Positive Disintegration Theory (PDT) is a complex theory of personality development developed by K. Dabrowski (1902-1980). The TDP is not a theory of high capacity per se, but can be used for identification and description.
What is the meaning of my life ? Why am I never happy? Why do I live? What am I doing in this world? Who am I really? Psychiatrist Kazimier Dabrowski coined the term disintegration to refer to what we commonly call the existential crisis.. A positive disintegration would be a favorable solution to these crises.
This theory, far from considering existential crises and their manifestations as pathological, presents them as necessary for the evolution of the individual and for reaching a higher level of development. It is as if each personality advancement is realized by confronting each of these existential questions.
According to the studies of Dabrowski himself and other authors, positive decay is a typical characteristic of people with high abilities. In this article, we will explain the theory of positive decay and its relationship to high capacity.
The Positive Decay Theory
Positive Decay Theory differs from most theories in present psychological distress and conflict as drivers of development.
Positive disintegration elevates personality development as the individual’s transition from lower to higher levels of development. Develop the person he must come into conflict with the values on which his conduct is based. The affliction of conflict is accompanied by manifestations considered pathological or non-positive, such as anxiety, anger, despair, etc.
These considered signs of poor mental health are, according to the theory of positive disintegration, part of a process necessary to successfully overcome difficult internal states and thus allow growth. It is only by overcoming conflict that people become the best version of themselves.
On the other hand, Dabrowski emphasized the importance of emotions in development. He believed that a less rationalist theory of human development was needed, where emotional factors were seen not as unimportant, but as a key part of development.
Origins of this theory
Kazimier Dabrowski (September 1, 1902 in Klarów – November 26, 1980 in Warsaw) was a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist. recognized by the theory of positive decay.
The basic assumptions on which his theory is based are based on his personal experience. Dąbrowski’s childhood was deeply influenced by the First World War, which began when he was only 12 years old, and by his experience as a psychiatrist, where he conducted analyzes on the lives of gifted and successful people. , where existential crises tend to manifest more frequently and more intensely.
In these analyses, Dabrowski focused on determining the presence or absence of mechanisms that might promote psychological development and, therefore, the transition to more advanced levels of personality.
Dabrowski’s theory is based on the basic assumption that psychological development is a transition from lower levels to higher levels of mental understanding and processing, but that it is not a smooth process. The development appears in response to an experience full of tension, internal conflict, anxiety and even where despair and pain may arise.
According to this theory, the absence of inner struggle can only be found in individuals at the most primitive level of development (who have no potential for evolution) or when the higher level has been reached.
This proposal provided a new perspective on the theories of personality development that existed at the time. The theory outlined by Dabrowski has survived for several decades and remains a persuasive and influential theory, especially in understanding and encouraging the development of gifted children.
From clinical and biographical studies of gifted people and people in prominent positions, he drew unique developmental patterns and concluded that thoughts, feelings and the capacity for imagination seemed to be superior to average on average, in intensity, duration and frequency.
What is positive decay?
The word “disintegration” can be confusing, as it often has a negative connotation and applies to situations where something is lost.
However, according to the theory proposed by Dabrowski, it is when tragedy strikes and the previous sense of self or identity “disintegrates” that the greatest potential for growth emerges. of somebody.
Positive disintegration increases the escalation of the individual from lower to higher levels of development. Like a ladder on which we climb step by step.
In the first states, this conflict arises when the individual understands his individuality and how it confronts social values. This realization would be considered the first positive disintegration.
Throughout life, new information may appear, both internally and externally, causing the individual to rethink what they are and should be. These doubts create anxiety, nervousness and even psychoneurosis, and their resolution brings development. However, there is also negative disintegration, which instead of allowing development, leads to the blockage and dissolution of mental functions..
The negative signs that appeared during the disintegration are considered by Dabrowski as positive, because they indicate an objective view of the conflict we are experiencing and are necessary to overcome it and reach a higher stage of development.
In the field of high abilities, it is a theory of great value for understanding how the construction of the personality of the gifted evolves.
Development potential can be defined as the original endowment that allows the individual to develop in a context where adequate social and physical conditions present themselvesaccording to Piechowski.
High development potential is synonymous with high capacity, and development potential expresses the relationship between individual development and a group of three factors that can influence it.
The first factor is inheritance. It is the most fundamental and instinctive level of the individual, it is the result of the expression of genetics and survival, it includes intelligence, overexcitability, special talents, body constitution , temperament, sexuality, hunger, etc.
The second factor is the environment. The influences received through upbringing, relationships and the general social environment. This factor determines most of our daily behaviors.
Most theories that attempt to explain developmental processes typically focus on these two factors and their combinations. What distinguishes Dabrowski’s theory from most development theories is the third factor.
Finally, we have the autonomous factor. The third factor is the result of a conscious choice of what we value and what qualities and desires we reject or pursue. This factor makes self-determination possible and is necessary for the emergence of creativity and advanced development. The third factor pushes us to behave in a way that we see as more authentic to ourselves.
This third factor would be closely related to the degree to which positive decay occurs.
Levels of personal development
According to the theory of disintegration there are different levels of development, each one assumes a structure of different and unique mental development, but directly related to the previous ones. Not all individuals progress through these levels. In fact, many are stuck in a crisis, which can lead to anxiety or depression.
Dąbrowski defines high-potential people as people who are able to progress through the five levels and thus develop a fully integrated and altruistic personality. These five levels have been classified as:
1. Core Integration
Primary integration is the most basic and primitive level of development. This level derives from the first factor, with the satisfaction of basic needs and desires as the sole concern of the individual.
This is the level that generally corresponds to young children. They don’t need deep or meaningful relationships with others, and they despise empathy, sympathy, or any recognition of other people’s needs and concerns.
2. One-level decay
The second level derives from the second factor and focuses on conformity and social comparison. At this level, the individual is anxious to “fit in” and is easily influenced by his social group. Some individuals at this level will begin to question the values and beliefs imposed on them by their social group and begin the process of discovering their own personal values and beliefs.
3. Spontaneous multilevel disintegration
People who began to question their own beliefs and values at level two will begin to form their own beliefs and values at level three. They will notice the discrepancy between “how things are” and “how things should be”, an awareness that is probably it will trigger negative emotions, such as shame or guiltremembering their mistakes and questioning their moral standing.
4. Organized disintegration on several levels
Level three questioning and discovery give way to increasingly focused behaviors and values. The individual realizes who he is and who he wants to be, and how it must act to be authentic. Those at level four genuinely care about others and act in accordance with that empathy.
5. Secondary integration
The highest level of development in Dąbrowski’s theory is marked by the alignment between personal values and behavior, and the individual adapts his actions to work towards higher goals, such as the betterment of society as a whole. together. The individual has formed his ideal personality and experiences peace with himself. All motivation resides in the higher forms of empathy, autonomy and authenticity.
Overexcitability and high abilities
Overexcitability is an indicator of developmental potential and therefore of high capacity. Dabrowski emphasized the importance of these and said that the emotional overexcitability must be at least as strong as the others to reach the highest level of development.
In the research conducted by Mendaglio and Tillier (2006) “Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Decline and Giftedness”, it was found that people with high abilities suffer more from existential crises and that in addition they generally present/display a strong overexcitation. In other words, they have a great imagination, a tendency to feel emotions more intensely, and they tend to be more impulsive.
These over-excitabilities can manifest themselves in five different areas.
1. Psychomotor overexcitability
People with psychomotor overexcitability they have excess physical energy, they speak more often and faster than otherstend to be impulsive and competitive, and resort to overwork to cope with stress or other problems.
2. Sensory overexcitability
These individuals they have an exaggerated response to the senses, and have a greater need to touch and/or be touched. They may overeat and engage in superficial relationships, but they are also likely to have a wide range of experiences interacting with others due to fear of loneliness and an increased need for attention.
3. Imaginative Overexcitability
People with an overexcitable imagination tend to visualize and they are probably inventive, very imaginative, intuitive and have a greater ability to use images and metaphors.
4. Intellectual overexcitability
Intellectually over-excited individuals are persistent and voracious students, with a capacity for intense concentration and theoretical thinking. They are likely to ask many questions and have an affinity for logic, puzzles and mysteries.
5. Emotional Overexcitability
People with emotional overexcitability are likely to form strong bonds with people, places, and objects. They can be very inhibited, enthusiastic, and concerned about others, social justice, and their own sense of responsibility. Usually these people they are able to effectively sense and internalize the emotions of others.
According to Dąbrowski, overexcitable people have greater potential for personal development because they foster a different perspective on the world and promote a more personal and meaningful interpretation of their own experiences.
Although the presence of overexcitability alone is not enough to progress through the five levels and reach the highest level, it plays an important role in the individual’s potential. Special talents and abilities and a strong third factor motivation to express themselves also influence a person’s development potential.
Research has shown that the most gifted and talented individuals also tend to have at least one type of overexcitability.
Dabrowski viewed high potentials as a special group of people with a tendency toward positive disintegration.. A condition that presents both creative possibilities and risks for the development of the person, while existential crises manifest themselves in a more problematic and intense way. In times of crisis, people with high abilities can stop being productive in class or at work and deteriorate their social relationships. This is why crises require intervention and support to overcome them.
- Mendaglio, S., & Tillier, W. (2006). Positive Decay Theory and Dabrowski’s Giftedness: Research Findings on Overexcitability. Journal for Gifted Education, 30 (1): pp. 68 – 87.
- Overexcitabilities and Sensitivities: Implications of Dabrowski’s Positive Disintegration Theory for Counseling the Gifted – 2010 Bailey –
- Pardo de Santayana Sanz, R. (2004). Dabrowski positive decay theory. Complutense Journal of Education 15(2).