A positive breakdown

The most inspirational theory I’ve come across thus far. A great eye-opener. I summarized this from a much longer article on Wikipedia

Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902–1980), a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist, developed the Theory of Positive Disintegration over his lifetime of clinical and academic work.

Dabrowski’s theory of personality development emphasized several major features including:

personality is not a given universal trait, it must be created—shaped—by the individual to reflect his or her own unique character (personality shaping)
personality develops as a result of the action of developmental potential (DP) (overexcitability and the autonomous factor), not everyone displays sufficient DP to create a unique personality.
-developmental potential is represented in the population by a normal (bell) curve. Dabrowski used a multilevel approach to describe the continuum of developmental levels seen in the population.
developmental potential creates crises characterized by strong anxieties and depressions—psychoneurosis—that precipitate disintegration
– for personality to develop, initial integrations based on instinct and socialization must disintegrate—a process Dabrowski called positive disintegration
-the development of a hierarchy of individual values — emotional reactions — is a critical component in developing one’s personality and one’s autonomy, thus, in contrast to most psychological theories, emotions play a major role in this approach
emotional reactions guide the individual in creating his or her individual personality ideal, an autonomous standard that acts as the goal of individual development
the individual must examine his or her essence and subsequently make existential choices that emphasize those aspects of essence that are higher and “more myself” and inhibit those aspects that are lower or “less myself” based upon his or her own personality ideal
-critical components of individual development include auto education and autopsychotherapy


Dabrowski observed that most people live their lives in a state of “primary or primitive integration” largely guided by biological impulses (“first factor”) and/or by uncritical endorsement and adherence to social convention (“second factor”). He called this initial integration Level I. Dabrowski observed that at this level there is no true individual expression of the autonomous human self. Individual expression at Level I is influenced and constrained by the first two factors.

The first factor channels energy and talents toward accomplishing self-serving goals that reflect the lower instincts and biological ego — its primary focus is on survival and self-advancement. Often talents are used in antisocial or asocial ways. For example, at the lowest edge of Level I many criminals display this type of selfish behavior. They advance their own goals at the expense of others.

The second factor, the social environment (milieu) and peer pressure, constrains individual expression and creativity by encouraging a group view of life and discouraging unique thought and expression. The second factor externalizes values and mores, thereby externalizing conscience. Social forces shape expectations. Behavior and one’s talents and creativity are funneled into forms that follow and support the existing social milieu. “My mom says we should always be aware of what our lawn looks like because we want other people to think well of us when they drive by.” Because conscience is derived from an external social context, so long as society holds ethical standards, people influenced by the second factor will behave ethically. However if a society, church, or government becomes corrupt, as in Nazi Germany, people strongly influenced by second factor will not dissent. Socialization without individual examination leads to a rote and robotic existence (the “robopath” described by Ludwig von Bertalanffy). Individual reactions are not unique, they are based upon social contexts (“I cry at funerals and laugh at weddings — everyone does”). According to Dabrowski, people primarily motivated by second factor represent a significant majority of the general population.

Dabrowski felt that our society was largely influenced by these lower two factors and could be characterized as operating at Level I. For example, our emphasis on corporate success (“a dog eat dog mentality”) means that many CEOs operate on the basis of first factor — they will quickly sacrifice another to enhance their own advancement. As well, our educational, political, corporate, and media systems are self-promoting and discourage real examination or individual autonomy — the second factor. Alternatively, social justifications are often used: “of course I break the speed limit, everyone does.” Or a soldier may explain that he or she was simply “following orders.” Thus, this external value system absolves the individual of any individual responsibility.

Dabrowski also described a group of people who display a different course: an individualized developmental pathway. These people break away from an automatic, rote, socialized view of life (which Dabrowski called negative adjustment) and move into and through a series of personal disintegrations. Dabrowski saw these disintegrations as a key element in the overall developmental process. Crises challenge our status quo and cause us to review our self, ideas, values, thoughts, ideals, etc. If development continues, one goes on to develop an individualized, conscious and critically evaluated hierarchical value structure (called positive adjustment). This hierarchy of values acts as a benchmark by which all things are now seen, and the higher values in our internal hierarchy come to direct our behavior (no longer based on external social mores). These higher, individual values characterize an eventual second integration reflecting individual autonomy and for Dabrowski, mark the arrival of true human personality. At this level, each person develops his or her own vision of how life ought to be and lives it. This higher level is associated with strong individual approaches to problem solving and creativity. One’s talents and creativity are applied in the service of these higher individual values and visions of how life could be – how the world ought to be. The person expresses his or her “new” autonomous personality energetically through action, art, social change and so on.

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