Kazimierz Dąbrowski

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Kazimierz Dąbrowski (September 1, 1902 in Klarów – November 26, 1980 in Warsaw) was a Polish psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician.

Dąbrowski developed the theory of Positive Disintegration, which describes how a person's development grows as a result of accumulated experiences. "Disintegration" refers to the maturing of thoughts, and it is positive when the process moves one's personality to a more developed level.

Dąbrowski had a lifelong dedication to the field of psychology. He established a rehabilitation center in Zagorze (near Warsaw) for patients who suffered mental disorders after experiencing difficult life situations. Lifelong research at this facility supplied him with information that helped shape his concepts.


Dąbrowski developed his theory from a number of ideas:

  • That our lower animal instincts (first factor) must be inhibited and transformed into "higher" forces for us to be Human (this ability to transform our instincts is what separates us from animals).
  • That the common initial personality integration, based upon socialization (second factor), does not reflect true personality.
  • At the initial level of integration, there is little internal conflict as when one “goes along with the group,” there is little sense of individual wrongdoing. External conflicts often relate to the blockage of social goals – career frustrations for example. The social mores and values prevail with little question or conscious examination.
  • True personality must be based upon a system of values that are consciously and volitionally chosen by the person to reflect their own individual sense of "how life ought to be" and their "personality ideal" — the ideal person they feel they "ought to be."
  • The lower animal instincts and the forces of peer groups and socialization are inferior to the autonomous self (personality) constructed by the conscious person.
  • To break down the initial integration, crises and disintegrations are needed, usually provided by life experience.
  • These disintegrations are positive if the person can achieve positive and developmental solutions to the situation.
  • Unilevel crises are not developmental as the person can only choose between equal alternatives (go left or go right?).
  • A new type of perception involves multilevelness, a vertical view of life that compares lower versus higher alternatives and now allows the individual to choose a higher resolution to a crisis over other available, but lower, alternatives — the developmental solution.
  • Positive disintegration is a vital developmental process.
  • Dąbrowski developed the idea of "developmental potential" to describe the forces needed to achieve autonomous personality development.
  • Developmental potential includes several factors including innate abilities and talents, "over-excitability" and the "third factor."
  • Over-excitability is a measure of an individual’s level of nervous response. Dąbrowski found that the exemplars he studied all displayed an overly sensitive nervous system, also making them prone to angst, depression and anxiety - psychoneuroses in Dąbrowski's terms, a very positive and developmental feature.
  • The third factor is a measure of an individual's drive toward autonomy.
  • Dąbrowski's approach is very interesting philosophically as it is Platonic, reflecting the bias of Plato toward essence — an individual's essence is a critical determinant of his or her developmental course in life. However, Dąbrowski also added a major existential aspect as well, what one depends upon the anxieties felt and on how one resolves the day to day challenges one faces. Essence must be realized through an existential and experiential process of development. The characterization advanced by Kierkegaard of "Knights of faith" may be compared to Dąbrowski’s autonomous individual.
  • Reviewed the role of logic and reasoning in development and concludes that intellect alone does not fully help us know what to do in life. Incorporates Jean Piaget's views of development into a broader scheme guided by emotion. Emotion (how one feels about something) is the more accurate guide to life's major decisions.
  • When multilevel and autonomous development is achieved, a secondary integration is seen reflecting the mature personality state. The individual has no inner conflict; they are in internal harmony as their actions reflect their deeply felt hierarchy of values. External conflict may persist, however.
  • Rejected Abraham Maslow's description of self-actualization (Dąbrowski was a personal friend and correspondent of Maslow). Actualization of an undifferentiated human self is not a developmental outcome in Dąbrowski's terms. Dąbrowski applied a multilevel (vertical) approach to self and saw the need to become aware of and to inhibit and reject the lower instinctual aspects of the intrinsic human self (aspects that Maslow would have us "embrace without guilt") and to actively choose and assemble higher elements into a new unique self - this process is what differentiates Man from the Animals. Dąbrowski would have us differentiate the initial self into higher and lower aspects, as we define them, and to reject the lower and actualize the higher in creating our unique personality.

Main works[edit]

  • Nerwowość dzieci i młodzieży (1935)
  • Społeczno-wychowawcza psychiatria dziecięca (1959)
  • O dezintegracji pozytywnej (1964)
  • Positive Disintegration (1964)
  • Personality-Shaping through Positive Disintegration (1967)
  • Mental Growth through Positive Disintegration (1970)
  • Psychoneurosis Is Not an Illness (1970)
  • Existential Thoughts and Aphorisms (1972) (as Paul Cienin - Pseudonym)
  • Fragments from the Diary of a Madman (1972) (as Pawel Cienin - Pseudonym)
  • Myśli i aforyzmy egzystencjalne (1972) (as Paweł Cienin - Pseudonym)
  • The Dynamics of Concepts (1973)
  • Trud istnienia (1975)
  • Dezintegracja pozytywna (1979)
  • W poszukiwaniu zdrowia psychicznego (1989)