Insights from Dabrowski


Moral sensitivity of gifted children and the evolution of society

Dabrowski's Theory of Emotional Development

Kazimierz Dabrowski (1964, 1967, 1972), a Polish psychologist and psychiatrist, based his theory of emotional development,(the Theory of Positive Disintegration) on the study of sensitive, nonaggressive, highly intelligent, and creative individuals. He found such individuals oppressed in societies oriented toward competition, power, status, and wealth. Dabrowski postulated that certain innate response patterns provide a foundation for the development of higher order values in adult life. Through neurological examinations, Dabrowski (1972) documented that creatively gifted individuals had more pronounced responses to various types of stimuli. He called this phenomenon "nadpobudliwosc," ("superstimulatability"); it has been translated as "overexcitability." This powerful neural excitation comes in five varieties: psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual and emotional.


Who gets pushed aside in an insensitive society?

Dabrowski (1979/1994) described overexcitable people as: "delicate, gentle, sensitive, empathic, nonaggressive, industrious, wise though unsophisticated, never brutal, often inhibited, likely to withdraw into themselves rather than retaliate, having deep feelings, idealistic" (pp. 87-90). He felt that, because of their sensitivity and integrity, these individuals are capable of bringing humanity to a higher set of values, but that they are at great risk of being destroyed by society because of their inherent differences. The values Dabrowski (1979/1994) considered indispensable to harmonious living include: an empathic attitude toward others; tolerance (not aggression); responsibility for others and for self; a just attitude (treating everybody by the same standards); helping each other; giving thought to the harmed and humiliated, to invalids, to the sick, to the ineffectual and those devastated by their own loneliness; truthfulness; authenticity; and (9) just social care. However, those who have these values are often pushed aside in an insensitive society, and treated as if they were maladjusted. Dabrowski considered the so-called neurotics with high ideals "a mine of social treasure. If their emotionality, talents, interests, and sensitivity were discovered at an early age, society and science would profit" (pp. 87-88).


What is and what ought to be and the inner conflict in the gifted sensitive

In his work with highly sensitive clients, Dabrowski (1964) learned of the deep-seated feelings of shame, guilt, and moral inadequacy carried by those who had not been able to live up to their moral ideals. These overwhelming feelings of moral failure proved to be the first step in the transformation of the personality toward higher level development unshakable values. In the first stages of higher level development, the individual begins to evaluate his or her behavior against an inner ideal. Tension is experienced between "what is" and "what ought to be" (Dabrowski, with Piechowski, 1977, p. 42). As inner conflict intensifies, empathy deepens, and the person exhibits "positive maladjustment, [a] protest against...standards and attitudes of one's social environment which are incompatible with one's growing awareness of higher values" (Dabrowski, with Piechowski, 1977, p. 46).


Partnership mode and dominator mode societies and species extinction

Amplifying the work with Riane Eisler (1987), Loye describes two basic forms of social organization with opposing moral frameworks: a primary partnership mode involving equality, freedom, moral sensitivity and peaceful relationships, and a later, corrupted dominator mode that relies heavily on competition, power, domination and moral insensitivity. Loye views the re-establishment of the morality of the partnership mode as an evolutionary necessity if we are to avoid species' extinction. Theorists counted among those who detected these two worlds of morality are Kant (1788/1952), Piaget (1932), Fromm (1947), Freud (1966), Dabrowski (1967) and Gilligan (1982).


Who is a threat to what society? 

From Dabrowski's and Csikszentmihalyi's work, it becomes apparent that high moral values require a complex organism with a facility for abstract reasoning. High intelligence is synonymous with abstract reasoning ability and complexity of thought. It is easy to see why individuals with high intelligence are perceived as a threat in highly competitive dominator societies. It is feared that intelligence provides an unfair advantage in the contest for power. However, within more cooperative partnership social contexts, the high intelligence and talents of any member would be seen as a benefit to all. The gentle souls described by Dabrowski are often victimized in dominator cultures, and those who stand firm against injustice are truly a threat to the entire power structure because they can envision a fairer, more humane society in which power is shared. Gifted children, both male and female, seem to have the moral and emotional sensitivity required to help society evolve from a dominator to a partnership mode. Following are some examples of these qualities in very young gifted children.


Effects of emotional damage

This is not to say that all gifted children are morally advanced. There are some children who have been emotionally damaged by neglect, abuse, insensitivity or lack of understanding. Victimized by the dominator system, they don the psychological armoring of dominator insensitivity, and perpetuate that insensitivity (Loye, in preparation). An emotionally damaged gifted youth may be of greater danger to society than a young person with less ability, because this individual has a greater intellectual capacity to put in the service of self-aggrandizement. There are also gifted children who are "onesided" in their development, who have been allowed to develop their specific talents without equal attention to their social and emotional development.


Transcending cultural conditions to self-actualization

In spite of the powerful force of enculturation, Dabrowski (1964) and Maslow (1968) remind us that there are those who transcend their cultural conditioning to become self-actualizers and moral leaders. Studies of moral exemplars give strong indications that these individuals were intellectually gifted (Brennan, 1987; Brennan & Piechowski, 1991; Grant, 1990; Piechowski, 1978, 1990, 1992). Justice, itself, is an abstract concept, as is the apprehension of "what ought to be"; therefore, the ability to see and resist injustice must require a high level of intelligence, in addition to deep empathy and strong will. Intelligence becomes "a major force helping the individual to seize life deeply, wholly, and objectively" (Dabrowski, 1964, p. 13).


Basic characteristic of the gifted

One of the basic characteristics of the gifted is their intensity and an expanded field of their subjective experience. The intensity, in particular, must be understood as a qualitatively distinct characteristic. It is not a matter of degree but of a different quality of experiencing: vivid, absorbing, penetrating, encompassing, complex, commanding -- a way of being quiveringly alive, [italiics added] (Piechowski, 1992, p. 181)


Sensitivity that makes gifted vulnerable to traditional educational environments

Honesty, fairness, moral issues, global concerns, and sensitivity to others are common themes in the lives of gifted children. While exceptions can be found, most of the 1,800 children we have assessed at our Center have shown a high degree of moral sensitivity. It is this sensitivity that makes them vulnerable in an educational environment that looks the other way when they are called dweeb and nerd (OERI, 1993). If we want to have moral leaders, we need to understand and nurture the inner world of the gifted. We need to understand the inherent relationship between abstract reasoning, complexity, moral values and the evolution of society. In forsaking the term, gifted, we seem to have abandoned much more than a name. We have chosen to ignore the rich, deep internal milieu from which moral sensitivity and higher level value systems emerge. We have forgotten the Self or soul of the child. This does not appear to be a wise trade. 

Linda Kreger Silverman


A Comprehensive Site on Dabrowsiki's Work

Dabrowski said don't try to "help" psychoneurotics, rather, learn from them, appreciate their uniqueness, their creativity, their values, their sensitivity: 
(See Dabrowski's poem, ''Be Greeted Psychoneurotics'')


"Be greeted psychoneurotics! (By Dabrowski)

For you see sensitivity in the insensitivity of the world, 
uncertainty among the world's certainties.

For you often feel others as you feel yourselves.

For you feel the anxiety of the world, and 
its bottomless narrowness and self-assurance.

For your phobia of washing your hands from the dirt of the world, 
for your fear of being locked in the world's limitations. 
for your fear of the absurdity of existence.

For your subtlety in not telling others what you see in them.

For your awkwardness in dealing with practical things, and 
for your practicalness in dealing with unknown things, 
for your transcendental realism and lack of everyday realism, 
for your exclusiveness and fear of losing close friends, 
for your creativity and ecstasy, 
for your maladjustment to that "which is" and adjustment to that which "ought to be", 
for your great but unutilized abilities.

For the belated appreciation of the real value of your greatness 
which never allows the appreciation of the greatness 
of those who will come after you.

For your being treated instead of treating others, 
for your heavenly power being forever pushed down by brutal force; 

for that which is prescient, unsaid, infinite in you.

For the loneliness and strangeness of your ways.

Be greeted!

From: Dabrowski, K. (1972) Psychoneurosis is not an illness, London: GRYF Publications.

ANGELS by  True Rights (2000)

Angels might look for your week points

They might further say you are unstable

They might even do the dirtiest thing in this world to make you unstable

But I know, you know your identity: more than any Angel

You have no fears whatsoever, making it public

They probably know your sensitivity, but definitely not your resistance to that

You were forced to practice from your child hood, enduring great mental pain

More you face them, tougher you become

But I know, and only I, that toughness is not against human beings, with no exclusion to yourself

nor against any other living being

nor destructive by any means

Quote from Kipling, appropriate here, I guess

''--- being lied about don't deal in lies  ''or being hated, don't give way to hating''

It only makes you determined to fight, for many other innocents like you

Born sensitive, perhaps lessor resistance to survive in the lotus pond

Thrown out of the alma-mater, brainy-Angles' schools and jobs

They deserve a safeguard from being sieved away from the lotus-pond

You spent your time searching for them, wherever you lived 

Your drastic efforts to explain all these fell in deaf ears

They definitely underestimate your understanding of the environment

I know of your knowledge of the society and your desire to be a productive member of it

You will struggle whole your life, trying to achieve that, with scarce chance of success

Angels might say you think differently- against the system

There definitely is a truth in that, but I know your massive struggle and efforts to be in it

You can't change your genes, but probably can forget unpleasant memories: simply make-way for them

 I know, you thrive to understand  

There are other Angels, not in the system

Drug addicts, murderers, thieves, rapists to name a few

They enjoy the freedom of living without being monitored of a single activity

Only logical reason is, they decay themselves, without colleague involvement

I know you understand

Your cannot change the system, nor your intentions are

This is the ''lotus pond''! Struggle through it until the last heave

 True Rights (Oct 2000)


A Study on Dabowski and the Theory of Positive Disintegrtion (TPD)
by Marjorie M. Kaminski Battaglia

HUMILITY by Dabrowski

Humility is courage
but not servility;
Courage because it must be so,
Not due to an impulse,
Not due to temperament,
But because of truth;
Humility is the lack of demonstrativeness,
It is love without complications,
It is autonomy not only from others,
But also within oneself and against oneself
It is identification in understanding, in kindness, but without approving of wrong;
It is modesty not preoccupied with itself
It is the sense of mission without grandiosity,
It is cooperation without domination and without subordination.
It is independence from what people could say,
But at the same time intense attention to what others say and do in truth.
Humility - is a union with truth within oneself and beyond oneself.
A union one can intuitively sense without seeing,
A union one is searching for,
A union one is desiring.
It is the silent understanding that we don't know anything,
That we don't understand anything,
Although we have the compulsion to know and to understand, the compulsion to see,
That we have the responsibility to remember or to forget the hurt;
It is the awareness that nowhere exists perfect greatness, perfect love, perfect certainty and wisdom!


The Role of the Adviser/Counselor to Psychoneurotics
Dabrowski maintains that the adviser must be an individual who has a concept of multilevelness  who him/herself is involved in the process of positive disintegration and personality-shaping. He/she should possess a ''rounded'' education with emphasis on philosophy, psychology,education and autopsychotherapy. Dabrowski emphasizes that most important is ''a knowledge of the fundamental directions and achievements of philosophic thought which link themselves to the essential needs and experiences of a man moving along on the road to the development of his personality'' (Dabrowski, 1967, p.153). Advisers may be ''parents, tutors, teachers, physicians, and others . . . provided they themselves are advanced in the development of their own personality'' (Dabrowski, 1967, p.153).
 Professionals are essential only when the process of personality-shaping causes the individual to experience deep conflicts accompanied by difficulties in dealing with them. Then Dabrowski recommends a team approach of parents, teacher, physician, and psychologist. ''There comes into play, therefore, one of the most fundamental requisites for mental health, the ''teamï'' requisite'' (Dabrowski, 1967, p.154
Dabrowski suggests three key points in advising an individual on the path of personality-shaping:
1. assisting the individual to observe him/herself - to look at him/herself objectively
2. helping the individual to understand the process of ''fighting back'' his/her own tendencies to justify and affirm his/her own interests, to be open to the concept that change may 131 be necessary in order to move to a higher level of personality. This encompasses subordinating one's intellect to the developmental instinct - ''treating the former as a tool of the latter'' (Dabrowski, 1967, p.161).
3. assisting the individual in developing his/her ability to organize his/her internal milieu in a hierarchical fashion, organizing values from lower to higher.
Dabrowski describes the difficulty encountered by advisers when intervention is necessary within the self-educative process. ''Such intervention is not easy. It requires clear apprehension of the psychic structure with which development of personality is concerned, of the phase in which the development occurs, of how the educational process appears here - what its intensity is, to what degree the individual is conscious of it, in what area this intensity is weak and in what area it is strong, what shortcomings and what positive sides in disintegrative activity this process represents, and finally, what critical states are revealed in the development, that is, states which on the one side show its acceleration and, on the other, are often almost pathological'' (Dabrowski, 1967, p.155).


Dabrowski Advising/Counseling a  Psychoneurotic

As stated previously, sometimes the individual engaged in the process of personality-shaping can experience psychological symptoms such as anxiety, nervousness and depression. If and when these symptoms progress to the point where professional assistance is needed, Dabrowski provided prescribed methods for psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors to follow. Dabrowski was above all else, a clinician. This is evidenced by his commitment to his profession as seen in his history. Dabrowski provides case studies in all of his books. The following is an excerpt from one of his case studies - ''a 33 yr old scientific worker possessing literary ability with a light obsessional tendency with increased emotional and imaginational 133 excitability'' (Dabrowski, 1967, pp.191-192).


''Psychologist: You say that you are sick, that you have a psychoneurosis and that you are afraid of falling into a psychic illness, is that correct? 
Patient: Yes, I am increasingly more concerned about my condition. 
Psychologist: Do you understand what is the cause of those fears in you? Are you afraid of that which is called ''becoming mad''? 
Patient: Yes, this is what I fear, I am afraid to fall into a low level of self-awareness, of losing my human dignity. 
Psychologist: Can you say that you are presently losing that ''man dignity,'' that your moral and intellectual forces are weakened, that your refinement is decreased, that you are becoming much less creative?
Patient (following reflection): No, I could not say that as yet, I do not notice such deterioration, but I see an increase in my fears, depression and obsession, weakness, and chaos in my human contacts.
Psychologist: Let us stop for a while to consider the latter. Does it mean that your understanding of people has deteriorated, along with your capacity for sympathy and ability to help?
Patient: No, it's not that. What has been increased is the feeling of helplessness, feeling that my attitude of help for others meets with a vacuum, that I am incapable to help them. However, I do feel their troubles, sadness, helplessness, and often hopeless situation.
Psychologist: And your efficiency in work - is it being decreased, say during the last months, in both quality and quantity?
Patient: Yes, I thought so, but my colleagues say that I think and talk of issues in a more interesting manner during recent months, but that I work unevenly.
Psychologist: Now, do you have some complaints physically, such as headaches, indigestion, sleeplessness?
Patient: Yes, I sleep with difficulty, have strange and depressing dreams. I often wake up with symptoms of anxiety and headache. I often dream of animals, wildly and obsessionally looking at me, terrible and yet unknown to me. I dream of gray walls, ditches; I flee before the unknown, become lost in unknown cities. I am becoming dependent on some strange and unconnected situations. I feel deprived of will, condemned to unexplained activities directed by fate.
Psychologist: Tell me please, what are your most common experiences in real life, what actually causes your anxiety at work, in your social life, in your family?
Patient: I often have psychic tension when dwelling on the objective valuelessness of all that which has for me, and my friends, a great subjective value. It seems like captured ina poetic vision of that which is objective, expressed by a deadly machine, animosity and brutal force against subjectivity, which is for us all the highest type of reality, being however destroyed by the first one. It seems to me that reality is a tragic misunderstanding. I wake up at night to see all things in cruel realism. I notice the shamelessness and limitations in thought and feeling, and the super power of the so-called realists. I see the damage, injustice, and humiliation of people who are spiritually strong 134 but weak from the point of view of ability for adjustment to everyday life. I see around me death, waiting for me as it were. I see the cowardly and nonsensical omittance by people of essential issues. You must understand and observe I am sure, doctor, that in all of which I am speaking there is much existential content. Yes, I have been fascinated for
years with existential philosophy. But this is not for me an expression of a passing vogue or snobbery, or of my literary bent. It flows rather from my experiences and interests, which, as it were, went out to meet existential philosophy. I feel very strangely that our subjective reality is something very essential for us, most essential indeed; that one must go through a rebellion of subjectivity against objectivity or reality, even if that rebellion is a priori condemned to failure. I feel that I must form a hierarchy of moral values, based on inner axiomatic tenets, even if all those axioms and philosophy should be extinguished
completely by death. There is something in those tenets of subjective aspiration which checks itself, which indicates its own way, which aspires at objectivity with conservation of individual values, which represents the need for continued being and development, because otherwise man becomes dehumanized. That is why I am sick, doctor. Do you really think that there is a medicine for that?
Psychologist: Now, did you not stop to think at times that you are not actually sick, but rather have something like a sixth sense, in your increased sensitivity, psychic activity, alterocentrism, and creative attitude toward reality? Do you not think that one must pay considerably for personal development or growth, especially if it be accelerated? Do you recall the expression of Korzecki in Homeless People when, speaking of himself, he says: ''I have too much educated consciousness?'' Do you not feel your own high responsibility for all that which happens among the people of your environment, closer and further, in your own milieu? That is normal, very normal, as it manifests the realization, to a high degree, of a ''standard model norm'' No, you are not sick, you are very healthy psychically and you should not think that conditions of anxiety, of your excessive responsibility, protests, emotional attitude, and actions against the so-called ''normal life conditions,'' feelings of dissatisfaction with yourself, are any pathological symptoms. On the contrary, it would be more pathological to adjust yourself excessively to a reality of a lower order. I don't know if you would agree, but I believe that excessive adjustment to
reality of a low level, excessive saturation with that reality, prohibits the cognition of reality of a higher type. One who is adjusted to all that which  is irrespective of its values, has no possibilities nor creative power and will to adjust himself to that which ''ought to be.''
Patient: You are right - perhaps I should say I would think you are right - but that is hardly a normal psychiatric treatment, doctor. It seems that psychiatrists do not think as you do. On the basis of my experience I must say that to most of them my case is just like so many other cases - subject to pharmacological treatment, ''treatment,'' while ignoring the real problems and prescribing rest, sexual indulgence, etcetera. Furthermore, I feel lonely with my ''pathological'' experiences. I am very often alone because I do not want to burden my relatives with my own ''fancies.''And so my life is passed in
ambivalent attitudes between that which is close, worthy, really close, creative, between that which one should live through and digest and the need for fleeing from pain, 135 misunderstanding, and human injustice. It seems that we have to build on ourselves, on our own deep humanistic criteria, and fulfill our obligations ''to the end.'' It may be that out of that ''fear and trembling'' - as Kierkegaard says - there will finally come real knowledge, discovery of the grain of truth, at present quite inaccessible to us, unexpected,and yet somehow foreseen in our very fight with adverse fate'' (Dabrowski, (with permission, Dabrowski family) 1967, pp.192-195).

Choice of a Therapist and Psychologist and/or Psychiatrist

Choice of a therapist and psychologist and/or psychiatrist is critical. One who is not aware of 136 TPD may diagnose him as ill - hospitalize him and/or prescribe unneeded drugs. Dabrowski reaffirms: Psychoneurosis is not an illness.  "Of course, according to our theory we don't deal here with a psychoneurosis as an illness, but rather with the symptoms of the process of positive disintegration in its multilevel phase, with basic dynamisms of that phase, such as disquietude, feelings of inferiority toward oneself, sense of guilt, feverish seeking of a disposing and directing center at a higher level and a personality ideal which would express the ability to feel the most universal needs of man, to have empathy toward those needs and aims. The normal clinical diagnosis of anxiety psychoneurosis with existential traits gives us little to go on. The patient is in a condition of very strong emotional tension with depressional and anxiety symptoms. A fundamental help for him is the confirmation of the conviction that his symptoms have all the elements of creative, positive psychic development. Formation within the family milieu of conditions conducive to contact with nature, quiet, an artistic milieu, help in a proper attitude toward his work, and appreciation of his efforts, remain our fundamental directives" (Dabrowski, 1967, p.195). "In the light of the theory of positive disintegration, the patient is assisted in the development of his theoretical and practical philosophy of life by acknowledging the necessity of understanding and of admitting difficulties in his everyday life, the necessity of suffering, the necessity of developmental psychic disturbances as elements in accelerated psychic development. He is thus assisted in the development of a conscious, autonomic, authentic personality which is responsible for its own development, for its

own "creation"(Dabrowski, 1967, p.199). "The weak positions of talented neurotics are, to a great extent, due to this level of appraisal of "values." The development of their depressions, hesitations, sensitivities, states of anxiety, inhibitions, make it impossible for them to be appreciated, as they deserve to be. And, on the other hand, they are usually outstandingly talented, creative, with an "efficient" function of reality on the high level, and a weak function of reality on lower levels. They do not, however, manifest a clear, practical prestige, which often makes them - from a superficial point of view - less worthy. They usually lose the battles of life, they are often evaluated as pragmatically "retarded." And if they are eccentric, simultaneously manifesting spiritual strength, they are not always to be found among
prophets or priests, but often in a group appraised as heretical, bewitched, "mentally ill"(Dabrowski, Confessions of Faith in Thoughts and Aphorisms, circa 1970, p. 64).

Multilevelness of TPD

Dabrowski's Level I in TPD describe the psychopath - the individual who possesses no regard for others. Selfishness is the hallmark of the individual at level one. The individual feels no guilt. Thus, the individual can partake in criminal and/or inhumane behavior without remorse - gang mentality. Hitler and Stalin remain Dabrowski's chief examples. To Dabrowski, signs of development manifest themselves in feelings of guilt and shame. Unlike Adler, however, this 143 guilt is not due to inferiority with others. Dabrowski's guilt resides in inferiority to self. I can become a better human being than I now am. Dabrowski speaks of sacrifice and couples sacrifice with responsibility: "Many so-called ordinary people, mothers, fathers, teachers, doctors, who systematically express in their everyday work a devotion, a renunciation of egoism, a responsibility and a giving up of their comforts for the realization of moral and social aims and duties,express higher levels of this instinct. The conscious controlled sacrifice of oneself for the salvation of others, and for the building of "values of a higher rank," is an expression of the instinct of self-perfection. This is the problem of the choice of "one of two kinds of values," of "the transition to the other side" or "the developmental dualism." We can see this "choice" in the decisions and behavior of Socrates and Gandhi (voluntary submission to the verdict by Socrates, the request of Gandhi not to punish his murderer) and also, in the decision of Dr. J. Korczak who spontaneously chose to accompany his pupils to the crematorium " (Dabrowski, 1973, p.31). "This is the attitude exhibited by such individuals as: Socrates, Lincoln, Father Kolbe, Dr Korczak, etc. The limits of responsibility are determined here by syntony, by conscious love and prospection, the level and scope of which grows in proportion to all-around mental development and is increasingly associated with the drive toward realization and readiness to sacrifice. Individuals of this kind feel responsible for the realization of justice and for the protection of others against harm and injustice" (Dabrowski, 1973, p.97).

Kierkegaard and Dabrowsky on Relation of Madness to Genius
The outward signs of development appear to those unfamiliar with TPD as symptoms of mental illness. The anxiety, depression, nervousness of the creative individual engaged in the developmental process may be misconstrued as disease. Kierkegaard spoke of this same phenomenon. 
"What relation has madness to genius? Can we construct the one out of the other? In what sense and how far is the genius master of his madness? For it goes without saying that to a certain degree he is master of it, since otherwise he would be actually a madman. For such observations, however, ingenuity in a high degree is requisite, and love; for to make observation upon a superior mind is very difficult" (Kierkegaard, 1954, p. 116). 
"When you have a neurosis - you not only have distress and inner conflicts but also psychic richness. . . Don't be afraid of sorrow, depression, fear, obsessions, inner conflicts and sometimes external ones. If they are adequately recognized and guided - they will serve you" (Cienin, 1972a, p. 37, #100, #104).

Dabrowsky on Humanistic Psychology
In order to explore the field of humanistic psychology Dabrowski initiated the "Society for the Development of Man" at the University of Alberta. The society brought together lawyers,  business people, artists and scholars" (Hague, personal communication, October 1, 2001).  "The differentiation of humanistic psychology from the study of phenomena common to  animals and man is a basis for developmental and educational psychology, psychopathology, education, the theory of morals and a philosophy of development. Wherever  we have to deal with the operation of autonomous and authentic factors in man, wherever  we have to deal with accelerated and creative development, we are in the area which can  be successfully explored only by humanistic psychology" (Dabrowski, 1973, p.187).
"Humanistic psychology occupies itself with autonomous dynamisms in their nuclei and  in their normal and accelerated development. It is a psychology which does not overlook in its methods introspection, multilevel experimentation, and the inner psychic milieu. It is a psychology which deals with the examination and prognosis of the total personality of man" (Dabrowski, 1973, p.187).

Wojtyla and Dabrowski
TThe following quotes come from a biography of Pope John Paul II entitled Witness To Hope written by George Weigel (1999). They illustrate Wojtyla's use of many of the terms and concepts used by Dabrowski, namely the 155 person-I-am and the person-I-ought-to-be, the value of the human person, redemptive suffering, the importance of human love, and the use of poetry and drama to elucidate the philosophical.  "He (Wojtyla) has insisted that suffering can be redemptive" (Weigel, 1999, p.6). . . "that every human being possesses an inherent and inalienable dignity and value" (Weigel,1999, p.7). . . "to be human is to be a moral agent" (Weigel, 1999, p.8). . . "And the great drama of any life is the struggle to surrender the "person-I-am" to the "person-I ought- to-be"(Weigel, 1999, p.8). . . "the tension between the person-I-am and the person- I-ought-to-be" (Weigel, 1999, p.107). "Wojtyla leapfrogs the argument between empiricists and idealists by trying to demonstrate how moral action, not the psyche or the body, is where we find the center of  the human person, the core of our humanity. For it is in moral action that the mind, the spirit, and the body come into the unity of a person" (Weigel, 1999, p.176). "The ability to love authentically, not great intellectual capacity, constitutes the deepest part of a personality. It is no accident that the greatest commandment is to love. Authentic love leads us outside ourselves to affirming others" (Weigel, 1999, p.101). "Communism was not only an unsatisfactory, reductionistic account of things-as-they-are and a crude caricature of humanism; communism's totalitarian politics stripped men and women of their power of choice, of responsibility, and thus of their humanity" (Weigel, 1999,p.132). "Wojtyla's plays and poems were an expression of a conviction that he had formed early and that had intensified throughout his life - that reality could not be grasped by one instrument only. . . The depths of the human experience were such that they could be probed only by a host of methods. Literature - in his case, plays and poems - could sometimes get to truths that could not be adequately grasped philosophically or theologically. . . Thus Wojtyla's literary activity was not a hobby. It was another way of "being present" to the lives of others, through the writer's natural medium of dialogue" (Weigel, 1999, p.112). "I am freely choosing what is good. In that free choosing, I am also binding myself to what I know is good and true.. .. In this free choice of the good and the true,. . . we can discern the transcendence of the human person. . . . Through my freedom, I narrow the gap between the person-I-am and the person-I-ought-to-be" (Weigel, 1999, p.176).

Dabrowski on One-Sided Development
"And now, an example of one-sided development, with emotional poverty and, at the same time, with an excess of cleverness and adjustment. Such one-sided development brings an individual close to a type of psychopathy. . . they show emotional primitiveness and absence of authentic attitudes toward others" (Dabrowski, 1973, p.177).
"An intelligent psychopath is at times capable of changing the direction and methods of his behaviour, but that is done only in the service of his egocentric goals" (Dabrowski, 1972, p.157).
"An analysis of the life and political activity of such influential psychopaths as Hitler or Stalin shows the significant difference between superficial and authentic forms of  identification of peoples with their political leaders and its impact upon the resulting process of alienation. . . The question arises: how is it possible that social groups or even whole societies, of a more or less advanced culture and some degree of mental health, identify themselves with psychopaths or psychopathic leaders of a political movement which inevitably brings about extreme forms of social evil, degeneration and crimes? The answer to this question and the responsibility for this kind of social disaster is in the mistaken approach to education, which disregards the ability to distinguish authentic and 157 seeming values and is restricted to a purely professional training" (Dabrowski, 1973, pp.47,48).
"The application of this concept by the people responsible for education and politics could help in the early recognition of psychopaths and in preventing them from gaining positions of power and control over their countries (Hitler/Stalin/Trujillo, etc.). The general inability to recognize the psychological type of such individuals causes immense suffering, mass terror, violent oppression, genocide and the decay of civilization" (Dabrowski, 1973, p.40).
"It seems that one psychopath or paranoiac in a top political or military position can destroy, murder, torture and put in concentration camps millions of people. It was so with Hitler and Stalin, it was so - though to a lesser degree - with other dictators, it was so and it is so with leaders of gangs. It is even present in people who have higher social and professional positions and who have gained world-wide renown; but who destroy many people, who lead them to blind alleys, who torture them morally through envy, ambition, discrimination, and bring them to mental illness or suicide" (Cienin, 1972, p.27). (Theresearcher reminds the reader that Cienin was Dabrowski's pen-name.)
"The forms of putting to death, of stultifying, of forgetting creators do change, but the matter of injustice does not change in its essence. False prophets, pseudo-geniuses, psychopaths are universally rewarded, acclaimed, respected, and supported. There arises the eccentricity of putting a question such as, why?" (Dabrowski, n.d. circa 1970, p.78).
"It is manifested in psychopathy and paranoia, . . . grave affective retardation is usually associated with above average intelligence subordinated to primitive drivesTwo eminent psychopaths Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin displayed this kind of mental structure characterized by lack of empathy, emotional coldness, unlimited ruthlessness and craving for power. Toward the end of their lives both exhibited growing suspiciousness and criminality which marked the transition from psychopathic primitive integration to paranoia and dissolution. Uncontrolled, pathological suspiciousness, persecution mania, delusions and oversensitivity to external conflict characteristic of the last phase are the usual symptoms of transition from a psychopathic structure to a distinct
pathological process" (Dabrowski, 1970, pp.30,31).

Dabrowski the Schizophrenic
In Dabrowski terms, mental illness and psychoneurosis are positive signs of healthy human development, and they are thought of as desirable and good. Schizophrenia to Dabrowski, is the state of conflict experienced by an individual pulled between the "what is" and the "what ought to be."
"Could a mentally ill person write a book which would make sense - even to sane readers - and could he also write the preface to such a book? I think so. Persons who are mentally ill cannot be lumped into one category; they are often as incomprehensible as many others who are not considered, and never were considered to be mentally ill" (Cienin, 1972b, p.7).
"I have already written that I am a psychologist and a schizophrenic. I do not know which "profession" is stronger. I think that both grow stronger. Anyway, perhaps it is more useful for the personality that the schizophrenic structure, and not the structure of a professional psychologist, is the central dominant, disposing and directing center" (Cienin, 1972b, p. 20).
"For ages, for thousands of years, the stigma of being dangerous, a source of shame, defective - was attached to psychoneurotics. How could these people, who were full complexes, inhibitions, maladjustments to reality; full of existential and unexistential anxieties; full of hindrances and shame, and inferiority feeling, stand the pressure of an organized opinion which treated them as lesser, handicapped, as being on the fringe(shadow?) of life" (Cienin, 1972b, p.64)
Dabrowski experienced the internal suffering of the psychoneurotic as presented in TPD. He wrote a small book on the subject - Fragments From The Diary Of A Madman (Cienin, 1972b). In this book we can see Dabrowski - the man - struggling between the "what is" and the "what ought to be."
 "I am a schizophrenic and I am a psychologist. I do not know what helps what or what damages what. Sometimes I think that my schizophrenic madness is lessened by the fact that I know something about psychology. Sometimes I think otherwise, and feel that my rather "sick" mind enlightens and deepens my narrow knowledge of psychology" (Cienin, 1972b, p.12)

"So, I will stay
In tight bonds,
In tight armor
(Excerpt of poem in Cienin, 1972b, p.14)
"I was terribly disappointed many times. Those to whom I gave my confidence and generosity were not sincere toward me. . . Lack of exclusiveness, faithfulness, uniqueness; lack of constant relationship, lack of sincerity among friends. I prefer the schizophrenic worlds" (Dabrowski, 1972b, pp.54,55).
"Dabrowski was - in as much as I have known him - a neurotic with a good insight of himself. He very probably experienced personally all the developmental dynamisms that he speaks of in his theory" (Lesniak, personal communication, October 6, 2001).
"That is why so many prophesizing people, so many geniuses, so many outstandingly creative people, so many true saints - end their lives in poverty, die in charitable institutions, in exile or often in concentration camps or in prisons. They end their own lives, and if they are not outstandingly universal they finish with mental illness or with amnesia" (Dabrowski, n.d. circa 1970, pp.79,80).

Dabrowski on Personality as a Result Transformational Process
"We must see the moral sense. . . We must see some individual "essence" in development through asceticism, suffering, fear, depression, sorrow and separation. We must see the meaningfulness of building man's individuality on the foundations of this "essence"(Dabrowski, notes, n.d. circa 1970,p.10).
"He has to take his development in his own hands; his further growth, its direction and progress ceases to be simply a resultant of forces beyond his control. From now on he has to choose and determine what he is to be. Consequently, the questions "What is good for me?", What should I do?", "What ought to be?", i.e. the evaluative, normative aspect appears in all its urgency" (Kawczak in Dabrowski, 1970, p.13).
Instead of an individual succumbing to the nothingness and despair of existentialism, he/she has the power to transcend his/her present existence and make a value laden choice to progress his/her essence to that of a higher, better level, i.e. to transform his/her essence. In this way an individual chooses to become a better, higher level, empathetic, authentic, Personality.

Dabrowski on Suffering on Transformating Personality
Dabrowski views suffering as purgative and expiative, the "gift," developmental means to self perfection. This view of Dabrowski's prevails throughout his writings - beginning with his earliest work on self-mutilation. (Dabrowski, 1934)
"Each act by a person which is not in accord with the hierarchy of moral principles, the hierarchy of good, must be cleansed, individually sublimated. Each good act, each fulfillment of the principles of love, each activity which purifies our primitive instincts - "counts for us" brings us closer to perfection" (Dabrowski, n.d. circa 1970,p.9).
"Man individually develops his higher personality and is individually responsiblefor his downfalls" (Dabrowski, n.d. circa 1970, p.9).
"Perhaps frequent experiences of the dangers of death, illness, personal misfortune, could release something honest in man, and lessen the needs of psychic "squashing", 22 rendering others helpless, feeling of disdain for the truth, scoffing at everything that is truly human and authentic"
(Dabrowski, n.d. circa 1970, p.23).
The concept of expiative suffering is an important point in TPD. Dabrowski appreciates and attaches value to human suffering and crisis. Instead of suffering viewed as a meaningless burden (Why me?), it becomes an opportunity for an individual to develop and grow. Suffering offers the chance to choose to become.

"He, who has never known sorrow, will not be able to cope with great sorrow. He, who has not experienced depression and does not know what depression is, is neither able to bear heavy depression, nor to help others in bearing depression" (Dabrowski, n.d. circa 1970, Confessions of Faith in Thoughts and Aphorisms, National Archives of Canada).
"Suffering and even death may, . . . give birth to higher values; this a manifestation of the law of conservation of energy, of the law of the transformation of one value into other values. Hard experiences do not always dissolve psychic life, they often strengthen and improve it" (Dabrowski, 1967, p. 31).
"It is also well known that individuals who show more or less distinct dispositions toward positive development accelerate and deepen their development under the impact of mental traumas" (Dabrowski, 1973, p. 42).

Accelerated Personality Development
The reader is reminded to think of Personality in Dabrowskian terms - the self-chosen process in becoming a better/higher unique, empathetic, authentic, responsible human essence. "The author's basic thesis can be stated as follows: Personality development, especially accelerated development, cannot be realized without manifest nervousness and psychoneurosis. It is in this way that such experiences as inner conflict, sadness, anxiety, obsession, depression, and psychic tension all cooperate in the promotion of humanistic development" (Dabrowski, 1967,
Hence, this "thesis" is the basis of Dabrowski's statement "Psychoneurosis is not an illness". It is the very manifestation of the process of healthy human development taking place. The struggle and pain are well worth the growth and creativity which lie in store.

Personality  in Dabrowskian Terms
". . .personality has only positive constituents. . . if a person possesses personality he embraces with his intellect, sensitivity, and activity all the truly essential problems of mankind. . . the work upon himself, upon his mental and character traits, is of paramount  importance. . . the person characterized by personality enhances his qualities and powers in order to offer them in the service of mankind" (Dabrowski, 1967, p.5).
Examples of such absolute values are justice, religiosity, social responsibility, courage, honesty, sensitivity and open-mindedness. "Personality is a synthesis of the most essential human values embodied in an individual" (Dabrowski, 1967, p.9). The reader may be struck by how an individual who suffered imprisonment by the Nazis and the Communists could make such a claim. One possible explanation is that Dabrowski witnessed evidence of just such phenomenon while imprisoned. Perhaps it is the reason he survived at all.

The Need for Disintegration in TPD
Just as few individuals reach perfection, Dabrowski acknowledges that few  individuals exhibit this self dependency of judgment, feeling and action. "Observation of everyday life and of environments at various cultural levels leads to a conclusion that self-dependency in feelings, judgment, and action is a very rare faculty among people. There are very few people among us who are consciously independent of the external environment and of the lower layer of their internal environments. To make oneself independent of both these environments one must go through the process of disintegration, which develops the faculty of using the moral judgment by resorting to a true sense of morality, and instills in one the readiness to act accordingly. A moral judgment not backed by the sense of morality and by the ability to effect its realization is nothing but conformity and reveals our superficial attitude toward a given phenomenon"
(Dabrowski, 1967, pp 12,13).
According to Dabrowski, in this way an individual cultivates a sensitivity toward the feelings and 116 attitudes of others - seeing things through different lenses. It is a relinquishment of the superficial in favor of truth. Public opinion no longer has a great influence. The individual is capable of forming opinions and judgments based on the moral good. The inner psychic milieuevaluates options in accordance with the personality ideal - the standard of internal decision making. As development progresses, the individual possesses high levels of emotional and
cognitive development. These functions fuse to form a product of development which stimulates the cortex of the brain. Stimulation results in a raising of consciousness. Since the stimulation is caused by the product of fused higher levels of emotional and cognitive development, an increase in the level of consciousness occurs. In TPD, a prime emotion which undergoes development is empathy. Raised consciousness due to higher levels of empathy result in concern for others. What is higher, better - what the individual ought to do - is to choose less mindful of self and more mindful of others.

Dabrowski on Enemy
"By looking at a man, not as someone who is our personal enemy, but as someone who acts erroneously because of inherited inclinations, environmental influences, and low level of self-educating consciousness, we assume an impersonal attitude toward that man. Such an attitude toward an enemy is a clear sign of one's advance toward the ideal of personality" (Dabrowski, 1967, p.22).

Theory of Positive Disintegration by Bill Tillier
TPD Reframes & Revises Traditional Roles of Mental Excitement, Emotion & Pathology in Development:

  • Excess excitability, strong emotion and pathology all traditionally have a negative bias in psychology and psychiatry.
  • "Excess" excitability has often been seen as tantamount to epilepsy and is often linked to learning disabilities and  delinquency.
  • "Excess" emotion has often been equated with hysteria.
  • "Pathology" traditionally indicates a weakness or defect to be repaired

Mental Health:

  • Definition: "Development towards higher levels of mental functions, towards the discovery and realization of higher cognitive, moral, social, and aesthetic values and their

organization into a hierarchy in accordance with one's own authentic personality ideal" (298, 1972).
"The capacity for a fully rounded mental development in the direction of a higher hierarchy of reality and aims, until the realization of one's own personality and the
ability to assist others in the realization of their personalities"

Mental Illness:

  • Definition: "(1) either a strongly integrated, primitive, psychopathic structure [Level I], or (2) a negative, nondevelopmental disintegration [psychosis]" (173, 1970).
  • "The absence or deficiency of processes which effect development" (173, 1970).


  • Definition: "a self-conscious, self-chosen, empirically elaborated, autonomous, authentic, self-confirmed and self-educating unity of basic mental, individual and

common qualities" (111, 1973).

  • "Personality is the force which integrates mental functions on a high level" (108, 1973).
  • We could associate personality with the concept of a complete human individual who, in regard to the scope and levels of his functions, represents a coherent and

harmonious structure of a high degree of insight into himself, into his aims and aspirations (self-awareness) (108, 1973).


  • Definition: "A human individual is authentic, if he has developed an autonomous attitude toward himself, his environment and his ideal of personality; if he has achieved a high level of synthetic inner psychic transformation, consciousness, self-consciousness, empathy, hierarchization and a strong feeling of his essentialist existence" (94, 1973).


  •  "Autonomy is the state of the gradual acquisition of independence from the lower levels of internal and external reality" (89, 1973).
  •  "Autonomy is the expression of the developmental process from lower to higher levels, from that which "is" to that which "ought to be". . . . The result of its activity is a

consciousness of being independent in thinking, experiencing and behaving" (89, 1973).

Overexcitability (OE) 

  • The roots of the idea of overexcitabilities and their importance might first appear in William James:
  •  "Wherever a process of life communicates an eagerness to him who lives it, there the life becomes genuinely significant. Sometimes the eagerness is more knit up with the motor activities, sometimes with the perceptions, sometimes with the imagination, sometimes with reflective thought. But, wherever it is found, there is the zest, the tingle, the excitement of reality; and there is 'importance' in the only real and positive sense in which importance ever anywhere can be" James, W. (1899). On Some of Life's Ideals. New York: Henry Holt.

Definition: "Higher than average responsiveness to stimuli, manifested either by psychomotor, sensual, emotional (affective), imaginational, or intellectual excitability or the combination thereof"(303, 1972).

  • A physiological property of the nervous system: "Each form of overexcitability points to a higher than average sensitivity of its receptors" (7, 1972).

Affects how a person sees reality: "One who manifests several forms of overexcitability, sees reality in a different, stronger and more multisided manner" (7, 1972). 

  • "Because the sensitivity [excitability] is related to all essential groups of receptors of stimuli of the internal and external worlds it widens and enhances the field of consciousness" (66, 1972). 
  • "Individuals with enhanced emotional, imaginational and intellectual excitability channel it into forms most appropriate for them" (66, 1972).
  • Critical three types: "Emotional (affective), imaginational and intellectual overexcitability are the richer forms. If they appear together they give rich possibilities of development and creativity" (7, 1972).

Overexcitability and psychoneuroses join together in a common, three part, process:  
1). "psychic hyperexcitability, . . . provokes conflicts, disappointments, suffering in family life, in school, in professional life, in short, leads to conflicts with the external environment" (38, 1970). . .
2). "hyperexcitability precipitates psychoneurotic processes" (38, 1970). . . .
3). "conflicts and psychoneurotic processes become the dominant factor in accelerated development"(38, 1970).

  • "It is mainly mental hyperexcitability through whichthe search for something new, something different, more complex and more authentic can be accomplished" (15,1973).

Multilevelness in TPD - Levels of reality: 

  • Levels are a philosophical foundation of the theory:
  • Level based analysis has a long philosophical history.
  • Reality and our perception of reality can be differentiated into a hierarchy of levels.
  • The reality that each person perceives reflects their given level of development.
  • Psychological functions go through both quantitative and qualitative changes in the course of development.
  • These changes allow people to differentiate higher, more developed levels from lower, earlier, less developed levels.
  • Differentiation of these lower and higher levels constitutes a multilevel view -- this is fundamental to Dabrowski's conception of mental health and of development.

Where are We Today? is Shown in Slide 84 of this Presentation by Bill Tillier

Dabrowski's Description of  Various Possible Outcomes of Crises:

  • simple resolution - a return of the former equilibrium (reintegration);
  • suicidal tendencies;
  • chronic (negative) disintegration (mental illness);
  • slight growth (partial integration at slightly higher levels);
  • advanced development: integration on the highest levels. 

Theory of Positive Disintegration by Bill Tillier (Another Set of Slides)
Dabrowski Outlined Four Types of Adjustment:
Two Types of Adjustment.
1). Negative adjustment: ordinary socialization:

  •  "Robotic" and uncritical acceptance of what is.
  • Adjustment to prevailing social norms & values.
  • Second factor  social conformity: antisocial & primitive impulses are repressed (so is our autonomy) in order to "fit in."
  • Adjustment to a "sick" society is to also be sick.

"2). Positive adjustment" adjustment to inner sense of what ought to be & to consciously chosen values (behavior reflects highest possible values):

  • Full expression of third factor / personality ideal.
  • Seen at Level V � secondary integration.
  • Ideal society: everyone is at this level.

Two Types of Maladjustment
"3). Positive maladjustment" rejection of what is, in favor of what ought to be" where we see PN:

  • Initial expression of third factor (autonomy).

"Pits one against social norms and mores" often confused as "ordinary" antisocial maladjustment.

  • May be seen in gifted students (but mislabeled).

4). Negative maladjustment 
antisocial, selfish ego dominates behavior that flaunts social mores:

  • Expression of unrestrained first factor: criminals, unscrupulous CEOs (see themselves above law).

Multilevelness and Creativity

  • At lower levels, creative efforts are applied in the service of selfish ends (the master criminal, the unscrupulous corporate CEO) or, creativity is in the service of social and political goals (build a better nuclear bomb).
  • At higher levels, creative efforts are an expression of the individual's deep sense of who they are and how they see the world:
  • Reflects compassion, emotion, empathy, authenticity and "the better angels of our nature" (Lincoln).

Cognition Versus Emotion in Education

  • Education traditionally is based on cognitive models:
  • Very old tradition: Socrates, Plato & Aristotle:
  • Example; Plato saw emotion as disruptive & confusing to learning (emotion impairs cognition).
  • Cognition: reflects "mind" & higher "noble" goals.
  • Emotion: reflects body & lower impulses/desires.
  • View cemented by early I.Q. tests & Piaget's work.
  • Focus on: cognition, memory and rote performance.
  • (Psychology & psychiatry also have cognitive bias).
  • Minor exceptions in education have been seen:
  • Waldorf schools based upon Rudolf Steiner's work.
  • Montessori Method (Maria Montessori).

Criticisms of Traditional Education

  • Education creates intelligent "robots:"
  • History shows "Intelligence" alone is not sufficient to ensure healthy decision making and behavior.
  • Dabrowski: Education tends to "train" not educate. Creates a society of conformers & "social achievers" that follow group based mores, not individuals with minds (personalities) of their own.
  • Education is wrongly used to promote political and social values and goals, for example to promote consumerism and material wealth.
  • Today, individual achievement is valued over individual character.

Goals of Ideal "Dabrowskian" Education

  • Self-awareness; Global, empathetic & durable attitudes; Personal hierarchy of values & ideals.

    Goal: the creation of unique individuals, capable of autonomous thought & self analysis based on an integration of feelings about issues & person's thoughts about issues (not a rote recital of "the facts" or of prevailing social mores).

  • Teach people how to critically evaluate issues & foster individual autonomy: help individuals to develop autonomous values & unique personality.
  • Establishes a new hierarchy where emotion "directs" cognition, intelligence serves higher values.

Dabrowski's Basic Approach
Education must strive to nourish the whole individual including both cognitive and emotional aspects.

  • Emotional aspects can have a dramatic impact on learning style, learning potential and performance.
  • The students potential must be seen in the context of their overall personality; within the classroom, family and society. Their performance and behavior must be viewed and evaluated in this context as well.

TPD and Education
Dabrowski advocated "humanistic education, that is, true human education and not mere training as the methods of an animal trainer might be described."

  • Emphasizes that children are unique:
  •  Two avenues to achieve education:

1). General education designed to enhance common traits that all kids share,
2). Specialized education focused on the unique traits of each child.
Authentic education is designed to encourage the child to transgress mediocre statistical qualities and to develop his own hierarchy of values and aims which he is then taught to realize."

Implications for All Students

  • Students need to be individually supported and nurtured on both emotional and cognitive dimensions.
  • When a Dabrowskian diagnosis supports a positive disintegration, "symptoms" should be accepted:
  • OE should be tolerated: Dabrowski said, "We must forgive each other our psychological type."
  • Crises should be expected and framed in a developmental context when appropriate.
  • The rich tradition of ML and other OE individuals can be emphasized to reduce feelings of alienation.

TPD and the Gifted
 In the manuscript, On Authentic Education, Dabrowski says:  "The nervous and psychoneurotic individual is present in an overwhelming percentage of highly gifted children and youths, artists, writers, etc. [The] tendency to reach beyond the statistical norm and mediocre development presents the privilege and drama of psychoneurotic people."
"The development of personality with gifted children and young people usually passes through the process of positive disintegration" (1967, p. 261).