Kazimierz Dabrowski

Kazimierz Dabrowski developed the Theory of Positive Disintegration during his career as a Polish psychologist. The Theory of Positive Disintegration is very different from other theories of personality development because Dabrwoski emphasized the role of psychic discomfort in psychological development. Dabrowski observed that psychological hardship triggered self reflection, and this introspection fueled the process of psychological maturation (Dabrowski 1972). His model is hierarchical, and an individual will pass through each stage in a linear fashion, progressively becoming more accomplished, satisfied, and moral. He also theorized that many individuals are predisposed with psychic overexcitabilities which make them more susceptible to the process of positive disintegration.

Dabrowski was born in 1902 and passed away in 1980.

Dabrowski's Five Levels of Development

[T]he transition from lower, automatic, and rigidly organized mental structures and functions to higher, creative, self-controlled and authentic forms of mental life – developmental psychology is unable to give a satisfactory account of this process without the use of the concept of multilevelness. (Dabrowski 1973: ix)

Dabrowski distinguishes five levels of personality development (Mendaglio 2008). Passing through the levels requires overpowering introspection which may include sensations of self-hate, disappointment in one's behavior or choices, and guilt. Such turmoil is triggered by both internal and external (environmental) demands. For Dabrowski, the process of becoming more psychologically and morally developed requires that the individual faces down their weaknesses as to overcome them. Poor behavior is driven by low level instincts which are controlled by those in higher states. Therefore, psychoneurosis is a positive sign that a person is disintegrating their negative characteristics. In this move, Dabrowski reverses the common notions of mental health, going so far as to argue that psychoneurosis is a sign of mental health - not a disease (Dabrowski 1972). In fact, a person who experiences no inner turmoil is completely stagnant and hopeless absent an environmental conflict which leads to self-introspection.

Positive disintegration - the process of experiencing extreme self-doubt and guilt - is followed by reintegration into a higher state of consciousness. This process continues cyclically until the highest, fifth level of personality development is reached. Is important to note that this process is gradual, and a person will repeatedly slide back into poor behavior before solidifying their values and actions in the next level of awareness. Indeed, the vast majority of individuals will never progress past the third level of development.

1. Primary Integration
2. Unilevel Disintegration
3. Spontaneous Multilevel Disintegration
4. Organized Multilevel Disintegration
5. Secondary Integration

The levels will be discussed in more detail below. However, it is first necessary to elaborate on what Dabrowski theorized as the driving forces behind personality development.

Dabrowski's Three Categories of Development

Dabrowski termed three kinds of development - autonomous, one sided, and biological (Kawczak and Dabrowski 1970).

Factors arising from physical development are classified as biological. However, this category also includes adaptation to the needs of societal norms, as an individual cannot survive without a certain level of conformity to their environmental circumstances.

On the other hand, autonomous development transcends the need to conform to the social environment, and may also involve the rejection of primitive biological drives. Positive maladjustment allows the individual to align their morals with the highest universal values - and these values may not be supported by social demands. For Dabrowski, strong, moral individuals need not conform to the immediate needs of their social circumstances. This is due to the fact that the majority of people spend their entire lives in lower states of consciousness. However, there are deep-seated moral truths which all psychologically sophisticated individuals abide by, although each person will understand and experience them in different ways.

One sided development is the term Dabrowski uses to acknowledge the possibility for destructive individual behavior. Here, the individual pursues their own needs regardless of how their actions will affect other people. This negative maladjustment is distinguished from positive maladjustment because the individual will relate to their drives in different ways. One sided development is therefore characterized by the rejection of social values in favor of the satisfaction of low level desires.

Level I - Primary Integration

Starting with the most primitive level, we have primary integration. Here, individuals concern themselves only with fulfilling their most basic and immediate needs - biological needs such as food, sex, and shelter, but also social needs which involve unquestioned conformity. Relations with other people are driven strictly by these needs alone. Empathy and genuine concern for others is absent. Unhealthy and problematic behavior is not perceived as such, at least until stage two begins.

Level II - Unilevel Disintegration

This poor lifestyle is unsustainable for most. Conflict inevitably arises, and most people gain the capacity to see thematic problems arising repeatedly. This facility develops often along with biological maturity during puberty. However, adults may remain in level one for their entire lives, or may encounter an unbearable source of negative emotion and move into stage two even in their latest years of life. In such an instance, the feelings are overpowering and the individual's normal methods of coping with them are impotent. Anger, confusion, despair, frustration - these are all driving forces for Dabrowski, because they will force the person to move either back into level one or progress into level three. If the individual succeeds in questioning their personal and social values, the individual has successfully passed through level two. It is important to note that Dabrowski used the term "unilevel" to indicate that all of these changes are catalyzed by one root circumstance.

Level II - Spontaneous Multilevel Disintegraton

In this stage, positive disintegration continues. A sudden and shocking realization of personal inadequacy is experienced. Dabrowski's signature discrepancy between "the way things are" and "the way things ought to be" becomes apparent - both internally and across the social environment. This process is complicated by the fact that the individual is completely unprepared for this radical self evaluation. Negative emotions arise as they look back on the mistakes of the past. The entire identity is threatened - how does one relate to society, their friends, their family? Spirituality is often reviewed. A subject/object relationship to the self is developed: Individuals can now reflect on themselves as an object of development. Various contradictory value systems must be weighed and evaluated as to solidify a coherent moral structure for later development. Dabrowski believed that few people ever progress past stage three due to its challenging nature.

Dabrwoski emphasizes the role of the "personality ideal" which begins to form in this state. Subjects begin to project an ideal model of themselves they seek to achieve.

Level IV - Organized Multilevel Disintegration

As values become systematic and stable, behavior must become controlled and deliberate. Once individuals are able to follow their personal beliefs and act in accordance with the highest universal moral values, this fourth state is achieved. Sincere relations with other people are developed and sustained. Here, the person is genuinely concerned for others and the condition of society in its entirety. Independence is strongly valued and outside pressure to conform to problematic values is handled with ease. Learning and counseling are self guided. As the individual moves toward stage five, their actions are increasingly coordinated with their moral compass. The personality ideal continues to take form and actualize.

Level V - Secondary Integration

The final stage of personality is achieved alongside the personality ideal. All personal values are sustained and in alignment with the highest universal moral values. Such individuals are actively creating solutions and aim to improve society at large. It is only in this highest level of consciousness that Dabrowski theorized regression to be impossible.

Developmental Influences

Dabrowski outlines three outstanding factors which fuel personality development (Mendaglio 2008).

1. Social Environment
2. Developmental Potential
3. Third Factor Dynamism

All individuals have some developmental potential, but some people have more than others. Individuals with lesser intrinsic, genetic developmental potential need more support from the social environment to make progress. Individuals with higher developmental potential experience psychic overexcitabilities (see below) which make them more sensitive to the forces which drive personality development. Obviously, one who is surrounded by people in higher states is more likely to progress, and even a person with a high developmental potential will be hindered by a poor social environment.

Third factor dynamism is tricky to define, but it is the factor that pushes individuals out of the clutches of social and biological predisposition. In fact, Dabrowski outlined several dynamisms as the

“biological or mental force[s] controlling behavior and its development - Instincts, drives, and intellectual processes combined with emotions are dynamisms.” (Dabrowski 1972: 294)

However, he considered the third factor dynamism to be the most important.

[I]t is described as the force by which individuals become more self-determined, controlling their behavior through their inner voices and values. Once the third factor is activated, individuals are no longer at the mercy of biological needs or the under the control of societal conventions. Individuals so characterized lead lives consciously and deliberately, selecting courses of action based on values that they have selected. Their approach to daily life is highly moral in nature. At this high level of development, individuals also increasingly engage in self-education and self-help (Mendaglio 2008: 26).

Dabrowski and Giftedness - Psychic Overexcitabilities

Dabrowski is most well known in high ability studies and gifted education because of his unique insight into the struggles these individuals face. Such a person is hypothesized to experience one or more unusual nervous sensitivities which drives them to push into higher levels of performance. Although research is contradictory about whether these traits are scientifically measureable, counselors find the knowledge to be practical. Briefly, Dabrowskis' overexcitabilities (OE) are (Miller, Falk, Huang 2009):

1. A person with emotional OE has deep-felt and complex emotions and can identify with the feelings of others.
2. A person with intellectual OE has an inquiring mind and is introspective, analytical, and not easily distracted.
3. A person with imaginational OE is creative and has elaborate daydreams and fantasies.
4. A person with sensual OE has heightened sensory awareness and reactions.
5. A person with psychomotor OE has a surplus of energy, is highly active and enthusiastic, and may be impulsive and competitive.


Gifted and high-ability studies has much to gain from integration of Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration. Individuals coping with psychoneurosis may be interested in how negative emotions can be used to harness personal development.

Sources Cited

Dąbrowski, Kazimierz, Andrzej Kawczak, and Michael M. Piechowski. Mental Growth through Positive Disintegration,. London: Gryf Publications, 1970. Print. Mental growth through positive disintegration,

Dąbrowski, Kazimierz, Andrzej Kawczak, and Janina Sochańska. The Dynamics of Concepts,. London: Cryf Publications, 1973. Print.

Dabrwoski, Kazimierz. Psychoneurosis Is Not an Illness. London: Gryf Publications, 1972. Print. Pyschoneurosis is Not an Illness

Mendaglio, Sal. "The Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) and Other Approaches to Personalit." Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential, 2008. Print. Dabrowski's Theory Of Positive Disintegration

Miller, Nancy B., Frank R. Falk, and Yinmei Huang. "Gender Identity and the Overexcitability Profiles UROR of Gifted College Students." Roeper Review 31 (2009): 161-69. Print.

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