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Lives of Positive Disintegration

  • Institute for Educational Advancement


13th International Dabrowski Congress, Naperville, IL, July 2018. Description: The challenge of Dąbrowski’s theory lies, among other things, in the problem of translating his theoretical descriptions and sketchy case examples into knowledge of how to apply the theory to individual lives. Dabrowski (1977, 1996) designed a research project to showcase the conceptual structure of his theory through selected cases. It seems that little use has been made of these cases, perhaps because the analysis looks so tedious. There are a number case studies that attempt to identify the dynamisms operating in multilevel process of inner transformation: contemporary individuals (Brennan, Frank, Grant, Mroz), mystics (Nixon), and moral exemplars (Piechowski). The case of Eleanor Roosevelt will be used to show the process of inner transformation. Following this, an attempt will be made to distinguish the types of development identified by the theory.
Lives of Positive Disintegration
Michael M. Piechowski, Ph. D.
Dabrowski Congress, July 12, 2018
In a nutshell
Inner Growth and
in the Life of Eleanor
Early Characteristics and the Search for Emotional Security
physical vigor
emotional awareness and sensitivity
capacity for intense feelings
vivid imagination
curiosity and alertness to events around her
eagerness to learn
strong will
One long battle against fear:
fear of the dark,
fear of water,
fear of displeasing those whose approval was important to her,
fear of insane people,
fear of childbirth,
fear of public speaking.
Fear is the great crippler of human life.
The only way to overcome it is to face it.
A strong need to belong.
Intellect nurtured at Allenswood, UK.
Self-confidence nurtured there, too.
Return to New York to enter society.
Again she felt awkward, out of fashion, without a home.
Marriage to FDR at 20.
FDR’s controlling mother.
How does positive disintegration start?
I was simply absorbing the personalities of those about me
and letting their tastes and interests dominate me.
They all in their sureness and absolute judgment on people
and affairs going on in the world make me want to squirm
and turn bolshevik.
I learned then that practically no one in the world is entirely
bad or entirely good, and that motives are often more
important than actions…. Out of these contacts with human
beings during the war I became a more tolerant person, far
less sure of my own beliefs and methods of action, but I
think more determined to try for certain ultimate
The Courage to Know Oneself
Growth terms used by Eleanor Roosevelt:
“along the line of development”
“personal development”
“we shape ourselves”
“inner adjustments”
“to progress inwardly”
“harsh self-knowledge”
“readjustment is a private revolution”
“tortures of the damned”
“painfully acquired self-discipline”
You must try to understand truthfully what makes you do
things or feel things. Until you have been able to face the
truth about yourself you cannot be really understanding in
regard to what happens to other people. But it takes
courage to face yourself and to acknowledge what
motivates you in the things you do.
This self-knowledge develops slowly. You cannot attain it all
at once simply by stopping to take stock of your personal
assets and liabilities. In a way, one is checked by all that
protective veiling one hangs over the real motives so that it
is difficult to get at the truth. But if you keep trying honestly
and courageously, even when the knowledge makes you
wince, even when it shocks you and you rebel against it, it is
apt to come in flashes of sudden insight.
An important part of self-knowledge is that it gives one a
better realization of the inner strength that can be called
upon, of which one may be quite unaware.
Painfully, step by step, I learned to stare down each of my fears,
conquer it, attain the hard-earned courage to go on to the next.
Only then was I really free.
Of all the knowledge that we acquire in life this is the most difficult.
But it is also the most rewarding. With each victory, no matter how
great the cost or how agonizing at the time, there comes increased
confidence and strength to help meet the next fear.
We have all the time there is. The problem is: How
shall we make the best use of it? There are three ways in
which I have been able to solve that problem: first, by
achieving an inner calm so that I can work undisturbed by
what goes on around me; second, by concentrating on the
thing in hand; third, by arranging a routine pattern for my
days…remaining flexible enough to allow for the unexpected.
There is a fourth point which, perhaps, plays a considerable
part in the use of my time. I try to maintain a general pattern
of good health so that I have the best use of my energy
whenever I need it.
I learned that the ability to attain this inner calm,
regardless of outside turmoil, is a kind of inner strength. It
saves an immense amount of wear and tear on the nervous
Methods of Coping with Conflict
and Emotional Pain
Absorption in work
Transcending a conflict
Contemplating an image of self-mastery and peace
“beyond pain and beyond joy”
Readjustment is a kind of private revolution.
Readjustment is a kind of private revolution.
Each time you learn something new you must
readjust the whole framework of your
knowledge. It seems to me that one is forced to
make inner and outer adjustments all one's life.
The process never ends.
Sometimes I'd be very unhappy and sorry for
myself. When I was feeling that way, if I could
manage it, I'd come out here, alone, and sit and
look at that woman. And I would always come
away somehow feeling better. And stronger. I've
been here many, many times.
The hard part of loving is that one has to learn
so often to let go of those we love, so they can
do things, so they can grow, so they can return
to us with an even richer, deeper love.
Behind tranquility lies conquered unhappiness.
The encouraging thing is that every time you must meet a
situation, though you may think at the time it is an
impossibility and you go through the tortures of the
damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find
that forever after you are freer than you were ever before. If
you can live through that you can live through anything.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence…You must do
the thing you think you cannot do.
The Inner Ideal
Laws and government administration are only the result of the
way people progress inwardly, and that the basis of success in a
Democracy is really laid down by the people. It will progress only
as their own personal development goes forward.
If we believe in Democracy and that it is based on the possibility
of a Christ-like way of life, then everybody must force himself to
think through his own basic philosophy, his own willingness to
live up to it and to help carry it out in everyday life.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s Evening Prayer
Our Father, who has set restlessness in our hearts and made us all seekers after
that which we can never fully find, forbid us to be satisfied with what we make of life.
Draw us from base content and set our eyes on far off goals.
Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.
Deliver us from fretfulness and self-pitying; make us sure of the good we cannot see
and the hidden good in the world.
Open our eyes to the loveliness men hide from us because we do not try to
understand them.
Save us from ourselves and show us a vision of the world made new.
Etty Hillesum
A young Jewish woman in the
Diaries, 1941-43: most likely
the most detailed account of
intense inner transformation
from Level III to V to be found
anywhere. And all between the
age of 27 and 30 (almost).
Unexpected turn of feeling
9 March 1941
So many inhibitions, so much fear of letting go, of allowing things to pour
out of me, and yet this is what I must do if I am ever to give my life a
reasonable and satisfactory purpose.…I am accomplished in bed, just about
seasoned enough I should think to be counted among the better lovers,
and love does suit me to perfection, and yet it remains a mere trifle, set
apart from what is truly essential, and deep inside me something is still
locked away. The rest of me is like that, too. I am blessed enough
intellectually to be able to fathom most subjects, to express myself clearly
on most things; I seem to be a match for most of life’s problems, and yet
deep down something like a tightly wound ball of twine binds me
relentlessly and at times I am nothing more or less than a miserable,
frightened creature, despite the clarity with which I can express myself.
Etty sought to give her life a “reasonable and satisfactory
“I have become just a little stronger again. I can fight things
with myself.”
“It is a slow and painful process, this striving for true inner
“There is a really deep well inside me. And in
it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too.
But more often stones and grit block the
well and God is buried beneath. Then He
must be dug out again.”
“I’d like to know how I did it….And the lesson
I learned is this: thought doesn’t help; what
you need is not causal explanations but will
and a great deal of mental energy.”
The problem of hatred
Each of us must turn inwards and destroy in himself all that
he thinks he ought to destroy in others…every atom of hate
we add to this world makes it still more inhospitable.
“A kneeler in training”
“A desire to kneel down sometimes pulses through my
body, or rather it is as if my body had been meant and
made for the act of kneeling. Sometimes in moments of
deep gratitude, kneeling down becomes an
overwhelming urge, head deeply bowed, hands before
my face.”
Peace Pilgrim
“I became increasingly uncomfortable about having so much
while my brothers and sisters were starving. The turning
point came when, in desperation and out of a very deep
seeking for a meaningful way of life, I walked all one night
through the woods.…I felt a complete willingness, without
any reservation, to give my life—to dedicate my life—to
service. “Please, use me. Take all of me!” I prayed to God.
And a great peace came over me.
I tell you, it’s a point of no return. After that, you can never
go back to completely self-centered living.”
Peace Pilgrim
“During the spiritual growing up the inner conflict can be
more or less stormy. Mine was about medium. The self-
centered nature is a very formidable enemy and it
struggles fiercely to retain its identity.…It knows the
weakest spots of your armor and attempts a
confrontation when one is least aware.”
Inner Peace
“Then in the midst of the struggle there came a wonderful
mountain-top experience, and for the first time I knew what
inner peace was like….I knew before that all human beings are
one. But now I knew also a oneness with the rest of
creation..…And most wonderful of all, a oneness with that which
permeates all and binds all together and gives life to all. A oneness
with that which many would call God.…I have never felt
separate since.”
Bret Dofek
Nineteen-year-old Bret was carrying documents for the underground. He was
caught by the communist guards. Harsh imprisonment followed, including
solitary confinement, concentration camp, and hard labor (unprotected) in a
uranium mine. While other prisoners kept themselves going by feeding their
hatred, Bret realized that giving in to hatred would mean losing his integrity
and his dignity. An inner struggle followed until he attained inner peace. The
communists tried hard to break him down but couldn’t. He was among the
last to be released. He was 35 years old.
Bret Dofek
Unconquerable Soul: One Man’s Thorny Path to Freedom
14420 Virginia Drive
Lakewood, CO 80228
(303) 984-1458
The old, formal education system…did not prepare me to deal with the
extreme pressures I had to endure in a harsh, brutal, communist prison.
For a long time, I was unable to avoid confusion and reconnect with my
own internal process of development, even when I was trying as hard as
possible. It was a constant struggle. But through mental training, I was
gradually able to explore my potential, gradually able to accept the internal
guidance of my spirit, and gradually able to hold firmly to an important,
fundamental set of positive values in my mind.
Robert D. Enright
The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating
a Legacy of Love
Enright developed a process of forgiveness that leads beyond letting go
toward mercy and compassion for the one who caused hurt, emotional
injury, and suffering—to see that individual as an emotionally wounded
person worthy of respect and kindness.
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