Breaking down the Theory of Positive Disintegration has hopefully been a great starting point for you on your individual creative path.
For me personally, the theory has helped my confidence, my relationships, and my ability to trust unique approaches to life. These internal shifts have contributed positively to my creative business (and my well-being overall).
Savvy History is All About Promoting the Work of Overlooked Underdogs
In general, it’s insightful to understand Dabrowski’s experiences in both world wars (and how his experiences contributed to the development of his psychological ideas).
Kazimierz Dąbrowski was around 12 years old when he witnessed the outbreak of WWI. He was an experienced man practicing medicine when he navigated the outbreak of WWII. He summarized these horrible experiences years later in quotes like the one below.
"I remember a battle during the First World War...I saw several hundred young soldiers lying dead, their lives cut in a cruel and senseless manner. I witnessed masses of Jewish people being herded towards ghettos. On the way, the weak, the invalid, the sick were killed ruthlessly. And then, many times, I myself and my close family and friends have been in the immediate danger of death. The juxtaposition of inhuman forces and inhuman humans with those who were sensitive, capable of sacrifice, and courageous, gave a vivid panorama of a scale of values from the lowest to the highest."
The Dangers of Leveling People
A few things about Dabrowski confound me. The danger of leveling people was obviously not lost on him, and clearly, he must have seen some of the dangers inherent in his theory.
His first-hand experience in the two world wars made him aware of how people could be categorized in a supposed scientific way (like eugenics) in order to judge them as inferior and attempt to justify horrific acts.
According to his theory, even though far over half of people worldwide operate at level one or two, people who truly operate at higher levels (according to definition) aren’t invested in judging the levels below them except for to learn. They are either trying to help the lower levels or identifying toxic behavioral influences to leave behind until they are at the highest levels and strong enough to not be impacted by the phenomenon of emotional contagion.
In essence, his experiences with war made him want to analyze what caused people like Hitler to behave the way they did and what caused people who did heroic deeds to behave the way they did.
This naturally led to a leveled system that may be threatening to some of us, because the majority of us will never reach the top of it. He believed there was some level of functioning that could be seen and deciphered by analyzing an individual’s goals, value system, quotes, art, disposition towards others, and general personality in wartime (and not in wartime). He took these observations and generalized them. Whatever your thoughts on leveling people, TPD does provide an incredible road map for one's own life experiences.
WWII Distracted From His Work
In my opinion, WWII impacted his theory in another obvious way. Just like how Hans Asperger’s theory was almost buried in the rubble of Vienna, it took Dabrowski enormous energy to promote his work amongst his stifling situations. As a consequence, he didn’t become as well known as his American humanist counterpart, Abraham Maslow.
When we think about how difficult WWII was for Dabrowski, I think it can be summed up by the fact that only 38 of 400 practicing Polish psychiatrists were left after the war. He established a practice near Warsaw that was shut down by the Germans. He was arrested more than once by the Gestapo.
And you think you have a hard time promoting your work?
After the war, he resumed his practice in Warsaw assisting in the rehabilitation of patients with mental illness resulting from their extreme experiences. But in 1949, the Polish government under Stalin shut down his facility again. Dabrowski and his wife were betrayed by close friends who turned them in. He was then imprisoned for 18 months by Polish communists. He kept studying and observing throughout all of this, wasn’t able to leave Europe until 1962, and didn’t publish his first major work until 1964 (Tiller, n.d).
I’m mentioning all of this because we often experience theories as quick rundowns attached to a faceless name. But sometimes the age in history, along with the biographical information of the person who created it, illuminates the theory in terms of its cultural context (or in this case, lack of popularity).
Another Interesting Psychological Study Almost Lost During WWII
If you found this background on Dabrowski interesting, I highly recommend looking into the biography of Hans Asperger as well.
The Nazis had an enormous impact on his practice and the university he was working at. Therefore, he wanted to emphasize the future potential of his participants and sell them in a good light. The short story is, he was trying to keep some quirky kids alive (one that went on to be a Nobel Prize-winning author and another an award-winning scientist).
Asperger’s Syndrome was buried in history and didn’t have a resurgence until the latter half of the 20th century. Hans Asberger's amazing story has relevance for the way autism is looked at today (including a lack of recognition by the general public of high functioning autism).
Back to Dabrowski: Thoughts on Suicide
The role of suicide as a threat between the doorway of level two (unilevelness) and level three (multilevelness) was really important to Dabrowski and showed up in a lot of his writings. He lost a close friend to suicide at the beginning of his adult life, and this biographical component led to his drive of communicating the theory to others.
To anyone currently contemplating suicide, he wanted his theory to provide a powerful message:
You don’t want to kill yourself. You want to kill lower instincts inside you. Maybe ego. Maybe selfish pain. Maybe a critical voice. Maybe a part of you that became like someone who disgusts you. Either way, development involves exploring higher values and killing off the lower values. People get confused about what exactly they are trying to kill off.
Wrapping it Up
To conclude, assessments have been developed to assist with spotting where an individual is at in the process of disintegration. Two of the most common tests are listed here and can be found by searching online. I think you'd have to pay for them. (Womp womp.)
- Overexcitability Questionnaire (version two)
This assessment helps to assess developmental potential. If you remember from the post on key vocabulary, overexcitability is hypersensitivity in five domains (intellectual, imaginational, sensual, physical, and emotional).
- The Definition Response Instrument
This test helps to assess the level an individual may be at in Dabrowki’s theory.