV criteria (Payne, 1987).
Anna Mróz (2002a) studied seven remarkable persons, aged 30 to
63, whose level scores ranged from 3.3 to3.8. She obtained autobiographi-
cal narratives in three sessions in a dialogue format. The first two were
devoted to the life story itself and her questions, the third to checking for
understanding and accuracy. She used the Miller method to find persons
deeply engaged in multilevel growth (Miller, 1985; Miller & Silverman,
1987). Of the 37 initially asked to participate, 19 filled out the question-
naire, and seven stayed with her to the end.
One of her subjects was a painter, 52 years old, married. As a boy, he
was very introspective and found that he could not communicate to others
his inner world nor obtain from them an idea of their world. “A blocking
on both sides, and nothing could be done about it,” he said. But he contin-
ued to look for means of communication while safeguarding his
individuality. In his early twenties, while studying art, he found a friend
with whom he could communicate without speaking: “Sometimes we were
saying nothing. We could sit for hours and look at each other. At times we
had conversations without speaking.” Later with his wife, he experienced a
relationship that was “something more than a mutual understanding of
souls.” His personal growth continued through integrating his life as a hus-
band, father, teacher, and artist. His overriding consideration was a
growing sense of responsibility in all aspects of his life.
For a 30-year old actor in Mróz’s study, his time in nature until the
age of six—he referred to himself as a “child raised in the woods”—was a
source of such ecstatic experiences that it literally took his breath away. At
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Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
such moments, he felt he wasn’t breathing. Starting school was a shock for
this free-roaming, beautiful spirit. In his early teens in order to adapt, he
assumed a mask of tough masculinity. But inside himself, he cried in his
loneliness and sought to regain his childhood experiences and to find com-
munion with others. In his later teens, he devoted more time to being
alone, to getting rid of the mask and facing himself. During his years of
studying art, he found that “people can be beautiful” and that “individual-
ism within a group” is preferred. He developed a deep relationship with a
woman who soon became ill. The imminent threat of losing her brought
pain and anxiety (“I was very much afraid I won’t see her the next day”). As
a young adult, he rebelled against God’s indifference to human pain, but
now realized that the experience of oneness with God includes the experi-
ence of pain as part of life: “I saw her suffering, but then I saw suffering
through her, all of it, how much there is.” He began work with youth:
“Now is the time when everything that grew in me, and continues to grow,
be given to others.”
Another of Mróz’s subjects, a nun, was very much frightened in her
childhood by the war (WWII) and the threat to her father’s safety. Yet she
remembered herself as a happy child and very religious. Even as a child, she
was aware that she had to work on herself—that more was needed than
piety. She realized that she could place herself in God’s presence and pray
without words. In fact, verbal prayers became a hindrance. In religious
ceremonies, she liked to stand with the banner, using it to conceal herself
from people. The immediacy of God’s presence, she said, was a gift of the
ease of making contact, given to her freely. She underwent many tests, as
every spiritual person must. Her empathy grew deeper and stronger, and
her inner life was growing in depth. Her guiding motive was “to not betray
the God who dwells in me” and to progressively purify her intent. She
experienced God as outside space and outside time. She worked with
children and married couples. To her, God was acting like a “marvelous
educator.” She felt herself to be God’s temple. The last phase of her life at
age 63 bespeaks the realization of the personality ideal, the principal
dynamism of Level V—in sum, a profound inner transformation.
People whose developmental “center of gravity” is at an advanced
level can be found; one only needs to know how to look and where to look.
I have described Ashley, 44 years old, a university professor from whom I
had three consecutive annual responses to measures of developmental level
and overexcitability. She devoted her life to teaching—she is perhaps the
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Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
most hardworking teacher I have met—while her vacations have been spent
in highly concentrated study. Ashley’s reports were scored at level 4.1, 4.2,
and 4.3, respectively, by the Miller method (see Miller’s chapter, this
volume). Scores for Level IV extend from 3.6 to 4.5; consequently, Ashley’s
scores reflect a very advanced multilevel growth, approaching Level V. The
scores themselves cannot reflect the profound changes that took place.
Characteristically, and in agreement with Dabrowski’s theory, the first
report had a number of responses that were scored at Level III. The last full
report had none. Nancy Miller and Frank Falk, who did the scoring,
remarked that of the 270 protocols they scored, this is the highest level
material they have seen (Piechowski, 1992b).
Tom Brennan found these types of people by strategic nomination
(Brennan, 1987). Janneke Frank (2006) identified an inspirational teacher
of gifted students and carried out an in-depth case study of his advanced
multilevel development. Janice Witzel (1991) found them serendipitously
among never-married women who turned out to be gifted, happy, self-
actualizing, and invisible. Thanks to the single qualification—“well thought
of”—the women nominated for Witzel’s study were outstanding in their
achievement, often despite lack of support in their environment, making
their achievement even more amazing. They had a high level of energy, had
drive for autonomy and development of their own powers, responded to
opportunities and help offered, had highself-esteem, lived a deeply satisfying
way of life, and were able to let go of experiences without devaluing. They
were actively altruistic by being engaged in heavy-duty volunteer work. And
despite such high qualities, as single women, they were unnoticed. They fit
Maslow’s criteria of self-actualization, which makes them good candidates for
advanced multilevel growth (Witzel, 1991; Piechowski, 1998).
Perhaps the question to decide is this: Do all self-actualizing people
meet the criteria of Dabrowski’s Level IV? The reverse, all people who meet
the criteria of Level IV are self-actualizing, can be safely assumed to be true.
If this is to be studied, then the criteria for identifying them should come
from Maslow’s description of self-actualizing people and not by the means
of the Personal Orientation Inventory (Shostrom, 1963). As I have argued
elsewhere, that inventory is basically limited to the Rogerian concept of
openness to experience and does not include the much more telling charac-
teristics in Maslow’s description (Piechowski & Tyska, 1982).
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Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
The Problem of Level V
If Level IV is not easy to grasp, particularly if one has an unrealisti-
cally idealized notion of it, Level V presents an even greater problem. Who
can say they know personally someone so advanced as to qualify for this
lofty plane of the most advanced development? How perfect can one expect
such a person to be? Is such a person possible at all in our midst who would
be like Jesus Christ, Saint Francis of Assisi, Gautama Buddha, Paramahansa
Yogananda, or the Dalai Lama? Would Mother Teresa be a good example,
her detractors notwithstanding? Shall we look among the saints? Religion,
if followed with conviction, imposes a demanding personal discipline.
Consequently, one could argue that a person without a religion would have
no chance of attaining the most advanced level. However, there are secular
people who do attain Level V—some might say without the outside help of
a religious discipline. In view of this, I always felt that the most convincing
examples of high levels of development are secular.
My first candidate for Level V was Dag Hammarskjöld, the great Sec-
retary General of the United Nations (1953-1961), awarded posthumously
the Nobel Peace Prize. My intention was to analyze his Markings, but the
task seemed daunting, because some of his reflections are cryptic and also
not always an immediate record of his own feelings. Dag Hammarskjöld
chose to serve all nations, but especially the small emerging nations of the
world. It was not an easy choice; he knew the stranglehold of loneliness.
Because he made the United Nations operate according to the ideals of its
charter, he has been called Servant of Peace. The inner transformation that
he forged in his life opened to him transcendental realms:
Now you know, when the worries over your work loosen their grip,
then this experience of light, warmth, and power. From with-
out—a sustaining element, like air to a glider, or water to a
swimmer…through me there flashes this vision of a magnetic field
in the soul, created in a timeless present by unknown multitudes,
living in holy obedience, whose words and actions are a timeless
prayer. (Hammarskjöld, 1964, p. 84)
The metaphor of a magnetic field in the soul offers a glimpse into the
inner source of inspiration and energy that is not powered by egoistic
desire, but by the willing surrender to an inner ideal, what Dabrowski
called personality ideal (Piechowski, 2003).
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Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
At some point, I received a copy of Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work
in Her Own Words. Here was an extensive account of an authentic life that
convinced me of true representation of Level V (Peace Pilgrim, 1982;
Piechowski, 1992b; 2008). She was born Mildred Norman in 1908 on a
farm in New Jersey. Her family wasn’t churchgoing. Even as a child, she had
a bearing that made other children listen to what she had to say. She did not
find her mission in life, to work for peace, until after her marriage and
divorce and 15 years of work with emotionally disturbed adolescents and
adults. She described those 15 years as a struggle between the lower and the
higher self—a determined effort to start living what she believed. Then, at a
certain point “in the midst of the struggle came a wonderful mountain-top
experience, and for the first time I knew what inner peace was like. I felt
oneness—oneness with all my fellow human beings, oneness with all of cre-
ation. I have never felt really separate since.”
The way she described the phases of her inner growth and spiritual
maturing reads like a textbook case of multilevel growth. She drew a jagged
line of the inevitable ups and downs of the higher self combating the lower
self, followed by a high plateau with only occasional dips out of higher con-
sciousness, and finally the steady smooth upward incline after inner peace
was hers for good. She stressed that even though the battle had been won
and inner peace had been achieved, inner growth continued (Peace Pilgrim,
1982; Piechowski, 1992b).
Dabrowski was well aware that secondary integration was not a final
plateau. However we may try to conceive of the highest state, we can be cer-
tain that it grows in depth and intensity. This is how Peace Pilgrim
described her inner state after having attained inner peace for good; it is her
version of Hammarskjöld’s “magnetic field in the soul” and Dabrowski’s
personality ideal:
There is a feeling of always being surrounded by all of the good
things, like love and peace and joy. It seems like a protective sur-
rounding, and there is an unshakableness within which takes you
through any situation you may need to face…. (p. 22)
What I walk on is not the energy of youth, it is a better
energy. I walk on the endless energy of inner peace that never runs
out! When you become a channel through which God works there
are no more limitations, because God does the work through you:
you are merely the instrument—and what God can do is unlim-
ited. When you are working for God, you do not find yourself
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Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
striving and straining. You find yourself calm, serene, and unhur-
ried. (p. 26)
Her mission was to work for “peace among nations, peace among
groups, peace within our environment, peace among individuals, and the
very, very important inner peace…because that is where peace begins”
(Peace Pilgrim, 1982, p. 25). Peace Pilgrim started her pilgrimage of
25,000 miles on foot for peace in 1953, the dark period of the Korean War
and rampant McCarthyism. Although there were then small peace groups,
the peace movement was not yet born (Peace Pilgrim, 1982; Rush & Rush,
1992). Some years into her pilgrimage, she undertook a 45-day fast in order
to stay concentrated on her prayer for peace. Her prayer consciousness
became an unbroken continuous state of being: “I learned to pray without
ceasing. I made the contact so thoroughly that into my prayer conscious-
ness I put any condition or person I am concerned about and the rest takes
place automatically” (p. 73).
A great many people got to know her as she walked from coast to
coast in the years between 1953 and 1981. A documentary, The Spirit of
Peace, brings impressive evidence of the impact of her mission on, for
instance, prison programs that drastically reduce recidivism, and on arbi-
tration with the same goal as Gandhi’s, that both sides be winners in
resolving a conflict. Lawyers involved in arbitration using her Steps Toward
Inner Peace said that, after 20,000 cases, they have had a steady 80% success
rate, independent of who is the arbitrator. In the compilation of her talks
and in the testimony of those who knew her intimately, there is ample
material revealing her consistently high level of energy, kindness, unshak-
able inner peace, and dedication to her mission to raise people’s
consciousness for peace (Peace Pilgrim, 1982). This material gives insight
into the inner and outer life at Level V of one of our contemporaries
(Piechowski, 1992b).
Peace Pilgrim’s upbringing was not religious; her search for God was
prompted entirely from within, and so was Dag Hammarskjöld’s. Etty
Hillesum was raised conventionally in the Jewish tradition, but she
searched for that essential part of herself that she felt was locked away. It
brought her to a life of prayer and an intimate communion with God
(Piechowski, 1992a; Spaltro, 1991). She reached deep inside herself and
conquered hatred. Amid Nazi horror, she achieved inner peace. She spoke
from first-hand knowledge when she affirmed that “everything we need is
within us”—everything to give our life meaning, to secure inner peace, to
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Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
solve the problems of our time. Like Peace Pilgrim, she affirmed repeatedly
that inner peace is the necessary foundation of world peace (Piechowski,
1992a). Etty Hillesums (1985) diary is perhaps the most detailed record of
multilevel development yet.
Abraham Lincoln, raised in his mother’s Baptist creed, as a young
man rejected religious dogma (Wilson, 1998). In his personal growth, he
experienced periods of inner conflict and depression resulting in profound
inner transformation. Elizabeth Robinson (2002) and Andrew Kawczak
(2002) offer a brief analysis of the phases of positive disintegration in Lin-
coln’s life and conclude that he reached secondary integration.
The Roominess of Dabrowski’s Theory:
Levels as Larger Universes
The complexity of Dabrowski’s theory should not be underestimated
(see Table 3.4). Personal growth is much like scaling a mountain rather than
a sequential unfolding of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Imagining
personal growth as ascent of a mountain, with all of the peril, tests of courage,
and perseverance, suggests that not everyone has the strength, endurance,
and determination to go far; few manage to reach the summit. Also, not
everyone is interested in climbing and may prefer to remain in the valley.
Some may not even be aware of the mountain. The endowment for how far
in scaling the figurative mountain an individual can go constitutes develop-
mental potential. An endowment for multilevel development signifies that a
person starts already a significant distance up the slope. A person with limited
potential starts in the valley and does not reach far.
Table 3.4: Levels of Emotional Development According to
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration (Piechowski, 2003)
Level I: Primary Integration
Dog-eat-dog mentality
Dominant concern with self-protection and survival; self-serving egocentrism;
instrumental view of others
Level II: Unilevel Disintegration
A reed shaken in the wind—Matthew, XI, 7
Lack of inner direction; inner fragmentation—many selves; submission to the
values of the group; relativism of values and beliefs
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Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
Ambivalences
Ambitendencies
Second Factor
UNILEVEL DYNAMISMS
Fluctuations between opposite feelings; mood shifts
Changeable and conflicting courses of action
Susceptibility to social opinion; feelings of
inferiority toward others
Level III: Spontaneous Multilevel Disintegration
Video meliora proboque deteriora sequor.* —Marcus Tullius Cicero
Sense of the ideal but not reaching it; moral concerns; higher versus lower in oneself
MULTILEVEL DYNAMISMS
Multilevel dynamisms are ways of critically perceiving and evaluating the world,
others, and oneself, leading to the work of inner transformation
Hierarchy of Values and Social Conscience
Hierarchization and Empathy What is contrasted with what ought to be:
Individual values
Universal values lead to authenticity
Positive Maladjustment and Empathy Protest against violation of ethical principles
Emotionally Charged Self-Reactions and Self-Judgments
Dissatisfaction with Oneself Anger at what is undesirable in oneself; self-loathing
Inferiority toward Oneself Anger at what is lacking in oneself, of not realizing
one’s potential
Disquietude with Oneself Disharmony in one’s inner state of being
Astonishment with Oneself Surprise in regard to what is undesirable in oneself
Shame Shame over deficiencies and others’ view of
one’s moral standard
Guilt Guilt over moral failure; a need to repay and expiate
Level IV: Organized Multilevel Disintegration
Behind tranquility lies conquered unhappiness.—Eleanor Roosevelt
Self-actualization; ideals and actions agree; strong sense of responsibility on
behalf of others’ well-being and inner growth
DYNAMISMS OF INNER RESTRUCTURING
Subject-Object in Oneself The process of critical examination of one’s motives
and aims; an instrument of self-knowledge
Third Factor The executive power of choice and decision in
one’s inner life; active will in self-regulation and
self-determination
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Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
*I regard the better but follow the worse.
Responsibility Taking on tasks for the sake of one’s own and
others’ development; empathic responsiveness
to social needs
Inner Psychic Transformation Inner restructuring at a deep level, with lasting con-
sequences beyond return to lower-level functioning
Education of Oneself A program of change
Autopsychotherapy Self-designed psychotherapy and preventive
measures
Self-Control Regulating development and keeping in check
interfering processes; leads to autonomy
Self-Awareness Knowledge of one’s uniqueness, developmental
needs, and existential responsibility
Autonomy Confidence in one’s development; freedom from
lower-level drives and motivations
Level V: Secondary Integration
A magnetic field in the soul—Dag Hammarskjöld
Life inspired by a powerful ideal, such as equal rights, world peace, universal
love and compassion, sovereignty of all nations
Personality Ideal The ultimate goal of development—the essence
of one’s being
DYNAMISMS CONTINUING ACROSS LEVELS
Creative Instinct Becomes the dynamism of perfecting oneself
Empathy Connectedness; caring; helpfulness
Inner Conflict In the beginning, a clash of drives; then inner
conflict becomes emotional (unilevel) and con-
scious (multilevel)
Identification Identification with higher levels and personality
ideal
Dis-Identification Distancing from lower levels and drives
Disposing and Directing Center Status of will:
I: Identified with the main motive (drive)
II: Multiple, fragmented, or shifting in direction
III: Ascending and descending as a consequence
of which level it is attached to (=identified with)
IV: Unified
V: Personality ideal
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Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
One could say that the theory is spacious; each level is a large universe
with much room for many individual developmental paths. Any level can
hide widely contrasting types of development, just as under the same IQ
there is a wide range of individual intelligence profiles.
Each level has room for many possible patterns and alternative path-
ways. Barry Grant studied cases of advanced moral development, to which
he applied four theories of development: Kohlberg, Gilligan, Dabrowski,
and Blasi (Grant, 1988; 1990; 1996). He sought to introduce a dialogue
between individual lives and theories, to use the theories to illuminate lives
and the lives to check the theories. With four theories in the game, which
case was going to have the best fit with any of the four? The development of
one of his subjects (“Hendricks”) had striking parallels with Kohlberg’s
own. “Both men were influenced by moral questions raised by The Brothers
Karamazov; both believed in democratic values.” And further, “both men
grappled with moral relativism and sought a rational foundation for a
universal morality as an alternative to it.” Kohlberg found his solution in
universal principles in the form of moral reasoning he called “stage 6 justice
reasoning” (Grant, 1990, p. 86). Hendricks’s solution was to take
“rationality as an attitude toward finding and debating truth—tolerance,
open-mindedness, awareness of merit in competing views” (p. 87). His
rational approach is a morality in the making, rather than a morality that is
based on universal principles. Hendricks presents a challenge to Dabrowski’s
scheme. Grant says Hendricks would be at Level III or IV, because “he has
developed a hierarchy of values and, with a strong sense of responsibility,
seeks to live out his ideals.” However, Grant’s exhaustive case study (162
pages) came up with no evidence of inner transformation in the life of this
man committed to peace but not to inner growth.
Another of Grant’s cases, “Hope Weiss,” demonstrates the possibility
of multilevel growth being compatible with relativism. Having been raised
on Dabrowski’s theory, I always believed that relativism of values, and
hence moral relativism, belong in the unilevel universe. But Barry Grant
explains that there are three kinds of relativism: descriptive relativism, which
holds that the basic moral tenets of peoples and societies are different and in
conflict—this would fit my earlier narrow conception; normative relativ-
ism, the view that what is right for one society or person is not necessarily
right for another in a similar situation; and meta-ethical relativism, which
says that basic ethical judgments cannot be justified one against another in
an objectively valid way. Hope Weiss’s morality combines normative and
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Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
meta-ethical relativism. Her moral stance was rooted in a sense of a change-
less self, which she felt she always had: “My essence has always been the
same. I don’t know if that’s true for everybody….As far as I can remember,
from before kindergarten days, I’m really the same inside” (Grant, 1996,
p. 121). She believed that there is more than one right response to many
situations; consequently, she rejected the idea of universal principles of
moral judgment. Her morality was grounded, above all, in compassion.
Seeing a person in need, she felt compelled to help.
Hope Weiss’s behavior is characteristic of a multilevel way of func-
tioning, and yet she does not feel that she arrived there through a process of
positive disintegration; rather, she felt that she had always been that kind of
a person. This suggests that it should be possible to find more persons who
are born with an unusually strong empathy and an unchanging sense of
self. Ann Colby and William Damon (1992) interviewed Suzie Valdez who
for years has been “feeding, clothing, and providing medical care for thou-
sands of poor Mexicans living in the surrounds of the huge Ciudad Juarez
garbage dump.” She said that she always had love: “I love everybody; I
mean love. The Lord has given me a love for these people that I myself don’t
understand” (p. 47). Charleszetta Waddles, another deeply committed
person in Colby’s and Damon’s study, recalled her mother saying to her, “I
wish I had a heart like you,” and about herself, she said, “I had compassion,
I was forgiving, but at that time I didn’t call it by that name. I said, ‘Well, I
just can’t help it, I’m free-hearted’” (p. 212).
Two British studies reported people who had, since childhood, a
life-long continuous awareness of “this never failing flow of Life—Love—
Power…the central spark of life in us” (Maxwell & Tschudin, 1990,
p. 195) and being always essentially the same: “I don’t feel that essentially I
have changed much…. I think I always had the idea that the essential ‘me
was timeless and free and only for the present suffering all the inhibitions of
being encased in a body” (Robinson, 1978, p.141).
Perhaps those who are aware of their essence from a very young age
do not need to undergo positive disintegration, while others do, because
finding their essence is their life’s task that impels seeking, questioning,
doubting, scrutinizing, evaluating through positive disintegration, and
inner transformation.
Grant’s study demonstrated that no single theory, not even the four
theories together, could account in full for the developmental pathways of
each of the four morally advanced cases. Individual lives are incomparably
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Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
richer than any theory, or even a combination of theories. As Goethe said,
“Gray is all theory, green is the tree of life.”
The Pearls of Level II
Coming into contact with Dabrowski’s theory, one tends to focus on
the higher levels, III and IV, and be disdainful of Level II; yet this level
deserves understanding and a huge amount of empathy. This did not
become clear to me until I read Women’s Ways of Knowing, by Belenky,
Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1986).
Level II is not easy to grasp in all its multiple possibilities. I remember
once saying to Dabrowski that unilevel disintegration was eluding my
understanding. He jokingly answered, “I don’t understand it either.” Level
II is not always characterized by disintegration, because it carries the possi-
bility of partial integration, or adaptive integration, that follows the
conventions and dictates of society and one’s immediate environment.
Level II may carry inner instability that we would see in oscillations of
mood, inconsistent ways of acting, or shifting from one extreme to the
other. But it is also possible to have a fairly integrated worldview of conven-
tional values or a sort of intellectual rationalism. Fulfilling the expectations
of others, family, or society (“second factor”) in extreme cases may lead to
anorexia and bulimia in gifted women (Gatto-Walden, 1999). Inner frag-
mentation (“I feel split into a thousand pieces”) and unpredictable shifts
among many “selves” are often experienced. In adolescence, a failed
attempt at identity, which Elkind (1984) called “the patchwork self,” is
another example of the inner disorganization. At this level, personal growth
becomes a struggle toward achieving an individual sense of self.
When a sense of self is undeveloped, personal growth moves toward
gaining a sense of one’s individuality, coming into one’s own as a person.
When people trust external authority, depend on it for defining who they
are, they derive a sense of self from their role: “I’ve never had a personality.
I’ve always been someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone’s mother
(Belenky et al., 1986, p. 82). As long as this does not change, there is no
inner development—a Level I (and not yet II) condition remains. A crisis
erupts when the authority is exposed as wrong, misleading or exploitative,
and abusive. This can happen in a family, in a church, or in the whole
nation as it did during the Vietnam War. Feeling betrayed, people reject
authority because it failed them. They begin to look for self-knowledge and
self-definition in people like themselves, and eventually in themselves.
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The first step is liberation from passive acceptance of external authority
and replacing it with trust in subjective knowing. The second step is the
quest for self. In a radical shift, a person moves away from dependence on
external authority to listening to her own inner voice. But the voice is unde-
veloped, and whatever comes from the “gut” is taken uncritically. The voice
does not yet represent the true self. If emotional growth leads no further than
the person’s “gut feeling,” it will be swayed by moods, opinions, and chance
experiences—what Dabrowski called “ambivalences” and “ambitendencies.”
It is then locked in the unilevel range and remains there. But continued
growth is definitely possible, moving toward a sense of self.
One of the women in Women’s Ways of Knowing described how she
ceased to obey the whims of external authorities dictating matters of right
and wrong. She stopped thinking of herself as dumb and ignorant:
I can only know with my gut. I’ve got it tuned to a point where I
think and feel all at the same time and I know what is right. My gut
is my best friend, the one thing in the world that won’t let me down
orlietomeorbackawayfromme.(Belenky et al. 1986, p. 53)
Other women expressed similar change in themselves, the first stirrings
of their own inner knowing: “It’s like a certain feeling that you have inside
you. It’s like someone could say something to you and you have a feeling. I
don’t know if it’s like a jerk or something inside you. It’s hard to explain”
(p. 69).
It is possible that the feeling of an inside jerk suggests what Gestalt
psychologists and Gendlin (1981) have described as the internal shift of
things falling into place when a problem is solved.
There’s a part of me that I didn’t even realize I had until
recently—instinct, intuition, whatever. It helps me and protects
me. It’s perceptive and astute. I just listen to the inside of me, and I
know what to do. (p. 69)
Another woman described how she had to leave her past and start
anew:
Being married to him was like having another kid. I was his emo-
tional support system. After I had my son, my maternal instincts
were coming out of my ears. They were filled up to here! I remem-
ber the first thing I did was to let all my plants die, I couldn’t take
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care of another damned thing. I didn’t want to water them; I
didn’t want to feed anybody. Then I got rid of my dog. (p. 78)
This woman divorced her husband, moved to a different town with
her son, and began exploring alternative lifestyles.
Following the rules—isn’t that what school and church, the principal
agents of socialization and trimming individuality, are about? To break
away from the trust in rules is particularly difficult if there is no guidance
from anyone. The quest for self is arduous:
I always thought there were rules and that if you followed the
rules, you’d be happy. And I never understood why I wasn’t. I’d get
to thinking, gee, I’m good, I follow the rules. I do everything they
tell me to, and things don’t go right for me. My life was a mess. I
wrote to a priest that I was very fond of and I asked him, “What
do I do to make things right?” He had no answers. This time it
dawned on me that I was not going to get the answers from any-
body. I would have to find them myself. (p. 61)
Fluctuations in the sense of self, but also exhilaration and optimism
in the process of change, are expressed by three different women:
I’m a different person each day. It’s the day, I guess, depending on
how it is outside or how my body feels.…(p.83)
I’m only the person that I am at this moment. Tomorrow
I’m somebody different, and the day after that I’m somebody
different….I’m always changing. Everything is always chang-
ing.…(p.83)
It’s hard to say who I am because I don’t really think about
more than tomorrow. In the future, I’ll probably have a better
understanding, because now I simply don’t know. I think it will
really be a fun thing to find out. Just do everything until I find
out. (p. 83)
Opening to novelty and change, several women expressed in imagery
of birth, rebirth, and childhood—a significant step in personal growth,
even though it is far from multilevel:
Right now I’m so busy being born, discovering who I am, that I
don’t know who I am. And I don’t know where I’m going. And
everything is going to be fine.…(p. 82)
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Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
The person I see myself as now is just like an infant. I see
myself as beginning. Whoever I can become, that’s a wide-open
possibility.…(p.82)
I actually think that the person I am now is only about
three to four years old with all these new experiences. I always was
kind of led, told what to do. Never really thought much about
myself. Now I feel like I’m learning all over again. (p. 82)
I feel very strongly that emotional growth within the unilevel uni-
verse of Level II should not be underestimated but respected and explored
further. This raises the question as to whether it is possible to facilitate a
transition to multilevel emotional growth if a persons developmental
potential is limited. And is it possible to imagine a harmonious society
without a multilevel majority? I feel it is possible—to imagine. Recall the
example of Ralph, that showed how optimal families raise children who are
responsible, who have a strong sense of fairness and justice, and who care
for others even when their DP is short on the critical overexcitabilities,
emotional and intellectual. Child development research has indeed estab-
lished that the optimal conditions for growing up are like those that Ralph’s
parents created (Bowlby, 1969; Sroufe, 1995).
The above examples show that not all material has to be generated
from the framework of Dabrowski’s theory. Research literature can be
explored to flesh out some of his concepts in living color.
Measurement: There Must Be a Better Way
Research depends on instruments specific to its purpose. Assessing
developmental level from autobiographical material is an extremely time-
consuming process. Furthermore, Levels I and II are difficult to assess,
because most of the dynamisms are at higher levels. In addition, Level I is
defined by a total absence of any developmental dynamisms, and the
absence of something is difficult to quantify.
David Gage decided to explore new avenues. Multilevel dynamisms,
he concluded, could be viewed as themes that are expressed at every level of
development: moments of feeling inadequate and unworthy, moments of
frustration and anger toward oneself, dealing with questions that cause con-
flict and doubt within oneself, and so on. Of Gage’s three new methods, their
validities thoroughly investigated, Definition Response Instrument (DRI)
was used in subsequent studies. It consists of six questions corresponding to
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Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
themes represented by six multilevel dynamisms (Gage, Morse, &
Piechowski, 1981).
Katherine Ziegler Lysy was the first to use David Gage’s instrument
to assess developmental level (Lysy & Piechowski, 1983). She set out to
compare measures of personal growth derived from Jung’s and Dabrowski’s
theories. Jung’s concept of psychological type identifies three continuous
personality dimensions: from extroversion to introversion (E-I), from sen-
sation to intuition (S-N), and from thinking to feeling (T-F). One would
expect the last two dimensions to correspond to the overexcitabilities—for
instance, thinking to intellectual and feeling to emotional. However, there
is very little correlation between overexcitabilities and these dimensions,
suggesting that they are different constructs. The Jungian dimensions refer
to preferred and habitual modes of processing experience; the over-
excitabilities refer to the heightened capacities for enlarging experience (Lysy
& Piechowski, 1983).
Kathy Lysy gave her 42 subjects measures of overexcitability and
developmental level. She then correlated the data on overexcitabilities with
the data on developmental level. Emotional and intellectual overexcit-
abilities had a highly significant correlation with developmental level (.57
and .59), while for imaginational, the correlation was .38. (See Miller’s
chapter in this volume for a discussion of this and more recent findings.)
Dabrowski emphasized that emotional, intellectual, and imaginational
overexcitabilities were essential for multilevel growth. He also believed that
strong psychomotor and sensual overexcitabilities would hamper develop-
ment. This is not exactly what was found. Psychomotor and sensual
overexcitabilities did not have a lowering effect on developmental level; on
the contrary, they were mildly correlated with it. However, the Jungian
function of intuition showed a highly significant correlation (.44) with
developmental level, suggesting that intuition is an essential component of
multilevel potential.
Emotional and intellectual overexcitabilities are the strongest factors
in potential for multilevel growth. The strength of these overexcitabilities is
critical, because inner psychic transformation cannot be forged without
them. While psychomotor and sensual overexcitabilities by themselves
cannot enable multilevel growth, they are not an obstacle to it. Clearly,
multilevel growth is principally the function of the strength of emotional
and intellectual overexcitabilities in concert with intuition. Although
Dabrowski discussed intuition as a strong factor in multilevel development,
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Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
he did not include it among the dynamisms. Lysys results suggest that it
should be included. As intuition operates differently at each level of devel-
opment, it would be best to place it with the continuing dynamisms, like
identification and empathy that extend across levels (see Table 3.4).
A brief word about the continuing dynamisms. They operate at more
than one level; some diminish in strength; others grow stronger. Empathy
grows stronger and deeper. In the gifted, empathy may operate as a way of
knowing—that is, of understanding the world and others through an abil-
ity to get out of one’s skin to see and feel from the perspective of others
(Jackson, Moyle, & Piechowski, in press). Dabrowski stressed the key role
of empathy in working out inner transformation toward kindness and
taking responsibility for one’s own and others’ unique development. His
conception of empathy resonates well with such traits of self-actualization
as acceptance of self and others, democratic character structure, and kinship
with others (Gemeinschaftsgefühl).
Conserving versus Transforming Inner Growth
A few of Lysy’s subjects showed evidenceof inner psychic transforma-
tion. Speculating about different strengths and different kinds of develop-
mental potential, we came up with two terms: conserving and transforming.
Potential for conserving growth would allow it to continue through Level II
close to Level III, but not any further. Transforming growth, however,
would continue. The subjects who were deemed transforming had level
scores of 2.3, 2.4, 2.6, 3.0, and 3.1. Of the subjects who were deemed
conserving, the highest level scores were 2.4, and 2.6, and 2.8. Recall that
Level III scores go from 2.6 to 3.5. A similar, or even identical, score can
hide vastly different types of development. Thus, conserving subjects can
be found in the lower region of multilevel growth (scores of 2.6 and 2.8),
and transforming subjects’ scores can be found below the numerical threshold
for multilevel growth (scores of 2.3 and 2.4). Yet in their material, there
were distinct expressions of a multilevel character. This is probably the
closest that we can see in Level II the presence of what Dabrowski called
“multilevel nuclei.”
Judith Ann Robert (1984; Robert & Piechowski, 1981) took up the
task of exploring the distinction between conserving and transforming
personal growth. Examining the content of responses to open-ended
questionnaires, she found telling differences:
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Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
The concepts of a hierarchy of values can be found in both subjects,
but the conserving subjects lacked inner psychic transformation
which enabled them to put their ideals into action…. This con-
cept of inner psychic transformation, which was associated with
transforming subjects, is the process by which specific tasks of inner
restructuring are carried out. This requires an inward problem
solving approach, focusing on one’s personal growth and develop-
ment. And finally, an additional distinction between the subjects
was the transforming subjects’ sense of responsibility toward others
and their own development. (Robert, 1984, p. 103)
Robert noted that the transforming subjects did not dwell excessively
on their inner conflict—the split between higher and lower in them-
selves—but instead were active in solving the problems presented by their
multilevel growth process.
I feel that Dabrowski extolled the virtues of inner conflict perhaps
too much, as he believed in the ennobling value of suffering but failed to
mention that the ennobling is possible only if one accepts the suffering as
something to grow through. Acceptance is essential. It is one of the lessons
from the lives of Peace Pilgrim, Etty Hillesum, and Ashley. Rather than
condemning, accepting one’s inner “what is” as the starting point is a vital
step in emotional growth toward realizing “what ought to be” (Piechowski,
2003).
Dabrowski’s Theory and Gifted Education
Two persons played a key role in introducing Dabrowski’s theory to
the field of gifted education: Nick Colangelo and Linda K. Silverman. Nick
was my officemate when we were graduate students in counseling at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduate assistants at the Research
and Guidance Laboratory for Superior Students. I decided to create an
overexcitability questionnaire to give to the gifted middle and high school
students attending the Laboratory. This was the first OEQ. It had 46
open-ended questions formulated from the 433 expressions of over-
excitability that I had collected from autobiographies and Verbal Stimuli
I had just finished analyzing. In this way, I obtained the initial material that
I put years later in “Mellow Out,” They Say. If I Only Could (Piechowski,
2006). Nick became interested in the theory and in my project, as did Kay
Ogburn (later Colangelo), with whom we shared our office. After we all
graduated, Nick and another of our officemates, Ron T. Zaffrann, conceived
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Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
the idea of putting together a book under the title New Voices in Counseling
the Gifted (Colangelo & Zaffrann, 1979). It was the first book of its kind
and was graced by a general chapter on developmental potential and one on
a clinical example of multilevel potential (Ogburn-Colangelo, 1979;
Piechowski, 1979a).
Linda Kreger Silverman became an ardent champion of Dabrowsks
theory, organizing training sessions and pulling in R. Frank Falk. Linda
spoke about the theory at meetings, workshops, wherever she was invited to
speak. The concept of overexcitabilities found ready acceptance, because
they are so apparent in gifted children and adults. And then there were
those who resonated strongly to the concepts of multilevel growth and
inner transformation. Linda Silverman launched Advanced Development as
a forum to stimulate thinking and research on adult giftedness and
Dabrowskis theory. (See the chapters by R. Frank Falk, Nancy B. Miller,
and Linda K. Silverman in this book.)
Conclusions and Challenges
1. Dabrowski’s theory evolved over many years. The multilevelness
research project helped establish the structure of levels, definition
of dynamisms, and developmental potential.
2. Dabrowski’s theory has good form. Its concepts have been
operationalized, which enabled the design of research instruments
and methods of measurement.
3. Four empirical tests of the theory became possible: (1) reconstitu-
tion of the overall structure of levels from individual profiles,
(2) constancy of developmental potential, (3) agreement between
clinical and quantitative assessment of level, and (4) three-way
agreement in deriving a quantitative index of level between neuro-
logical exam, autobiography, and Verbal Stimuli.
4. Intuition makes a significant contribution to an advanced level of
development. Although Dabrowski did not include it among
multilevel dynamisms, he often spoke of its importance.
5. The concept of primary integration (Level I) needs to be reconsid-
ered, as it is neither primary nor a personality structure but the
outcome of the way society is.
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Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration
6. It is possible to grow into a positive human being, even with lim-
ited developmental potential, provided the conditions of growing
up are close to optimal.
7. In order to avoid thinking of levels as rigid structures, it is essential
to remember that Dabrowski emphasized looking at the persons
inner psychic milieu to see whether it was unilevel, unilevel with
multilevel nuclei, or essentially multilevel.
8. Unilevel growth process should not be underestimated. The search
for one’s own voice and sense of self commands respect and
empathic understanding.
9. Each level is a large universe with many possible developmental
patterns.
10. Conserving and transforming growth overlap at the borderline of
Levels II and III. Similar or identical level scores may hide con-
trasting types of inner growth.
11. Taking Maslow’s full description of self-actualizing people,
individuals in advanced multilevel growth (Level IV) are self-
actualizing. Whether self-actualizing people are also engaged in
advanced multilevel process has yet to be examined.
12. Rare persons aware of their own essence, of their self remaining
essentially the same throughout their life, do not appear to have
gone through positive disintegration. Their lives give evidence of
an advanced multilevel functioning. If one views the process of
positive disintegration as the search for one’s essence—one’s true
or higher self—then persons who have always had awareness of
their timeless essence appear to be exempt from the crushing grind
of positive disintegration.
13. Cases of persons approaching Level V, realizing fully their person-
ality ideal, can be found among our contemporaries.
14. Of all psychological theories, Dabrowski’s theory offers the most
insight into the emotional development of gifted and creative
children and adults.
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Chapter 3. Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory
... After emigrating to Canada, Dąbrowski received help from two fellow Poles, Andrzej Kawczak and Michael M. Piechowski, who had backgrounds in philosophy and science, respectively (Battaglia, 2002;Piechowski, 2008). With their assistance, Dąbrowski (1970) refined his concepts and set forth the conceptual framework of the ...
... The results were written up as a report to the Canada Council (Dąbrowski, 1974;Dąbrowski & Piechowski, 1972). Piechowski's (2008) task was to analyze the 3 The number of participants given the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale is unavailable. 14 autobiographical material in each of the cases. ...
... In 1970 (Piechowski, 1979(Piechowski, , 2008(Piechowski, , 2014a. While Dąbrowski's work was not exclusively focused on the gifted, he frequently used the word gifted in descriptions of patients, and intellectual functioning was a part of his assessment with clients. ...
Preprint
Abstract: The construct of overexcitability originated from the condition known as “nervousness.” Dąbrowski differentiated it into types many years before publishing the first outline of his theory of positive disintegration. In this paper, we establish the origins of psychic overexcitability (OE), tracing its evolution in Dąbrowski’s work prior to developing his theory and later through its placement within the concept of developmental potential. Based on our study of Dąbrowski’s early Polish work, we challenge the belief that overexcitability is often misdiagnosed as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Piechowski’s elaboration of OE in gifted education is explored, and current misconceptions and misuses of OEs are critiqued. Based on our review, we present possible future applications and elaborations of overexcitability.
... As a component of developmental potential, overexcitability does not appear until 1970 in Mental Growth through Positive Disintegration. Also, not until that time, did Dabrowski have all the moving and transforming forces of personal growth (the dynamisms) in place (Piechowski, 2008). ...
... The suffering is no doubt greatest for those who find it hard to advance, and also when they are all alone without even a written word to guide them, a description that would fit their experience. The lives of Eleanor Roosevelt, Etty Hillesum, the mystics, and the cases Dabrowski collected, illustrate the process vividly (Mróz, 2009;Nixon, 1989Nixon, , 1990Nixon, , 1994Nixon, , 2010Piechowski, 1990Piechowski, , 1992Piechowski, , 2008. The theory is a powerful tool enabling one to assist gifted adolescents or adults according to the nature of their growth process (Dabrowski, 1972;Jackson & Moyle, 2009a and b;Jackson, Moyle, & Piechowski, 2009;Silverman, 1993). ...
Article
Full-text available
Dabrowski's theory emerged from the neurology and clinical experience of the late 19th and early 20th century. Dabrowski addressed the problem of the tension of unbearably intense experience that can only be resolved through self-mutilation, suicide, or inner transformation. He identified the potential for advanced development in the qualities of heightened experiencing (overexcitabilities) and in the "own forces" of autonomous self-determination.
... Dąbrowski did break the personality development process into five distinct levels: Level I: Primary Integration, Level II: Unilevel Disintegration, Level III: Spontaneous Multilevel Disintegration, Level IV: Organized Multilevel Disintegration, and Level V: Secondary Integration. (See Mendaglio (2008) and Piechowski (2008) for a description of each of these five levels. ) Dąbrowski argued that advanced personality development requires strong developmental potential (Dąbrowski, 1967(Dąbrowski, /2015Piechowski, 2008). ...
... (See Mendaglio (2008) and Piechowski (2008) for a description of each of these five levels. ) Dąbrowski argued that advanced personality development requires strong developmental potential (Dąbrowski, 1967(Dąbrowski, /2015Piechowski, 2008). Developmental potential consists of three primary components: (1) talents, specific abilities, and high general intelligence; (2) overexcitabilities (OE); and (3) the third factor, "a capacity for self-directed emotional growth, self-determination, and autonomy" (Daniels & Piechowski, 2009b, p. 8). ...
... If Vuyk et al. (2016a) had shown that OEs and OtEs are identical constructs, they would have made an extraordinary discovery. They would have shown that overexcitabilities, which a Polish psychiatrist conceived of 80 years ago on the basis of clinical observations and assessed with a 100-item measure (Dąbrowski, 1938(Dąbrowski, /2019(Dąbrowski, , 1967; see also : Mendaglio, 2008;Piechowski, 2006Piechowski, , 2008, are really the same constructs as ones developed from word usage and factor analysis in the late 20 th century. Dąbrowski's pioneering work would have been verified with sophisticated contemporary statistical analyses and research designs. ...
Article
Full-text available
A recent study claiming to provide a basis for gifted education to drop the construct of overexcitabilities in favor of the construct of openness to experience and align itself with the Five Factor Model and a talent development perspective on gifted education is shown to be without merit. An analysis shows that the study supports the conclusion that the constructs are less similar than they appear to be from descriptions in the literature. This raises questions about the evidence needed for a field to drop constructs and the role of theory and research in guiding practice. It is argued that proposals for a field to change direction must be very strong and that gifted education should pay increased attention to justifying ethical claims.
... "To varying degrees, these five dimensions give talent its power," said Piechowski (1997, p. 366). Piechowski assisted researchers in better understanding the relationship of overexcitabilities to the theory of positive disintegration with numerous studies of emotional and spiritual intelligence (Piechowski, 1979(Piechowski, , 1991(Piechowski, , 1997(Piechowski, , 1999(Piechowski, , 2006(Piechowski, , 2008Piechowski & Colangelo, 1984;Piechowski & Cunningham, 1985;Piechowski & Miller, 1995;Piechowski, Silverman, & Falk, 1985). The need to investigate overexcitabilities on a cross-cultural level may provide new understanding to the use of overexcitablities with talented children and youth. ...
Article
Full-text available
This autoethnography gives a personal and cultural account of my work with the Dabrowski theory. I have administered the Overexcitability Questionnaire (OEQ) and the Overexcitability Questionnaire II (OEQ-II) to 16 cohorts of talented high school sophomores and juniors (N = 600+). I have written about much of this in my books, but the studies have not appeared in the journal literature, though they have been presented at national and international conferences. Comparison studies have been done with both instruments. In addition, I organized three of the first Dabrowski conferences in the U.S., edited a newsletter, and my graduate students used the OEQs in their own studies. In this autoethnographic account, I describe several studies with the OEQ and the OEQ-II. The appeal of the Dabrowski theory itself, as it posits levels of adult development gained through reactions to challenges, seems to appeal to people by means that seem to be mysterious and mythic. ____________________________________________________________
... Section 2.4 3. Giftedness -Asynchronous development (Dabrowski, 1966;Piechowski, 2008) and coping (Jung, McCormick, & Gross, The forced choice dilema: A model incorporating idiocentric, allocentric cultural orientation, 2012). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Gifted students possess potential for advanced intellect that accelerates learning from an early age. By adolescence, a knowledge gap emerges between gifted adolescents and their peers, which presents challenges that potentially influence wellbeing. This research reports a case study of a compaction intervention program. It draws on data from six consecutive middle years cohorts to explore student wellbeing. The two-phase study used archives to inform retrospective interviews. Evidence revealed value in using a balanced approach to address student needs. Influences on wellbeing highlighted the necessity for systemic support beyond gifted program interventions. A Health Promoting school framework (WHO, 2013) was recommended to improve sustainability and outcomes.
Chapter
This chapter presents an overview of the multifaceted characteristics of intellectually gifted students, their social and emotional needs, and ways of scaffolding their social and affective growth for academic engagement from an Australian perspective. Generally, gifted students experience and respond to external influences quite differently to many of their same-age peers of average ability due to their asynchronous chronological and intellectual development and their social and emotional complexities. This asynchrony has implications for their social interactions, social and emotional learning (SEL) needs, programming, and provisions. Research reiterates that their unique characteristics require accurate identification and supportive educational provisions to enable the holistic development of their intellectual, social, and emotional growth. Recognising the unique characteristics and needs of gifted students and helping them to extend their skills to develop SEL competencies are preludes to enhancing their academic achievement, while consecutively promoting their personal well-being and healthy relationships.
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