The Theory of
Positive Disintegration (TPD)
by Kazimierz Dąbrowski.
A theory of personality development:
An overview & archive.

Presented by William (Bill) Tillier

This website is intended to allow the reader to learn Dąbrowski’s theory in detail.
A second focus is to archive and disseminate Dąbrowski’s works.
Websites focussed on applications and the layperson interested in the theory will be highlighted.

Created in 1995.

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Photo of Kazimierz Dąbrowski (1902-1980).

Kazimierz Dąbrowski MD, PhD.

Born: 9/1/1902 Klarów, Poland       Died: 11/26/1980 Warsaw.


Patricia Gently Intersection of Intensity: Exploring Giftedness and Trauma.
August 13, 2024

An insightful and much-needed exploration, Intersection of Intensity intricately textures together the complex relationship between giftedness and trauma. It begins by defining giftedness, addressing the challenges of identification, and exploring various types of traumas and their impacts on gifted individuals. Core chapters delve into the interplay of trauma and giftedness, examining the unique responses of the gifted brain, the relationships of asynchronicity and compensation, and the profound role of heightened intensity. Therapeutically, the book introduces EMDR and the T.I.C.E.S. framework, providing insights into the nuanced considerations required for neurodivergent experiences. Additionally, each chapter wraps up with a poignant personal check-in, leaving readers equipped not just with knowledge but also with a personal understanding and empathy for the unique challenges at this intersection.

Van Camp, C. (2024). Crash baby crash: Exploring personal growth through positive disintegration.
Antwerp. Soon to be published in English – Stay Tuned.

2024 Denver Congress.
Here is the LINK.

Book on Dąbrowski:

Mendaglio S. (2022). Dynamisms, Development, and Dispositions:
Essays in Honor of Kazimierz Dąbrowski.
Gifted Unlimited.

Dąbrowski’s theory of positive disintegration redefines established psychological constructs, especially the construct of psychopathology. Current views of what constitutes disorders is so engrained in western cultures that they are seen, implicitly, as immutable. Any codification of what comprises psychiatric disorders or abnormality is a social construction, subject to change, as indicated by some changes in the DSM over the years. Dąbrowski’s theory questions the very foundation of the approach to psychopathology that existed in his time and is evident today. The critical message of the theory of positive disintegration is that what are deemed symptoms of mental disorder may be, instead, signs of personal growth. Dąbrowski does not simply proclaim his position, he provides a coherent explanation for it. While Dąbrowski addresses substantive issues of mental illness and mental health, most of the research literature purporting to investigate his theory dwells on one component of his theory: overexcitability. The essays in Dynamism, Development and Dispositions: Essays in Honor of Kazimierz Dąbrowski have a common aim: to draw attention to the fullness of the theory with the hope of encouraging researchers to move beyond their singular atomic focus. A word on the subtitle of the book is in order. Sal Mendaglio’s essays honor a great theorist with a scholarly, not effusive, treatment of the theory of positive disintegration.

Here is the LINK.

⚀ 1. Introduction.

⚁  1.1 Mission Statement.

⚂ This website allows the reader to fully explore The Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD). This theory of personality development was formulated by Kazimierz Dąbrowski (1902-1980), a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist.
≻ This website collects, preserves and disseminates the works of Dąbrowski.
≻ Disseminating the theory informs therapeutic strategies and encourages research to help us better understand and apply Dąbrowski’s work.
≻ The archive of Dąbrowski’s works consists of all of his English publications, approximately half of his Polish books and a few of his many Polish articles.
≻ The archive also contains materials related to the theory, including some 1000 articles and books.
≻ All of the materials in the archive are available to download at no cost.
A variety of links, many focussed on the application of the theory, and on discussions aimed at a largely non-academic audience can be found:   Here

⚁  1.2 A short overview of the theory by Zeke Degraw, used with permission.

⚁  1.3 Brief overview of the theory.

⚂ 1.3.1 Dabrowski believed that socialization curtails individual growth.
≻ Mental health involves more than merely adopting and adapting to societal norms or expectations. Instead, mental health emphasizes self-transformation in creating and pursuing higher ideals that shape a unique, authentic, and autonomous personality.
≻ Disintegrating the initial socialized psychological structures is necessary to create opportunities for the individual to take growth into their own hands.
≻ Lower structures are replaced by integrations into new, higher structures.
≻ Higher structures are consciously chosen to reflect the values and essence of the individual.
≻ At the highest level, a unique and autonomous personality comes to guide behaviour.
≻ Disintegration requires a constellation of factors Dąbrowski called developmental potential.

⚂ 1.3.2 Here are several key concepts of the theory:

⚃ Multilevelness and multidimensionality:
≻ Dąbrowski’s approach to analyzing human behaviour emphasized multilevelness – essentially comparisons of qualitative differences between the “lower, intermediary, and higher” levels of reality.
≻ Multilevelness also reflects an observable hierarchy of mental functions.
≻ This approach leads to a hierarchical description and analysis of psychological structures.
≻ Unilevel perceptions of reality characterize the lower levels, while multilevel perceptions reflect a deep awareness and breadth of perception. This schema is analogous to Plato’s description of the levels of reality.
≻ Multilevel analysis applies to all kinds and types of mental functions and, when combined with a multidimensional approach, creates a powerful descriptive and analytic tool.

⚃ Levels of Development:
≻ Dąbrowski proposed a hierarchy of five levels of development, beginning with a “primary” level of integration that is unilevel, egocentric and based on instinctual and social influences.
≻ In ideal development, three levels of disintegration culminate in a “secondary,” multilevel integration characterized by a highly autonomous, self-defined, self-chosen, and self-aware self: a “true personality.”

⚃ Positive disintegration:
≻ Disintegration is necessary for multilevel psychological growth.
≻ Disintegration is positive when it ultimately leads to growth.
≻ Disintegration involves breaking down “lower” existing psychological structures founded upon external mores, beliefs, and behavioural expectations that become incompatible with higher, self-evaluated, self-defined values, ideals, and potentials.
≻ Disintegration unfolds through psychoneuroses; comprised of strong internal conflicts, crises, and moral dilemmas.
≻ Role models of exemplary development also point the way.

⚄ Psychoneuroses:
≻ The principal vehicle of positive disintegration.
≻ A positive, creative developmental process leading to the formation of the conditions necessary for growth.
≻ Psychoneuroses are symptoms of disharmony and conflicts within one’s inner psychic milieu (one’s internal psychological environment) and with the external environment triggered and driven by strong positive developmental potential.
≻ Psychoneuroses and neuroses reflect and are analyzed based on a hierarchical representation of functions.
≻ Higher psychoneuroses are more psychic – psychological and mental forms of disorder, in comparison to lower neuroses which are more somatic and nervous in nature.

⚃ Developmental potential:
≻ Dąbrowski identified various “constitutional” (hereditary) factors that determine the character and extent of mental growth possible for a given individual.
≻ Developmental potential includes instincts, dynamisms, the third factor, overexcitabilities, and special abilities and talents.
≻ Dąbrowski said developmental potential can be assessed based on overexcitabilities, special abilities and talents, and the third factor.

⚄ The Third Factor:
≻ The third factor represents “the totality of all autonomous forces” expressed as a feeling one must discover, evaluate, and develop one’s deep essence or character. This evaluation leads to an image of one’s personality ideal – of one’s ideal self.
≻ The third factor moves the individual towards values and behaviours that reflect how things “ought to be” based on this unique self-evaluation and personality ideal.
≻ The third factor is central; “Along with inborn properties and the influence of environment, it is the ‘third factor’ that determines the direction, degree, and distance of man’s development” (Dąbrowski, 1964, p. 53).

⚄ Dynamisms:
≻ The theory seeks to understand the forces – the dynamics that motivate behaviour.
≻ Dąbrowski defined dynamisms as biological or mental forces that control behavior and its development. Instincts, drives, and intellectual processes combined with emotions are dynamisms.
≻ Dąbrowski described some 20 dynamisms that influence development and behaviour.

⚄ Overexcitabilities:
≻ Dąbrowski identified five types of overexcitability (psychomotor, sensual, emotional, intellectual, and imaginational) predisposing individuals to experience life more intensely.
≻ Overexcitabilities contribute to disintegration by heightening sensitivity and awareness.
≻ “The prefix ‘over’ attached to ‘excitability’ serves to indicate that the reactions of excitation are over and above average in intensity, duration, and frequency” (Dąbrowski, 1996, p. 7).

⚄ Special abilities and talents:
≻ Another component of developmental potential – IQ plus things like musical talent or artistic ability.

⚃ Hierarchization:
≻ Hierarchization is the process of differentiating higher from lower levels in oneself and developing and activating these levels – this primarily involves emotions and values.
≻ Hierarchization is the beginning of the development of the inner psychic milieu.

⚃ Inner psychic milieu:
≻ The internal mental environment. The totality of mental dynamisms of a low or high degree of consciousness.
≻ The inner psychic milieu may be hierarchical, as in multilevel disintegration, or ahierarchical, as in unilevel disintegration.
≻ The development and differentiation of the inner psychic milieu is the distinctive feature of autonomous development.
≻ At the level of primary integration, there is no inner psychic milieu. At the second level, unilevel disintegration, psychological factors begin to play a role, and therefore, an inner psychic milieu appears. It is, however, ahierarchic, or without structure. The intrapsychic factors are not transformative, only disintegrative in respect to the cohesive structures of primary integration.
≻ With the appearance of multilevel transformative dynamisms, a hierarchically structured inner psychic milieu is formed.

⚃ Summary:
≻ The central thesis of the theory is that driven by developmental potential, internal conflicts produce psychoneuroses – strong anxieties and depressions that confront conventional rationales and explanations and force self-examination.
≻ This often leads to loosening unilevel structures, allowing the individual to take development “into their own hands” and begin the developmental process.
≻ Developing a hierarchy of values and personality ideal helps shape the self away from ego and toward a unique and autonomous personality that comes to be expressed in a secondary multilevel integration.

⚂ 1.3.3 The contemporary relevance of the theory.
≻ The conventional goal of psychological therapy is to ameliorate dis – ease, anxiety, and crisis, restoring stability.
≻ Dąbrowski took a radically different view, emphasizing that periods of disequilibrium, upset, depression, anxiety, and ultimately even chaos and crisis are necessary elements in the process of growth.
≻ For Dąbrowski, positive disintegration does not merely lead to resilience; rather, it creates a higher level of function than before.
≻ The theory predates and reflects the contemporary approach of posttraumatic growth.

⚁  1.4 Six seminal quotes set the stage.

⚂ 1.4.1 “Personality: A self-aware, self-chosen, self-affirmed, and self-determined unity of essential individual psychic qualities. Personality as defined here appears at the level of secondary integration” (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 301).

⚂ 1.4.2 “The propensity for changing one’s internal environment and the ability to influence positively the external environment indicate the capacity of the individual to develop. Almost as a rule, these factors are related to increased mental excitability, depressions, dissatisfaction with oneself, feelings of inferiority and guilt, states of anxiety, inhibitions, and ambivalences—all symptoms which the psychiatrist tends to label psychoneurotic. Given a definition of mental health as the development of the personality, we can say that all individuals who present active development in the direction of a higher level of personality (including most psychoneurotic patients) are mentally healthy” (Dąbrowski, 1964, p. 112).

⚂ 1.4.3 “Intense psychoneurotic processes are especially characteristic of accelerated development in its course towards the formation of personality. According to our theory accelerated psychic development is actually impossible without transition through processes of nervousness and psychoneuroses, without external and internal conflicts, without maladjustment to actual conditions in order to achieve adjustment to a higher level of values (to what ‘ought to be’), and without conflicts with lower level realities as a result of spontaneous or deliberate choice to strengthen the bond with reality of higher level” (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 220).

⚂ 1.4.4 “Psychoneuroses ‘especially those of a higher level’ provide an opportunity to ‘take one’s life in one’s own hands.’ They are expressive of a drive for psychic autonomy, especially moral autonomy, through transformation of a more or less primitively integrated structure. This is a process in which the individual himself becomes an active agent in his disintegration, and even breakdown. Thus the person finds a ‘cure’ for himself, not in the sense of a rehabilitation but rather in the sense of reaching a higher level than the one at which he was prior to disintegration. This occurs through a process of an education of oneself and of an inner psychic transformation. One of the main mechanisms of this process is a continual sense of looking into oneself as if from outside, followed by a conscious affirmation or negation of conditions and values in both the internal and external environments. Through the constant creation of himself, though the development of the inner psychic milieu and development of discriminating power with respect to both the inner and outer milieus—an individual goes through ever higher levels of ‘neuroses’ and at the same time through ever higher levels of universal development of his personality” (Dąbrowski, 19102, p. 4).

⚂ 1.4.5 “In order to account for differences in the extent of development we introduce the concept of the developmental potential (Dąbrowski, 1970, Piechowski, 1974). The developmental potential is the original endowment which determines what level of development a person may reach if the physical and environmental conditions are optimal” (Dąbrowski, 1996, p. 10).

⚂ 1.4.6 “…in our conception of development the chances of developmental crises and their positive or negative outcomes depend on the character of the developmental potential, on the character of social influence, and on the activity (if present) of the third factor (autonomous dynamisms of self-directed development). One also has to keep in mind that a developmental solution to a crisis means not a reintegration but an integration at a higher level of functioning” (Dąbrowski, 1972, pp. 244-245).

⚁  1.5 Be Greeted Psychoneurotics.

⚂ 1.5.1 From the Filmwest movie, Be Greeted Psychoneurotics.

⚃ “Suffering, aloneness, self-doubt, sadness, inner conflict; these are our feelings that we have not learned to live with, that we have failed to appreciate, that we reject as destructive and completely negative, but in fact they are symptoms of an expanding consciousness. Dr. Kazimierz Dąbrowski has spent 45 years piecing together the complete picture of the growth of the human psyche from primitive integration at birth; the person with potential for development will experience growth as a loosening of the stable psychic structure accompanied by symptoms of psychoneuroses. Reality becomes multileveled, the choices between higher and lower realms of behaviour occupy our thought and mark us as human. Dąbrowski called this process positive disintegration, he declares that psychoneurosis is not an illness and he insists that development does not come through psychotherapy but that psychotherapy is automatic when the person is conscious of his development.”

⚃ “To Dąbrowski, therapy is autopsychotherapy; it is the self being aware of the self through a long inner investigation; a mapping of the inner environment. There are no techniques to eliminate symptoms because the symptoms constitute the very psychic richness from which grow an increasing awareness of body, mind, humanity and cosmos. Dąbrowski gives birth to that process if he can.”

⚃ “Without intense and painful introspection and reflection, development is unlikely. Psychoneurotic symptoms should be embraced and transformed into anxieties about human problems of an ever higher order. If psychoneuroses continue to be classified as mental illness, then perhaps it is a sickness better than health.”

⚃ “Without passing through very difficult experiences and even something like psychoneurosis and neurosis we cannot understand human beings and we cannot realize our multidimensional and multilevel development toward higher and higher levels.”

⚁  1.6 Be Greeted Psychoneurotics (pdf).

⚂ Dąbrowski captured the essence of psychoneuroses and development in this poem (above).

⚂ Here is a popular version of the poem in Poland (below).

Posłanie do nadwrażliwych by Jarosław Wasik.

⚁  1.7 Depiction of the levels of the theory by E. Mika.

⚂ 1.7.1 Based on Dąbrowski’s theory, there are two qualitatively different life experiences – unilevel and multilevel – which are characterized by five levels.
≻ The heteronomous level, also known as unilevel or Level I, is influenced by biological and social factors (first and second factor).
≻ On the other hand, multilevel life is autonomous, which comprises Levels III and above, reflecting varying degrees of self-conscious, self-determined, and self-controlled mental development.
≻ Level II is typically a short transitional phase marked by intense unilevel crises that challenge one’s character, resulting in either regression or progression.


Mika’s Chart (2002)

Also see: link

⚂ 1.7.2 Dr. Mika has suggested that, in today’s era, it would be clearer to describe the levels using the terms “unilevel integration” instead of “primary integration” and “multilevel integration” instead of “secondary integration.” I fully support this suggestion in future neo-Dąbrowskian works.

⚁  1.8 Depiction of the construct network of the theory by W. Tillier.

⚂ 1.8.1 Download as PDF.


⚁  1.9 Dąbrowski’s work in Canada.

⚂ Much of the focus of this webpage is on Dąbrowski’s work in Canada.
≻ In 1965, Dąbrowski moved his family to Edmonton and took a visiting professorship at the University of Alberta. He also held a similar position at Laval University in Québec.
≻ In the years leading up to his death in 1980, he divided his time between Poland and Canada.
≻ Dąbrowski accomplished this work with the help of a number of dedicated people, including Michael Piechowski, Lynn Kealy, Norbert Duda, Marlene Rankel, Dexter Amend, Lorne Yeudall, Francis Lesniak, Leo Mos, Andrzej (Andrew) Kawczak, Tom Nelson, Joseph R. Royce, Peter Jensen, Paul McGaffey, Earle Bain, P. Joshi, J. Sochanska, and P. J. Reese.
≻ From 1976 to 1980, I had the privilege of being a student of Dąbrowski. He asked me to preserve his theory.
≻ After his passing, I was given the archive of materials he had in Edmonton. I established this website in 1995.

⚁  1.10 My book on TPD.

⚂  Personality development through positive disintegration: The work of Kazimierz Dąbrowski, 2018.

⚀ 2. Archive of the TPD.


A plaque in honor of Professor Kazimierz Dąbrowski
at the church of the Roman Catholic parish
of the Heart of Jesus in Warsaw.

⚀ 4.  Bibliography.

⚀ 5. Biography of Dąbrowski.

⚀ 6. Congresses on the TPD.

⚀ 7. Applications of the TPD.

⚀ 10. Neo-Dąbrowskian Advances.

Kazimierz Dąbrowski Medal

The Kazimierz Dąbrowski Medal.