“[T]here are people, not few in number, in whom, besides the schematically described cycle of life, there arises a sort of ‘sidetrack,’ which after some time may become the ‘main track.'” ~ Kazimierz Dabrowski
How are some people driven toward personal growth and their self-chosen ideals, while others appear to stay where they lay?
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration can shed some light on this question as it focuses on positive aspects of mental health and the essential role of emotional development and positive values in guiding growth towards a personality ideal.
According to Dabrowski, we can think of a usual “cycle of life” being driven mainly by the instincts of self-preservation, sexuality and reproduction, material survival and social belonging. However, these instincts can be transcended by what Dabrowski called the developmental instinct. Where the desire for development “transcends the narrow biological aims and exceeds the primitive drives” thus counteracting a rigid and stereotypical life cycle.
In other words, Dabrowskian development is one of learning how to gain control over social and biological impulses and choosing a life that is more in keeping with the person we want to be, rather than who we are or who we were.
So far, so good, right? Who doesn’t want to be a better person? But here’s the catch: To move towards your developmental ideal, you must first experience and eventually participate in the process of positive disintegration.
What is Positive Disintegration?
Conflict. Dissonance. Discord.
Dabrowski saw development as a progression from the primary integration level characterised by rigid, automatic and instinctual egocentrism to conscious altruism based on empathy, compassion, and self-awareness expressed at the secondary integration level, the highest point of personal development.
This development takes place through the process of positive disintegration, which is the loosening and partial, or sometimes global, dismantling of the initial character structure during one’s life and replacing it by consciously creating a new personality.
Dabrowski believes that the most important aspect of human development is the emotional one, since only in emotional growth can transformation of behaviour and character become possible. And thus Positive Disintegration is often triggered by physical changes such as puberty and menopause, personal tragedies such as the death of a loved one or natural disasters, or any experience that creates disruptions and tension in our emotional life.
Phases of Transformation: The 5 Levels of Positive Disintegration
Level 1: Primary Integration
At this level, we observe the work of intelligence subsumed under primitive instincts (sex, aggression, power). Rigid, stereotypical, and in general, impulsive behaviour controlled by instinctual drives and external forces. For this reason, individuals on this level of development experience no inner conflicts, but plenty of external ones.
At this phase of development, we can observe two forms of adjustment of an individual in society. Firstly is negative adjustment, categorised by non-creative adaptation, conformity to social conventions, lack of self-reflection, and a critical approach to reality. The second is negative maladjustment, which includes disregard for social norms and conventions stemming from extreme egocentrism and the ruthless realisation of one’s instinctively driven goals.
Level 2: Unilevel Disintegration
Unilevel Disintegration is the first level where the work of disintegration begins, where a loosening of the previously well integrated primary character takes place as a result of unusual external circumstances.
At this stage, there is a lack of hierarchy in one’s outer and inner life, comprising of a lack of distinction between “what is” and “what ought to be.”
The characteristics of this level include ambivalence, doubt, hesitation, and mood swings. If inner conflicts are present at all, they are unilevel, which means they involve two or more opposing options which hold the same value.
Level 3: Spontaneous Multilevel Disintegration
At this phase, we see the emergence of multilevels, a strengthening awareness of “what ought to be” and a growing disassociation with “what is.”
Individuals at this phase begin to develop an autonomous hierarchy of values and goals. The inner conflicts which take place at this time are multilevel, as the name implies, expressive of growing self-awareness, self-evaluation, reflection, and new moral dilemmas.
Level 4: Organized Multilevel Disintegration
This level is characterised by conscious efforts at shaping and systematisation of one’s behaviour directed towards conscious and planned self-transformation. The presence of inner conflicts diminishes here, replaced by ever-growing autonomy and clarity of values and goals.
On this level, we can see growing positive adjustment.
Level 5: Secondary Integration
On this level, Dabrowski theorised that we could observe harmonisation of personality and the idealised personality. One’s behaviour is guided mainly by dynamisms of responsibility, authenticity, autonomy, empathy, self-perfection.
The Crucial Ingredient to Successful Positive Disintegration
An essential part of successful positive disintegration is our internal anchor which Dabrowski called the “Third Factor”. The Third Factor acts as our internal GPS, navigating us through the process by approving or disapproving impulses and choices and measuring them against our personality ideal.
A Take Home Message
The Process of Positive Disintegration is a developmental undergoing which happens over periods of years up to an entire life cycle. The essential learning within this theory is the power to choose a life which aligns with your values and ideals despite the discomfort and dissociation which you may feel along the way. You have the ability to become your ideal personality through a conscious process of Positive Disintegration.
At which level do you find yourself right now? Share your story of growth and discovery by writing a post in the comment box below.
Fiedler, B. E. (n.d.). Kazimierz Dabrowski Theory Positive Disintegration. Retrieved November 01, 2016, from http://positivedisintegration.com/
Positive Disintegration. (n.d.). Retrieved November 01, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_Disintegration
Psychological Insights. (n.d.). Retrieved November 01, 2016, from http://www.aninvisiblethreadnovel.com/psychological-insights.html
Sidetracked by Dabrowski: An introduction to the Theory of Positive Disintegration -- Sott.net. (n.d.). Retrieved November 01, 2016, from https://www.sott.net/article/305362-Sidetracked-by-Dabrowski-An-introduction-to-the-Theory-of-Positive-Disintegration