Anyone who has navigated this blog will know that I am fairly smitten by Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski and his theory of personality development – or more specifically, the Theory of Positive Disintegration.
Notwithstanding the ominous sounding name and the relative obscurity of its creator, it is in my truly humble opinion a sound theory that merits much more attention than it has garnered over the last several decades since its inception. Still, it does have its loyal followers and they are a vocal group on the web. An internet search on Dabrowski will quickly yield a treasure trove of material on the theory. Anyone taking the time to read about his work, in particular those afflicted with high sensitivity and those seeking personal development, will no doubt be enlightened and may even experience a huge knock-your-socks-off “aha” moment just as I did about a year ago.
There are several reasons why I relate so resoundingly to this theory, not the least of which is Dabrowski’s welcoming acknowledgement and empathic understanding of high sensitivity in certain individuals, which he dubbed Over-Excitabilities (OEs) decades ago. He wasn’t the first in his field to address high intensity in individuals but he did break new ground when he referred to OEs as potentially positive traits. More recently, thanks to Elaine Aron’s books on the subject, persons having the innate trait of high psychological sensitivity are now known as Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP). Although Dabrowski and Aron each approached high sensitivity from very different perspectives, Aron’s description of HSP traits corresponds very closely to Dabrowski’s OEs.
It seems Dabrowski was ahead of his time. He knew that there were certain individuals who were endowed with higher sensitivity to almost everything in their environment compared to others. He understood that persons with OEs experience the world in a drastically different way than most. And very interestingly, he posited that persons with OEs had a greater propensity for reaching higher levels of development. But most importantly, he determined that OEs should not be considered a type of psychoneurosis. On the contrary, he felt that these traits should be embraced, welcomed, and even nurtured because they could propel the individual towards huge advancements in personal growth and self-actualization. His ideas evolved from the realm of Humanistic Psychology where, generally speaking, the focus tends to be on a more positive view of mental health with much less emphasis on tagging labels onto various human behaviours.
Personality development and the journey towards self-actualization does not happen on its own. It requires tremendous and consistent effort. It takes perseverance and often, much courage to get through some of the difficult phases. Meeting and greeting all of the different parts of yourself can be inspiring and exhilarating, but it can also be confusing, and even frightening. There is a disintegration of personality that must take place so that reintegration at a higher level can occur. This positive disintegration can cause great angst and turmoil but the inner struggle is exactly what Dabrowski believed will push certain individuals towards the summit. And in his view, it is those with OEs that will be propelled the furthest ahead.
Why? Because the same OEs that cause individuals to feel more, whether on a physical, cognitive, imaginational, sensual or emotional level, are the ones that will serve to increase self-awareness, which in turn will accelerate growth. The more conflict, inner turmoil, angst, fear, exhilaration, inspiration, joy, anger, and confusion one feels, and the more aware the individual is of these feelings, the more quickly the individual will learn, absorb and understand his inner landscape and the more likely he is to bring about psychic transformation. In other words, the more one feels, and in particular, the more one suffers, the more one will be compelled to take the actions required to rise above the unpleasant feelings – to transcend the here and now.
It should be said that Dabrowski did not intend to assume that all psychological intensities are positive, but he was convinced that a certain type of individual endowed with specific traits of high psychological sensitivities, along with some other factors, such as a self-directed deep desire and motivation for growth and autonomy, (known as the Third Factor), should be viewed in a positive light.
Dabrowski’s bottom line : It is healthy to be endowed with OEs when their powerful energy is used as fuel for personal growth.
This is a most empowering point of view for those who are living with high intensities while struggling to reach the higher ground.
- 10 Tips for Highly Sensitive People (psychcentral.com)
- Seen At 11: Take The Hyper-Sensitive Person Test (newyork.cbslocal.com)
- What Is Personal Development? (sarintsas.wordpress.com)
- Welcome to my positive disintegration (thenowandthenotyet.blogspot.com)
- Highly Sensitive and Introverted (readerchick6751.wordpress.com)
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