Sidetracked by Dabrowski

Sidetracked by Dabrowski

I have been fascinated by Kazimierz Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration since first being introduced to it almost 20 years ago. Dabrowski, a clinical psychologist and psychiatrist, developed the theory to explain why and how some people are driven toward personal growth and self-chosen ideals, and the role that disintegration—falling apart—plays in this growth.

Dabrowski’s theory is richly layered and not easy to unpack, and I learn something new with each revisitation. This post is the first in a series about the Theory of Positive Disintegration (hereafter TPD), my current in-progress understanding of it, and why the theory is particularly useful today.

Sidetracked by Developmental Potential

“[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, Personality-Shaping Through Positive Disintegration

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“Sidetrack” by Fintrvlr (CC BY-NC 2.)

The “sidetrack” in the above quotation is the path of personal development, the drive to diverge from the road laid out before us by biology and society, and the creating of ourselves anew, into the person we know we should be.

According to Dabrowski, we can think of a usual “cycle of life” as our being led mainly by basic instincts such as instincts of self-preservation, sexuality and reproduction, possessions, and social belonging. These instincts, however, can be transformed by what Dabrowski called the developmental instinct, which “transcends the narrow biological aims and exceeds the primitive drives in strength” and is “in opposition to the limited, common life cycle.”

In other words, Dabrowskian development is one of learning not to be controlled by social and biological forces. A strong developmental instinct helps us instead to choose a life that is more in keeping with the person we want to be, rather than who we are or who we were, especially when who we should be is in conflict with more primitive instincts.

Related to the developmental instinct but different from it is developmental potential, or individual potential for personal development. Our developmental potential is expressed by excitabilities (OEs: heightened emotional, intellectual, imaginational, sensual, and psychomotor experiences), individual interests and capabilities, and a drive to autonomy known as the Third Factor. This is where the theory rubs shoulders with giftedness (more about this later)

Aye, There’s the Rub

So far, so good, right? Who doesn’t want to be a better person? Here’s the catch: In order to move toward our personality ideal, we must first—and often—experience and eventually participate in disintegration.

Disintegration is just what it sounds like: conflict, falling apart, dissonance, discord. This falling apart can be triggered by physical changes such as puberty and menopause, personal tragedies such as death of a loved one or natural disasters, or anything that disrupts our inner life.

At lower levels of development, disintegration is unilevel, meaning we do not control or participate in it consciously. It happens to us. The conflict is mainly with the external world (including our physical selves). We deal with it as best we can without substantial self-evaluation or change, and we move on. An example would be disintegration that occurs because of the death of someone close to us, and after the period of grief and disintegration, the person’s inner life returns more or less to where he or she was before in terms of personality.

A higher level of disintegration is multilevel disintegration, which can lead to “fundamental changes” in one’s inner life. It may start with unilevel disintegration, but lasts longer, involves the whole individual and retrospection, and is experienced as conflict with ourselves rather than with the outside world. The main difference is that we are aware of a hierarchy of responses and values within ourselves. To use Dabrowski’s terms, the disintegration is vertical rather than horizontal. A loved one dies, and at some point in the period of grief, we begin to question our own life, whether we are living as we should live, potentially leading to becoming different from who we were before.

An even higher level of multilevel disintegration occurs when we engage actively in the process. We lean in to the disintegration rather than try to run from or mask it, and look for opportunities to move closer to our ideal self. Our disintegration is self-directed.

On either end of this long journey of disintegration are levels of integration, when we are more or less unified with ourselves and our environment. The difference is that in the first level, we are unified because we are content to be guided by impulses and society, while in the fifth level, psychological integration is the result of a usually long and difficult “loosening” and reordering of our previous inner life. While many people live most of their lives at level one, even happily so, few people advance to the unification of level five.

The Third Factor

A crucial part of TPD and developmental potential, the “Third Factor” acts as our internal GPS by approving or disapproving of impulses and choices, measuring them against our personality ideal. Dabrowski likens the Third Factor to an active conscience. He writes that it tends to be more active during adolescence (the age of maturation) and mid-life. During the interim period, we are often busy with drives that involve starting a family, getting recognition in our job or social setting, having possessions—in other words, more or less going along with societal or familial expectations and pressures.

For those with a strong developmental potential, however, the normal course of life is different. The internal conflict inherent in adolescence, rather than resolved early as one might predict, can instead be prolonged and heightened, “with all its positive and some negative aspects”:

“One may add, here, that this extension of the period of maturation is clearly connected with the developmental instinct, with greater creative abilities, with the tendencies to perfect oneself, with the advent and development of the tendencies that point to the most profound self-awareness, self-affirmation, and self-education.” ~Kazimierz Dabrowski, Personality-Shaping Through Positive Disintegration

This extended period of growing up or “permanently maturing” has some neurobiological support. Brain imaging has suggested that brain development in children of above average intelligence begins and ends later than that of children with more average intelligence. Dabrowski’s theory goes a step further to suggest that, for some people, the conflict and inner growth of adolescent may extend well into the adult years, as disintegration continues and the Third Factor strengthens.

And this brings us to one of the most hotly debated questions about Dabrowski’s theory: Is it a theory of and for gifted development?

A Sidetrack to Giftedness

One criticism of how TPD has been applied to giftedness is that the OEs have been given undue attention and taken out of context. I tend to agree, more so as I become better acquainted with Dabrowski’s work, and have even been guilty of it myself. In Personality-Shaping, relatively little space is devoted to what Dabrowski called nervousness or psychic excitability (OEs). He places much greater emphasis on forms and processes of disintegration.

That’s not to say that knowing more about OEs isn’t helpful, especially for adults who work and live with gifted children. Too often, however, I think we stop there, as if excitabilities are ends in themselves.

In Dabrowski’s theory, OEs are a necessary but not sufficient component of developmental potential. Excessive excitability is a clue that a child may have the potential for inner development, showing “traits such as animism, magical thinking, an unwarranted flightiness of attention and difficulties in concentration, emotionalism, and capriciousness.”

Children with OEs require support and understanding. However, developmental potential also consists of interests and talents and the Third Factor, as well as other dynamisms such as anxiety over oneself, dissatisfaction with oneself, feelings of shame and guilt, feeling of inferiority in relation toward oneself, subject-object in oneself, and the disposing and directing center (subjects for future posts). In addition, Dabrowski did not view all five OEs as having equal importance in positive disintegration, with affectional (emotional) and imaginational excitabilities serving as particular aids or conditions in personality development.

Do gifted individuals have more OEs than the general population? It depends on whom you ask. Dabrowski’s research of children with superior abilities in either intellectual giftedness or specific talents found that “[e]very one of the children investigated showed considerable psychomotor, sensual, affectional [emotional], intellectual mental over excitability” (quoted in Mendaglio and Tillier).

Sharon Lind, however, wrote, “It is important to emphasize that not all gifted or highly gifted individuals have over excitabilities. However we do find more people with OEs in the gifted population than in the average population.” A recent and much-discussed dissertation by Daniel Winkler looked at past studies and discovered “the relationship between giftedness and the five OEs is far more complicated and uncertain than is commonly believed,” with “little to no evidence” for higher psychomotor or sensual OEs in the gifted population, “some evidence” for higher emotional and imaginational OEs, and more evidence for greater intellectual OE.

Personally, I welcome more research in this area and don’t find it a problem that OEs on the whole may not be as strongly correlated with giftedness as I once thought. We can perhaps think of the gifted population and those with high developmental potential as two circles of a Venn diagram—for those in the intersecting middle, however large or small it may be, it is easy to confuse one for the other, but there is more to the big picture.

Dabrowski’s theory, after all, was not about OEs, as William Tillier reminds us:

“[W]hen discussing individuals with ‘superior abilities and talents,’ Dabrowski’s main concern and focus was on the overall developmental process (not simply overexcitability) in this group and on how we as a culture and specifically as educators can help improve our understanding and attitudes about psychoneurotic phenomena and thus reduce the persecution and alienation of this group.”

When gifted children do exhibit OEs and other Dabrowskian developmental clues, we can perhaps think of developmental potential as a sidetrack to their intellectual giftedness rather than equal to it, a sidetrack that may, in time and of their own choosing, become the main track.

More To Come!

Every Sunday for the rest of 2015 I will be adding posts to this series. Please share your thoughts in the comments and let me know what topics and questions you would like to see addressed here.

What do you want to know about or what is your experience with Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration?

This post has been part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page November 2015 Blog Hop. Click on the image below to read more posts in the hop!

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30 thoughts on “Sidetracked by Dabrowski

  1. I love this, especially this bit:

    “That’s not to say that knowing more about OEs isn’t helpful, especially for adults who work and live with gifted children. Too often, however, I think we stop there, as if excitabilities are ends in themselves.”

    So true. It’s only one tiny bit of the overall theory. What a great post, Lisa!

    • Cait, thanks so much! I was a bit hesitant to step foot into these waters–there is so much emotion involved in the OEs-giftedness discussion. Writing about it helps my own understanding.

    • Bill, thanks very much for taking the time to offer these explanations and experiences. They are quite helpful, especially as I work to understand Dabrowski’s theories better. My goal is to try to communicate my own developing understanding in a way that helps others to know more about TPD–not at all easy, I’m finding.

      What prompted this series of posts was a conversation with a mother of two very gifted children who was worried and frustrated by an article she’d read that suggested that OEs may not be strongly correlated with giftedness. She was visibly upset, because she had used Dabrowski’s OEs as a way for teachers and others to view her children’s intensities as at least somewhat acceptable if not normal, and that this aid in her advocacy was being taken away. There was a real fear and defensiveness in her words that I sympathized with.

      At the same time, though, I wanted to help her to see that TPD is not a theory about giftedness, but that this makes it more rather than less valuable, and that knowing about the theory can be a complement to her knowing about giftedness, both for herself and for her children.

      It is fascinating that Dabrowski contemplated being a professional musician. I can hardly wait to keep learning about all of this. Dabrowski’s theory helps to explain much of what I see around me in many of the people I know and love

      In gratitude,
      Lisa

      • Hi Lisa.

        This is another aspect of investment, a parent trying to help his or her child. But what is critical here is that we are not taking away anything! Let me try to articulate this.

        Overexcitability is unquestionably an aspect of many of these children. The reality of the child shows that.

        In terms of research, I believe that the research today will not support the relationship between overexcitability and gifted. However, not because it’s not there — [In terms of research an open question in my mind but in terms of experience I think many of these children will have Dąbrowskian development (but of course not all some of these children are extremely rigid and egocentric) ] – the instruments used so far have not been valid. As well, here’s a big question, can we properly measure OE in isolation of other constructs like DP, SO, psychoneuroses and Dynamisms? Maybe not. So, it is premature to conclude anything from the research in the big picture – this research so far is simply not good enough to make firm conclusions.

        As I say, we are not taking anything away, we are strengthening this mother’s ability to advocate. My very very limited exposure to gifted children certainly illustrates the simultaneous occurrence of different aspects that need to be managed as a totality, for example, third factor combined with insecurity and anxiety & depression combined with attempts at autoeducation and inferiority towards oneself etc. All of these form a critical mix that needs to be looked at as a totality. Only then will we know the power of the theory in helping people.

        Again just for context I knew Dąbrowski at the end of his life but I think I have a good sense of what was important to him. For example, I know that in negotiating his contract at the University of Alberta one of the conditions was that he would have someone drive him to the provincial mental institution about an hour and a half from Edmonton. He insisted on spending one full day a week there. As shown in the Film west Movie, Dąbrowski would often perform therapy with patients using music, he was an accomplished pianist and in the film the patient played ( I think) clarinet and Dąbrowski played the piano. So in my experience he wasn’t going to schools to see children, he was going to institutions to see patients. it is not shown in the film but the boy playing the instrument had a depression and had jumped out of a second story window precipitating his institutionalization.

        Again, here is something no one would know. At the beginning of this film (I’m referring to Be greeted Psychoneurotics) the boy Peter is being examined by Dąbrowski. this young man was in therapy with Marlene Rankel under Dąbrowski’s supervision and was the subject of Marlene’s PhD thesis. It was the first n of one (case study) thesis ever granted in the psychology department. Marlene went on to be an associate professor. Sadly, Peter eventually committed suicide.

        • Bill, thank you, again. Your thoughts on how Dabrowski’s theory can help parents in understanding and advocating, especially when understood in context and not just as OEs, are particularly helpful.

          This, in particular, is something I recognize as clearly evident in many gifted young people–“third factor combined with insecurity and anxiety & depression combined with attempts at autoeducation and inferiority towards oneself, etc.”

          You are giving me much to think about as I continue to read and sketch out new blog posts on this topic. I’m hoping to attend the Congress next summer in Calgary.

  2. Hello there. I totally agree with Cait and I certainly sympathize with Lisa. But the sad part of this is that the emotions and personal biases involved here have effectively blocked the main body of the theory from getting out for the last 25 years or so. This is a natural byproduct of the way that academics functions. You invest yourself in a particular area of study, a particular topic, usually by your Masters you are on a track, then reinforced by your PhD. Now, if you are at a university, you focus on this and the pressure is to publish. Do not underestimate the personal and emotional aspects of this investment. In hard science and medicine for example, many people devote their careers to theories with little or no evidence and worse, ignore contrary evidence. For example, here, Frank Falk is so wrapped up in overexcitabilities and development that he cannot see objectively. Likewise, Piechowski was a microbiologist on the tenure track at the University of Alberta when he had a life crisis over lifestyle. He met Dąbrowski and started therapy with him and subsequently began collaborating. He quit his job and switched to counseling psychology. Unfortunately, during their collaboration the therapy did not go so well and the two split ways. Piechowski’s is informed more by philosophy than logic. That is to say, he wants to believe that human behavior is not genetic and that our personality is socially shaped and influenced. Further, he has long argued, as his 2014 article shows, against the logic of Dąbrowski’s work. That’s fine no problem but he is trying to change Dąbrowski’s theory. As we said in our recent reply 2015 article, Jung came to disagree with Freud and ended up writing his own body of work — this is what Piechowski should have done. Jung did not try to modify or alter Freud’s work under Freud’s own name for goodness sake, Jung went on to write his own theories under his own name. For context, what did Piechowski do? Piechowski stumbled onto the gifted area and saw an application for overexcitability. He then spent the next 30 years focusing on this exclusively, at first, without even referencing Dąbrowski’s English works or his concepts of positive disintegration or psychoneuroses. Some of the original students like myself complained about this and eventually a better balance was struck especially as people who really cared about the constructs learned the whole theory. I strongly suggest that the theory has broad applicability to certain areas far beyond overexcitability.

    A couple of comments:

    I like this idea of sidetracked. Bergson (who influenced Dąbrowski) used the analogy that people follow the beaten path (factor 2) because it is easy and falls in front of us naturally and without question. However, true development of individual autonomy involves stepping off of this path and being sidetracked as it where to explore your own direction (third factor). This new path is untrodden, unmapped, presents many challenges and difficulties – just as the climb out of Plato’s cave presented many challenges and was not suited for everyone – not everyone is cut out to take the new path (few have enough gas in the tank).

    developmental potential has many many facets including, underneath its umbrella, developmental instinct. The three main ones that you mention are focused on because Dąbrowski said these were the three main ones through which developmental potential could be most easily accessed or judged.

    The essence of being unilevel is that it is, as it says, a horizontal experience. We can go left or we can go right at the fork in the road but for Dąbrowski, these choices do not represent a developmental solution. For development you need to have a multilevel or vertical perspective in life that gives you the vertical –moving up aspect that truly resolves problems and leads to development.

    In terms of growing up, Dąbrowski said the more developmental potential one had the longer it took to develop or mature and that in some cases, the ideal, maturity is never truly achieved as growth is ongoing. Dąbrowski liked Kierkegaard and his comment that the average person has so little development they reach the maximum growth very quickly – Kierkegaard said he was amazed gestation took nine months as so many people are so shallow.

    Just for context, in my years with Dąbrowski we never discussed gifted per se.

    And over arching concern of Dąbrowski’s was intense crises and disintegration experienced by those who develop – those identified as gifted or not. His concern was always related to self-mutilation and suicide during the height of crises. (During his masters Dąbrowski contemplated being a professional musician — and loved music all of his life — his best friend and fellow student committed suicide and Dąbrowski decided to spend his life studying psychology and psychiatry and neurology to try to understand suicide better.) Not everyone can navigate these waters – some fallback to lower levels some commit suicide whereas some forward into secondary integration.

    Sorry to ramble on. Bill.

  3. This is a relatively new subject line for me and I am 71.
    I do have gifted and talented people in my family but as my grandson’s teacher explained to the parents when Tosh was accepted into the program at his school, “Oh, these students are not gifted and talented. The PROGRAM is gifted and talented. Your child is actually an ‘at risk’ student, at risk to drop out of school due to boredom.”
    Tosh is very very bright.
    I myself have memories from before I was 2 yrs old. I know this as my brother was born before I was 2 so I have a landmark to guage time. I have always been creative and “bright” and that has continued into old age. (I do not equate this with “super-intelligence” but rather with increased brain activity.) I do wonder (since I am related to a few bi-polar people) if there is a link to increased-brain activity that causes creativity and the intense disorders that are severe enough to cause some dysfunctional chaos instead of creativity.
    Because I am very spiritual, I also wonder if that is a gift that comes with increased brain activity.
    PS I avoid caffeine! It has the power to make me “scattered” instead of on track.
    Thanks for exploring this subject in your blog.
    I am a Registered Nurse.

    • Thank you very much for your comments and sharing your experience. I think you would benefit from reading Dabrowski’s book Personality-Shaping through Positive Disintegration. He emphasized a spiritual dimension of personality development, and also felt that those with developmental potential were at risk in many ways and required special kinds of support.

      I went to your blog and read “The Benefactress, Or How To Tell If You Are Old.” Poignant and powerful. I will keep reading.

  4. Hi Lisa, I enjoyed your post very much! I love the background and your analysis, and I think it is a huge help in understanding references to the OEs. I also love the quotes from Sharon Lind and Tillier, and separately, have enjoyed what James Webb and Anne Rinn have written about giftedness and the OEs. I hope there will be future research in this area. Thank you for your wonderful post.

  5. This was a wonderfully written post! I, too, am attempting to delve into Dabrowski, but it is slow going for me. Your writing helped clarify the relationships among his theories. Just last night, I was inquiring about a friend’s child in the public schools. There is no gifted program in first grade in DeKalb IL. Two of my other friends immediately said, “He’ll be fine!” as if that was the end of the discussion. I should have said more but they should know better, too.

    • Linda, thanks very much. It’s hard to know what to say in those situations–there just isn’t enough time to talk about why he might not “just be fine” (and it’s so hard to explain why to people who don’t have experience with a highly gifted or an overexcitable child).

    • Thanks, Paula. 🙂 Not everyone is as interested in Dabrowski as I am. For me, it feels to be a better “fit” in explaining what I’m interested in than many gifted theories, but I understand how that’s not true for everyone.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing! I look forward to reading the rest of your posts on this topic. I’ve spent a lot of time looking into excitability myself, and when I first started exploring TPD online found a lot of the information on the topic hard to slog through. I was fortunate to get my hands on an out of print copy of his Theory of Positive Disintegration book (for $5 no less!), and found reading it from his own perspective very helpful. I’m excited to know there is another book of his work out now!

  7. Hi Lisa,
    I am always interested and fascinated by how people describe Dabrowski’s work and what we can take from it. Love the quote: “[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, Personality-Shaping Through Positive Disintegration. When I try to imagine it visually it helps me imagine the theory in yet another way.
    Susan

    • Susan, I’m the same way in terms of visualization helping me to understand a concept better. Much of Dabrowski’s work is rather densely worded (a feature of psychological theories, in general, I find), but once in awhile there are gems like the one you mention. They are wonderful.

  8. Thank you for this post, Lisa, and for your helpful comments, Bill. I have been trying to understand Dabrowski’s TPD for some time, both to comprehend my own mid-life internal struggles, and my exceptionally gifted son’s intense emotional OE’s (always challenging, but particularly so again with the onset of puberty). I often feel mired in the disintegration part, but less certain of what the outcome might be. I worry that my son will one day give in to the negative intensity and not realize where it might lead if he ‘sticks around’ to work it through. More understanding of where individuals on the higher plane, who have gone through TPD, have ended up, contributed, etc. would be appreciated.

    • Hello Lisa. I’ve been ruminating on your post for a few days. You have asked me a very personal question and I must answer in a very personal way. One of the things I saw very clearly as a youth was that I ran into walls and roadblocks and tried to overcome them – both internal roadblocks and external – I tried to overcome them with sheer force of will. Of course, I failed. I was very frustrated and swimming in the middle of the ocean. I know what you mean when you say you feel mired in the disintegration part. But when you are able to see a new context – to reframe – to look anew at the world – at yourself – at things – at your children – at your partner – at others – at life – when you are able to shift from unilevel to multilevel the world changes for you. You see that the roadblocks cannot be pushed away they need to be surmounted – literally over – come. These are not amenable to horizontal solutions, rather, they literally have to be climbed over vertically. As Dąbrowski said, the real solutions to problems in life are vertical – one must rise up, stand up, rise above. Both rise above the roadblocks in front of us but also to rise above ourselves and our day-to-day expectations which generally function at a low level. To ask more of ourselves to try to reach a higher ideal to try to establish as Dąbrowski said little by little – inch by inch something higher than exists today – to realize what ought to be over what simply is today.

      I recently caught the new movie on Everest. It’s like that – one step in front of the other. Saint-Exupery was an early pilot when the planes were not very reliable and he and his mechanic ended up in the desert some 60 miles from the coast – an impossible situation. He said to the other man well we could stay here and die or we could set out for the coast and die. Of course Exupery set out and described how he took one step after another even though each was the same as the one before, he had to take the next one. They were discovered by friendly Bedouin tribe members and saved. So, although each step may feel the same and give us the sense we are not moving, we cannot stop.

      In terms of individuals on the higher plane – I assume you’re not talking about passengers on a 747! I say this with humor because let’s not deify those who have gone further and discovered their own path. Dąbrowski used to explain that when he said extraordinary he literally meant extra – ordinary more ordinary than usual. To lose one’s social mores and expectations and roles in favor of becoming an ordinary human being – such an oxymoron so rare today do we see a human being. When I was in my career I had seen hundreds of natives and one day the chief nurse and I and Dr. went into observation and saw an old Native American – right out of the 1900 picture book. We spoke to him for a few minutes and later I remarked that this was the first native American I’d ever seen or met. Marlene is to say that of all the people she had met next Dąbrowski, the most developed individual she knew was an old guy who lived down the road. Overall, quite extraordinarily ordinary!

      Let’s use those ahead of us on the road as role models to guide our own behavior. Although we may use the same map and compass we won’t get to the same destination – that is for you to discover for yourself, and for your son to find.

      Now, to the young man sitting with a gun in his hand contemplating his failures or the young lady who feels hopelessly inadequate and lost – here’s what I say – can’t that wait a day or two? Let’s have a look again. Don’t look back don’t ruminate just for a minute, let’s look up let’s look ahead let’s see if we can find a way up a way out. You’ve looked at one side – the dark side – now, can we find light?? Can we find even one star to guide us to encourage us to support the life in us. It’s very easy to give up especially when one feels one cannot go any further. However, sometimes it just takes a bit of encouragement and a bit of a change – don’t gnash your teeth tighter, relax and let life come to you. Dexter said you know, we are passengers on the train and if we really behave ourselves maybe just maybe they will let us go up to the front and look out the front window and blow the whistle. But further, I challenge you today – get up out of your seat quit looking out the window to the side; at the next stop force your way to the door and get off the train. Find your own means of transportation and your own destiny. Find out what we have contribute – have your son find out what he has to contribute – not what he wants from life or needs from life but what he can contribute to life during this brief light we have to shine. Perhaps your son would be brave enough to offer some thoughts on the list.

      Now, shall I give you a conventional answer? Okay, we will take the boy and see where he fits DSM five, we will get a fine diagnosis for him and we will find an appropriate medication or two – what is medicine without an elixir? Clearly his willfulness will have to be broken and he’ll have to learn to sit still and listen to the teacher. No auto education for him – we know everything he needs to learn! Now as to his psychological issues – I think a nice course of cognitive behavioral therapy should fit well – no autopsychotherapy for this kid! We should have him whipped into conformity in a year or two.

      You can always email me off the list if you’re more comfortable. Take care, Bill.

    • Lisa, thank you for your response. The worry of a parent can be excruciating. Personality-Shaping ends with biographical examples, so I will be sure to discuss those.

  9. I’ve long believed that I need to learn more about Dabrowski. Finally there’s an easy way for me to learn more—what with your clear writing and the discussions in your comments. Please do keep on writing! Thank you!

  10. Lisa, what a wonderful service you are doing with this blogpost! As you and that wonderfully wise Bill Tiller are pointing out, there is much more to Dabrowski’s theory than just the OEs. Or example, his multilevel disintegration ties in quite well, I think, with existential depression, and his reintegration is quite relevant to learning how to manage it. I, too, hope that more people will delve more into Dabrowski’s theory and that they will use it to promote understanding of human functioning. Concepts like the OEs or disintegration are useful, but they should not be used simply as excuses for rude, inappropriate, or maladaptive behaviors.

    Thank you, Lisa, Bill, and all the others!

  11. Hello. I want to just make a general comment to start. I apologize for not following up as quickly as I should. I am a quadriplegic and certain things are a challenge that take time – my dropbox got messed up on my computer and that took five days to resolve!

    I want to make a note on Red pill press. A gentleman from this company came to one of our Dąbrowski conferences (we have one every two years, the next is July 2016 here in Calgary Alberta). He was very interested in the theory. He expressed his ability to create a publish on demand volume and that’s what you see in this new personality shaping book. However it should be clear that this company overall is a bit of a concern in that many of the books they publish our way out there – like communicating with alien beings – out there. Dąbrowski certainly is not in this fringe category. We are hopeful that shortly all of the books will be republished through a more legitimate company.

    I have been the archivist for Dąbrowski and I have assembled a DVD/file of all of his primary works and material associated with him. This file runs about 5 GB and I have had it advertised for sale on my website – I think it is $45 through PayPal. If anyone has a passion to read the original materials they are available through these PDFs until we can get the books republished. These PDFs are any files of the original books as well as OCR renderings. As well on this disc are movies of Dąbrowski and hundreds of associated articles.

    Linda made the comment that reading Dąbrowski is slow going. By analogy I think Dąbrowski is like a complex movie cramming so much into a brief window. But, one thing is for sure – I am confident in saying this because I have spent 30 years reading psychology – everything in Dąbrowski fits like a glove into a long tradition. Yet, he is unique in the way he combines constructs and ideas and when you look over the literature no one has taken the approach that he has and this makes it so valuable in understanding day-to-day life. This is not a flaky theory. It is not pie in the sky philosophy. Rather, it is based on deep observation of individuals functioning at the lowest and most primitive levels in life. It is based on observations of the average person, usually self absorbed and following a socially determined robotic agenda. It is also based on the observations of the few exceptional exemplars who act as role models and lead the way to show us what real self-determination of personality looks like. Real autonomy that flies in the face of social conformity yet that has overcome egocentrism and has created a unique and powerful bond of compassion with others. There are no contradictions in Dąbrowski. Like the movie, each time you see it you see something a little differently and it becomes more powerful as you go into it further and further.

    Historically, the theory has been applied by Piechowski to the gifted. It should be noted – and it will become immediately obvious to anyone who reads Dąbrowski – that it is not a theory of the gifted. It is a theory of personality development. The closest analogy is from philosophy from Kierkegaard and from Nietzsche who suggest that one must move beyond social determination to become an individual. Part of this process involves subject – object and changes in the way we view ourselves and others and the world. Part of this process involves establishing our own individual values, aims, goals and ultimately the visualization of the ideal of our personality – who we feel we must become – this is called third factor in Dąbrowski and becomes a strong motivation as we grow and develop ourselves.

    Piechowski has personal issues that I cannot disclose that have colored his thinking from the late 60s on. He has rejected a lot of the theory but confusingly has written about it as if Dąbrowski had made changes in his own work. It’s important to differentiate what Dąbrowski said originally from what Piechowski later interpreted under Dąbrowski’s name.

    This is not an academic theory. For example, many people spend their lives studying physics or other hard science problems. These people are consumed with passion to understand their topic. But Dąbrowski is a theory about psychology and ultimately about oneself. As Saint-Exupery explained in the Little Prince, some will see a hat, some will see a snake that has eaten an elephant. How you see it will determine whether you say – that’s interesting but not for me – versus oh my goodness this is a gold mine! For us the theory speaks to is a very personal experience. Reading the book at 20 I understood myself to the first time historically – I had a context for my earlier experiences and frustration and feelings. I should explain when I went to university to do my Masters I was signing up for my courses and one of Dąbrowski’s inner circle – Marlene – saw me and introduced me to the book – psychoneuroses is not an illness – and then to Dąbrowski himself. It became more than an academic pursuit for me. I feel that in some ways no – directly – the theory and Dąbrowski himself saved me and helped me navigate treacherous waters until I could discover my own side track.

    I’m also going to reply directly to Lisa in Ontario.

    Thank you very much for your patience in reading this. I do think it’s important historical context for new people who are just discovering the work and are confused by certain things they may see. Dąbrowski was a very special human being. As chief Dan George said in the movie Little big Man – the problem with the world today is there to many people and not enough human beings. I doubt if I ever met anyone like him since I had certainly never met anyone like him before. Meeting this group of people back then, Marlene Rankel, Bill Hague, Leo Mos, Dexter Amend, etc. – these are just names to you but they are a unique group of human individuals and exemplars. And now today, we continue to learn and help each other and grow. Cheers, Bill. PS written with voice dictation.

    • Bill, there is no need at all to apologize. I am grateful for all of the insight and background you are providing. I do have the DVD (which I got at the 2012 Dabrowski Congress) and will post the link in a future blog post.

      What you wrote about how Dabrowski affects people in different ways, and often very personally–beyond just another psychological theory–is especially valuable. That is definitely how I feel, although I am still struggling to put it in the right words.

      I will email more later. Thank you, again, for your time and thoughtfulness.

  12. Lisa – Thank you so much for your work on this! I’m looking forward to your weekly installments, it’s like an early Christmas present for a fellow Dabrowski-nerd like myself 🙂 While the overexcitabilties are fascinating and definitely useful in my work with many of my clients, his theory of development is what first drew me in and what I continue to work on better understanding… I’ve taken a break from research the past few years, but have been trying to motivate myself to jump back in – this may spur more movement in that arena for me 🙂

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