The life of Kazimierz Dąbrowski, always prolific, is marked by war and censorship. However, despite this, his work managed to get out of his native Poland, step through the Steel Curtain and gain the popularity it deserves.
This Polish psychologist, psychiatrist and doctor has always sought ways to expand his knowledge and contribute to its dissemination by devoting himself to teaching and giving lectures throughout Europe and North America.
His theory of positive decay has been seen as a true 360-degree turn in the understanding of personality development. Let’s see in more detail the life of this researcher through a biography of Kazimierz Dąbrowski, In which we will also know his particular theory.
Biography of Kazimierz Dąbrowski
Always marked by some misfortunes, both personal and experienced in his native Poland, Kazimierz Dąbrowski has never ceased to contribute to psychology and psychiatry. His life is extremely interesting, and we’ll see that below.
Kazimierz Dąbrowski was born on September 1, 1902 in Klarów, Poland. time the second of four children from a family of farm administrators.
Already in his early childhood, he had to experience the loss of a loved one, his little sister, who died of meningitis at the age of three.
But it was not only the death of his sister that marked him, because he lived through the First World War from an early age, Being a locality near where he lived one of the battlefields.
At only twelve years old, he could see with his own eyes the hundreds of corpses of soldiers killed in combat, strewn in the streets and places where he played.
Already at that time he could see firsthand how capable humanity was of committing the most atrocious acts.
Professional training and beginnings
Dąbrowski’s academic life is characterized by being very prolific and extensiveWithout having had direct contact with violence, he prevented it from being one of the great minds of the last century.
Although at first he was educated by his family at home, he later ended up enrolling in the Stefan Batory private school in Lublin, attending the center between 1916 and 1921.
In 1921 he entered the Catholic University of Lublin, now John Paul II University, enrolling in the Faculty of Polish Studies. here too he attended lectures on philosophy and psychology as an auditor.
Between 1924 and 1926 he studied philosophy at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. Later, he will study at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Warsaw.
He subsequently managed to have the chance to study at the School of Educational Sciences and then be able to attend the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, an institution created by the neurologist Édouard Claparède. Claparède, with Jean Piaget and Pierre Bovet, participated in Dąbrowski’s instruction during his stay in Switzerland.
In 1929, Kazimierz Dąbrowski he completed his doctoral thesis at the University of Geneva on suicide, Entitled “The psychopathological conditions of suicide”.
After a long training in Switzerland, on his return to Poland, Dąbrowski was responsible for the creation of several centers focused on the treatment of people suffering from some form of psychological disorder.
In 1931 created a clinic focused on the treatment of neurotic patients and people with intellectual problems. In 1933 he was invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to travel to the United States and study at Harvard University. Then, in 1934, he returned to Poland to found the Polish League for Mental Hygiene, as secretary of the organization.
In times of war and post-war
While World War I was already a difficult stage for Kazimierz Dąbrowski, the times of World War II were no better, especially considering how the Third Reich treated Poland during the conflict.
It should be noted that out of nearly 400 Polish psychiatrists practicing before the conflict, only about 38 were still alive at the end of the war. Dąbrowski suffered on a personal level, as his younger brother was killed and his older brother was interned in a concentration camp.
However, despite the difficult times, had the opportunity to found in 1942 the College of Mental Hygiene and Applied Psychology, Although it was also this year that the Gestapo arrested him.
At the end of the war, and having already been released, Dąbrowski returned to Warsaw and became director of the Institute of Mental Hygiene and later, in 1948, obtained the official title of psychiatrist.
In 1949, the Polish government, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, decided to close the Institute of Mental Hygiene and declared Kazimierz Dąbrowski persona non grata.
Dąbrowski and his wife Eugenia were deprived of their liberty in 1950, remaining in prison for eighteen months. Once released, the psychiatrist’s activities were closely monitored by the Communist authorities.
After a few years of working as a tuberculosis specialist, without the right to training in psychology or psychiatry, the Polish authorities considered him a “rehabilitated person” and he was allowed to practice these fields again.
In 1962, the Polish state allowed him to travel across the steel curtain, Visiting countries such as Spain, the United States, France and the United Kingdom, giving talks on their outlook on personality and the treatment of people with mental disorders.
Last decades of life
In the 1960s, Dąbrowski traveled to the United States and was able to translate some of the research conducted by Polish colleagues into English, to ensure that the world was aware of the psychiatry and psychology practiced in Poland.
It was in 1964 that his major work, Positive Disintegration, was published in English, becoming very popular in the field of personality psychology.
During his stay in North America, Dąbrowski was able to meet great American psychologists and psychiatrists, Among them Abraham Maslow, who was interested in his theory.
Throughout Kazimierz Dąbrowski’s two decades of life, the psychiatrist has devoted himself to teaching and writing, traveling between Canada and Poland.
Kazimierz Dąbrowski died in Warsaw, Poland on November 26, 1980. After his death, the Polish Communist authorities expropriated his property from his widow and children.
Theory of positive decay
Kazimierz Dąbrowski’s theory of positive decay is a theory of personality development. Unlike most psychologists, Dąbrowski’s opinion is that anxiety is a necessary factor for the proper development of an individual’s personality. This aspect, seen as something “disintegrating” becomes something positive if it is given in the right way and you know how to deal with it.
In the model is argues that up to five levels of integration-disintegration occur, Which influence the formation of a unique personality and far removed from the lack of individuality.
1. Level I: primary integration
At this level, people are only influenced by their biological factors, that is, heredity, as well as environmental influences.
People manifest a “primitive” personality, characterized by exhibit selfish and egocentric behaviors, For the sole purpose of satisfying their own appetites and desires, being something peculiar to childhood.
2. Level II: single-level disintegration
This level occurs in the face of a crisis, such as puberty and menopause, Or in times when you have to deal with a stressful event. This is where the automatic dynamism is more important, like greater self-awareness and greater self-control.
The person can rethink a lot of things which, either because of the education received or the culture in which he lives, they have taught in a way that now calls into question, criticize the status quo.
It is, according to Dąbrowski, the moment when his own personality begins to form, which will go one way or another depending on how it is assimilated and approached from the ethics of the events in question.
3. Level III: spontaneous integration at several levels
Having critically posed a specific situation or fact, the person considers several ways to manage them.
The emergence of various alternatives makes one wonder what would have happened to him if he had done the other as he had planned.
In accordance with the decision taken and the consequences, the person will or will not develop an increasingly suitable personality, But at the same time clean and unique.
4. Level IV: targeted disintegration at several levels
At this level, the person achieves absolute control over their development.
If at the previous level what was done was done more or less randomly, at the fourth it was done deliberately, fully aware and with well-directed intentionality towards a specific goal.
5. Level V: secondary integration
At this level, the person is already a fully stable person, As long as you have successfully completed the previous four levels. He has become a responsible person who appropriately meditates on his actions.
- Dąbrowski, K. (1929). The psychological conditions of suicide. Geneva: Imprimerie du Commerce.
- Dąbrowski, K. (1964b). Positive disintegration. Boston: Little Brown and Co.
- Dąbrowski, K. (1966). The theory of positive decomposition. International Journal of Psychiatry, 2 (2), 229-244.
- Dąbrowski, K. (1967). Personality formation by positive disintegration. Boston: Little Brown & Co.