⚁ 3.6 Tillier’s second presentation of the theory.

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⚁ 3.6 Table of contents.

⚂  3.6.1 Introduction and Context.

⚂  3.6.2 Dąbrowski's Approach to Testing: An Introduction.

⚂  3.6.3 Dąbrowski and Positive Psychology.

⚂  3.6.4 Dąbrowski and Posttraumatic Growth.

⚂  3.6.5 Dąbrowski and Philosophy.

⚃ Dąbrowski and Plato.

⚃ Dąbrowski and Kierkegaard.

⚃ Dąbrowski and Nietzsche.

⚃ Dąbrowski and Unamuno.

⚂  3.6.6 Creativity and the Theory of Positive Disintegration.

⚂  3.6.7 Dąbrowski and Maslow.

⚂  3.6.8 Dąbrowski and John Hughlings Jackson.

⚂  3.6.9 Conclusion.

⚄ Master References: https://www.positivedisintegration.com/masterref.pdf

⚄ Another useful guide for reading Dąbrowski is Tillier (2018).

⚂ 3.6.1 Introduction and Context.

⚃ This second presentation will look at Dąbrowski's Theory as it relates to positive psychology, posttraumatic growth, creativity, and Maslow.

⚃ The philosophical roots of the theory are explored in discussions of Plato, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Unamuno. Multilevelness finds its foundations in Plato. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche echo Dąbrowski's approach to the self and the development of an individual. Unamuno helps us put suffering in context.

⚂  3.6.2. Dąbrowski's Approach to Testing: An Introduction (pdf).

⚂ 3.6.3. Dąbrowski and Positive Psychology.

⚃ Jahoda’s positive mental health approach was a major influence in Dąbrowski’s thinking.

⚃ Jahoda’s (1958) positively based approach generally had minimal impact on psychology at the time.

⚃ Maslow (1954) was the first to coin the term “positive psychology” (353-363) and in the appendix (364-378).

⚃ Positive psychology provides a general framework that readily accommodates Dąbrowski’s theory.

⚃ Reciprocally, Dąbrowski’s theory makes strong contributions to a positive psychology.

⚃ The resurrection of positive psychology advanced by Seligman and Csíkszentmihályi (2000) noted that many human factors protect against illness and they called for a new science of human strength — a psychology that can understand and nurture these factors in youth.

⚃ A careful examination of Seligman's works reveals a very disappointing and unilevel approach to psychology.

⚄  This link provides an extensive review.

⚃ What is Positive Psychology?

⚄ “Positive psychology is the study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions”(Gable & Haidt, 2005).

⚄ “[T]he scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life” (Seligman & Csíkszentmihályi, 2000).

⚃ [T]o properly consider optimal human being we must consider all the different levels, or facets, of a person—that is, the biochemical, neuronal, cognitive, personality, social, and cultural factors that each make unique contributions to human behavior” (Sheldon, 2004, p. viii).

⚃ “[O]ptimal personality functioning is not defined in terms of any particular constructs (i.e., via high self-esteem, self-regulation, self-actualization, subjective well-being, ego development, etc.), but rather is understood to be inclusive of a wide variety of such constructs” (Sheldon, 2004, p. 5).

⚃ Runyan supports the importance of psychobiography, a technique used by Dąbrowski and by positive psychologists. “The discussion is intended to raise basic issues encountered in applying personality theories to the life of a single individual, whether a historical figure, a research subject, or a clinical patient” (Runyan, 1981, p. 1070).

⚄ “[T]he problem of developing explanations of events in individual lives deserves our critical attention as it is inevitably encountered in everyday life and is a crucial task within personology, psychobiography, and the clinical professions” (Runyan, 1981, p. 1076).

⚃ A philosophical dichotomy can be seen in approaches to individual development.

⚄ Kendler (1999) differentiates a Newtonian approach to science assuming that valid knowledge of the material world can be known through the methods of natural science (positivism i.e., the degree to which phenomena could be positively or exactly determined) versus a more holistic approach that emphasized subjective experience and suggested the possibility of scientific discovery beyond a materialistic perspective, for example, including value judgments. Goethe and Hegel carried the latter interpretation forward to German intellectuals.

⚄ Kendler (1999) noted that the gestalt psychologists adopted this position and ultimately suggested psychology could use scientific facts to inform moral truth as shown in the works of Wundt and Kurt Goldstein. Goldstein subsequently influenced Maslow and his approach in perceiving the self as a central concept and in viewing the self as having potential for expansion and growth.

⚄ “Kendler (1999) goes on to build the case that the holistic approach in which human values can be informed by science is false. He is critical of the idea “that values inhere in human experience; they have the quality of objective requiredness. By perceiving one's own values as empirical facts, one is afforded a sense and direction in one's life” (Kendler, 1999, p. 830).

⚄ Kendler (1999) rejects the notion that we can move from what is by generating a conceptualization of what ought to be. “The argument that an enchanted view of science can reveal moral principles that are right for humankind fails to offer a coherent prescription as to how this goal is to be attained. The assumption that psychological facts will lead directly to moral truths is contradicted by the failure of is to logically generate ought. In addition, the premise that a monistic moral code exists that is 'right for humankind' is on equally shaky ground” (Kendler, 1999, p. 832).

⚄ Kendler (1999) notes that it is easy to conflate facts with values but difficult to keep them separate. “[M]oral guidelines are needed in an ethically pluralistic society, but they cannot be set in stone. They require constant evaluation to determine their consequences so that the functional value of moral pluralism will not be endangered either by disruptive moral conflicts or by intolerant restrictions. One must realize that the delineation of moral boundaries in a pluralist society can be approached but never finalized. It must remain a work in progress! A continuous surveillance of the consequences of the guiding moral principles will be needed to elevate the acceptability and effectiveness of social policies” (Kendler, 1999, p. 832).

⚄ “The enchanted view of science, which assumes that values are embedded in facts, fails to meet standards of natural-science methodology. This limitation does not faze those psychologists who believe that their primary mission is to create a just society inhabited by fulfilled individuals” (Kendler, 1999, p. 831).

⚄ The issue of how we define mental health is part of Kendler's (1999) formulation. Should we define mental health positively or negatively? “Two obstacles prevent psychology from defining the good life. The first obstacle is the inability of facts to justify values logically, and the second is moral pluralism. The error made by those who preach a positive conception of mental health is that they believe a positive conception is symmetrical with a negative one. Their argument is that value judgments are made on each side. Although correct, the kind of value judgment made in each situation is strikingly different” (Kendler, 1999, p. 834). Kendler goes on to conclude that a negative conceptualization of mental health is necessary to serve the needs of society and meet the demands of science.

⚃ Maslow suggested that you could identify exemplars of development and study them scientifically to reveal their characteristics. Kendler (1999, p. 830) was sharply critical of this idea, saying, “Maslow shaped his evidence to create a tautological relationship between facts and values to give the impression that his values were justified by empirical data. He simply selected people who shared his moral code and his conception of fulfillment and thus assigned them the honorific status of being self-actualized.”

⚃ Levels

⚄ “[I]t seems that the field of positive psychology (and perhaps psychology more generally) is in need of an integrative conceptual and empirical framework in which to a) conceptually unify diverse topics within positive psychology, and b) determine which positive psychology constructs are most essential for bringing about the various positive outcomes of interest. I will briefly describe the candidate model and approach offered in Optimal Human Being: An Integrated Multi-level Perspective (Sheldon, 2004). The model attempts to provide a framework for achieving consilience (Wilson, 1998) between the different levels of science; this must in principle be possible, because they are all operating within a singular, self-consistent reality” (Sheldon, 2011, p. 422).

⚅ This approach is very reminiscent of Miller (1978) and his living systems theory. Miller's monumental 1978 book of over 1100 pages detailed the various levels and interactions of general systems theory applied to life. This approach might be contrasted with more specific descriptions of levels or developmental levels, either in psychology in general, or subsets thereof. For example, Jane Loevinger's stages of ego development, Jean Piaget's stages of cognitive development, Erik Erikson's developmental stages, or Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development. Dąbrowski's levels fall in the latter category.

⚄ Sheldon uses his Multilevel Personality in Context (MPIC) model to examine subjective well-being (SWB) (Sheldon, Cheng, & Hilpert, 2011).


⚄ “We hope we have successfully reemphasized the point that multiple levels of analysis need to be simultaneously considered for a complete explanation of almost any human phenomenon, including the phenomenon of SWB. The MPIC model, representing the upper part of a more general causal hierarchy, was described. In the second part of the article we tried to show that much of what is already known about SWB can be contextualized within the MPIC model, as either level main effects or cross-level interactions” (Sheldon, Cheng, & Hilpert, 2011, p. 14).

⚄ “The MPIC model is not conceived of as a theory to be tested, but rather as a heuristic framework in which to consider 'the biggest picture'” (Sheldon, 2011, p. 52).

⚅ “Each level is thought to build on the provisions of all of the levels below, adding a new layer of organization on top. Cognitive processes could not exist without neural machinery, but once such machinery is present and functioning, cognitive processes emerge that make use of that machinery to derive pragmatic solutions to adaptive problems. Personality processes require cognitive processes, but once such exist, personality processes emerge to make use of cognitive processes to pursue the person's goals and needs” (Sheldon, 2011, p. 53).

⚅ “McAdams notes that he has used the term 'level' in many different and inconsistent ways and offers several important insights into the use of levels” (McAdams & Manczak, 2011).

⚄ “One of the features of hierarchical models that we find especially compelling is the way in which principles at lower levels constrain the operations of higher levels while higher levels reach back down to reorganize lower levels. Sheldon et al. (this issue) show a keen understanding of the interplay between reductionism and higher order emergence across levels” (McAdams & Manczak, 2011, p. 40).

⚄ “By the early 1990s, the once reviled concept of the dispositional trait had made an extraordinary comeback in personality psychology … [due to] mounting empirical evidence for longitudinal (interindividual) stability in trait scores … [the] evidence for stability was so strong that some psychologists began to wonder if personality itself can change in any meaningful way after, say, age 30” (McAdams & Manczak, 2011, p. 41).

⚄ McAdams' approach shows development over time: (1994) “McAdams argued that other features of what many psychologists consider to be personality — such as motives, coping strategies, values and interests, narrative self-conceptions, and so on — may reveal more change across the human life course. Whereas those relatively stable dispositional traits may reside at the first level of personality, McAdams (1994) claimed, motives and goals (and related personal concerns) seem to compose a second, more changeable level, and people's life stories (internalized and evolving narratives of the self that become increasingly prominent as features of human personality as people move into adulthood; McAdams, 1985) sit at a third” (McAdams & Manczak, 2011, p. 41).

⚄ “[P]ersonality psychologists obtain a first cut of personality from a trait score. As we get to know people better, however, we move beyond traits to deeper levels of personality (e.g., motives, goals, life stories). The essential meaning here is a level of understanding. A deeper level is one where the perceiver knows more. With respect to person perception, then, traits lie on the surface (they are not deep), goals and motives reside further in, and a person's life story is deepest in the sense that it is harder to get at upon a casual meeting, requires more work to perceive in full” (McAdams & Manczak, 2011, p. 41).

⚄ “Because life stories are deeper in, are life stories more 'authentic,' more revealing of the 'true self' than traits? (Answer: Some people think so, but we are not sure. We see the whole idea of 'authenticity' and 'true self' to be social and cultural constructions that have evolved out of an Emersonian streak of American Romanticism” (McAdams & Manczak, 2011, p. 42).

⚄ “In the context of person perception, traits are on the surface, whereas goals and stories lie further in. You have to dig more (deeper, further in) to get at personal goals and life stories. This new way of thinking about levels raises interesting questions, and more confusion. Are dispositional traits more 'conscious' and stories more unconscious (or implicit)? (Answer: No. The issue of consciousness is orthogonal). Because life stories are deeper in, are life stories more 'authentic,' more revealing of the 'true self' than traits? (Answer: Some people think so, but we are not sure. We see the whole idea of 'authenticity' and 'true self' to be social and cultural constructions that have evolved out of an Emersonian streak of American Romanticism; McAdams, 2006). Are life stories more about 'self' and traits and motives more about, well, something else? (Answer: Definitely no. The self encompasses traits, goals, stories, and lots of other stuff, too, as William James, 1892/1963, contended — things like my home, my favorite objects, my pets, and on and on. Therefore, designating a separate level of 'self' in any personality hierarchy makes no sense to us). Compared to traits, are life stories more about identity? (Answer: Yes, but in a particular developmental sense, as we now describe)” (McAdams & Manczak, 2011, p. 42).

⚄ “Personality begins with traits — the developmental foundation. Personal goals (goals that consistently differentiate you from me) emerge later, after the child has (a) developed the realization that people's behavior is largely motivated by internalized goals (theory of mind; Wellman, 1993) and (b) come to understand his or her own daily life in terms of choices made, intentions realized or thwarted, and success and failure in goal pursuit” (McAdams & Manczak, 2011, p. 42).

⚄ “Even as dispositional traits and motivational goals continue to develop and impact daily life, a third layer of personality begins to emerge as young adults seek an identity in the world. As Erikson suggested, identity is an arrangement of the self that manages to provide adult life with some degree of unity and purpose. As a product of the self's desire to make meaning out of the complexities of adult life (especially as played out against the backdrop of a modern society), identity can come to include many different psychological qualities. But central to the identity quest in adulthood is the psychosocial construction of a life story. That story — [is] narrative identity” (McAdams & Manczak, 2011, p. 43).

⚄ “We believe that integration across different features of personality is better conceived in terms of dynamic and fluid models that resist the urge to reduce one level to another. For this reason, we find the metaphor of a developmental layer to be more convincing and generative than hierarchical levels in thinking about the ways in which personality expresses itself across the life course. As we see it, the developing person successively takes on, over the long course of human life, the three basic self challenges of being a social actor, a motivated agent, and an autobiographical author within and across those social groups and contexts wherein his or her actions, goals, and stories all make sense” (McAdams & Manczak, 2011, p. 43).

⚃ Key Resources: Positive Psychology.

⚄ Boniwell, I. (2006). Positive psychology in a nutshell: A balanced introduction to the science of optimal functioning (2nd ed. Rev. ed.). PWBC.

⚄ Cantor, N. (1941). What is a normal mind? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 11(4), 676-683. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-0025.1941.tb05857.x

⚄ Donaldson, S., Dollwet, M. & Rao, M. (2015) Happiness, excellence, and optimal human functioning revisited: Examining the peer-reviewed literature linked to positive psychology, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10:3, 185-195, https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.943801

⚄ Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology [Special issue]? Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 103–110. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089–2680.9.2.103.

⚄ Haidt, J. (2003). Elevation and the positive psychology of morality. In C. L. M. Keyes, & J. Haidt, (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well lived (pp. 275–289). American Psychological Association.

⚄ Haidt, J. (2006). The happiness hypothesis: Finding modern truth and ancient wisdom. Basic.

⚄ Joseph, S., & Linley, P. A. (Eds.). (2008). Trauma, recovery and growth: Positive psychological perspectives on posttraumatic stress. Wiley.

⚄ Kendler, H. H. (1999). The role of value in the world of psychology. American Psychologist, 54(10), 828-835. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.54.10.828

⚄ Linley, A., & Joseph, S. (Eds.). (2004). Positive psychology in practice. Wiley.

⚄ Linley, A., Joseph, S., Harrington, S., Wood, A. M. (2006). Positive psychology: Past, present, and (possible) future. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(1), 3-16. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760500372796

⚄ Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. Harper.

⚄ McAdams, D., & Manczak, E. (2011). What is a "level" of personality? Psychological Inquiry, 22(1), 40-44. https://doi.org/10.1080/1047840X.2011.544026

⚄ Pawelski, J. O. (2016) Defining the ‘positive’ in positive psychology: Part I. A descriptive analysis, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11:4, 339-356, https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2015.1137627

⚄ Pawelski, J. O. (2016) Defining the ‘positive’ in positive psychology: Part II. A normative analysis, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11:4, 357-365, https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2015.1137628

⚄ Peterson, C. (2006). Primer in positive psychology. Oxford.

⚄ Runyan, W. M. K. (1981). Why did Van Gogh cut off his ear? The problem of alternative explanations in psychobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40(6), 1070-1077. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.40.6.1070

⚄ Seligman, M. E. P., & Csíkszentmihályi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5

⚄ Sheldon, K. M. (2004). Optimal human being: An integrated multi-level perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

⚄ Sheldon, K. M. (2011). What's positive about positive psychology? In K. M. Sheldon, T. B. Kashdan, & M. F. Steger, (Eds.), Designing positive psychology: Taking stock and moving forward (pp. 421-429). https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195373585.003.0028

⚄ Sheldon, K. M., Cheng, C., & Hilpert, J. (2011). Understanding well-being and optimal functioning: Applying the Multilevel Personality in Context (MPIC) model. Psychological Inquiry, 22(1), 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1080/1047840X.2011.532477

⚄ Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (Eds.). (2002). Handbook of positive psychology. Oxford University Press.

⚄ Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (2007). Positive psychology: The scientific and practical explorations of human strengths. Sage.

⚄  This link provides extensive resources.

⚂ 3.6.4 Dąbrowski and Posttraumatic Growth.

⚃ Posttraumatic growth: Positive cognitive, emotional, interpersonal and spiritual consequences that one may experience following a traumatic event (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004).

⚃ “[T]he experience of growth or positive change following trauma and adversity is not a qualitatively different experience that is distinctly different from normal human development, but rather is a natural, albeit infrequent, life span developmental event” (Joseph & Linley, 2008, p. 341).

⚃ “The growth literature promises a paradigm shift in our ways of thinking about trauma” (Joseph & Linley, 2008, p. 342).

⚃ “We are interested in both positive and negative sides of human experience, and how they relate to each other” (Joseph & Linley, 2008, p. 342).

⚃ Growth Following Adversity.

⚄ “[G]rowth following adversity is about psychological wellbeing and changes in assumptions about the self and the world” (Joseph & Linley, 2008, p. 350).

⚃ “[W]e cannot fully understand growth without taking into account the distress that precedes it, and we cannot fully understand recovery from posttraumatic stress without taking into account the possibility of growth” (Joseph & Linley, 2008, p. 342).

⚃ Clarification: Resilience is a term that we often see misused. Resilience reflects the ability to experience a crisis and return to one’s former level of function.

⚄ People talk about trying to work on and achieve resilience when actually the ideal goal is to try to achieve a higher level of function than you had before – to achieve growth after trauma.

⚃ Growth can occur in five ways: improvement in interpersonal relations, greater personal strength, positive spiritual change, increased appreciation of life, and discovery of new possibilities (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996).

⚃ Posttraumatic growth occurs in a wide range of people, facing a wide variety of traumatic circumstances (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004).

⚃ The individual has not only survived, but has experienced changes that are viewed as important, and that go beyond what was the previous status quo. (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004).

⚃ Post-traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI). “The development of the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory, an instrument for assessing positive outcomes reported by persons who have experienced traumatic events, is described. This 21-item scale includes factors of New Possibilities, Relating to Others, Personal Strength, Spiritual Change, and Appreciation of Life. Women tend to report more benefits than do men, and persons who have experienced traumatic events report more positive change than do persons who have not experienced extraordinary events.” (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996).

⚃ The Source of Crises.

⚄ Growth following adversity deals primarily with external crises; death of loved ones, natural disasters, accidents, relationship breakups, etc..

⚄ Positive disintegration is primarily focused upon crises that are internally generated, usually when an individual experiences strong internal conflicts over disparities between higher and lower elements in their behavior, feelings and values.

⚃ The parallels between posttraumatic growth and positive disintegration are striking. Do those who experience posttraumatic growth display some of the same underlying factors as described in TPD? For example, developmental potential.

⚃ Suffering: At a Dąbrowski congress, a speaker said: “we really like growth, but do we really need all this suffering?”

⚃ Suffering is integral to what it means to live and develop as a human being; suffering is often “a vital spur to change” and should not be avoided by drugs, delusions, or escapist activities (Davies, 2012).

⚄ “Life, as we find it, is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks. In order to bear it we cannot dispense with palliative measures. We cannot do without auxiliary constructions, as Theodor Fontane tells us. There are perhaps three such measures: powerful deflections, which cause us to make light of our misery; substitutive satisfactions, which diminish it; and intoxicating substances, which make us insensitive to it. Something of the kind is indispensable. Voltaire has deflections in mind when he ends Candide with the advice to cultivate one's garden; and scientific activity is a deflection of this kind, too. The substitutive satisfactions, as offered by art, are illusions in contrast with reality, but they are none the less psychically effective, thanks to the role which phantasy has assumed in mental life. The intoxicating substances influence our body and alter its chemistry. It is no simple matter to see where religion has its place in this series. We must look further afield” (Freud, 1961, p. 22).

⚃ “Suffering provides an opportunity to receive or create something of value” (Gibson, 2015, p. 3).

⚃ “When our external and/or internal worlds impede the realization of our human potentialities … “emotional suffering” will signal that all is not well (Davies, 2012, p. 5).

⚃ “Socialisation can lead us to cultivate habits and live in ways that impede the realisation of our higher potentialities. When our realisation is impeded I argue that our suffering is provoked” (Davies, 2012, p. 7).

⚃ “The ‘necessity’ for suffering, which at first glance may seem paradoxical, is deeply embedded in the human soul, and is more common than it appears to the normal mind” (Dąbrowski, 1937, p. 4).

⚃ “One of the highest ideas of humanity, the purifying value of suffering (provided it is correctly interpreted), is continuously alive, for example, in the deepening of the moral culture of man by suffering, in its influence on philosophical creation and on the origin of the educational and moral system” (Dąbrowski, 1937, p. 100).

⚃ “In relation to suffering one does not adopt an exclusively negative attitude, but begins to accept it as something that has meaning, as essential for cultural development, and as a necessary element of one’s psychic enrichment” (Dąbrowski, 1967, p. 139).

⚃ “[H]uman development has to involve suffering, conflicts, inner struggle. Positive maladjustment, challenge and rebellion are as good a part of any culturally growing society as creativity and respect for the law” (Dąbrowski, 1970, p. 16).

⚃ “Disappointments, suffering, inner conflicts, breakdowns, force one to depart from peaceful adjustment to automatic activities such as daily routine, pursuit of money, pleasures of eating, primitive joys, or superficial, easily resolved conflicts” (Dąbrowski, 1970, p. 37).

⚃ “Mental health, [is] linked with the sensitivity to suffering, to painful experiences of oneself and others” (Dąbrowski, 1973, p. 176).

⚃ “Existentialist philosophy is an expression of the experiences of pain, suffering, depression, elevation, empathy, and above all, disquietude and anxiety. Here man goes beyond the tranquility of thought, of reasoning by means of abstract ideas. He lives and suffers; he feels and experiences pain, disintegration, distraction and inner conflicts” (Dąbrowski, 1967, p. 139).

⚃ “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life” (May, 1992, p. 76).

⚃ Further Possibilities.

⚄ The application of Dąbrowski’s multilevel and multidimensional approach may be particularly powerful in helping understand posttraumatic growth.

⚄ It remains to be seen what overlap may exist in the research insights in the literature on posttraumatic growth and on the theory of positive disintegration.

⚄ It would be interesting to look for correlations between the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory and the OEQII.

⚄ Deeper, more subtle views of trauma and suffering, along with Dąbrowski’s constructs and contemporary posttraumatic growth create opportunities for further theory building and research. Clinical aspects can be combined with philosophical insights (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Unamuno) to yield a powerful analysis.

⚃  Key Resources in PTG:

⚄ Blackie, L. E. R., Jayawickreme, E., Tsukayama, E., Forgeard, M. J. C., Roepke, A. M., & Fleeson, W. (2016). Post-traumatic growth as positive personality change: Developing a measure to assess within-person variability. Journal of Research in Personality. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2016.04.001

⚄ Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience : Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? American Psychologist, 59(1), 20–28. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.59.1.20

⚄ Brooks, M., Lowe, M., Graham-Kevan, N., & Robinson, S. (2016). Posttraumatic growth in students, crime survivors and trauma workers exposed to adversity. Personality and Individual Differences, 98, 199–207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.051

⚄ Carver, C. S. (2010). Resilience and thriving: Issues, models, and linkages. Journal of Social Issues, 54(2), 245–266. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1998.tb01217.x

⚄ Davies, J. (2012). The importance of suffering: The value and meaning of emotional discontent. Routledge.

⚄ Gibson, J. (2015). A Relational Approach to Suffering: A Reappraisal of Suffering in the Helping Relationship. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 0022167815613203–. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022167815613203

⚄ Joseph, S., & Linley, A. (2006). Growth following adversity: Theoretical perspectives and implications for clinical practice. Clinical Psychology Review, 26(8), 1041-1053. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2005.12.006

⚄ Joseph, S., & Linley, A. (Eds.). (2008). Trauma, recovery and growth: Positive psychological perspectives on posttraumatic stress. John Wiley.

⚄ Linley, A., & Joseph, S. (2004). Positive change following trauma and adversity: A review. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 17(1), 11-21. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:JOTS.0000014671.27856.7e

⚄ Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1996). Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 9(3), 455-471. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.2490090305

⚄ Tedeschi, R. G. & Calhoun, L. G. (2004). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence, Psychological Inquiry,15(1),1-18. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327965pli1501_01

⚄ Ulloa, E., Guzman, M. L., Salazar, M., & Cala, C. (2016). Posttraumatic Growth and Sexual Violence: A Literature Review. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 25(3), 286–304. https://doi.org/10.1080/10926771.2015.1079286

⚄  This link provides extensive resources.

⚂ 3.6.5 Dąbrowski and Philosophy.

⚃ Dąbrowski was influenced by two major philosophical traditions: essentialism and existentialism:

⚄ One has certain innate features that are essential (Plato).

⚄ One expresses freedom through the choices that one makes to become an authentic individual (existentialism).

⚃ Dąbrowski (1973) combined both approaches in what he called the “existentio-essentialist compound.”

⚄ Ultimately, he concluded essentialism was more important than existentialism:

⚄ “Essence is more important than existence for the birth of a truly human being.” (Existential thoughts and aphorisms, page 11)

⚄ “There is no true human existence without genuine essence.” (Existential thoughts and aphorisms, page 11).

⚃ Conclusion: Essence is a fundamental foundation of the TPD.

⚃ Dąbrowski rejected Plato’s approach to human essence as it was limited to the development of intellect.

⚃ For Dąbrowski essence sets the parameters of individual growth.

⚃ Existential choice then operates within these limits:

⚄ One must do more than simply allow one’s character (essence) to unfold – one must actively discover it.

⚄ By choosing higher over lower alternatives, one creates an emergent personality. This is the core of human authenticity.

⚃ Dąbrowski described a “phenomenological hermeneutic” approach.

⚄ Phenomenology: each person has a unique perception of, and experience of, life and of the world. We need to become aware of, familiar with, and articulate about, our life experiences.

⚄ Hermeneutics: people must discuss and dialogue with each other (the dialectic of Socrates) to arrive at a shared interpretation of the subject being discussed.

⚄ In phenomenological hermeneutics, we share our individual experiences of life with others via dialogue. Eventually, we achieve an overall, shared consensus and mutual understanding of Reality.  

⚃ The Allegory of Plato’s Cave.

⚄ Presented by Bill Tillier at The Labyrinth: Safe Journey and Homecoming:
The Fourth Biennial Advanced Symposium on Dąbrowski’s Theory.
July 7-9, 2000, Mount Tremblant, Quebec. Revised 2023.

⚄ When I asked Dąbrowski what I should start reading in order to get background on his theory, he told me, “Plato”.

⚄ Plato and Aristotle represent essentialism:

⚅ Emphasizes inherent and unchangeable features.

⚅ There are universal essences, for example, that represent absolute truths, these are true everywhere and at every time.

⚅ There are individual essences “within us” that determine who we will be as individuals.

⚅ Each of us must uncover or discover our essence, representing our individual, unique character.

⚅ These essences are also both our potentials and our limitations.

⚄ Plato: the absolute and eternal FORMS represent essences.

⚄ FORMS are beyond our day-to-day world.

⚄ Things, and people, have essences, for Plato, represented by their metaphysical [not of this world] FORMS.

⚄ In contrast, Aristotle said essence is contained within everyday matter. The essence of a frog resides within a tadpole, and while its FORM may change (tadpole to frog), its “frog essence” remains constant. Things, and people, have enduring essences, “what a thing is,” for Aristotle, contained within their physical matter.

⚄ Dąbrowski: echoes Aristotle, one’s essence is in one’s genetics.

⚄ Essentialism versus existentialism.

⚅ The basic idea: Existentialism emphasizes existence over essence.

⚅ Existence precedes essence.

⚅ Existentialism emerges from: Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre etc.

⚅ There is no timeless or absolute truth or reality and therefore life is largely meaningless. Whatever truth or meaning we experience, we create as we participate in the experience of life.

⚅ We must create our own truths from our experiences. The self is not predetermined, over time, we build our autonomous self from our actions.

⚅ Sartre: We have the responsibility and freedom to choose our actions; to make choices is authenticity.

⚄ Socrates had a great influence on his student, Plato.

⚅ Socrates said that everyone holds moral truth and knowledge within; however, most are unaware of it.

⚅ Reasoning, not perception, will reveal this deep and timeless Knowledge.

⚅ Knowledge is of critical importance as we must KNOW before we can ACT.

⚅ By asking someone questions in a dialogue, the person answering can be drawn toward discovering this truth via independent, reflective, and critical thinking.

⚅ Complacent acceptance of traditional or external views is the status quo but is unsatisfactory.

⚅ We must be conscious of something and be able to explain it for it to have any meaning; “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

⚄ People naturally seek virtue and happiness; people are not inherently evil, only ignorant of the Good.

⚄ What are absolute beauty and justice, apart from beautiful objects and good deeds? What are beauty and justice in all places and at all times?

⚄ Theory is a critical necessity; we must aspire toward ideals of theory.

⚄ Plato.

⚅ Plato was born to an aristocratic family in Athens and lived from 428 - 354BC.

⚅ Always interested in politics, Plato became a student of Socrates.

⚅ Information from this period is often questionable.

⚄ Plato was interested in politics: “Mankind will not get rid of its evils until either the class of those who philosophize in truth and rectitude reach political power or those most powerful in cities, under some divine dispensation, really get to philosophizing” (Letter 7).

⚄ When Socrates was purged, Plato became disillusioned with politics and came to see that “mankind’s fate was hopeless unless there was a deep change in men’s education, and especially in the education of those intending to become statesmen.”

⚄ Plato founded the Academy, a prototype of the Modern University. Based on mathematics and with a wide focus, the Academy lasted 900 years.

⚅ The Academy’s first major student was Aristotle:

⚅⚀ Aristotle later rejected Plato’s basic view of reality.

⚄ Plato was concerned about social and individual justice: to get out of life what is deserved, not less, not more.

⚄ Plato’s Cave: Plato’s cave is described in a dialogue presented in chapter VII of his major work, The Republic.

⚄ The cave is the best known of Plato’s dialogues and is open to many different interpretations.

⚄ Plato’s cave appears after a complex and subtle discussion of “The Divided Line,” a complex mathematical (geometric) description of the levels of reality and their corresponding degrees of knowledge.

⚄ It is an allegory given to simplify Plato’s mathematical explanation of the levels of reality:

⚅ Although an accomplished mathematician, Plato’s geometric description of the divided line does not quite “work” mathematically: it is assumed he intentionally designed it this way – but no one knows why.

⚄ Basic division: visible/invisible, then subdivided into a series of higher and lower levels based on how we see reality, and what these things actually are.

⚄ As an analogy describing the divided line, the cave is blunt; it is not an exact rendering of the levels.

⚄ The cave has a direct and clear political message: our leaders systematically deceive us and are often not fit to govern – they need to either “see the light” or be replaced.

⚄ Basic premise: Because of how we live, “true” Reality is not obvious to most of us. However, we mistake what we see and hear as Reality and Truth.


⚄ Antrum Platonicum, British Museum

⚄ Plato’s cave allegory.


⚄ The major elements of Plato’s cave.

⚅ A large cave with a steep, difficult path to the exit. The cave represents the visual world we live in.

⚅ A group of “prisoners” sit in rows (as in a modern movie theater). Chained to their seats, they cannot turn around to see the whole cave in context.

⚅ Prisoners reflect the condition of the average person:

⚅⚀ [Glaucon] You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

⚅⚀ [Socrates] Like ourselves …

⚅ The prisoners watch life unfold through an orchestrated shadow show projected on the wall in front of them.

⚅ They accept what they see as Truth – as Reality.

⚅ A short wall, often called the roadway, is situated behind the prisoners. Puppets act out a play on the top of the roadway, casting shadows onto to the wall in front of the prisoners.

⚅ At the back of the cave (behind the roadway) is a fire; a source of artificial light.

⚅ The puppets and those pulling their strings are beyond the prisoner’s view.

⚅ There is an pathway leading up and out of the cave. Plato describes it as “a steep and rugged ascent.”

⚅ A ray of natural sunlight seeps down into the cave.

⚅ The exit represents “the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world.”

⚅ At some point, a prisoner is “set free” and is “forced” to see the situation inside the cave, causing him to “suffer sharp pains.”

⚅ “The purpose of education is to drag the prisoner as far out of the cave as possible; not to instill knowledge into his soul, but to turn his whole soul towards the sun, which is the Form of the Good” (Burton, 2010).

⚅ Initially, one does not want to give up the security of familiar reality; the person has to be dragged past the fire (by someone already enlightened) and helped up, out of the cave. The path up to the surface is a difficult and painful struggle, and few have the strength needed to make it out, especially without help.

⚅ When one initially steps into the sunshine, one is blinded, but as one’s eyes slowly accommodate to the light, one’s fundamental view of the world – of reality – is transformed. One comes to see a deeper, genuine, authentic reality: a reality marked by reason.

⚅ Those who escape and see the “beatific vision vision of the Good” want to stay in the sunlight and continue ascending to maximize their individual growth.

⚅ However, the enlightened one must be compelled to return to the cave to try to free other prisoners as it is “improper” for them alone to be happy and leave the rest behind.

⚅ Returning to the cave, one must make a painful readjustment back into the darkness. However, to the other prisoners, the person now seems mad. They stumble around while their eyes adjust to the darkness and describe a strange new Reality. The others reject the enlightened one, often to the point of killing them.

⚅ In spite of the consequences, one must try to enlighten others. We create the ideal state only when everyone is free of their illusions – then, we can all start again to move up another level.

⚄ The cave is an allegory of the human condition:

⚅ Each of us is a prisoner, perceiving the “reality” we are fed, through our own imperfect eyes.

⚅ Most of us accept this distorted illusion of reality without any question or deeper reflection.

⚅ With great effort, some people can break free of ignorance and illusion.

⚅ Because the path leading to the sunlight is very difficult and dangerous, few people are able to become aware of “real” Reality.

⚅ It is difficult to get others to question their secure sense of the world and conformity.

⚄ The cave is also an allegory of the life and death of Socrates.

⚅ Socrates had been a respected soldier and one of Plato’s “prisoners.”

⚅ When he discovered “the truth,” he tried to help others to discover it as well.

⚅ Socrates called himself “a midwife of the truth.”

⚅ In a political “realignment,” Socrates was accused of “provocative and corruptive” teachings, and given the choice of exile or death – he chose death (by suicide).

⚄ Plato’s Theory of FORMS.

⚅ The theory of FORMS is critical to Plato’s philosophy.

⚅ The mathematician, Pythagoras influenced Plato:

⚅⚀ The Pythagorean theorem does not describe one triangle or another, it describes all possible right-angle triangles that could hypothetically be drawn.

⚅⚀ Plato: the theorem describes an absolute truth, a knowledge, about an unseen, ideal triangle of no particular size, that exists “out there.”

⚅⚀ Triangles that people draw are mere images, impressions, opinions, representations, etc. They are relative to each person: each rendering only approximates the ideal FORM.

⚅ To discover the ideal FORM (and to find Truth and Justice), we must approach/judge these objects with the mind – with reason, this is where real knowledge is found; it is not found through the senses or through the emotions.

⚅ In the Natural world, there are hierarchies of FORMS.

⚅⚀ Each FORM fits within a hierarchy of other FORMS and we need to appreciate each in its larger context.

⚅⚀ Understanding one FORM makes it easier to grasp others: eventually, the whole hierarchy is perceived.

⚅ Example hierarchy of ideal FORMS:

⚅⚀ The Cosmos as a whole (highest)

⚅⚀ Cities and societies

⚅⚀ Individuals

⚅⚀ Objects (lowest)

⚅ FORMS are invisible to the normal senses/perception.

⚅ FORMS represent a deep, absolute beauty and truth that we are normally not aware of, or in touch with.

⚅ If a soul is “awake” it sees both “ordinary reality” (the shadows in the cave) and the “real” FORMS behind it.

⚅ The closer we can come to FORMS, the closer we come to the overall, natural FORM (order and harmony) of the Cosmos.

⚅ Philosophy is about the study of FORMS.

⚅ Leaders must be highly reasoned: able to see FORMS.

⚅ Plato’s ideal governor is a philosopher king.

⚅ The enlightened have a responsibility to return to the cave to guide and govern those still unenlightened.

⚅ The highest FORM is The Good.

⚅ Plato believed that Good has power (energy) just as the sun has the power to warm our skin.

⚅ The Good is the source of beauty, right, reason and truth.

⚅ The Good is the parent of light.

⚅ Good sheds “light” on the other, lessor FORMS we “see” and allows us to make sense of them.

⚅ Ideals are arrived at through ideas: The Good guides us in this quest.

⚅ The Good is the author of being and essence; the Good is beyond being, and the cause of all existence (Burton, 2010).

⚅ Through dialogue, we ought to help each other to discover and sort out (“to order”) the FORMS and ideals (and the moral truth) of the Cosmos.

⚅ Dialogue points people in the right direction; the rest is up to the person. It takes strong character to break free and not everyone can: not everyone is strong enough.

⚅ In some special cases, a person can use Eros (love) to break free.

⚅ “[Plato] is giving us the truth as he sees it; but it is a truth that each of us must rediscover for ourselves before we can properly be said to possess it” (Annas, 1981, p. 3).

⚅ Theory of Forms. An example – Michelangelo’s sculpture of David:

⚅⚀ A FORM exists for the ideal physique of MAN.

⚅⚀ The FORM exists somewhere “out there.”

⚅⚀ FORMS are available to anyone with a sufficiently developed degree of reasoning. Michelangelo discovered the FORM through a process of deep reasoning, not through his senses and perceptions.

⚅⚀ He relied on his mental image (“mind’s eye”) of the FORM – he did not use a human model to pose.

⚅⚀  Reason grasps FORMS as the eyes see objects.

⚅⚀ Michelangelo tries to represent, to reflect, this ideal FORM through his sculpture of David.

⚅⚀ David succeeds as a great work of art to the extent that Michelangelo is in touch with this ideal FORM (perfection) and can represent this in the stone.

⚅⚀ David is a closer likeness to the ideal FORM than we are familiar with seeing in our day-to-day lives; thus it has great impact on us when we see it.

⚅⚀ If Michelangelo had used a human model (even a “perfect” one) and relied on his perceptions, he would have been misled, creating an imperfect work.

⚅⚀ Summary: because David resonates so with viewers, Michelangelo has succeeded in closely capturing and representing the ideal FORM of MAN using just his mind’s eye and his reason (intelligence).





Last graphic from https://outre-monde.com/2010/09/25/platonic-myths-the-sun-line-and-cave/

⚄ Three Souls, Three Levels.

⚅ Level 1). Rational soul (Reason):

⚅⚀ Perfection. This soul is located in the head.

⚅⚀ The only immortal soul: this soul (and its associated knowledge) is reincarnated.

⚅⚀ Characteristic of the elite guardians, the governing class.

⚅⚀ This soul arises from the discovery of the FORMS.

⚅ Level 2). Spirited Soul (Courage):

⚅⚀ Located in the chest, individuals are driven by glory and fame, but can also feel shame and guilt.

⚅⚀ Example: Soldiers.

⚅ Level 3). Desiring Soul (Appetites):

⚅⚀ Located in the stomach and below.

⚅⚀ “Irrational” desires for food, sex (as in animals), power, money, fame, etc.

⚅⚀ Human appetites are dominated by ego and self-interest.

⚅⚀ Prominent in the productive masses (therefore, they are unfit to govern).

⚄ The Analogy of the Chariot.

⚅ Plato describes a winged chariot pulled by two horses.

⚅⚀ One horse is white: the spirited soul. It is upright and easily follows orders as it knows of virtue and honor. Pulls up toward world of FORMS and ideals.

⚅⚀ The other, the dark horse, is desires. It is lumbering and hard to control, even with a whip; at any moment, it may rear up and disobey. Pulls down toward the primal – physical world

⚅⚀ The charioteer represents the rational soul. Their task is to control and direct the horses.

⚅⚀ This also reflects the traditional image in psychology of a homunculus: in this context, a “little rational man” inside our heads controls and directs our behavior.


⚅⚀ Human souls have a natural tendency (represented by wings on the chariot) to try to move up to the realm of FORMS, but are dragged down by their desires.

⚅⚀ A few people can control their unruly horse enough that their chariot can ascend high enough for them to lift their heads above the rim of heaven and catch a brief glimpse of the universals.

⚅⚀ However, most are not strong enough to ascend so high, and are left to feed their minds on mere opinion.

⚅⚀ In time, all imperfect souls must fall back to earth, and only those that have glimpsed the universals can take on a human form; human beings are able to recall universals, so must once have seen them.

⚅⚀ Imperfect souls who have gazed longest upon the universals are incarnated as philosophers, artists, and true lovers. As they are still able to remember the universals, they are completely absorbed in ideas about them and forget all about earthly interests.

⚅⚀ Those unable to ascend (common people) think the ascenders are mad: the truth is they are divinely inspired and in love with goodness and beauty (Burton, 2010).

⚄ Summary of Levels of Function.

⚅ Two types of people with different cognitive realities:

⚅⚀ Conforming, everyday people (“prisoners”) are essentially fooled by their perceptions of reality. The soul is asleep.

⚅⚀ Ascenders to the intelligible level now see a different, higher reality (the enlightened philosopher). The soul is awake.

⚅ Those in the cave face practical, moral questions: Steal the bread or not? Ascenders face higher, theoretical, and contemplative concerns: What does life mean?

⚅ Plato: Not all have the potential to ascend and lead; those without potential must have reason imposed.

⚅ Ascenders (rulers and philosophers) are given high status but also various responsibilities.

⚄ What Makes Us Human?

⚅ Plato: Identification with reason makes us human:

⚅⚀ If reason is able to succeed, then rationality, justice, order, and harmony will prevail. The success of reason makes people human and allows them to be happy.

⚅⚀ Reason may succeed by our discovery of FORMS (higher reality), or it may be imposed on us by others; either route is valid as long as reason ultimately prevails.

⚅⚀ If reason and rationality fail, the lower animal in us will rise to rule; this must be avoided at any cost.

⚅⚀ Plato: slavery is justifiable if needed to impose reason to control lower desires in those with little potential to be enlightened and who can’t control themselves.

⚅ Justice results if one identifies with the rational soul.

⚅ Reason and rationality (however achieved) lead to justice.

⚅ The benefits of achieving justice ought to be obvious to the individual; people go wrong primarily out of ignorance: people are asleep. Or, they know better, but their appetites (desiring soul) are too strong for them to control.

⚅ While a lack of self-knowledge is part of the problem, insight alone does not wake up a “prisoner.” One needs to discover the “external” FORMS, an impersonal “outer” knowledge.

⚅ For Plato the intellectual study of abstract ideas (mathematics) is the only real method of discovery – it is not a process of self-growth. The motto of Plato's University was “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter.”

⚅ Individual autonomy is severely limited or irrelevant. The ideal person is guided by reason and fuelled by spirit: their social quest is to enlighten others.

⚅ The struggles and conflicts linked to ascendance center around our difficulty in letting go of conformity and security, our reliance on our perception, and in the challenge of understanding and attaining truth; not on inner psychic issues or internal conflicts per se .

⚅ There is no intrinsic, personal sense of reward or fulfillment in ascendance: it is “reality-actualization” not self-actualization.

⚄ Summary.

⚅ The “normal” reality we commonly experience and perceive though our senses is an illusion – merely a poor copy of Reality.

⚅ Our “usual” perceptions create distortions and thus they cannot be trusted.

⚅ “Reality” can only be appreciated through reasoning.

⚅ Through reason, some people are able to “wake up” to Reality and to “see” what is real and important in life.

⚅ Not everyone has the “character” to be able to “wake up.”

⚅ Objective moral truths are a part of Reality that people must discover.

⚅ People who ascend have a responsibility to share their “new” insight – this is part of the social ideal:

⚅⚀ Through a careful dialectic conversational process, we must try to lead others to discover and appreciate life more accurately for themselves.

⚅⚀ Society ought to be governed by people who “get it:”

⚅⚀ But, by saying it is alright for enlightened governors to impose reason on the people, ironically Plato ended up advocating a very totalitarian state.

⚅ Wrongdoers are not evil, rather simply ignorant; or they are overcome by strong desires.

⚅ Reality, the natural order of the Cosmos, is fundamentally good.

⚄ Discussion points.

⚅ FORM of the individual: similar to personality ideal?

⚅ Parallels between Plato’s ascender and Dąbrowski’s Level V?

⚅ Plato typifies the traditional approaches that Dąbrowski objects to: they are lopsided toward cognition and ignore or disdain emotion.

⚅ Plato disdains imagination as a meaningless copy – a distorted illusion of objects; therefore a “low” feature.

⚅ Dąbrowski: the imagination of higher possibilities is a key element in higher development.

⚅ Plato and Dąbrowski differ on the role of intrapsychic conflicts, but both see development as more than simply the actualization of the self.

⚃ Dąbrowski and Kierkegaard.

⚄ Presented by Bill Tillier at
Positive Disintegration: The Theory of the future.
100th Dąbrowski anniversary program on the man, the theory, the application and the future.
The Fifth International Conference on the Theory of Positive Disintegration, November 7-10, 2002, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
(revised 2023).

⚄ Existentialism.

⚅ Synopsis: One must realize the necessity of choice in actively making one’s life: this creates anxiety and conflict, features inherent in human experience that cannot be eliminated.

⚅ Existentialism emphasizes existence over essence:

⚅⚀ Sartre: “What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterward, defines himself” (2007, p. 22).

⚅ Existentialism is presented by many authors and in approaches (red are major Dąbrowskian influences):

⚅⚀  Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Husserl, Unamuno, Kafka, Jaspers, Heidegger, Sartre and Camus.

⚅ There is a major division in existentialism between theists and atheists:

⚅⚀ Man is alone on earth, but with God in Heaven to act as our ultimate judge: (Kierkegaard, Jaspers, and Dąbrowski).

⚅⚀ Man is alone on earth – there is no God, and we alone must judge ourselves: (Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre and Camus).

⚅⚀ Both approaches emphasize individual choice.

⚅ There is no timeless or absolute truth or reality, and therefore life is largely meaningless. We create what truth or meaning (values) we have, as we participate in the experience of life: “Life is what you make it.”

⚅ Seeking refuge in social norms or religion is generally seen to stymie self-development and autonomy.

⚅ We each have the responsibility and freedom to choose our actions; our actions define who we are.

⚅ Each choice is eternal: a mistake lasts forever in regret, but everyday we have new choices to make and therefore, new chances to redeem ourselves.

⚅ Our choices are individual; however, because we are all human, our choices reflect on all mankind.

⚅ Personality is important to many existential authors.

⚄ The Self is Not Predetermined.

⚅ The choices we make (or don’t make) determine and define us and our lives:

⚅ An autonomous self is created by one’s self chosen actions.

⚅ Sartre: “Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself” (2007, p. 22).

⚅ Sartre: Our power to choose creates a sense of freedom.

⚄ All Choices Contain Negative Aspects:

⚅ Life is often mysterious and often seems meaningless and absurd.

⚅ Many things in life defy rational explanation.

⚅ Realizing our freedom and these negative aspects creates strong anxiety and sometimes hopelessness.

⚄ All Choices Contain Positive Aspects:

⚅ The freedom to choose is a tremendous gift (if used well).

⚅ One’s personal beliefs (and/or) faith are important positive aspects in decision-making.

⚅ Authenticity is making decisions and accepting responsibility for their consequences (Sartre).

⚄ Dąbrowski and Kierkegaard.

⚅ Dąbrowski was heavily influenced by the works of Kierkegaard.

⚅ The remainder of this presentation will therefore focus on Kierkegaard’s life and works.

⚄ Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855).

⚅⚀ Born, Copenhagen, Denmark.

⚅⚀ Only lived 42 years but wrote 25 books.

⚅⚀ Studied philosophy and theology at Copenhagen University.

⚅⚀ Latin and German were the languages of the day, Søren defended his thesis in Latin on the Concept of Irony.

⚅⚀ Wrote important critiques of Hegel and of the German romantics. An early figure in the development of modernism. Considered a Christian writer for his works on the modern relevance of biblical figures. Saw himself as a romantic poet. His works became obscure soon after his death.

⚅⚀ Kierkegaard was resurrected by M. Heidegger and K. Jaspers.

⚅⚀ Called the “father of existentialism,” his ideas came to have a major impact on many writers.

⚅⚀ Kierkegaard’s writings center around relations to his mother, his father, and his fiancée, Regina Olsen.

⚅⚀ Basic themes: criticized the dogma of Christianity, advanced a new view of the self, and focused on the importance of making individual decisions.

⚅ Kierkegaard was deeply affected by his family background:

⚅⚀ Søren’s father, Michael, rose from poverty to become a prominent citizen but felt lifelong guilt because, as a youth, he had cursed God.

⚅⚀ Michael was married, but his wife became ill and died. During this illness, the family had a nurse with whom Michael had an affair.

⚅⚀ They later married, having seven children. Søren was the youngest. Michael felt his children were all cursed to die before 34 (the age of Christ at the crucifixion). This was prophetic as only Søren and another brother lived past 34.

⚅⚀ Michael saw Søren’s potential so his upbringing of Søren was very harsh, especially in terms of religion. Søren said “Humanly speaking, it was a crazy upbringing.” These words are very similar to what Maslow said of his childhood.

⚅⚀ Søren felt that his chances of having a normal life had been sacrificed by his father’s religious preoccupations.

⚅⚀ After his father died, Søren was at loose ends. He was 21 when he met 14 year old Regina Olsen. He turned their story into his famous book, Diary of a Seducer.

⚅ Søren befriended Regina’s family and alienated her from her boyfriend. When she turned 17, he proposed.

⚅⚀ Without warning, he broke off the engagement, later saying that “God had vetoed the marriage.”

⚅⚀ Søren fled to Berlin to study Hegel. Frederic Engels was a classmate.

⚅⚀ Søren was obsessed with the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Wrote Fear and Trembling in response.

⚅⚀ Said that he had acted badly with Regina so that she would blame him and not God for their breakup. Said that if he “had faith” he would have married her. He was love-sick the rest of his life.

⚅ Søren befriended a newspaper publisher. Later, they had a falling out and the publisher used the paper to make a laughing stock of Søren.

⚅⚀ He felt that the Church had become complacent and began to harshly criticize it. Towards the end of his life, he often printed heretical pamphlets and handed them out on the street.

⚅⚀ Søren died, alienated and without friends, in 1855.

⚄ Kierkegaard’s Central Preoccupations:

⚅ How to become a good Christian (as he saw this).

⚅ How to become an individual – he requested his tombstone simply read “That Individual.”

⚅ At the time in Denmark, these tasks were “more difficult for the well-educated, since prevailing educational and cultural institutions tended to produce stereotyped members of ‘the crowd’ rather than to allow individuals to discover their own unique identities.”

⚅⚀ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kierkegaard/

⚅ Kierkegaard felt that society and the church played a strong role in leading people away from individual awareness and existence (he called this “leveling”).

⚅ Social processes suppress individuality: the uniqueness of a person is made non-existent by assigning equal value to all aspects of human life. All of the nuances and subtle complexity of human identity are lost, and nothing meaningful in one’s existence can be affirmed.

⚅ Kierkegaard rejected scientific logic and knowledge as the means of human redemption (Hegel’s position).

⚅ He emphasized the gap between the individual and God to show us that human beings are totally dependent on God’s grace for their salvation.

⚄ The Crowd.

⚅ The crowd robs the person of individual responsibility. As Kierkegaard (1962) explained:

⚅ A crowd—not this crowd or that, the crowd now living or the crowd long deceased, a crowd of humble people or of superior people, of rich or of poor, etc.—a crowd in its very concept is the untruth, by reason of the fact that it renders the individual completely impenitent and irresponsible, or at least weakens his sense of responsibility by reducing it to a fraction. (p. 112)

⚄ Socratic Irony.

⚅ Kierkegaard used Socratic irony, complicated parables and paradoxes to tell stories designed to help the individual uncover their own answers:

⚅ His dissertation, On the Concept of Irony with constant reference to Socrates, showed how Socrates used irony to facilitate the development of subjectivity in his students.

⚅ Following Socrates, he said people think they know too much, and this is an obstacle to their redemption. He said tear apart this “phony” knowledge and show people they actually know little. (Socrates: “I am wiser, as although I know nothing, I know that I do not know.”)

⚅ When one realizes that one does not know, this creates freedom; however, with this freedom comes the responsibility (and anxiety) of decision making.

⚄ Individual Answers.

⚅ Kierkegaard rejected the knowledge and answers provided by external “authorities” (like Society or the Church): The individual must seek their own answers.

⚅ Placed the responsibility for discovery on the reader (Kierkegaard did not see himself as an authority). Calling his approach “indirect discourse” his writing forced the reader to answer core existential, ethical and religious questions.

⚅ Kierkegaard’s writing has a circular quality to it: he talks a lot about constructs but ultimately, he rejects constructs and brings us back to Human experience:

⚄ Despair.

⚅ Kierkegaard described two modalities that could lead to the feeling of despair. The first modality is relinquishing one’s true self through identification with socialization. …

⚅ Kierkegaard saw the person who feels “the despair of not willing to be oneself,” who is spiritless—who is merely “a talking-machine:”

⚅⚀ [S]piritlessness describes a special relationship that an individual has with the world and with the self. In this understanding of the world, the individual experiences the world as already constituted. This also means the individual associates with immediate possibilities and remains unaware of the potential and the possibilities embedded in existence. The individual identifies with existing standards to obtain self-knowledge and primarily evaluates theirself through achievement and functionality. Thus, the object of self-knowledge is how the individual lives up to the functional standards offered by various institutions, such as the state, the nation, the workplace, and so on” (Nielsen, 2017, pp. 7-8).

⚅ As mentioned above, Kierkegaard said society blocks the development of individuality; society provides objects the individual can identify with (e.g. a job) that create security and distraction, thereby protecting the individual from having to face their real self, and thus avoiding the experience of true personal despair.

⚅ One despairs because self-discovery is difficult – there is no pre-existing deeper self to discover or bring forth.

⚅ Our choices create a self: “A man possesses his own self as determined by himself, as someone selected by himself” (Kierkegaard cited in Dąbrowski, 1967, p. 36).

⚅ Kierkegaard said the only true freedom is the heavy responsibility of being able to, and having to, choose oneself – to construct oneself, one’s beliefs and one’s values through the successive decisions that one makes in day-to-day life.

⚅ The day-to-day process of “acting and making decisions” is “guided by [the] individual’s moods, sudden impulses, and loose thoughts” (Nielsen, 2017, p. 10).

⚅ Stokes (2015, p. 15) provided a synopsis: “the Kierkegaardian self is always a created self, a self that finds God as the ultimate ‘criterion’ for its own self-actualization and Christ as its prototype for emulation.”

⚄ Second Modality.

⚅ In Kierkegaard’s second modality, one feels despair that arises from being willing to try to be oneself.

⚅⚀ Example: the title The Concept of Dread.

⚅⚀ Paradoxically refers to dread as a theoretical construct; yet, it is perhaps the ultimate experience.

⚅ Humans define themselves and try to understand the world by converting their experiences into constructs; however, ultimately, constructs are useless and we must return to our own human experience to understand life.

⚄ Existence is Absurd.

⚅ Kierkegaard thought about existence and what it means.

⚅ Kierkegaard generally endorsed Plato’s logic and FORMS, but, he said existence is always concrete, never abstract thus Existence cannot be seen as a Platonic FORM:

⚅⚀ Existence cannot be conceptualized and analyzed like a mathematical construct.

⚅ Existence is a leftover “residue” that is simply “there:”

⚅⚀ Existence is a “surd” (A voiceless consonant: speechless; words can not explain it; it is lacking in sense; irrational).

⚅⚀ Life is absurd: idea promoted by Kafka, Camus and Sartre.

⚅⚀ (“Ab-surd” comes from the Latin surdis [surd] and contains a dual meaning: it means irrational, insensible (still in use in mathematics; a ‘surd’ is an irrational number). The other meaning, used in phonetics means “deaf, silent, uttered with the breath and not the voice, a surd consonant”).

⚅ Basic Paradox: Existence is at our very core, but it is just a meaningless and absurd “leftover” in life — life has no meaning outside of one' lived existence.

⚅ Existence cannot be thought about or studied as a construct or as an abstraction.

⚅ Existence fundamentally does not make logical sense:

⚅⚀ Plato’s ultra-logical approach won’t work here.

⚅ Existence must be known by being experienced.

⚅ Doing and thinking strike a paradoxical balance in each person’s existence:

⚅⚀ Existing is primarily a form of doing (living), not a form of thinking.

⚅⚀ However, thinking also plays a crucial role in one’s decision-making and in living.

⚅ There is a basic paradox between acting and thinking:

⚅⚀ We can not know life by merely thinking, but we cannot live (or act) without thinking:

⚅ Our choice of action is based on the initial and ongoing choices we make reflecting our basic subjective beliefs.

⚅ We think, believe, choose, and act. Our actions then influence our future beliefs, choices, and acts.

⚅ In choosing, one constructs oneself and one’s future world, but there is great uncertainty associated with these choices:

⚅⚀ “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards” (Diaries, IV, A 164).

⚄ “Sensitive Souls.”

⚅ Sensitive souls will never be sure that their chosen values are the right ones; therefore, they will always be full of “anguish and dread” over the many choices they have had to make in life.

⚅ Choosing is a two-edged sword: on one side is the dread and anxiety associated with choosing; on the other side is the exhilaration of the freedom in being able to “choose oneself.”

⚅ Objective truth rests on abstractions and external criteria: can be thought about, tested, and analyzed (Plato’s FORMS, science, mathematics, etc.).

⚅ Focus: what is the (common) truth (e.g., speed of light). Objective truths are often known with certainty but often don’t mean much to one’s existence.

⚅ Subjective truth concerns individual values and existence. Not abstract, not focused on what is true; focus on how we come to know the truth and how we act on it. These are individual truths — my existence: my truth is mine alone; each person has their own truth.

⚅ Ultimately, all truth (and all existence) is subjective.

⚅ Subjective truth cannot be communicated to other people directly; it is made up of deep private individual insights and choices about one’s life.

⚅ Subjective truth is the most important type because if one changes one’s beliefs, one becomes a different person who will make different choices and do different things. The individual is their subjective truth, their values.

⚅ We are finite beings and our critical truths are subjective; however, as God is infinite, we can never really know God using subjective approaches.

⚄ Death Awakens Life.

⚅ When one realizes the real nature of existence, one comes to see life in relation to one’s mortality.

⚅ The recognition of our eventual death helps us to order our priorities and to discover life. It is a tragedy to discover death too late: the man who woke up one day and discovered he was dead. One must discover death in time to allow one to fully live life.

⚅ We find death via subjective truth: this activates life.

⚅ As subjective thought raises the idea of nothingness (the absurdity of existence), it is negative thought.

⚅⚀ Doubts, insecurities, anxieties, and depression heighten this negativity.

⚄ Consciousness.

⚅ Consciousness is the negative element of subjectivity.

⚅ Consciousness “confronts the actual with what could be,” and thus, it raises uncertainty and contains or creates a sense of terror. Once we become conscious of a door, we begin to think about what could be behind it; this creates anxieties, doubts, and fears.

⚅ Consciousness raises doubt, a type of madness saved only by belief (I believe it is safe behind the door).

⚅ Belief and active choosing are positive aspects, reflecting one’s subjective insights and truths that act to cancel out the negative aspects of thought.

⚅ These realizations yield insights about belief:

⚅⚀ Belief is the interface between consciousness and the world.

⚅⚀ Belief is salvation from the meaninglessness of existence.

⚅⚀ However, if overextended, belief can also become a type of madness.

⚅ Initially, belief is naïve: A child believes in Santa Claus.

⚅ Eventually, naïve belief is challenged – we must choose:

⚅⚀ 1). To flee into self-deception and continue in naiveté.

⚅⚀ 2). To realize that the normal states of consciousness are complex and miraculous and similar to religious states. These normal, everyday states are made up of both beliefs and doubts, but not certainties: the certainty and security of Santa Claus (the “group world view”) evaporates.

⚅ Accepting Responsibility: To recognize everyday states with their doubts, and to choose to confront these insecurities with our internal beliefs and faith, is to make the authentic choice.

⚅ These authentic choices solidify our beliefs and, for Kierkegaard, eventually, lead to the discovery of God.

⚅ Ultimately, a person demonstrates belief by repeatedly renewing the “passionate subjective relationship to an object which can never be known but only believed in. This belief is offensive to reason since it only exists in the face of the absurd.” https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kierkegaard/

⚅ Being able to choose creates individual freedom, but it also creates dread (the fear of this freedom).

⚄ Kierkegaard: Anxiety

⚅ “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”

⚅ Standing on the edge of the cliff, we fear falling over, but we also dread the realization that we could decide to jump over. We dread what we may do. We dread the only thing holding us back is our own volition: when the option to jump comes into consciousness, the onus is on us to decide not to jump.

⚅ “Anxiety is a desire for what one fears, … but what [one] fears [one] desires.” (Marino, 1998, 321).

⚅ Dread arises when one becomes conscious of the future: one realizes that one has to choose and that one’s life is determined by the choices one makes.

⚅ Sartre: “I await myself in the future … Anguish is the fear of not finding myself … there.” (1956/1992, 36).

⚅ The realization that one may choose creates a tremendous sense of responsibility, and to accept this responsibility is to be authentic.

⚅ Kierkegaard: to not make a choice is to be inauthentic.

⚅ We are left alone and without excuse. That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free: condemned, because he did not create himself, yet nonetheless free, because once cast into the world, he is responsible for everything he does” (Sartre, 2007, 29).

⚄ Despair in the Context of Choice and Faith:

⚅ “The individual is subject to an enormous burden of responsibility, for upon their existential choices hangs their eternal salvation or damnation. Anxiety or dread (angst) is the presentiment of this terrible responsibility when the individual stands at the threshold of momentous existential choice….

⚅ It is essential that faith be constantly renewed by means of repeated avowals of faith….

⚅ This repetition of faith is the way the self relates itself to itself and to the power which constitutes it, that is, the repetition of faith is the self.”

⚄ True Selfhood.

⚅ True selfhood is choosing (willing) the self that one truly is. Not being able to achieve this is despair:

⚅ Kierkegaard called it “The Sickness unto Death.”

⚅ “The self is a series of possibilities; every decision made redefines the individual…. The knowledge that ‘I’ define the ‘self’ results in ‘the dizziness of freedom’ and ‘fear and trembling.’ It is a great responsibility to create a person, yet that is exactly what each human does – creates a self. This self is independent from all other knowledge and ‘truths’ defined by other individuals.” https://www.tameri.com/csw/exist/kierk.html/

⚄ Two Important Relationships:

⚅ Between one’s physical self (body) and one’s soul.

⚅ Between self and others: ultimately between self and God.

⚄ Two Types of Selfhood:

⚅ 1). An initial self defined by a relationship to finite reality, to humanity, or to other specific persons.

⚅ 2). A self defined by a relationship to God.

⚄ Subject-Object.

⚅ Most people are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, sometimes horribly objective—ah, the task is precisely to be objective in relation to oneself and subjective in relation to all others” (Kierkegaard, 2014, p. 28).

⚅ Normality hides the true realization of being – after being pushed to the edge of a cliff, one comes to see “ordinary life” from a new and more clear perspective.

⚄ Three Spheres of Existence.

⚅ Kierkegaard described a hierarchy of 3 stages or “spheres” of selfhood that one may choose, each characterized by its own unique view of the world.

⚄ The Aesthetical Sphere.

⚅ 1). The aesthetical sphere (lowest type of selfhood):

⚅⚀ Aesthetic: sensuality and hedonism: Don Juan.

⚅⚀ The default type: if a person does not “choose” one of the other 2 higher types, they end up here.

⚅⚀ This is actually a form of alienation from the self:

⚅⚁The “couch potato.”

⚅⚁The businessperson: defines the good life as profit and good deals.

⚅⚁Kierkegaard called these people “Aristocrats.”

⚄ Freud’s Pleasure Principle.

⚅ Aestheticism is a form of hedonism, the self is governed by external contingencies and sensuousness:

⚅⚀ Freud: based on instinct, we seek pleasure and to avoid pain.

⚅⚀ This is the basis of Freud’s construct of the id.

⚅ Kierkegaard said people at this level are not fully human as they are governed by the same forces that govern animals.

⚅ Kierkegaard wonders why it takes 9 months for them to gestate – they have so little substance.

⚅ Society sets externally defined parameters – social mores and values – that the person at this level adopts.

⚅⚀ The person then plays out their role as it is set out.

⚅ The self is fractured into a series of socially defined roles layered on top of each other.

⚅ In the end, Aestheticism is simply a perverse form of socially defined role to be played out.

⚅ The Aesthetic has no true self and can only develop one by consciously choosing.

⚅ This choice entails Kierkegaard’s famous “Either/or:”

⚅⚀ The point where one wills to be one’s true self and realizes that this choice will “kill” one’s old self.

⚅⚀ For the first time, the individual judges their self, rejects their old, hedonistic self, and consciously begins to build a new self.

⚅⚀ One must choose to utilize will to hold one’s self up to an ethical code (or choose not to do so).

⚅⚀ Making this choice marks the transition into Kierkegaard’s second sphere, the ethical sphere.

⚄ 2). The Ethical Sphere.

⚅ Ethical Sphere – individual moral responsibilities:

⚅ Once the ethical choice has been made, the individual has to make good on two imperatives:

⚅⚀ A commitment to self-perfection based upon one’s ideals.

⚅⚀ A commitment to other human beings.

⚅ One takes a “leap” to the new ethical self, rejecting the old aesthetic self and the now incompatible old roles that went with it.

⚅ Personality crystallizes around these new self-judgments and choices.

⚅ The initial choice is decisive for one’s personality because, now, all future choices will follow from this self-judgment and its philosophical basis:

⚅⚀ Future choices will now be moral – a morality within the context of the given system of thought selected:

—For example, Christian or Communist.

⚅⚀ Kierkegaard was not concerned with what moral code was chosen, only that an individual choice was made.

⚅⚀ It is not up to people to judge each other’s moral choices, this is God’s ultimate role.

⚅⚀ All future decisions will be based on the personality the individual has selected and not on situational, social roles.

⚄ 3). The Religious Sphere: Suffering, Faith and Self-understanding:

⚅ Kierkegaard was obsessed with Abraham’s story:

⚅⚀ Abraham was promised a son by God. Finally, when Abraham was 99, and his wife was 90, a son, Isaac was born. Later, God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham agreed and, as he was about to thrust the knife, God stopped him and restored his happy life.

⚅ Kierkegaard was horrified by Abraham’s absolute resolve to obey God, and it inspired “fear and trembling” in him (the title of one of his books).

⚅ He had to discover where Abraham found the strength to raise the knife. It seemed to him this was the key to understanding the human condition.

⚅ Abraham’s act is a complex paradox: an act of resignation in that he chooses to obey God and give up Isaac and, at the same time, an act of faith in that he believes in God’s wisdom and that the ending will somehow turn out to be happy (and that he will someday, somehow, get Isaac back):

⚅⚀ Kierkegaard felt Abraham must have been insane:

⚅⚀ He had already resigned to give Isaac up, and at the same time, he believed he would still keep Isaac. No one can understand Abraham’s state of mind or motives – to others, he must have seemed insane.

⚅ Observers will see Abraham as insane and will not understand his inner dynamics or motivations.

⚅⚀ But, God will surely understand his state of mind.

⚅⚀ This is characteristic of individual faith: one cannot make one’s faith intelligible to anyone else.

⚅⚀ Only God can make sense of an individual’s faith and judge if it is Saintly or demonical (or crazy) in character.

⚅⚀ All of the choices one makes (and hence the personality one constructs during one’s life) are factored into this final, ultimate judgment by God.

⚅⚀ Kierkegaard said the Christian ideal (not the lax Church doctrine) is exacting because the totality of a person’s existence and the choices they have made in life are the basis upon which they will be judged by God.

⚅ Kierkegaard initially found Abraham beyond comprehension but comes to respect and advocate for Abraham’s “divine madness” (using Plato’s term).

⚅⚀ Kierkegaard concludes that by virtue of his “insanity, Abraham has become the Father of Faith: what Kierkegaard called a “Knight of Faith.”

⚅⚀ Many “Knights of Faith” walk among us undetected.

⚅⚀ The outward behavior of the “Knight of Faith” is the same as everyone else’s.

⚅⚀ They have lost their connection with external, finite worldly things. However, they have been restored to live life in a new way by their faith.

⚅ Kierkegaard said Abraham also made a second leap:

⚅⚀ Abraham’s first life-changing leap was from the (lower) aesthetic self to the (higher) ethical self.

⚅⚀ The second leap involves stepping away from humankind itself; stepping away from finite reality into an unknown and infinite abyss.

⚅⚀ Abraham made this leap of faith. He risked losing his son but, in being able to overcome his dread and by having faith in God, he came to regain everything in a new way.

⚅⚀ God cannot be known intellectually; one must make a leap of faith into an unknown abyss to know him. Making this ultimate leap changes how we see life, changes our basic beliefs, and ultimately changes who we are.

⚄ Duties and Ethics.

⚅ There is an implied hierarchy of duties in life:

⚅⚀ One’s duty to choose to be an individual is higher than to one’s social duties.

⚅⚀ One’s duty to obey God’s commands is higher than one’s individual duties:

⚅⚀ Kierkegaard said he had to choose his duty to God over his fiancé, Regina.

⚅⚀ He gave up Regina as Abraham gave up Isaac, but with the faith that she would somehow be restored to him as Isaac was to Abraham.

⚅ Ethics are not relativistic: values are known to a person through the revelation of God (this is a theistic, metaphysical approach to existentialism and values).

⚄ Summary.

⚅ We are the authors of our lives and we each have the responsibility and duty to consciously determine our self through the choices we make. With this freedom to choose comes anxiety and even dread. We must make two leaps;

⚅⚀ 1). To overcome our lower, hedonistic, socially based self and to choose to become our ideal self. To make this choice is to be authentic. The values we choose determine our personality, and in turn, they determine our acts.

⚅⚀  2). Leaping into an unknown and infinite abyss allows us to live life in a new way – by our faith. Ultimately, our choices and acts are the sum of our lives to be judged by God.

⚃ Dąbrowski and Nietzsche.

⚄ Presented by Bill Tillier at the Seventh International Congress of the Institute for Positive Disintegration in Human Development
Positive Maladjustment: Theoretical, Educational and Therapeutic Perspectives.
August 3-5, 2006, Calgary, Alberta.
Revised 2023

⚄ [This presentation examines the influence of Nietzsche on Dąbrowski and builds upon a presentation by Dr. J. G. McGraw on Nietzsche and Dąbrowski from the 2002 Congress, held in Fort Lauderdale.] 

⚄ Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).

⚅ Born 1844 in Röcken, Saxony (was then Prussia).

⚅ An excellent student, he began studying classical philology at the University of Bonn.

⚅ At 24, professor of philology at the University of Basel.

⚅ A medical orderly during the Franco-Prussian War. He saw and experienced the traumatic effects of battle.

⚅ Resigned his professorship in 1879 due to several grim health issues that plagued him the rest of his life.

⚅ Began writing prolifically but often struggled, printing copies of his books himself and giving them to friends.

⚅ He and his sister had many fights and reconciliations.

⚅ Was friends with, and influenced by, fellow German philosopher Paul Rée:

⚅ Rée combined a pessimistic view of human nature with a theory of morality based on natural selection (Darwin).

⚅ In 1882, Louise (Lou) Salomé was in a relationship with Rée. She met Nietzsche and suggested a ménage à trois. They lived together until Nietzsche’s unrequited love (and his sister) forced a breakup.


Salomé was obviously a strong personality.

⚅⚀ In 1887, Lou married Friedrich Carl Andreas (their unconsummated marriage lasted 43 years).

⚅⚀ 1901: After her rejection, Rée jumps off a cliff.

⚅⚀ Lou was later a lover of, and major influence on, German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

⚅⚀ She became a psychoanalyst, joined Freud’s inner circle, and was an important influence on Freud, including introducing Freud to Nietzsche’s ideas.

⚅ Freud several times said of Nietzsche that he had a more penetrating knowledge of himself than any other man who ever lived or was likely to live” (Jones, 1955, p. 344).

⚅ Nietzsche had bouts of illness (including severe migraines and stomach bleeding), depression, suicidal thoughts and lived in relative isolation.

⚅ In 1889 he became psychotic and was institutionalized.

⚅ The uncommunicative Nietzsche was cared for by his mother, then by sister, Elisabeth, until he died (1900).

⚅ Elisabeth married Bernhard Förster, an anti-Semitic agitator. In 1886 they founded Nueva Germania in Paraguay’s jungle; later, a hideout for escaped Nazis (including Josef Mengele).

⚅ Elisabeth managed and edited Nietzsche’s works, injecting her own ideas and altering some of his.

⚅ Nietzsche’s ideas were eventually used by the Nazis.

⚄ Nietzsche’s Critique of Dogmatic Morality.

⚅ Socrates created a false representation of what is real, making morality a set of external ideas (“objects of dialectic”). With this, “real” [Man] degenerated into the “the good [Man],” “the wise [Man],” etc.

⚅ “Plato believes that there is a timeless realm of intelligible Forms that is the only true reality, the everyday world accessible to the senses being at best a pale imitation of this; for Nietzsche this is a dangerous illusion, dangerous in part because of its drastic devaluing of the here and now” (Bett, 2019, p. 249).

⚅ Nietzsche: All schemes of morality (like Christianity) are just dogmas developed by some given group who hold power at some given time – these “herd moralities” of good and evil deny us the individuality of finding our own values and our own selves.

⚄ Critique of the Herd Morality.

⚅ Nietzsche laments that the world has degenerated to the lowest common denominator of the herd:

⚅⚀ “The instinct of the herd considers the middle and the mean as the highest and most valuable: the place where the majority finds itself” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 159).

⚅ “Let us stick to the facts: the people have won – or ‘the slaves,’ or ‘the mob,’ or ‘the herd,’ or whatever you like to call them – if this has happened through the Jews, very well! in that case no people had a more world-historic mission. ‘The masters’ have been disposed of; the morality of the common man has won” (Nietzsche, 1989b, pp. 35-36).

⚄ Critique of Truth.

⚅ Ultimately, one finds out that the “truth” and various other-worlds (like Heaven) are literal fabrications. They are built by Humans to meet their psychological needs, to promote the smooth succession of the status quo, and to provide individuals with security.

⚅ Knowledge and truth are subjective, and provisional; they change over time and with the ruling class:

⚅⚀ Example: today’s scientific beliefs may be shown to be false tomorrow.

⚅⚀ “[T]here are many kinds of ‘truths,’ and consequently there is no truth” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 291).

⚅⚀ Convictions (beliefs) are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies” (Nietzsche, 1996, p. 179).

⚄ Critique of Religion.

⚅ Nietzsche saw no ultimate or deeper meaning or purpose to the world or to human existence – he (and Sartre) saw God as a human invention designed to comfort us and to repel our loneliness:

⚅ “There is not enough love and goodness in the world for us to be permitted to give any of it away to imaginary beings” (Nietzsche, 1996, p. 69).

⚅ Social morality suspends us from the need to review our own individual value assumptions or to develop autonomous morality. Religion suspends us from our need to develop our individual selves. Our comforts and security, and company are provided by this manmade system of ideas, thus removing the stimuli needed for real, individual development.

⚄ “God is Dead.”

⚅ Nietzsche famously proclaimed “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” This, “the greatest event of our time,” is an attempt to refocus people’s attention from God as a source of absolute moral principles and to see their inherent, individual freedoms and responsibilities. To focus on the hereand-now world, away from all escapist, pain-relieving, heavenly other-worlds (Nietzsche, 1974, 167).

⚅ Without God, we are alone on earth and cannot resort to a deity to guide us or to absolve our sins (or responsibilities). We must take full responsibility for our actions – to do this, we must reject all external, metaphysical, and religious ideals. We are now free and must create our own, new, moral ideals.

⚄ Apollonian and Dionysus.

⚅ Nietzsche used “Apollonian” and “Dionysus” to refer to two central principles in Greek culture (see Nietzsche, 1967).

⚅ Apollonian reflects clarity, calm, harmony, restraint, order, structure, and form, the basis for analytic distinctions: all that is part of the unique individual.

⚅ Dionysus reflects irrationality, frenzy, disorder, wildness, pleasure, intoxication, and madness. These forces break down one’s character as they appeal to one’s instinctive emotions and not to one’s rational mind. “I” becomes a chaotic web of competing wills, each struggling to overcome the other.

⚅ The tension between these forces creates tragedy. Nietzsche’s life also displayed both factors.

⚄ Three Developmental Outcomes.

⚅ Nietzsche said that as a species, man is not progressing. Higher exemplars appear but do not last.

⚅ Nietzsche delineated three possible outcomes:

⚅⚀ The “herd” or “slave” masses, made up of content, comfort-seeking “the last man” conformers, with no motive to develop: if we don’t aspire to be more, this is where we all will end up.

⚅⚀ Many “higher men”: A type of human who needs to “be more” and who, “writes their own story.”

⚅⚀ Nietzsche also described the ideal human – a few “Superhumans” – a role model to strive for, but that may be too unrealistic for most people to achieve.

⚄ The Superman.

⚅ Nietzsche called the highest mode of being the Übermensch:

⚅⚀ Common translations: “the Superman” or “overman” or “hyperman”
    über: from the Latin for super
    ύπερ: Greek for hyper
    Mensch: German for Human being.

⚄ Metamorphoses of the Spirit.

⚅ Nietzsche outlined a hierarchy of spiritual development in what he called three “metamorphoses of the spirit,” entailing a progression from:

⚅⚀ The camel spirit (“the average man”) slavishly bears the load and obeys the “thou shalt” with little protest.

⚅⚀ The lion spirit (a “higher man”) says “no” and kills the status quo (“the dragon”) of “thou shalt.”

⚅⚀ Culminating in the child spirit (Superhuman), who says an emphatic and “sacred YES” to life and creates a new reality and a new self – with no more rules to obey, the child applies their will in developing and achieving unique values and developing autonomy. (see Nietzsche, 1969, p. 54).

⚄ The Camel.

⚅ The obedient camel carries the “weight of the spirit,” kneeling to accept its load, just as we carry the weight of our duties: instructions and roles that society requires of us in order to live a “responsible life.” We believe in this “herd morality” and feel guilt if we don’t maintain our social burdens.

⚅⚀ In doing our duties, we may come to have doubts. One heavy blow is the discovery that wisdom and knowledge are only apparent. We slowly discover there is no foundation supporting “the truth” and we realize we live in a world with no eternal standards.

⚅⚀ As the camel finds the solitude of the desert, the truth seeker also must find and deal with solitude.

⚄ The Lion.

⚅ The camel becomes a lion: “It wants to capture freedom and be lord in its own desert” (Nietzsche, 1969,54).

⚅⚀ “The camel is an obedient slave: the might of a lion – a beast of prey, willing to say NO and to kill, is needed to confront the dragon to achieve freedom.

⚅⚀ “To seize the right to new values,” the lion must steal freedom from the love of commandments by killing a dragon – the “thou shalt” – the idea that others tell us what we must believe/accept as truth, and what we must do (and our corresponding love of these rules).

⚅⚀ Capturing freedom creates an opportunity – a “freedom for new creation.”

⚅⚀ The lion has the will to create new realities.

⚄ The Child.

⚅ Having destroyed the “thou shalt dragon,” the lion realizes he or she is not able to create new values: the lion now must become a child.

⚅⚀ A child’s perspective is needed to create new values. The child is innocence, with no guilt, and with no lingering sense of the “thou shalt” of the herd – they have not yet been acculturated (e.g., The Little Prince).

⚅⚀ The child (“superhuman”) represents a new beginning of individuality – “the spirit now wills its own will, the spirit sundered from the world now wins its own world” Nietzsche, 1969, p. 55).


⚄ The Will to Power.

⚅ The will to power is an ever-dominant feature of life and the basic drive of humanity. “The will to power is the primitive form of affect and all other affects are only developments of it” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 366).

⚅ Rejecting pleasure as a core motivator, Nietzsche said that “every living thing does everything it can not to preserve itself but to become more” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 367).

⚅ Nietzsche casts the will to power as a proactive force – the will to act in life (not to merely react to life).

⚅ The will to power is not power over others, but the feelings of “creative energy and control” over oneself that are necessary to achieve self-creation, selfdirection and to express individual creativity.

⚄ Steps to Become a Superhuman.

⚅ It takes three steps to become a Superhuman:

⚅⚀ Use one’s will to power to reject and rebel against old ideals and moral codes;

⚅⚀ Use one’s will to power to overcome nihilism and to re-evaluate old ideals or to create new ones;

⚅⚀ Use a continual process of self-overcoming.

⚅ The average person is largely constituted by their genealogy – the herd scripts this history by writing the life story of the average person.

⚅⚀ Superhumans take control of their genealogies and write their own stories.

⚄ Zarathustra Details Development.

⚅ Nietzsche names his main character after the Persian religious leader and prophet Zarathustra.

⚅⚀ In Nietzsche’s version, Zarathustra has spent from age 30 to 40, alone on a mountaintop quest. He decides to descend and describe his insights on spiritual and individual development in a new, Godless, reality.

⚅⚀ On his descent, someone comments Zarathustra has changed: he has become a child – an awakened one.

⚅⚀ Zarathustra goes to the first village he sees. A crowd has gathered to see the circus act of a tight-rope walker, and they think he is part of the circus act.

⚄ Man Must Overcome Man.

⚅ Zarathustra speaks to the crowd:

⚅⚀ “I teach you the Superman. Man is something that should be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?”

⚅⚀ “All creatures hitherto have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great tide, and return to the animals rather than overcome man?”

⚅⚀ “What is the ape to men? A laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment. And just so shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment.”

⚄ Man is a Process Not a Goal.

⚅ “You have made your way from the worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now man is more of an ape than any ape…” (Nietzsche, 1969, pp. 41-42).

⚅ “Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Superman – a rope over an abyss. A dangerous going across, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous shuddering and staying still” (Nietzsche, 1969, p. 43).

⚅ “What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what can be loved in man is that he is a goingacross and a down-going. I love those who do not know how to live except their lives be a down-going, for they are those who are going across” (Nietzsche, 1969, p. 44).

⚄ The Crowd Are Not Ready For The Lesson.

⚅ The crowd rejects Zarathustra’s story and he says to the reader: “You Higher Men, learn this from me: In the market-place no one believes in Higher Men. And if you want to speak there, very well, do so! But the mob blink and say: ‘We are all equal'” (Nietzsche, 1969, p. 297).

⚅ Zarathustra laments his reception: “I want to teach men the meaning of their existence: which is the Superman, the lightning from the dark cloud man. But I am still distant from them, and my meaning does not speak to their minds. To men, I am still a cross between a fool and a corpse” (Nietzsche, 1969, p. 49).

⚄ The Abyss.

⚅ We must cross the abyss to create ourselves, and our ideals, and to become Superhuman.

⚅ There are 3 possible outcomes:

⚅⚀ To not try and to simply stay content in the herd,

⚅⚀ To try to cross but to fail (to fall into the abyss),

⚅⚀ Or, to try to cross and succeed.

⚅ Nietzsche said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you” (Nietzsche, 1969, p. 54).

⚅⚀ We often become the very thing we try to overcome.

⚅⚀ When you look into the abyss, you must be strong, as you may see aspects of the abyss within yourself.

⚄ Socialization.    

⚅ The herd blindly take their ideals of “good and evil” from the cultural and religious conventions of the day.

⚅⚀ Nietzsche calls on us to resist the impulse to submit to “slave morality” and to “undertake a critique of the moral evaluations [our]selves” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 215).

⚅⚀ Zarathustra: the Superhuman must overcome their acculturated self and apply the will to power to a huge new creativity – to build a truly autonomous self.

⚅⚀ Superhumans move beyond “good and evil” through a deep reflection on their own basic instincts, emotions, character traits, and senses: they go on to develop their own individual values for living [Dąbrowski’s Personality Ideal].

⚄ Hierarchy of Autonomous Values.

⚅ “Fundamental thought: the new values must first be created – we shall not be spared this task!” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 512).

⚅ New values, and the process of value creation are not prescriptive: “This – is now my way, – where is yours?’ Thus I answered those who asked me ‘the way.’ For the way – does not exist!” (Nietzsche, 1969, p.213).

⚅ Summary: The Superhuman creates a unique new “master morality” reflecting the strength and independence of a self freed from all “old” acculturated, herd values. Now, each individual must review current conventions, reject values, adopt old values that he or she deems valid, and create new values reflecting their unique self and ideals.

⚄ Eternal Recurrence and the Superhuman.

⚅ “Eternal recurrence” is the idea that one might be forced to relive every moment of one’s life over and over, with no omissions, however small, happy or painful.

⚅ This idea encourages us to see that our current life is all there is – we must wake up to the “the real world,” – that we actually live in the present – there is no escape to other (future) lives or to “higher” worlds.

⚅ Nietzsche says only a Superhuman can face eternal recurrence and embrace this life in its entirety and accept the idea that this is all there is, and all there will be, for eternity.

⚄ Every Second Counts.

⚅ The Superhuman also gains a new perspective that brings about their own redemption – the endlessly recurring pains and mistakes of life do not provoke endless suffering, they are now seen and accepted as necessary and usual steps in one’s development, each a step on the path leading to the present.

⚅ Every second of life is now seen as a valued moment, worthy of being repeated over and over, in and of itself, and is not merely a step toward some promise of a better world to come in the future (for example, Heaven), every experience has become a fundamental piece of the fabric of who we are today.

⚄ Rebirth via a New World View.

⚅ The Superhuman uses “will to power” to develop a new perspective, a new reality and a new self.

⚅ The Superman becomes their own judge: “Can you furnish yourself your own good and evil and hang up your own will above yourself as a law? Can you be judge of yourself and avenger of your law?” (Nietzsche, 1969, p. 89).

⚅ This process represents the rebirth of the Human and the creation of new, human, life-affirming values in this real and temporally finite world. These new values/beliefs stem from our intrinsic will to be more, the ability to transcend and to constantly overcome our old self, and to create new life and new works.

⚄ Three Prototypes.

⚅ Personality incorporates 3 prototypes with 3 instincts:

⚅⚀ “the beauty creator (artist) [instinct of feeling]

⚅⚀ “the truth seeker (philosopher) [instinct of reason]

⚅⚀ “the “goodness liver” (the Saint) [instinct of will – goodness and love]

⚅ The union of these 3 represents the ultimate model of human beings – the exemplar of the Superhuman.

⚅ The “wisest” person is one who has had a wide vertical [Multilevel] perspective, with experience from the deepest caves to the highest mountaintops.

⚅ Finally, Nietzsche says that development never reaches an endpoint, and growth is never complete.

⚄ Life as an Endless Cycle.

⚅ For the rest of his life, Zarathustra continues to advocate for the Superhuman.

⚅ Zarathustra comes to see life as a endless cycle that repeats itself; thus even if a higher level of man is achieved, it will only be a phase in the cycle. Eventually, the lower stages will be have to reappear and be transcended again.

⚄ Jumbled Ideas.

⚅ Nietzsche did not present his ideas in a coherent, systematic way; thus there are many ambiguities and some contradictions in his writing. As well, Zarathustra has grave doubts, and his ideas change as he has experiences with people and as he ages.

⚄ Personality Must be Constructed.

⚅ For Nietzsche, personality must be self-created, largely by overcoming, mastering, and transforming one’s inner “chaos” into order:

⚅ “I tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you still have chaos in you” (Nietzsche, 1969, p. 46).

⚅ One must go through seven steps (“devils”) on the way to personality development (Nietzsche, 1969, p. 90).

⚅ Overcoming involves creating a new unity (McGraw: “synergy”) of cognition, emotion, and volition.

⚅ The Superhuman becomes a “free spirit” and sees the real world and their place in it clearly (without the distortion of social and religious influences).

⚄ The Self Must be Transformed.

⚅ The Superhuman develops a clear view of their “calling” [Personality Ideal] and must now obey this inner voice, applying it to their self-mastery.

⚅ The will to power is applied in controlling and transforming one’s self:

⚅⚀ Step 1. Social morality [2nd Factor] is used to gain power over nature and the “wild animal [1st Factor].”

⚅⚀ Step 2: “One can employ this power in the further free development of oneself: will to power as self-elevation and strengthening” [3rd Factor] (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 218).

⚅ One overcomes one’s old self to become oneself: “What does your conscience say? – “You shall become the person you are” (Nietzsche, 1974, p. 219).

⚄ Few Achieve Personality.

⚅ In Nietzsche’s view, few achieve what he calls personality (the Superhuman). Most people are not personalities at all, or are just a confused, undisciplined and non-integrated jumble of wills, roles and duties.

⚅ Superhumans create a small, “higher” ruling class, that humanity should foster: “the goal of humanity cannot lie in its end but only in its highest exemplars” (Nietzsche, 1997, p. 111).

⚅ Nietzsche said only a few are able or willing to discover and to follow themselves.

⚄ Need for a Ruling Class.

⚅ Superhumans represent a new, stronger and ultimate morality that easily resists external social controls.

⚅ Nietzsche: “My philosophy aims at an ordering of rank: not an individualistic morality” The ideas of the herd should rule in the herd – but not reach out beyond it: the leaders of the herd require a fundamentally different valuation for their own actions, as do the independent, or the ‘beasts of prey,’ etc” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 162).

⚅ “The new philosopher can arise only in conjunction with a ruling caste, as its highest spiritualization” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 512).

⚄ Developmental Potential.

⚅ Nietzsche relates an individual’s potential to develop to the richness and intricacy of their emotion, cognition, and volition (their will to power).

⚅ The more potential a person has, the more internally complex he or she is: “The higher type represents an incomparably greater complexity … so its disintegration is also incomparably more likely” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 363).

⚅ Lower forms of life and people representing the herd type are simpler, and thus, the lowest types are “virtually indestructible,” showing few noticeable effects of the hardships of life (and none of the suffering of the Superhuman) (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 363).

⚅ (This reminds me of Kierkegaard).

⚄ Suffering Separates the Hero.

⚅ Nietzsche described a general developmental disintegration – suffering leads to a vertical separation of the “hero” from the herd. This “rising up” leads to “nobility” and, ultimately, to individual personality – to attaining one’s true self.

⚅ This separation finds one alone, away from the security of the masses, and without God for help.

⚅ “To those human beings who are of any concern to me, I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, illtreatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 481).

⚄ Nietzsche on Suffering.

⚅ “In man creature and creator are united: in man there is material, fragment, excess, clay, dirt, nonsense, chaos; but in man there is also creator, formgiver, hammer hardness, spectator divinity, and seventh day: do you understand this contrast? And that your pity is for the “creature in man,” for what must be formed, broken, forged, torn, burnt, made incandescent, and purified – that which necessarily must and should suffer?” (Nietzsche, 1989a, p. 154).

⚅ “The higher philosophical man, who has solitude not because he wishes to be alone but because he is something that finds no equals: what dangers and new sufferings have been reserved for him” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 514).

⚅ “The discipline of suffering, of great suffering – do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far?” (Nietzsche, 1989a, p. 154).

⚅ “The tree needs storms, doubts, worms, and nastiness to reveal the nature and the strength of the seedling; let it break if it is not strong enough. But a seedling can only be destroyed – not refuted” (Nietzsche, 1974, p. 163).

⚅ “Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask yourselves whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense with bad weather and storms; whether misfortune and external resistance, some kinds of hatred, jealousy, stubbornness, mistrust, hardness, avarice, and violence do not belong among the favorable conditions without which any great growth even of virtue is scarcely possible. The poison of which weaker natures perish strengthens the strong – nor do they call it poison” (Nietzsche, 1974, pp. 91-92).

⚅ Our personal and profoundest suffering is incomprehensible and inaccessible to almost everyone; (Nietzsche, 1974, p. 269).

⚄ Must First Fall Before We Rise.

⚅ The Superhuman is alone, and few can tolerate this ultimate sense of solitariness; most must have the security and company of the herd (and of God).

⚅ “I love him, who lives for knowledge and who wants knowledge that one day the Superman may live. And thus he wills his own downfall” (Nietzsche, 1969, p. 44).

⚅ “You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes!” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 90).

⚅ “I love him whose soul is deep even in its ability to be wounded, and whom even a little thing can destroy: thus he is glad to go over the bridge” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 45).

⚄ Suffering Leads to Growth.

⚅ Superhumans see in their suffering and destruction new life: the seed must die for the plant to grow.

⚅ The capacity to experience and overcome suffering and solitariness are key traits of the Superhuman.

⚅ “Suffering and dissatisfaction of our basic drives are a positive feature as these feelings create an ‘agitation of the feeling of life,’ and act as a ‘great stimulus to life’” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 370).

⚅⚀ “The discipline of suffering, of great suffering, do you not know that only this suffering has created all enhancements of man so far?” (Nietzsche, 1989a, p. 154).

⚄ Suffering Challenges Us.

⚅ “[T]he path to one’s own heaven always leads through the voluptuousness of one’s own hell” (Nietzsche, 1974, p. 269).

⚅ “That tension of the soul in unhappiness which cultivates its strength, its shudders face to face with great ruin, its inventiveness and courage in enduring, persevering, interpreting, and exploiting suffering, and whatever has been granted to it of profundity, secret, mask, spirit, cunning, greatness – was it not granted to it through suffering, through the discipline of great suffering?” (Nietzsche, 1989a, p. 154).

⚄ The Road of Disintegration.

⚅ “Thereupon I advanced further down the road of disintegration – where I found new sources of strength for individuals. We have to be destroyers! – I perceived that the state of disintegration, in which individual natures can perfect themselves as never before – is an image and isolated example of existence in general. To the paralyzing sense of general disintegration and incompleteness I opposed the eternal recurrence” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 224).

⚅ “We, however, want to become those we are – human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves” (Nietzsche, 1974, p. 266).

⚄ Health: How We Overcome Illness.

⚅ Illness played a major role in Nietzsche’s transformation, as he said, he was “grateful even to need and vacillating sickness because they always rid us from some rule and its ‘prejudice,’ … (Nietzsche, 1998a, p. 55).

⚅ Given his health issues, Nietzsche defined health not as the absence of illness, but rather, by how one faces and overcomes illness.

⚅ Nietzsche said he used his “will to health” to transform his illness into autonomy – it gave him the courage to be himself. In practical terms, this experience compelled him to modify his way of living. These adjustments allowed for a more compatible lifestyle with his identity as an author and philosopher.

⚄ The Neurosis of the Artist.

⚅ Nietzsche described a sort of neurosis afflicting the artist: “It is exceptional states that condition the artist – all of them profoundly related to and interlaced with morbid phenomena – so it seems impossible to be an artist and not to be sick” …

⚅⚀ … “Physiological states that are in the artist as it were molded into a ‘personality’ and, that characterize men in general to some degree:

⚅⚀ 1. Intoxication: the feeling of enhanced power; the inner need to make of things a reflex of one’s own fullness and perfection (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 428).

⚅ And also what we may read as overexcitability:

⚅⚀ 2. the extreme sharpness of certain senses, so they understand a quite different sign language – and create one – the condition that seems to be a part of many nervous disorders – ; extreme mobility that turns into an extreme urge to communicate; the desire to speak on the part of everything that knows how to make signs – ; a need to get rid of oneself, as it were, through signs and gestures; ability to speak of oneself through a hundred speech media – an explosive condition. …

⚄ The Inner Psychic Milieu Emerges.

⚅ One must first think of this condition as a compulsion and urge to get rid of the exuberance of inner tension through muscular activity and movements of all kinds; then as an involuntary coordination between this movement and the inner processes (images, thoughts, desires) – as a kind of automatism of the whole muscular system impelled by strong stimuli from within – ; inability to prevent reaction; the system of inhibitions suspended, as it were” (Nietzsche, 1968, pp. 428-429).

⚄ Positive Maladjustment.

⚅ Nietzsche: “Whoever has overthrown an existing law of custom has always first been accounted a bad man: but when, as did happen, the law could not afterwards be reinstated and this fact was accepted, the predicate gradually changed; – history treats almost exclusively of these bad men who subsequently became good men!” (Nietzsche, 1997a, p. 19).

⚃ Dąbrowski and Unamuno.

⚄ The Tragic Sense of Life.

⚅ Dąbrowski was influenced by the existential Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno and his work, The Tragic Sense of Life.

⚅ “But just what does the phrase ‘tragic sense of life’ mean? Even to ask that question suggests to some that the inquirer would not understand the response if one could be offered: either you ‘see’ the essential human condition or you don’t” (Hughes, 1978, 131).

⚅ “The central, defining characteristic of the tragic sense of life is its insistence on the balance between the striving for rationality on the one hand, and the recognition of the underlying irrationality of existence on the other” (Rubens, 1992, 348).

⚅ Unamuno saw tragedy as a ‘sense of life’ – a mode of experience, a subjective shaping, a way of organizing life. The tragic is in the “meaning with which events are imbued and interpreted” (Rubens, 1992, 348).

⚄ What gives life meaning is the longing to understand “wherefore do we now exist?” and our “thirst of immortality” – a basic desire we all share. To have awareness of these questions, creates a “tragic sense of life” as “consciousness is a disease” (Unamuno, 1921).

⚄ The will struggles with the unresolvable, creating a tragic feeling of life: Faith vs. reason, religion vs. science, affect vs. intellect, rationality vs. irrationality.

⚅ The will must forge an authentic existence and an authentic personality out of suffering and the tragic.

⚅ “Man is the more man – that is, the more divine the greater his capacity for suffering, or, rather, for anguish” (Unamuno, 1921).

⚄ “Despite its monumental commitment to the search for rational understanding, the hallmark of the tragic sense of life is its recognition that rationality has its limits. Man’s understanding, while indefinitely extendible, is never total in its extent. So while the tragic figure is willing to risk everything in his pursuit of the truth, he must also recognize that his quest will never be completely fulfillable. He must accept the irrationality that underlies existence, and not artificially attempt to reduce that irrationality to something less than it is” (Rubens, 1992, 348).

⚄ “What counts as suffering – what makes someone suffer – may well vary enormously from case to case, from individual to individual. But suffering as such is a part of every life, and, as tragedy, it is not just suffering. As tragedy, I will argue, it has meaning” (Solomon, 1999, 115).

⚅ [Unamuno says:] “What gives life meaning is a form of rebellion, rebellion against reason, an insistence on believing passionately what we cannot believe rationally. The meaning of life is to be found in passion – romantic passion, religious passion, passion for work and for play, passionate commitments in the face of what reason ‘knows’ to be meaningless” (Solomon, 1999, 116).

⚄ “For my part I do not wish to make peace between my heart and my head, between my faith and my reason I wish rather that there should be war between them!” (Unamuno, 1921, p. 119).

⚄ “Man is said to be a reasoning animal. I do not know why he has not been defined as an affective or feeling animal. Perhaps that which differentiates him from other animals is feeling rather than reason” (Unamuno, 1921, p. 3).

⚄ “He who suffers lives, and he who lives suffering, even though over the portal of his abode is written ‘Abandon all hope!’ loves and hopes” (Unamuno, 1921, p. 44).

⚄ Unamuno was a careful reader of Kierkegaard.

⚅ “Faith and reason need each other so that neither can bask in the certainty of its own realm, so that each can live in vivifying doubt. For Unamuno the bedrock of this struggle is a faith which is like a candle in the wind, dying only to be reborn again, doubting only to believe. The goal of the self-conscious man is to pursue his own dream of being – to be is to want to be – and the aim of education is to keep the dream alive” (Hughes, 1978, p. 138).

⚅ “For science destroys the concept of personality by reducing it to a complex in continual flux from moment to moment – that is to say, it destroys the very foundation of the spiritual and emotional life, which rages itself unyieldingly against reason” (Unamuno, 1921, p. 108).

⚄ “Unamuno began his philosophy with the insistence that the authentic man, the man of flesh and bone, contained within himself the conflict between the heart and the head. And because this struggle took place in a conflict where one force could never hope to gain victory over the other, existential agony became the tragic situation of man. Tragedy was thus conceived as the condition of human beings caught in a struggle which could never be resolved, in a struggle between values of the heart and reasons of the intellect” (Morgan, 1966, p. 48-49).

⚄ “Tragedy can also be the arena in which the courage to create emerges, in which reason and feeling find their common battleground. At the foundation of Unamuno’s tragic sense of life is the belief that out of the abyss of tragedy there can arise creativity and joy” (Morgan, 1966, p. 49).

⚄ “My painful duty,” Unamuno once said, “is to irritate people. We must sow in men the seeds of doubt, of distrust, of disquiet, and even of despair” (Barcia & Zeitlin, 1967, p. 241).

⚄ “My aim is to agitate and disturb people. I’m not selling bread; I’m selling yeast” (Unamuno quoted in Tillotson, 2010, p. 23).

⚄ “The satisfied, the happy, do not love; they fall asleep in habit, near neighbour to annihilation. To fall into a habit is to begin to cease to be. Man is the more man, that is, the more divine, the greater his capacity for suffering, or, rather, for anguish” (Unamuno, 1921, p. 206).

⚄ “‘Brother Wolf’ St. Francis of Assisi called the poor wolf who feels a painful hunger for the sheep, and feels, too, perhaps, the pain of having to devour them; and this brotherhood reveals to us the Fatherhood of God, reveals to us that God is a Father and that He exists. And as a Father He shelters our common misery” (Unamuno, 1921, pp. 210-211).

⚄ “And as regards its truth, the real truth, that which is independent of ourselves, beyond reach of our logic and of hearts – of this truth who knows aught?” (Unamuno, 1921, p. 131).

⚄ “What we believe to be the motives of our conduct are usually but the pretexts for it” (Unamuno, 1921, p. 261).

⚄ “Man is the more man – that is, the more divine – the greater his capacity for, suffering, or, rather, for anguish” (Unamuno, 1921, p. 206).

⚄ “If it is nothingness that awaits us, let us make an injustice of it; let us fight against destiny, even though without hope of victory; let us fight against it quixotically.” (Unamuno, 1921, p. 268).

⚄ “Suffering is the substance of life and the root of personality, for it is only suffering that makes us persons. And suffering is universal, suffering is that which unites all us living beings together; it is the universal or divine blood that flows through us all. That which we call will, what is it but suffering?” (Unamuno, 1921, p. 205).

⚄ “Miguel de Unamuno was deeply affected by the realization of the existence of tragic antinomies in human life as something essential for growth and yet impossible to resolve. The experience of these antinomies which evoked in him obsessive reactions, depressions and anguish, became a motivation to turn in the direction of transcendence in the hope of resolving them there” (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 147).

⚄ Kubrick
Playboy: If life is purposeless, do you feel it’s worth living?
Stanley Kubrick: Yes, for those of us who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism – and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s élan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this Indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death – however mutable man may be able to make them – our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light (Norden, 1968, p. 195).

⚄ Overexcitabilities intensify the experience of the “normal and expected” crises and tragedies of life, contributing to a tragic sense of existence. These feelings call for explanations and answers that are not forthcoming, making them very difficult to “get over” and resolve. Realizing the “tragic sense” represents an ongoing challenge to one’s status quo integration. In describing a case study, Dąbrowski said: “R.R. saw and experienced the tragic aspect of existence, its cruel and unjust stresses; he felt an altruistic ‘pain of existence’”(1972, p. 259).

⚄ Tragedy-fueled psychoneurosis and existential crisis contribute to positive disintegration. The feeling and realization of tragedy in one’s life helps establish a larger worldview and a deep empathic bond with others. The tragic sense of life ultimately helps to shape one’s personality and define one’s relationship with the world.

⚄ “For all consciousness is consciousness of death and of suffering. We personalize the All in order to save ourselves from Nothingness and the only mystery is the mystery of suffering. Suffering is the path of consciousness, and by it living beings arrive at selfconsciousness. For to possess consciousness of oneself, to possess personality, is to know oneself and to feel oneself distinct from other beings, and this feeling of distinction is only reached through an act collision, through suffering more or less severe, through the sense of one’s own limits” (Unamuno, 1921, p. 140).

⚄ “So then, they will say to me: “What is your religion?” And I will respond: my religion is to look for truth in life and life in truth, even knowing that I may never find them while I am alive” (Unamuno, 1910). 

⚄ Summary. We all experience tragedy in our lives. We typically cope using social reinforcers and rationalization.

⚅⚀ “It’s OK, now Grandpa is watching over us from heaven”). People with developmental potential may have intense experiences of tragedy that are not ameliorated by intellectual or rational arguments. In these cases, one may come to realize that tragic experiences are an inescapable, irrational, inexplicable part of life that will never “make sense.” One is left with a choice: a downward spiral into despair or an upward struggle to create meaning. In tragedy we find our beliefs tested, leading to the realization that only in tragedy can we seek life’s deeper meanings, meaning created by our own unique passionate engagements with life itself.

⚂ 3.6.6. Creativity and the Theory of Positive Disintegration.

⚃ Presented by Bill Tillier at The 11th International Dąbrowski Congress
“Creativity: Transforming perceptions of Reality.”
Canmore, Alberta July 24 – July 26, 2014 Revised 2023.

⚃ Traditional Approaches to Creativity.

⚄ There is no consensus on what creativity is, how to describe it, how to define it, what factors contribute to it, or on the theories or constructs of creativity.

⚄ “[W]hat creativity is, and what it is not, hangs as the mythical albatross around the neck of scientific research on creativity.” (Prentky, 2001, p. 97).

⚄ Emphasis on Production.

⚅ Traditional approaches focus on the production of some - THING.

⚅ The standard definition has 2 parts: “Creativity requires both originality and effectiveness.”

⚅⚀ The THING produced must be new – original.

⚅⚀ The original THING must be effective: it must fit and be appropriate in some domain or context. (Runco & Jaeger, 2012, p. 92).

⚅ A Little More Complex.


(Amabile, 1998, p. 78).

⚅ No Limits to Complexity.


(from the Internet)

⚃ Henri-Louis Bergson.

⚄ Henri-Louis Bergson (1859 – 1941).

⚄ French philosopher and polymath (studied time, space, evolution and biology).

⚄ Nobel Prize in literature 1927 for Creative evolution.

⚄ Mother English, Father Polish; from a prominent family.

⚄ Developed a complex theory of time and consciousness he called duration (Describes our experience of time).

⚄ Anticipated quantum physics.

⚄ Critical of mechanistic views of evolution (Spencer) – his model extended Darwin and stressed humans’ “intuitive and 1927 creative thinking.”

⚃ Bergson’s philosophy is complex but rewards the persistent reader.

⚃ [F]or a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” (Bergson 1922, p. 8).

⚃ Bergson is still topical: See: Azambuja, Guareschi, & Baum, (2014).

⚃ Our understanding of our deeper self and of life is not gained by intelligence or logic (tools used to make more tools and to grasp mechanisms): it must be known by our intuition arising from our experience.

⚃ Bergson rejects creativity based on making things.

⚄ Intelligence produces things that may be useful in life: real creativity is a process of continual becoming.

⚄ On the psychological level, Bergson equates creativity with developing one’s unique personality.

⚃ The following quote is a bit obscure but says it all.

⚄ “ “ … [M]ight we not think that the ultimate reason of human life is a creation which, in distinction from that of the artist or man of science, can be pursued at every moment and by all men alike; I mean the creation of self by self, the continual enrichment of personality, by elements which it does not draw from outside, but causes to spring forth from itself?” (Bergson, 1911, pp. 42-3).

⚃ Bergson Resonates with Dąbrowski.

⚄ “Every instant we have to choose, and we naturally decide on what is in keeping with the rule. We are hardly conscious of this; there is no effort. A road has been marked out by society; it lies open before us, and we follow it; it would take more initiative to cut across country” (Bergson, 1935, p. 10).

⚄ “The beliefs to which we most strongly adhere are those of which we should find it most difficult to give an account … In a certain sense we have adopted them without any reason, for what makes them valuable in our eyes is that they match the colour of all our other ideas … [our ideas] float on the surface, like dead leaves on the water of a pond: the mind, when it thinks them over and over again, finds them ever the same, as if they were external to it …

⚄ Among these are the ideas which we receive ready made, and which remain in us without ever being properly assimilated” (Bergson, 1913/2001, pp. 135-136).

⚄ Ideas that reflect our true selves and insights are only revealed when we dig deeply below the surface into “the deeper strata of the self” – a task that is extremely difficult and seldom attempted (Bergson, 1913/2001, p. 136).

⚄ Because the deeper self is seldom experienced, when first encountered, it may seem foreign, but the encounter may be felt deeply.

⚄ “An idea which is truly ours fills the whole of our self,” and within our deep self, ideas join and blend together. Therefore these deeper ideas are hard to understand, difficult to articulate into words, and thus hard to communicate to others. (Bergson, 1913/2001, pp. 135-136).

⚃ The Nature of Creativity for Dąbrowski.

⚄ For Dąbrowski, creativity is deeply connected to the development of one’s personality.

⚄ “The higher the level of development the closer is the link between creativity and developmental dynamisms” (1972, p. 196).

⚄ “Creativity expresses non-adaptation within the internal milieu and a transgression of the usual standards of adaptation to the external environment” (1964, p. 11).

⚄ Creative abilities represent “a search for new higher ways of understanding reality and of creating or discovering these new ways” (1972, p. 196).

⚄ “It does not seem that authentic creativity of a high level is possible without the activity of neurotic and psychoneurotic dynamisms” (Dąbrowski, 1973, p. 41).

⚄ “Generally, it may safely be taken that the lower is the level of function represented by a given psychoneurosis, the fewer creative elements are involved” (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 198).

⚄ “Lack of creative tendencies goes together with lack of inner conflicts, lack of positive adjustment” (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 198).

⚄ “Greater creative tendencies are exhibited in psychoneurosis of a higher level” (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 198).

⚃ Dąbrowski: Creativity and Mental Health.

⚄ “Are creative people mentally healthy? … They are not healthy according to the standard of the average individual, but they are healthy according to their unique personality norms and insofar as they show personality development: the acquiring and strengthening of new qualities in the realization of movement toward their personality ideal” (1964, p. 115).

⚃ Creativity is a Higher Level Phenomena.

⚄ “The creative instinct belongs to those instincts which arise in ontogenesis and are not common to all members of the human species” (1973, p. 24).

⚄ There is no “true, universal creativity” in unilevel integration. In unilevel disintegration, “creative talent” is limited and often psychopathological.

⚄ “Multilevel creativity is a manifestation of the conjunction of emotional, imaginational and intellectual overexcitability, with emotional being clearly the strongest” (1996, p. 36).

⚃ Creativity - Disintegration Are Linked.


⚄ “Crises are periods of increased insight into oneself, creativity, and personality development” (1964, p. 18). 

⚄ “Disintegration is described as positive when it enriches life, enlarges the horizon, and brings forth creativity” (1964, p. 10).

⚄ “Creative dynamisms are connected with the process of disintegration in general, and with the process of multilevel disintegration in particular” (1970, p. 69).

⚄ “Psychoneurotics are very likely to be creative. They often show loosening and disruption of the internal milieu and conflict with the external environment” (1964, p. 115).

⚃ Creativity: a Precursor of Self-perfection.

⚄ “Creative dynamisms together with inner psychic transformation, empathy and identification represent dynamisms present in all stages of development of a multilevel inner psychic milieu” (1970, p. 67).

⚄ “On a high level of development creative instinct becomes an instinct of self-perfection which besides the media of artistic expression begins to stress more and more strongly the concern for inner perfection” (1996, p. 20).

⚃ Hierarchy of Higher-level Instincts.


⚄ Hierarchy of Dynamisms (Part).


⚃ Conclusion.

⚄ Dąbrowski: Under the direction of the third factor, the developing creative instinct is transformed into the instinct of self-perfection.

⚄ In summary, Dąbrowski proposed: Creativity is the ongoing, incremental, and multilevel process leading to the achievement of one’s unique, ideal personality.

⚄ References.

⚅ Amabile, T. M. (1998). How to kill creativity. Harvard Business Review, 76(5), 76-87.

⚅ Azambuja, M. D., Guareschi, N. M. D. F., & Baum, C. (2014). Henri Bergson’s contribution to the invention of a psychology in duration. Theory & Psychology, 24, 186–198. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354314525875

⚅ Bergson, H. (1911). Life and consciousness. Hibbert Journal, X(1), 24-44.

⚅ Bergson, H. (1922) Creative evolution (A. Mitchell, Trans.). London England: Macmillan. (Original work published 1911).

⚅ Bergson, H. (1946). The creative mind (M. L. Andison, Trans.). New York, NY: Philosophical Library.

⚅ Bergson, H. (2001). Time and free will: An essay on the immediate data of consciousness (3rd ed., F. L. Pogson, Trans.). Mineola, NY: Dover. (Original work published 1913)

⚅ Dąbrowski, K. (1964). Positive disintegration. Boston: Little Brown & Co.

⚅ Dąbrowski, K. (with Kawczak, A., & Piechowski, M. M.). (1970). Mental growth through positive disintegration. London: Gryf Publications.

⚅ Dąbrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness. London: Gryf Publications.

⚅ Dąbrowski, K. (1996). Multilevelness of emotional and instinctive functions. Part 1: Theory and description of levels of behavior. Lublin, Poland: Towarzystwo Naukowe Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego.

⚅ Prentky, R. A. (2001). Mental illness and roots of genius. Creativity Research Journal, 13, 95– 104. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15326934CRJ1301_11

⚅ Runco, M., & Jaeger, G. J. (2012). The standard definition of creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 24, 92–96. https://doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2012.650092

⚂ 3.6.7. Dąbrowski and Maslow.

⚃ Presented by Bill Tillier at the
Eighth International Congress of the Institute for Positive Disintegration in Human Development
Dąbrowski and Gifted Education: Beyond Overexcitabilities.
August 7 - 9, 2008 Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Revised 2023

⚃ Maslow’s Childhood.

⚄ Maslow’s mother was very domineering, controlling and cruel to him – he felt “no mother-love.”

⚄ Very isolated, unhappy child, described himself as a “freak with two heads,” a view echoed by his father: “the ugliest kid you’ve ever seen” (Hoffman, 1988, p. 6).

⚄ Maslow could not see how he had not become “psychotic” in his childhood (Hoffman, 1992, p. 70).

⚄ Too shy to date, he met his first cousin Bertha at family dinners; they fell in love and were married.

⚄ Set out to understand human relations, at first as a strict Watsonian behaviorist.

⚄ He was fascinated by, and attracted to, dominant women all his life but approached them academically.

⚃ Maslow’s Early Research Set His Views.

⚄ Maslow worked in Harry Harlow’s monkey lab, and they co-authored several papers on primate behavior.

⚄ In primates, dominance is related to and determines sexual behavior, more than sexual drive (Maslow, 1942, p. 292).

⚄ He then studied dominance, motivation, and sexual behavior by interviewing college women.

⚄ Maslow equated an individual’s feeling of dominance with confidence. He first called this “dominance feeling” but later called it self-esteem: ideas that later influenced his needs hierarchy.

⚄ Descriptions of orgasm led him to “peak experiences.”

⚄ Using normal subjects became an important model in psychological research.

⚃ A careful reading of Maslow is disappointing because some of his viewpoints are surprisingly primitive.

⚄ “The average high-dominance woman in our insecure society prefers straightforward, unsentimental, rather violent, animal, pagan, passionate, even sometimes brutal lovemaking … In other words she must be dominated, must be forced into subordinate status” (Maslow, 1942, pp. 283-284).

⚄ “[T]he high-dominance woman unconsciously wishes to be raped; the middle-dominance woman to be seduced” (Maslow, 1942, p. 284).

⚄ “[B]eing raped (in whatever sense) is less psychologically damaging to women than to men. Women are more able to permit themselves to ‘relax and enjoy it’ than men are” (Maslow, 1971/1976, p. 351).

⚄ Maslow (1942, p. 291) “[H]uman sexuality is almost exactly like primate sexuality.” Dominant males and submissive females are equivalent in both species: an idea later reflected in his continuum view of instincts in animals and humans.

⚄ “I have been wondering how to protect the biologically gifted from the almost inevitable malice of the biologically nongifted. … is for the biological superiors (alphas or aggridants) to become a kind of priestly class” (Hoffman, 1996, p. 71).

⚄ “Women, especially ‘advanced’ and educated women in the United States of America, are frequently fighting against their own very deep tendencies to dependency, passivity, and submissiveness (because this unconsciously means to them a giving up of selfhood or person-hood). It is then easy for such a woman to see men as would-be dominators and rapists and to treat them as such, frequently by dominating them” (Maslow, 1971/1976, p. 154).

⚄ “In some women, I have also been tempted to think of ‘having a baby’ as fullest self-actualization all by itself, at least for a time. However, I should say that I feel less confident in speaking of self-actualization in women” (Maslow, 1971/1976, p. 154).

⚃ Maslow’s Animal – Human Continuum.

⚄ Our instinctoid biology underlies a single continuum of both our lowest and highest traits – “the so-called spiritual or value-life, or ‘higher’ life, is on the same continuum (is the same kind or quality of thing) with the life of the flesh, or of the body, i.e., the animal life, the material life, the ‘lower’ life. That is, the spiritual life is part of our biological life. It is the ‘highest’ part of it, but yet part of it” (Maslow 1971/1976, pp. 313-314).

⚄ Animals and humans exist on a single continuum.

⚄ No qualitative differentiation between animal instincts and the highest values – metaneeds of humans.

⚄ “[M]an has a higher nature which is just as ‘instinctoid’ as his lower nature, and that this higher nature includes the needs for meaningful work, for responsibility, for creativeness, for being fair and just, for doing what is worthwhile and for preferring to do it well” (Maslow 1971/1976, p 228).

⚃ No True Autonomy.

⚄ We have built-in values: “It is these needs, ‘instinctoid’ in nature, that we can also think of as built-in values – values not only in the sense that the organism wants and seeks them but also in the sense that they are both good and necessary for the organism” (Maslow, 1966, p. 125).

⚄ Maslow rejected free choice and existentialism. He viewed existentialism as a denial of biological and instinctual influences: “For Sartre and all those whom he has influenced, one’s self becomes an arbitrary choice, a willing by fiat to be something or do something without any guidelines about which is better, which is worse, what’s good and what’s bad” (Maslow, 1971/1976, p. 178).

⚃ Maslow Applies Self-Actualization.

⚄ Kurt Goldstein: the tendency toward self-actualization acts from within, overcoming [physical] disturbances arising from the clash with the world, not out of anxiety but out of the joy of conquest (1938/1975).

⚄ If an organism’s needs are met, its innate biological /psychological potentials can be actualized. If injured, this drive will try to reorganize and restore balance.

⚄ Already looking at security/motivation, Maslow (1943) quickly applied Goldstein’s idea, interviewing normal subjects about their psychological development.

⚄ Maslow could not find enough sufficiently developed subjects and turned to biographical studies to create the list of factors he felt indicated self-actualization.

⚃ Dominance: The Foundation of Self-Actualization.

⚄ Maslow equated dominance with self-esteem, emotional security, and self-confidence: later reflected in his needs hierarchy and management theory (Cullen & Gotell, 2002).

⚄ To see one’s “natural superiority” is an important precondition of self-actualization: this created a gender bias in self-actualization – men having “natural” dominance.

⚄ Maslow researched and wrote on business: companies should help men achieve their natural potential to be leaders; women lack the instincts to be managers.

⚄ Became a major influence in business management.

⚃ Maslow Defines Self-Actualization.

⚄ Healthy individuals accept their own nature “without chagrin or complaint or, for that matter, even without thinking about the matter very much.” He went on: “the self-actualized person sees reality more clearly: our subjects see human nature as it is and not as they would prefer it to be” (Maslow, 1970, p. 155-156).

⚄ Maslow described these individuals as more objective, less emotional, less anxious, and less likely to allow hopes, dreams, fears, or psychological defenses to distort their observations of reality.

⚃ Maslow’s Unilevel Approach.

⚄ Maslow described various levels of potential within a person and said that all of these potentials must be actualized, the lowest along with the highest.

⚄ “The first and most obvious level of acceptance is at the so-called animal level. Those self-actualizing people tend to be good animals, hearty in their appetites and enjoying themselves without regret or shame or apology” (Maslow, 1970, p. 156).

⚄ “They are able to accept themselves not only on these low levels, but at all levels as well; e.g., love, safety, belongingness, honor, self-respect. All of these are accepted without question as worth while, simply because these people are inclined to accept the work of nature rather than to argue with her for not having constructed things to a different pattern.” (Maslow, 1970, p. 156).

⚃ Be What You Can Be.

⚄ Maslow (1971/1976) rejected pursuing ideals: ideals and “oughts” should reflect “actual potentiality which can actually be fulfilled” (p. 105) – “the best way for a person to discover what he ought to do is to find out who and what he is” (p. 108).

⚄ “Do you want to find out what you ought to be? Then find out who you are! ‘Become what thou art!’” (p. 108).

⚄ Unrealistic ideals create anxiety, neuroses, guilt and prevent our acceptance and happiness: “We may feel totally sinful, or depraved or unworthy. We see our is as extremely far away from our ought” (p. 108).

⚄ Maslow: intrinsic guilt “comes from defying one’s own nature and from trying to be what one is not” (p. 327).

⚃ Maslow and Dąbrowski.

⚄ Maslow and Dąbrowski met in 1966 and “began a friendship” and corresponded until Maslow died in 1970 (Piechowski, 1999, p. 326).

⚄ Maslow’s initial position was that Dąbrowski had made a significant contribution but that it could be conceptually subsumed under his (Maslow’s) model.

⚄ Maslow endorsed Dąbrowski (1970), in a quotation appearing on the back cover of Dąbrowski (1972). “I consider this to be one of the most important contributions to psychological and psychiatric theory in this whole decade. There is little question in my mind that this book will be read for another decade or two, and very widely. It digs very deep and comes up with extremely important conclusions that will certainly change the course of psychological theorizing and the practice of psychotherapy for some time to come.”

⚃ Dąbrowski’s Objections.

⚄ Dąbrowski argued that his theory went far beyond Maslow’s with a number of important qualitative differences and, therefore, must be kept separate.

⚄ No sense of multilevelness is present in Maslow.

⚄ There must be a qualitative break between animals/humans.

⚅ To develop a personality is to control lower instincts.

⚅ Overcoming our animal nature is what differentiates humans.

⚄ One must transcend “is” and work toward “ought.”

⚄ Must reject self as is – must use multilevelness to consciously identify and differentiate the lower aspects to inhibit, or transform, or transcend versus the higher aspects to retain and expand or create.

⚄ Higher aspects chosen reflect one’s personality ideal and will be “more like oneself” (personality shaping).

⚄ Dąbrowski: if self-actualization is equated with TPD or its levels, his approach would be misunderstood and lessened.

⚃ Key Maslow Resources:

⚄ Cullen, D., & Gotell, L. (2002). From orgasms to organizations: Maslow, women’s sexuality and the gendered foundations of the needs hierarchy. Gender, Work & Organization, 9(5), 537-555. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0432.00174

⚄ Goldstein, K. (1975). The organism: A holistic approach to biology derived from pathological data in man. New York, NY: Zone. (Original work published 1939).

⚄ Hoffman, E. (1988). The right to be human: A biography of Abraham Maslow. Los Angeles: Jeremy Tarcher.

⚄ Hoffman, E., ed. (1996) Future Visions: The Unpublished Papers of Abraham Maslow. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

⚄ Hoffman, E. (1992). The last interview of Abraham Maslow. Psychology Today, 25(1), 68-89.

⚄ Maslow, A. H. (1942). Self-esteem (dominance-feeling) and sexuality in women. Journal of Social Psychology, 16(2), 259-294.

⚄ Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0054346

⚄ Maslow, A. H. (1966). The psychology of science: A reconnaissance. Chicago: Henry Regnery.

⚄ Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd ed.). New York: Harper and Row.

⚄ Maslow, A. H. (1976). The farther reaches of human nature. New York: Penguin books. (Original work published 1971).

⚂ 3.6.8. Dąbrowski and John Hughlings Jackson.

⚃ John Hughlings-Jackson (1835-1911).

⚄ Widely seen as the Father of English neurology.

⚄ Specialized in epilepsy.

⚄ Created a conceptual framework for clinical neurophysiology.

⚄ He saw diseases of the nervous system as a process of de-evolution, or dissolution (see Taylor, 1958; York & Steinberg, 2006)

⚃ Hughlings-Jackson was influential in Dąbrowski’s conceptualization of the levels of neural organization and of the corresponding levels of neuro- and psychological function.

⚃ Influenced by Herbert Spencer, Hughlings-Jackson focused on evolution and dissolution in the nervous system. Higher levels represent new steps in the brain’s evolution. [Not Darwinian evolution].

⚃ “The notion that the nervous system works by integration of sensorimotor connections, with increasing integration and connection at higher levels, led Hughlings-Jackson to view the nervous system as an information network” (York & Steinberg, 1994, p. 159).

⚃ “[Hughlings-Jackson] described an evolutionary structure of the nervous system wherein the physical body is represented, re-represented, and re-rerepresented, at successive functional levels” [the nervous system is a sensorimotor machine] (Steinberg & York, 1994, p. 169).

⚃ Because functional levels correlate with developmental levels, understanding the organization of the levels leads to the clinical description of cerebral localization.

⚃ “Nervous system evolution, as Hughlings Jackson conceived it, consists of evolutionary levels and a process of moving from level to level. Two principles underlying this theory are that stages of evolution demonstrate increasing complexity, increasing definiteness, and increasing interconnections, and that higher levels exert an inhibitory control over lower levels … The practical clinical consequence of this evolutionary hierarchy is that pathological states are characterized by two types of observable symptoms — positive and negative.Negative symptoms are due to loss of a higher function and positive symptoms result from release of a lower level from inhibitory control” (Steinberg & York, 1994, pp. 169-170).

⚃ Hughlings-Jackson described how the nervous system is hierarchically organized in a series of 3 major levels (Highest, Middle, Lowest), governed by 3 principles of neural evolution.

⚃ Three principles of neural evolution:

⚄ 1). Evolution is the transfer from a very well organized lower level to a higher but poorly organized, more vulnerable and malleable one.

⚄ 2). Evolution moves from the simplest, lowest centers to the most complex, highest centers.

⚄ 3). Evolution is a transition from more automatic to more voluntary centers.

⚃ Higher levels control lower levels by exerting inhibitory forces on them. Dissolution occurs when the inhibition of higher levels is impaired and the more automatic, less reflective functions of the lower levels are released to act.

⚃ Summary: the highest centers, representing the summit of nervous evolution, are the least organized, and most delicate, but the most complex and most voluntary. (see Dąbrowski, 1964, pp. 83-84; Jackson, 1884).

⚄ For Hughlings-Jackson, the brain’s organization posed a problem: the higher, newer features are less stable and more vulnerable. Disorders of the higher levels (like psychoneurosis) disinhibit the lower levels and are the first step toward total dissolution of psychic functions (“mental involution”). Thus, progression of psychoneurosis could lead to serious mental illness.

⚄ For Dąbrowski, the initial fluid organization of the highest levels represents an opportunity for further, self-directed reorganization and development. “In our opinion, H. Jackson's conception of psychoneurosis as the first stage on the way to psychoses and mental dissolution, is erroneous. On the contrary psychoneuroses are an essential stage on the way toward the highest levels of 'humanization.' They the express accelerated development of a human individual” (Dąbrowski, 1973, p. 151).

⚄ For Dąbrowski, development is evolution:

⚅ “Evolution – a development which proceeds from lower to higher levels of organization. Positive disintegration is the type of process through which individual human, evolution occurs” (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 295).

⚄ Dąbrowski equated Hughlings-Jackson's construct of dissolution with positive disintegration: “Many mechanisms, viewed by him as 'dissolution,' play a key role in evolution. We call them processes of positive disintegration.” (Dąbrowski, 1996, p. 10).

⚂ 3.6.9. Conclusion.

⚃ Reward for Those who Persevered.

⚄ “Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing direction. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverised bones.
That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine. And that’s exactly what I do. I imagine a white funnel stretching vertically up like a thick rope. My eyes are closed tight, hands cupped over my ears, so those fine grains of sand can’t blow inside me. The sandstorm draws steadily closer. I can feel the air pressing on my skin. It really is going to swallow me up… . And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.
And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.
Murakami (2005). Kafka on the shore. (P. Gabriel, trans.). Vintage.