Dr. Foreman: “I was content with the way things were. That’s what happiness means”.
Dr. House: “Right. If we were all satisfied with what we had, what a beautiful world it would be! We’d all slowly starve to death in our own filth but at least we’d be happy. Listen! I need your self worth to hang on this job, for kicking ass to be all that lets you rise above miserable. If waking up in the morning is enough, I don’t need you”.
In our world there are psychological theories that are kept away from the eyes of the general public, theories that are somehow different from mainstream psychology. Compared to psychoanalysis or the cognitive-behavioral therapy, the Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) is quite original. Plus, it is a theory developed for normal and especially gifted individuals, for smart and complex guys, not for mentally handicapped folks. This resonates a lot with me, because, since I’m living most of the time in a world of mediocrity, a theory dedicated to the above-average folks is much more interesting than a theory dedicated to the weak-minded ones I see on a daily basis.
I will give you 2 links, the first one to the main page of TPD – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_Disintegration – where you can find a nicely structured material, and the second one to the page of the author of this theory, a Polish psychiatrist, Kazimierz Dąbrowski – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazimierz_D%C4%85browski.
The theory is rather disappointing for some of you… Not everyone has a developed personality and not everyone goes through a process of disintegration – upgrading to a better version of oneself. The process discussed in this theory does not apply for most of the individuals in the society, who are happy to live until death without the slightest initiative towards evolution if their bellies are satisfied and their needs met. For this simple reason I used the quote at the beginning of this article, from House MD: if you’re happy only because you woke up in the morning, probably this theory and reading this article is a waste of time (and I encourage you to stop reading it now).
So, for some select individuals from a given population, the developmental process is made of several levels of disintegration of the previously built personality. Beginning from rigid and instinctual selfishness, the individual climbs towards empathy, compassion, self-discovery, altruism, up to a secondary integration or a better version of self. The process can happen at any time and follows a well-defined structure on several levels. The first level is purely instinctual, the second one is a uni-level disintegration (ambivalence, guilt, shame), the 3rd one is a multi-level disintegration (inner conflicts between values and their hierarchy, struggle with meaning of life, inferiority, and an increase in importance of “what should be” while undergoing a maladaptation to “what is”). The 4th level is the moment when the individual consciously decides to organize his evolution towards a better and chosen version of himself, while increasing his autonomy, his clarity of values and purpose in life, his self-control, creative instinct, empathy and perfectionism. The 5th level is quite an ideal personality, when everything is organized and in harmony, when dynamism, responsibility, authenticity and self-actualization reign.
Why not everyone can develop? Apparently there are genetic factors (you must be quite gifted), the social environment (even if you are gifted, if you live in a mediocre society or you are too poor, you will never flourish) and what is called the 3rd factor (consciousness, freedom of choice, inner conflicts, autonomous forces that are little explained and little known).
The theory describes an original term named Overexcitability – a higher than normal capacity to live and perceive the inner and outer stimuli. The overexcitability accelerates the individual’s development but also is responsible for neurotic disorders, tensions, irritability, frustration. And it’s an important aspect to learn to recognize this overexcitability in a person, often a gifted child, and provide a distinct education, crafted for special superior needs. Overexcitability is often mistaken for ADHD, for behavior disorders in children and teens, for a lot of disorders dealt with by pediatric psychiatrists and treated with heavy medication, while they are in fact expressions of this rather rare feature.
There are several types of overexcitability:
– The psycho-motor one – the urge to move, to speak rapidly, the tendency towards impulsivity, competitiveness, preference for sports, playing, reduced need for sleep, a personality profile that can degenerate in violence, aggressiveness, delinquent behavior. To put it simple, people with too much physical energy that needs to be channeled.
– The sensorial one – increased intensity of the sensorial perception (touch, taste, smell, etc.), high aesthetic skills, sensuality, emotional sensitiveness to landscapes, music, poems, food, a constant need for touch, hugs, kisses and attention.
– The imaginative one – rich and vivid imagination, unusual abilities of innovation and visualization, creativity, fantasy, tendency to speak in images and to daydream. In short, the dreamer.
– The intellectual one – curiosity, love for knowledge and discovery, theoretical and analytical skills, ability to sustain a huge intellectual effort and focus for many hours, passion for strategies, profound questions about ideas like God, Death or Meaning of Life.
– The emotional one – preference for deep relationships, feelings of compassion and responsibility, recurring thoughts about what is good and what is bad, injustice, hypocrisy, provider of care for the others, enthusiasm, empathy for others and a high emotional intelligence.
While reading about Dabrowski’s theory, one might become aware of some aspects that were incorporated in other more modern theories. This is true, since Positive Disintegration served as a source of inspiration for some humanistic theories. On the other hand, while pondering on the fact that disintegration happens only for a select number of individuals, Jung’s theories about the intuitive types come easily in mind, especially when we deal with small percents of people who engage on the road of disintegration and when we look at the 3rd level of disintegration – moving from “what is” to “what might be” – which is exactly what sets apart an intuitive from the rest of the crowd.