Positive Disintegration

A friend shared his story with me about his psychotic episode:

You can learn more about DJ’s story here and a companion piece here.

It reminded me of the idea of positive disintegration — Kazimierz Dąbrowski, a polish psychiatrist and psychologist, developed the theory in 1964 where he believed that the “key to the treatment of mental illness was intense personal suffering” and expanded this into a theory of personality development:

  • 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. Dąbrowski 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 Dąbrowski 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 autoeducation and autopsychotherapy.

I’ve had my “moments” — especially in late 2019 where I literally had to “check out” of life and take some time for myself. I know that feel.

One person that I’ve been reading recently who’s talked a bit about this is Elizabeth Mika:

He also noted that all creative people who have left the positive mark on the world — especially artists, philosophers, moral exemplars and saints — frequently struggled with similar psychological difficulties which, painful as they were, often enriched their characters, stimulated their creativity, and propelled their development.

Thus rather than pathologize such symptoms, or otherwise make his patients conform to the status quo, Dabrowski stressed their positive value as both harbingers and mechanisms of personality development.

His clinical experience led him to develop the Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD), which posits that, far from being destructive and undesirable, many forms of psychological suffering — anxiety, depression, doubts, inner conflicts, even psychosis — are positive and necessary for emotional and personality development.

More often than not, they are expressive of the emerging understanding of the multilevel nature of reality, inner and external, and, related, an objectively existing hierarchy of human values.

This understanding becomes a basis of personality growth through positive disintegration.

Elizabeth Mika

Very interesting things to consider! We don’t have to demonize every experience as net-bad or even evil; perhaps, we can find something wholly positive.