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The Roots of Dabrowski's Theory

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  • Institute for Educational Advancement

Abstract

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.
The Roots of Dabrowski’s Theory
Michael M. Piechowski
Michael M. Piechowski, Ph.D., collaborated with Kazimierz Dabrowski while
at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. A Senior Fellow at
the Institute for Educational Advancement and faculty member for the Yunasa
summer camp for gifted youth, he is the author of Mellow Out, They Say. If
I Only Could: Intensities and Sensitivities of the Young and Bright, coeditor
with Susan Daniels of Living with Intensity, and coeditor with Christine
Neville and Stephanie S. Tolan of Off the Charts: Asynchrony and the Gifted
Child.
____________________________________________________________
ABSTRACT: 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.
____________________________________________________________
In discussions of his theory, Dabrowski often mentioned Pierre
Janet, Jan Mazurkiewicz, John Hughlings Jackson, Constantin von
Monakow, and most often Søren Kierkegaard. Pierre Janet (1859-
1947) is best known for his study of psychoneuroses. Constantin von
Monakow (1853-1930) was Janet’s contemporary, as was Sigmund
Freud (1856-1937). Jan Mazurkiewicz (1871-1947) was Janet’s
student in Paris and Dabrowski’s professor in Warsaw.
Unlike other personality theories, Dabrowski’s theoretical effort
was grounded in neurology. For his clinical diagnosis, Dabrowski
relied on a classic neurological exam. The neurology he learned as a
student in the 1920s reached back to the discoveries and ideas of the
previous century. Darwinian evolution was very much on people’s
mind so it was only natural to contemplate the evolution of the nervous
system in step with human evolution. Integration and disintegration
were part of the neurological terminology of the time.
According to the prominent British neurologist John Hughlings
Jackson (1835-1911) the nervous system evolved progressively higher
levels of organization. The lower levels were older while the higher
ones appeared only recently. In his view, the evolutionary trends
proceeded from (a) simple to complex levels of organization, (b) from
automatic to autonomous functions, and (c) from highly organized
to less organized, fluid operation (Jackson, 1884). The capacity for
autonomous thought and voluntary action emerged with the higher
levels. Impairment caused by mental illness, injury, or alcohol can
“dissolve” the operation of the top level. The result is a release of the
more automatic operation of the level below. The overall idea appealed
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to Dabrowski, but he was quick to point out that if the higher
autonomous levels were less organized they would not be able to
subordinate the lower ones. How important Jackson’s ideas were to
Dabrowski is evident by his paper “Remarks on Jackson’s theory”
(as cited in Dabrowski, 1996). Therefore, the higher levels must have
a strong and efficient organization. The lowest level would be that of
automatic and instinctual behavior.
Instincts, according to Monakow, the Russian, then Swiss,
neurologist— one could also say an idealist unaffected by the Freudian
dark side of the human psyche—were the building blocks of the
human psyche. He distinguished between low and high levels of
instincts, the latter being typically human. For instance, some actions
that serve self-preservation may cause harm. The possible harm has to
be weighed against what might be gained. Useful actions are sorted out
from harmful ones by a process of appraisal (Monakow & Mourgue,
1928). Here comes the interesting part: appraisal introduces value,
which means that some actions are better (positive value) while others
are worse (negative value). Monakow said that Freud in his theory of
instincts lacked the concept of a hierarchy of values, a concept that
figures prominently in Dabrowski’s theory.
Monakow (1925) speculated in much detail how the instinct of
self-preservation evolved to caring for the preservation of the race.
If eroticism is the basic instinct, then education and care for posterity
are its more evolved form. (This may sound like Freudian sublimation,
but isn’t, because sublimation is a defense mechanism against the
power of the basic instinct. Today we know that animals are capable of
more than instinctual behavior as they can deceive intentionally, cheat,
but also be empathic and altruistic.) The struggle for preservation of
the community evolved to consideration for the individual in the
community; by creation of ethical values the community affirms the
value of the individual. Finally, preservation of humankind together
with the cultivation of relations to the Highest evolved altruism,
“striving toward the good and the true, [an] impulse toward ethical
perfection and purity.” These ideas illustrate the Zeitgeist in which
Dabrowski’s mind was churning.
––––––––––––––––
The Evolutionary Perspective
––––––––––––––––
Pierre Janet also adopted the evolutionary perspective as one of
his works bears the title L’évolution psychologiques de la personnalité
(Janet, 1929). He emphasized detailed observation so that precise
description of psychological processes could be made. To outline the
psychological evolution of personality, Janet drew not only from the
work of French psychologists and psychiatrists, but also from the
research of William James, J. H. Jackson, C. S. Sherrington, and
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Michael M. Piechowski
J. M. Baldwin. Janet was systematically building a normal psychology,
and he called it analyse psychologique, later reproaching Freud for
having used the term as psychoanalysis together with other concepts
such as système psychologiques as complexes, désinfection morale as
catharsis, “restriction of the field of consciousness” as repression, and
so on (Sjövall, 1967). According to Henri Ellenberger (1970), Janet
was first to discover cathartic therapy. While Freud interested himself
with the forces of the unconscious, Janet tended to emphasize the
higher levels in the personality and striving toward a richer synthesis.
If psychoanalysis is depth psychology then Janet’s is height psychol-
ogy (Sjövall, 1967).
Janet’s theory lacked the drama, symbolism, and mythology of
Freud’s theory—one could say it did not make a good story; it also
lacked a name—a major handicap— though as a much broader
conception it was more comprehensive (Barraud, 1971). Studying
Janet’s major works and attending his lectures in Paris affected
Dabrowski deeply.
Janet’s psychology is about the normal individual as a whole
organism, while Freud reduced everything to a system of pressures,
defenses, and releases. Consequently, no individuality can be drawn
from Freuds theory, which may be a major reason for its lack of appeal
to Dabrowski. While Freud interested himself in the forces of the
unconscious, Janet tended rather to stress the higher levels in
personality and the striving toward a richer synthesis (Sjövall, 1967).
Janet’s normal individual was not the statistical mean of Quetelet’s
l’homme moyen but a healthy well-functioning organism. Janet
analyzed behavior in terms of balance between resources and expendi-
tures of personal energy (Janet, 1925). Most of our energy, he said, is
tied up in social life—it is high maintenance as we would say today.
Depleting one’s resources (one’s coping energy) leads to mental
breakdown. To regain mental health, the energy has to be replenished.
Healthy development tends toward unity of personality. Janet reflected
in detail on physical personality (posture, gestures, walk, vocal
expression), social personality, and on how personality changes over
time. He considered feelings to be regulators of action (Sjövall, 1967).
Fully developed self-aware individuality was, in his view, expressed
not only in responsibility for one’s actions but also in opposing society
when society is wrong. The latter idea can be recognized in
Dabrowski’s dynamism of positive maladjustment. Janet outlined no
less than nine levels in the evolution of behavior (Janet, 1929; Sjövall,
1967).
In Janet’s framework, higher levels of psychological functioning
require higher psychological tension. An action taking place high in
the hierarchy of behavior demands a high degree of tension. Attention
and will, being of high tension, concentrate energy. Janet often recom-
mended work and exerting oneself as a way of raising the tension that
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The Roots of Dabrowski’s Theory
had fallen too far down in neuroses and psychoneuroses (Sjövall,
1967).
Dabrowski’s concept of psychological tension is different from
Janet’s because it grew out of his study of suicide and self-mutilation.
No less significant was Dabrowski’s attraction to artists, musicians,
and writers who lived with greater intensity at a higher pitch of
emotions. He perceived a connection between emotional tension and
intensity of experience that led him to identify five ways of processing
tension—the five overexcitabilities. This idea emerged from his study
of self-mutilation, in which he included not only harming oneself to
appease inner tension, but also emotional tormenting oneself through
self-recrimination and self-loathing that included feelings of guilt,
though no guilt-worthy acts were committed (one can think of
survivor guilt as an example, or feeling guilty for being affluent
amidst poverty).
Another of Janet’s concepts is “prise de conscience de soi même”
(becoming self-aware), which he regarded as a law of mental develop-
ment. To be conscious of something is to first feel it and then to be
able to put into words (for example, I am scrupulous, I am obsessed by
regrets, I have broken a taboo and lived). When it becomes a crisis, a
transformation takes place in one’s beliefs (Janet, 1929). Dabrowski
often referred to this concept: “It is an act of illumination, as it were,
an act of a sudden understanding of the sense, the causes, and purposes
of one’s own behavior. As a consequence of repeated acts of prise de
conscience de soi-même arises the ‘subject-object’ dynamism”
(Dabrowski, 1967, p. 104). This dynamism prepares the work of
inner transformation.
Dabrowski valued the work of Charles S. Sherrington (1941,
1947) as being particularly close to the theory of positive disintegra-
tion. Mental activity and the rich life of the human psyche cannot be
reduced to the electrical activity of the brain. The human mind having
at its center the conscious ‘I’ is in conflict with nature, because in the
natural world life devours life, causing endless suffering. While nature
has no ethics, human beings do and are capable of valuing each
individual life and condemning infliction of suffering. “Where there
is a mind, there is suffering, and the higher the life, the more suffering,
which leads to the question of values” (Dabrowski, 1964, pp. 178–
179).
Sherrington emphasized that stopping an action is also acting. Thus,
inhibition is as significant as stimulation, self-control as significant
as the impulse to act. We know that Dabrowski valued highly the
prevalence of inhibition over impulse to action in the introvert.
Inner reflection and self-evaluation are the prerequisites of multilevel
development.
While Janet’s ideas were encountering opposition to be followed
by oblivion that lasted decades—his death in 1947 went unnoticed in
France (Ellenberger, 1970)—they found a continuation in the work of
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Michael M. Piechowski
his student, Jan Mazurkiewicz, “the father of Polish scientific psychia-
try,” who was also a Freemason (Kaczyński, 1975; Kokoszka, 2007).
Janet’s oblivion is perhaps understandable in light of the hegemony of
psychoanalytic theory in the early part of the 20th century and the fact
that English-speaking psychologists rarely read French (and Polish not
in a million years).
Mazurkiewicz taught that the nervous system has a dual function:
one is physical (to transmit electrical impulses) and one is experiential.
Experiencing, of course, combines feeling, cognizing, and acting.
Each subjective experience takes shape within the multilevel organiza-
tion of the nervous system (Kokoszka, 2007). At the higher levels,
and especially in the cortex, the processes become autonomous and
can be self-generated. The fact that we are capable of voluntary actions
demonstrates that we can act in an autonomous manner.
Dabrowski named the “own forces” of the psyche the “third
factor,” next to the social milieu (second factor), and one’s constitution
(first factor), as the shapers of personality development. Dabrowski
gave the third factor also a specific meaning as a dynamism that acts
selectively on the propensities moving within the inner psychic milieu.
The individual becomes aware of that which is essential and lasting in
one’s self in contrast to that which is secondary and transitory. This
selective sorting out leads also to the scrutiny of one’s environment in
regard to the values that operate in it (Dabrowski, 1964).
Feelings are the central element of Mazurkiewicz’s theory. No
learning can be remembered without the dynamic component of
feeling that was first associated with it. Echoing Monakow, he wrote
that “feeling is always a subjective appraisal of a value of an
experienced content (a sensory impression, an organismic sensation,
a thought process), it is an emotionally felt response to that
experience” (Mazurkiewicz, 1930, p. 36).
Feelings can play a directive role. In Mazurkiewicz’s view,
feelings associated with the evolutionary higher levels are stronger than
the lower ones because the speed of reactions is higher in the cortical
areas than in the subcortical ones. And people are distinctly capable of
behaving according to higher feelings on the one hand and on the other
hand of suppressing instinctual tendencies (Kokoszka, 2007).
––––––––––––––––
Positive Disintegration
––––––––––––––––
Dabrowski did his doctoral dissertation on the psychology of
suicide at the University of Geneva and published it with his name
phoneticized to Dombrowski (1929). It is an extremely detailed
systematic review of all the possible conditions leading to suicide,
including suicide by couples and by children. Dabrowski also draws
attention to cases in which there is a conflict between the individual
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The Roots of Dabrowski’s Theory
and social life, “between his affective tendencies and a critical stance
toward others, between an ideal, that sometimes even the subject
himself recognizes as unreal, and the world of reality” (p. 87). He also
discusses cases when strong imagination and a series of disappoint-
ments may lead some individuals to a deeply pessimistic outlook on
life. He speaks of a “thirst for the absolute, the unshakeableness of
emotions, the firmness of values” that exert a decisive influence on
how a person who is “hypersensitive, hyperindividualistic, and
overexcitable” views life (p. 64). Later he will describe these things
as inner conflict and positive maladjustment.
The theory of positive disintegration is foreshadowed in
Dabrowski’s 1937 monograph “The psychological bases of self-
mutilation” and in the 1938 paper on the types of increased psychic
excitability (Dabrowski, 1937, 1938). In that paper only four types of
overexcitability are presented: psychomotor, emotional, imaginational,
and sensual; the intellectual was not included.
The subject of the monograph is the problem of the tension of
unbearably intense experience that must be resolved. The solution is
found by fighting pain with pain, by harming oneself physically.
Physical self-mutilation and also mental self-torture release the
tension. Dabrowski reviews a number of cases, but especially the lives
of Michelangelo, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Otto Weininger (suicide at 23),
Jan Władysław Dawid (wife’s suicide), and Lev Tolstoy, to describe
struggles of conflicting tendencies within the self, for instance, longing
for simple life opposed by life of privilege, the wish to be humble
clashing with one’s pride, sensuality obstructing the goal of spiritual
perfection. The more the opposing tendencies approach equal strength,
the higher the inner tension. Tension abates when one side gains
ascendance.
J. W. Dawid (1859–1914) occupies a special position here as one
in whom inner transformation was of the most thorough kind. He was
a cool intellectual, a psychologist devoted to education. The UNESCO
International Bureau of Education includes him as one of the 100 most
important educators. He was a researcher of the positivist school for
which only what could be measured is real. Historically for Poles
under the tsar the times were difficult and they took their toll on his
wife. Dawid loved his wife deeply. When she committed suicide,
losing her was too much to bear. He was tortured by a feeling of guilt
that he was unable to prevent her death. In the years of emotional crisis
that followed, Dawid eventually opened his mind to transcendental
reality. In his letters and diaries of that time, Dabrowski found
expressions of Dawid’s strong desire for self-sacrifice, for a partial
death that would open the door to spiritual development and the
possibility of being reunited with his beloved Jadwiga.
In concluding thoughts to his monograph, Dabrowski uses
expressions like “stabilization of personality at a higher level,
the value of self-sacrifice, the “purifying value of suffering”
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Michael M. Piechowski
(when properly understood as a voluntary path of spiritual growth),
and “higher type of personality” that indicate the emerging paradigm
of a higher level opposing the lower one and rejecting it, the “what
ought to be” opposing and disintegrating the “what is.” These kinds of
struggles within the individual’s inner psychic milieu will later be
called unilevel, when no hierarchy of values is present and multilevel
when one is.
In 1937 Dabrowski still admitted to mental overexcitability as
pathological, by which he seemed to mean a generally anxious and
agitated state of mind. Nevertheless at the end of the monograph he
asserts that this view may be erroneous. The phrase “the unpleasant
state of mental overexcitability” appears a number of times as the goad
to alleviate it by self-infliction of pain or in other ways. He suggested
methods for “early prevention of overexcitability and of tendencies to
aggression and explosiveness” (p. 97). I believe he meant that it is
necessary for highly excitable children to develop a degree of
understanding and self-control in order to prevent the agony of out of
control intensities. In his first outline of development through positive
disintegration, which appeared in French in 1959, overexcitability does
not even have a section. Under the communist regime, publication of
the book On Positive Disintegration was delayed until 1964. 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).
In building his theory, Dabrowski always stayed close to the
neurological basis of felt experience. The nervous system not only
transmits excitation but also its opposite, which is inhibition. The
intensity as well as the nuance of feeling and experience varies from
individual to individual. The spectrum of human beings “larger than
life” who live their life full tilt extends all the way to the timid and
inhibited whose lives are constricted. The nervous system processes
tension in various ways as different modes of processing experience—
the overexcitabilities. Tension can be expressed directly through the
emotions or be channeled into agitation of thought, endless imaginings
of happy outcomes or disaster scenarios, sensual release or intensified
physical activity; it can be restless, concentrated or aggressive.
Dabrowski incorporated the concept of higher emotions as that
which guides multilevel development: “feelings and emotions consti-
tute the deepest essence of the psyche” (Dabrowski, 1964, p. 193). In
1969 breakthrough research showed that rather than being culturally
determined, emotions are universal (Ekman, Sorenson, & Friesen,
1969). It took about 20 years for mainstream psychology to rediscover
emotions, even though their importance had been made plain by
Charles Darwin (1872) and William James (1890). Today we know
that cognition cut off from feeling becomes ineffectual (Damasio,
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The Roots of Dabrowski’s Theory
1994). Dabrowski’s theory is surprisingly consistent with current
views of the role of emotions in personality development (Battaglia,
Mendaglio, & Piechowski, 2014). Consequently, the blossoming of
high intelligence takes place in the matrix of the emotional dynamics
of interest, passion, engagement, persistence, coping with failure,
and most fundamentally primary relationships and development of
self-control (Gopnik, 2009; Moffitt et al., 2011).
––––––––––––––––
A Multilevel Approach to Personality
Development
––––––––––––––––
Theories of personality grew out of the need to make sense of
mental illness. Neurologists look for impairment in the nervous
system, psychiatrists and psychologists for impairment of social
functioning, reality functioning, emotional response, and sense of
self. The obvious goal is to restore people to their original level of
functioning.
Because of the presence of debilitating distress and anxiety,
psychoneuroses were always viewed as mental illness. To Janet psy-
choneurosis was an arrest in development of the affected function, a
weakness in the nervous system, and a prelude to a more severe mental
illness. Even C. G. Jung viewed psychoneurosis as an unsuccessful
attempt at resolving the basic questions of human life. Rather than
mental illness, Dabrowski asserted that psychoneurosis is in fact the
inevitable process of emotional growth and personality development
(Dabrowski, 1972). His basic argument was that rather than being
negative, psychoneurotic symptoms signal changes that are under way
in the process of emotional development, the beginning of inner life.
Like Kierkegaard, Dabrowski felt that externally oriented
people—those who thoughtlessly adapt to social conventions—have
no inner life. Inner processes appeared to him as a drama on the stage
of a person’s psyche. He called it inner psychic milieu in analogy to
Claude Bernard’s inner physiological milieu that balances dynamic
processes inside the organism. Most likely, this was the starting point
for Dabrowski of his conception of levels and the multilevel approach
to analyzing behaviors and inner experience.
The world of external and internal phenomena began to form
itself in my experience as a world of values arranged in a
hierarchy of levels. Values appeared to represent different
levels. The span between the levels of a given phenomenon
became by far more significant than the content of the term
defining the phenomenon. Each level covered a distinctly
different range of a given phenomenon. Thus empathy
appeared as something different from primitive syntony,
primitive immobilizing fear as something totally different
35 Volume 14, 2014
Michael M. Piechowski
from and unrelated to existential fear, brutal and wild laughter
as something different from and unrelated to a subtle smile
manifesting depth of inner experience. It was striking that
these disparate manifestations of behavior never coexisted
in the same individual. Existential fears, obsessions, and
depressions turned out to be unrelated to egocentric fears,
obsessions and depressions. The first were the result of
excessive sensitivity, disappointments, sadness, and suffering;
the second were most often the result of lack of success in
life, thwarted ambition, material losses—in short, of primitive
egocentrism shaped by external stimuli.
In numerous mental disorders, and especially in psy-
choneuroses, I found again and again great creative and
developmental richness. Such patients, not reconciled to their
concrete reality but rather opposed to it, were undergoing
psychoneurotic processes generated by the multidimensionality
of their experiencing. They manifested trends and efforts in
search of a reality of a higher level. And often they were able
to find it unaided. (Dabrowski, 1975, pp. 235–236)
In this manner Dabrowski contrasts the narrowness of focus on
ordinary reality with the breadth of creative richness and depth of
vision, but also torment of those who see and feel far beyond the
mundane. Consequently, psychoneurosis is not a mental illness but a
process of positive disintegration driven by the tension between the
higher and the lower in oneself, a journey to selfhood from the “what
is” to the “what ought to be”—the level of higher values and of an
inner ideal that becomes a guiding force.
Because the process takes the person by surprise, he called it
spontaneous, and because of the vertical tension, he called it
multilevel, and because it shakes up the psyche, a disintegration. It is
a process of inner transformation that may be very difficult. 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, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2010; Piechowski, 1990, 1992, 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).
Essential to multilevel development is the inner core of “own
forces.” When that inner core is lacking, the capacity for inner transfor-
mation is also lacking. Without the capacity for inner transformation, a
shakeup of the psyche results in unilevel disintegration. The tensions
and conflicts are played out as if on one plane and may result in severe
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The Roots of Dabrowski’s Theory
mental illness. The next level down is the lowest level that character-
izes either people struggling just to survive, or authoritarian and
manipulative exploiters of others. Infelicitously, Dabrowski called it
primary integration. On closer analysis it is neither primary nor an
integration (Piechowski, 2014).
Dabrowski’s levels do not describe a sequential unfolding.
Primary integration (level I) is not a starting point for development. Its
breakdown may lead to unilevel disintegration but no further. Unilevel
disintegration (level II) cannot become multilevel unless the multilevel
“own forces” are present. A flatland does not become a mountain
unless there is a force to push it upward. Only with the emergence of
an inner psychic milieu and the transformative dynamisms of level III
(such as dissatisfaction with oneself, inferiority toward oneself,
dis-identification from what is felt to be lower in oneself), the process
may continue to the next level (IV) when persons become more in
charge of their inner growth as an organized multilevel disintegration.
Finally, full selfhood is achieved in secondary integration (level V).
Level V represents both a life of inner peace and a high level of energy
to serve, as exemplified in the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Pope John
XXIII, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu, Mother Teresa, or Peace Pilgrim.
A few case examples of this lofty plane have been examined in detail
(Nixon, 1995, 2010; Piechowski, 2009).
Unlike J. H. Jackson’s view that the highest levels of the nervous
system are the most vulnerable, Dabrowski discovered that with
advancing development the higher dynamisms become stronger, the
automatisms of lower levels weaken, disappear and autonomous
forces gain full control. The Kierkegaardian goal of fully autonomous
individuality is close to being achieved.
Although the autonomous component of “own forces” is an
essential part of developmental potential, it has received less attention
than the qualities of intense experiencing—the five overexcitabilities.
Higher level of energy, sensory richness and sensitivity, creative
imagination, emotional intensity, depth and sensitivity, persistent
problem-solving, and especially the flair for identifying novel
problems, add up to a heightened intensity of experiencing that is
often not well tolerated, or worse, pathologized as something to be
fixed. These qualities, readily recognized in the gifted and talented,
have been embraced by parents, counselors, and the gifted themselves
as being true of them.
––––––––––––––––
Individuality Emerges from Properties
of the Organism
––––––––––––––––
This brief glimpse into the past shows that the theory of evolution
inspired thinking about the development of society and of the
37 Volume 14, 2014
Michael M. Piechowski
individual as a progression from lower, instinctual and automatic
behavior, to a higher social intercourse represented by cooperative,
ethical, and altruistic behavior. However, the somewhat abstract and
speculative theorizing took a more specific form in Dabrowski’s
theory.
Psychology abounds in general theories. In the canon of
personality theories, few address individual differences. Analysis
of the conceptual structure of theories of personality (that
psychotherapies are based on) revealed that rare is a theory that
offers well defined concepts, that is, concepts with enough specificity
to provide means of measuring them (Piechowski, 1975).
An individual human being is an organism. An organism has
distinct properties that can be observed and measured to reveal
individual differences. They can be differences in build and physiology
or in what the organism can do, for instance in the abilities to speak,
sing, run, aim, or solve puzzles. Carl Gustav Jung described such
properties as extraversion and introversion, thinking and feeling,
sensing and intuiting that via the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator remain
the best guide to choices of vocation, marriage partners, or matching
learning styles. I call these characteristics properties of the organism
they lend themselves to creating individual profiles. Dabrowski
introduced levels and the five overexcitabilities that are another
means of creating different kinds of individual profiles. Well-defined
concepts make it possible to devise instruments that enable research
(Falk & Miller, 2009).
Dabrowski’s mission in developing his theory was to depatholo-
gize the characteristics of intense agonizing experience and instead
to show that what used to be called psychoneurosis and thought of
as mental illness is, in fact, a process of personal growth. Positive
disintegration may look like an illness, and it feels like an illness to
the individual suffering through it, but it is a natural process of inner
transformation just like the caterpillar turning into a chrysalis that
through profound inner upheavals turns into a butterfly. The positive
disintegration inside the chrysalis proceeds on automatic pilot, but
humans need a pilot, one that is good and wise.
NOTE. This paper is an adaptation and extension of the theory
section in Chapter 14, “Kazimierz Dabrowski: A life of positive
maladjustment (1902-1980)” in A. Robinson & J. Jolly (Eds.)
(2014). A century of contributions to gifted education: Illuminating
lives (pp. 181–198). New York: Routledge.
References
Barraud, H-J. (1971). Freud et Janet: Etude comparée. Toulouse,
France: Edouard Privat.
Battaglia, M. M. K., Mendaglio, S., & Piechowski, M. M. (2014).
Kazimierz Dabrowski: A life of positive maladjustment (1902-
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The Roots of Dabrowski’s Theory
1980). In A. Robinson & J. L. Jolly (Eds.). (2014). A century of
contributions to gifted education: Illuminating lives (pp. 181–
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Conference Paper
Full-text available
This is a study of three lives in transformation, two of which are directly concerned with the issue of war: Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who lived in the Nazi occupied Amsterdam and later died in Auschwitz and Peace Pilgrim, an American woman who started walking for peace at the time of the Korean war. The third, Ashley, is a contemporary woman, mother of two. The lives of these three gifted individuals illustrate characteristics of transforming growth: inner conflict, acceptance, willingness to serve, surrender, and inner peace. As a result of their far reaching inner transformation, they discovered on their own the transpersonal principle of nonseparateness. From the depth of their being they know that inner peace is the necessary condition of world peace. These cases illustrate in greater depth than was previously available the higher levels in Dabrowski's theory of emotional development. They also bring out the deeper meaning and effectiveness of acceptance which the theory has neglected.
Article
Full-text available
This article describes Eleanor Roosevelt's discipline of inner life. An earlier study (Piechowski & Tyska, 1982) showed that Eleanor Roosevelt met all the criteria of self-actualization as given by Maslow. Maslow labeled her a "doer" rather than a ''seer" or a visionary. But she was an inspired person, "a woman with a deep sense of spiritual mission" (Lash, 1971) and, as such, much more a "seer" than Maslow gave her credit. Christ was her inner ideal. Her methods of inner work are described in the sections on the courage to know oneself, coping with inner conflict and emotional pain, self-discipline, and the inner ideal. Her inner growth is briefly analyzed in terms of Dabrowski's theory of emotional development-a theory particularly well equipped toward understanding lives engaged in the process of inner psychic transformation.
Article
Full-text available
Some terms of Dabrowski's theory are misleading. The construct of level and the concepts of integration and disintegration mean different things. The concept of primary integration as a starting point for personality development is untenable in light of research on child development. In its place, Level I as a type of development that is constrained by social pressures and the effort to succeed in life will serve better. Milgram's studies of obedience and Bandura's of the ways of bypassing one's conscience are sufficient to explain how the Level I type of integration can take hold of a person. The descriptive term of disintegration is too extreme and too limiting to enclose the diversity of processes at each level that also include partial integration. Common errors that have crept into the usage of the theory are identified and corrected.
Book
Consciousness has always been a particularly elusive concept and one vigorously argued in the scientific community. This new volume takes on the task of defining normal and altered consciousness in their most relevant clinical terms. In States of Consciousness, Andrzej Kokoszka expands on the pioneering work of J.H. Jackson, offering contemporary models for studying consciousness as it applies to both pathology and normal altered states, e.g., relaxation, sleep, meditation, and hypnosis. He makes clear distinctions between the neuroscientific and psychiatric components of consciousness; at the same time, his theories are rooted firmly in the biopsychosocial approach. Highlights of the coverage: -Historical overview of studies of consciousness and its altered states -Evolutionary/dynamic model of consciousness and information processing, based on the structure and principles of cell behavior -Comparison of altered states of consciousness in healthy persons and patients with schizophrenia -New perspectives on the role of consciousness in pathology -Case illustration of altered states in a patient with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, integrating neurobiological, cognitive-behavioral, and psychodynamic data -Applications of the model in clinical practice States of Consciousness lends itself to theoretical and practical, research and classroom use. It is relevant to a range of scientists and practitioners in cognition, clinical psychology, social psychology, and neuropsychology The book’s scope and the author’s attention to detail make it a work of great versatility, much like consciousness itself.