The Theory of Positive Disintegration

Over the holidays I began reading a book by Kazimierz Dabrowski (along with Andrzej Kawczak and MIchael Piechowski’s) called Mental Growth Through Positive Disintegration. Originally published in 1970, it outlines his Theory of Positive Disintegration as well as outlining the role of psychic overexcitabilities in mental growth. The gifted community has embraced the work of Dabrowski for a couple of reasons.

The first relates to what has been observed as part of the lived experience of many gifted individuals as being highly sensitive to the world around them. These sensitivities (overexcitabilities) can create a “collision” within an individual’s environment resulting in a very low frustation threshold. It can be as simple as a heightened sensual awareness where things like the seams in their socks or tags in their clothes become unbearable. It can be as complicated as emotional oversensitivities where they are so acutely aware of their own feelings that relationships are difficult and they can often be seen as “over-reacting”.

While many might see these intensities as a maladjustment, Dabrowski framed them in a more positive light as forming the basic dynamisms for rich positive mental growth. These “collisions” with the world may take an individual (and those close to them) on a journey of self-questioning, shame, guilt, disenchantment as they clash between the environment they are in and what it their minds it could or should be. This “disintegration” is positive as it provides an opportunity for the individual to grow into what Dabrowski considered a higher, more authentic self through a reintegration process; a process by which the individual sees the limitations or paradoxes of the world and then decides who they want to be and how they will proceed with this knowledge/understanding.

While this Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) did not refer specifically to the gifted population, researchers since have suggested that it occurs to a higher degree in the gifted population. In working with gifted students, seeing behaviors through this lens has offered me a unique insight into behaviors that have been problematic for teachers and parents as it  can put a positive spin on what we observe and aid us in assisting students come to a better self-understanding.

The opportunity to read Dabrowski’s original writing has been amazing as it is not easy to come by and it is a fascinating piece of work. Dabrowski’s own story is no less fascinating. A practicing psychiatrist in Poland during WWII, his observations and work with patients during a most tumultuous time in history offered him a unique insight into how people react to the environments in which they find themselves. His work has inspired many researchers in many disciplines and will be the focus of the 11th International Dabrowski Congress coming to Canmore, Alberta this summer. If his work resonates with you, this is conference would definitely be worth attending.

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