Today I want to elaborate on a theory called Positive Disintegration, which comes from Kazimierz Dabrowski, a psychologist and psychiatrist from Poland and Canada who lived through both world wars.
His observation of how people dealt with trauma, his friendship with Maslow, and his knowledge of Piaget, among other things, led to a theory that describes a possible autonomous personality development.
Unlike the theories of Piaget and other developmental psychologists, it does not contain automatism, in which most stages are passed through simply by growing older.
But let us start with the description.
Dabrowski distinguishes five developmental stages that a person can pass through. These stages are:
- primary or primitive integration
- unilevel disintegration
- spontaneous multilevel disintegration
- directed multilevel disintegration
- secondary integration
What do these five steps look like? Let’s look at my imaginary coachee, Frank:
Primary Integration: Frank feels comfortable and integrated in society. This is about Frank being integrated by his egoistic instincts and drives, i.e., unconscious motivations. His motto: I fit in.
Unilevel Disintegration: First questions emerge in Frank as he experiences his first crises. Frank suddenly sees alternatives to what he previously believed. On closer inspection, these alternatives are hardly different from what was originally believed; qualitatively, on a moral level, they are equivalent to the original. There are two triggers for this discrepancy: inner conflict and environmental change. The first and second factors react. The first factor is innate personality traits and the second is environmental influences. That leads to the new guiding principle: I am confused.
Spontaneous Multilevel Disintegration: Now alternatives appear, one of which clearly has greater value, is qualitatively more desirable. Frank has seen something 1000 times before, and yet today it is different. Spontaneously, Frank realizes the possibility that there could be a higher level of existence, a better lifestyle. He sees behind the scene, recognizes the matrix. But he doesn’t know yet how to deal with it because he doesn’t play an active part in this story yet. I have a conflict.
Directed Multilevel Disintegration: Frank breaks through the proverbial wall and begins to independently and purposefully question, weigh, and shape his values. He takes control of his personality development. In the process, instinctive decisions, social values, and morals are questioned. A newly acquired third factor helps to drive the growth autonomously and with self-direction. There is more.
Secondary Integration: Frank has changed. His values, worldview, ideal self-image, and current self are again in harmony, but not determined by instincts and social conventions as in primary integration, but by an independently acquired hierarchy of values. I am.
Let’s look a little closer at a few terms:
First, the three factors:
The first factor is innate and consists in part of three things of interest here: the five overexcitabilities, special talents and abilities, and IQ.
The second factor consists of the social environment, i.e., cultural stimulation, knowledge of personality development to which one is exposed, a peaceful environment, access to competent mentors, and the crises that just are part of life.
The third factor arises from the first two and is a collection of so-called fourth level dynamisms, a capacity of self-control and self-awareness towards an ideal self.
But what are dynamisms?
They are forces and drives for personal development. They appear in the different levels. That’s why we need to say a few more things about the levels:
The second level is called unilevel because the alternatives one becomes aware of are actually the same as the previous integration. I do not consciously decide on a hierarchy of values and an ideal self but leave it to my egoistic desires and environmental influences.
There are three ways I can deal with the discrepancies in my perception:
- I give up and reintegrate.
- I listen to others and let my egoistic need to belong and the second factor (expressed in this case by peer pressure, among other things) decide.
- I begin a profound journey of change.
The third stage is called multilevel because, in addition to the primary factors, it introduces an ideal image into which I would like to develop. Only I do not know how, and the changes happen more spontaneously and arbitrarily.
The fourth stage is still called multilevel because I am still developing from the actual to the ideal self, but now purposefully. I use different dynamisms quite purposefully and consciously to change myself.
Which dynamisms are at work in which stage?
The first factor is innate, so it is already at work in primary integration. A strong first factor leads to spontaneous development. We will see later how this happens.
In the second stage, the second factor is added. Furthermore, we find ambivalence and ambitendency here. Ambivalence is about a conflict in values, while ambitendency is about opposite reactions and behavior.
In the third stage, we begin to create our hierarchy of values. Specific values become more important to us than others.
Other forces at work here are dissatisfaction with myself, feelings of inferiority, inner turmoil, astonishment with myself, feelings of shame, guilt, and positive maladjustment.
Maladjustment is positive when it drives a development towards the ideal self, i.e., striving for higher things, and negative when it is only about rebellion. In the same way, there is positive, that is, self-chosen conformity/adjustment corresponding to the ideal self, and negative conformity/adjustment due to peer pressure or egoism.
These dynamisms are at work in the fourth and fifth stages: the third factor, subject-object within oneself (objective self-observation), inner transformation, self-awareness, self-control, autopsychotherapy, self-directed learning, responsibility, autonomy, and the ideal self.
Let’s make a small example:
Frank lives in peace with himself and his environment, but lately feels that others (second factor) have different values from him (ambivalence), behave differently in certain situations (ambitendency), and that some of these meet his needs more. Plus, these others disturb his inner peace by demanding certain adjustments for Frank to belong to their group.
Because Frank has a strong innate developmental potential, he not only joins another group, but develops himself further. He realizes that certain values are more important to him (hierarchization), even if he still often fails to live according to these new standards and then feels ashamed and inferior (multiple dynamisms).
But the more Frank observes himself (subject-object in oneself), and the more his third factor develops, the more he can change purposefully and consciously in the direction of his ideal image.
There comes the point when Frank feels comfortable in his skin. He moves increasingly towards his ideal image and no longer depends on his environment and old personality. He has reintegrated himself and formed a personality that contains no cracks.
I would like to look at developmental potential in a more differentiated way. A strong developmental potential consists of the five overexcitabilities, special talents and abilities, and a high IQ.
These overexcitabilities (OE) are characterized by the fact that a small stimulus triggers an above-average reaction, a firework. These are:
- Intellectual OE: the extreme urge for understanding, knowledge, truth.
- Imaginative OE: strong associations and metaphors, fantasy, (lucid) dreams, visions.
- Emotional OE: intense feelings, complex emotions, empathy.
- Sensory OE: intensive experience of the stimuli of the five senses, up to sensory overload.
- Psychomotor OE: enormous energy, urge to move.
OEs are about intensity, not complexity. Thus, intellectual OE is the urge for knowledge, but not intelligence per se, which is measured using IQ.
Especially the first three OEs (intellectual, imaginative and emotional) strongly support the third factor.
Special talents and abilities are talents in music, sports, art and so on. These abilities are thought to be supported by the OEs and high IQ and are therefore secondary and not basic to the first factor, that is, people can have a strong first factor without displaying traditional special talents and abilities.
A high IQ contributes to a strong first factor, but what is considered a high IQ? People usually have what is called a high IQ from 130-135 upward. It can be shown that the way people think changes qualitatively above an IQ of 130/135. From these values on, people do not simply think more or faster, but in an entirely different way.
What does this first factor now trigger?
When different OEs meet, conflicts automatically arise. The mere intensity and the impossibility to steer or to limit an OE lead to conflicts, as does a high IQ.
It is understood that a strong first factor inevitably triggers inner conflicts and thus a development into the second and, from there, into the third stage because a return to socially driven adjustment is not possible.
A weak first factor makes it impossible to develop beyond the second stage. Too strong are the gravitational forces of one’s needs and the environment.
What about people with a normal, average strength first factor? It depends on how the second factor shows up. In a peaceful environment, with good mentors, and the proper knowledge, it is still possible to proceed on the path to multilevel disintegration.
What can such a mentor do?
- He points out contradictions in behavior,
- gives insight into negative and positive personality traits,
- reinforces positive traits, such as responsibility,
- interprets behavior from a moral perspective,
- promotes self-criticism, independence of thought, behavior, and empathy,
- trains the individual in the constant desire to subdue intelligence to instincts and in the struggle against selfishness,
- helps in the development of the ability to organize the inner life,
- and teaches the individual to meditate.
All this to bring forth and enable the mentee’s own thinking and shaping of their hierarchy of values, carefully watching themselves to not impose their own and just become the mentee’s second factor.