▣ 10.1 Introduction.
▣ 10.2 TPD Myths.
▣ 10.1 Introduction.
⧈ I created this webpage because of the series of ongoing "myths" we see concerning Dąbrowski and his theory. This page will highlight the major examples. Unfortunately, these are not trivial issues—and are important to address. There is a parallel here with the work of Maslow (see note 1).————
Note 1: The two major "myths" of Maslow's theory are:
MYTH: Self-actualization is the apex of development.
REALITY: Maslow was clear that self-transcendence was the apex of development.
MYTH: Maslow used a pyramid to depict his levels.
REALITY: Maslow never used the illustration of a pyramid in his work.
See: Compton, W. C. (2018). Self-Actualization myths: What did Maslow really say? Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 002216781876192–002216781876192. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022167818761929 (Good but not perfect; even Compton refers to Maslow's "pyramid")..
▣ 10.2 Myths.
⧈ 10.2.1 MYTH: The higher levels in Dąbrowski correspond to self-actualization.
REALITY: Dąbrowski rejected Maslow's approach to self-actualization as being unilevel. The use of self-actualization was introduced by Piechowski.
⧈ 10.2.2 MYTH: We can have confidence in the results of the research on overexcitability.
REALITY: Over the last 40 years, several different instruments have been used to measure overexcitability. It appears that these instruments lack construct validity—the test is not measuring the construct as the theory described it. Needless to say, Dąbrowsk described each of the five overexcitabilities on each of the different levels, and it is clear that a multilevel approach to measuring overexcitability is required. Dąbrowski emphasized that differences between higher and lower levels of a given overexcitability are great. Unfortunately, thus far, testing approaches have not been able to capture this degree of complexity in measuring the levels of overexcitability.
⚀ Let's look at emotional overexcitabilities as an example (Falk et al., 1999). Here is what the current questionnaire (the OEQ II) addresses:
►I feel other people’s feelings
►I worry a lot
►It makes me sad to see a lonely person in a group
►I can be so happy that I want to laugh and cry at the same time
►I have strong feelings of joy, anger, excitement, and despair
►I am deeply concerned about others
►My strong emotions moved me to tears
►I can feel a mixture of different emotions all at once
►I am an unemotional person
►I take everything to heart (pp. 7-8).
⚀ Let's compare that to Dąbrowski's (1996, pp. 76-77) description:
Aggressiveness, irritability, lack of inhibition, lack of control, envy, unreflective, periods of isolation, or an incessant need for tenderness and attention, which can be observed, for instance, in mentally retarded children.
Fluctuations, sometimes extreme, between inhibition and excitation, approach and avoidance, high tension and relaxation or depression, syntony and asyntony, feelings of inferiority and superiority. These are different forms of ambivalence and ambitendency.
Interiorization of conflicts, differentiation of a hierarchy of feelings, growth of exclusivity of feelings and indissoluble relationships of friendship and love. Emotional overexcitability appears in a broader union with intellectual and imaginational overexcitability in the process of working out and organizing one’ s own emotional development. The dynamisms of spontaneous multilevel disintegration are primarily the product of emotional overexcitability.
Emotional overexcitability in association with other forms becomes the dominant dimension of development. It gives rise to states of elevated consciousness and profound empathy, depth and exclusivity of relationships of love and friendship. There is a sense of transcending and resolving of one’s personal experiences in a more universal context.
⧈ 10.2.3 MYTH: Research has demonstrated that gifted children have strong overexcitabilities.
REALITY: For a balanced overview, see: MacEachron, D. (2018, June 13). Giftedness and overexcitabilities: Part 8 of Myth Busters: Alternative therapies for 2e Learners. https://drdevon.com/giftedness-and-overexcitabilities-part-8-of-myth-busters-alternative-therapies-for-2e-learners/ PDF version. As well, Pyryt (2008) concluded: "Gifted individuals are more likely than average-ability individuals to show signs of intellectual overexcitability. [According to TPD] This will be predictive of higher-level potential when combined with emotional overexcitability and higher-level dynamisms. There is limited evidence to suggest that gifted individuals possess these components to a greater degree than average-ability individuals."
⧈ 10.2.4 MYTH: Intellectual overexcitability can be equated with high intelligence.
REALITY: Intellectual overexcitability is not the same thing as measured intelligence. It represents a strong desire to learn, a need to learn, and, or a strong curiosity, not intelligence per se.
⚀ INTELLECTUAL OVEREXCITABILITY
Intellectual activity consists mainly of skillful manipulation of data and information (“a brain like a computer”). Intelligence rather than intellectual overexcitability serves as an instrument subservient to the dictates of primitive drives.
The functions of intelligence become uncertain and at times suspended by greater emotional needs. Internal opposition, ambivalences and ambitendencies create a fair chance of disconnection of the linkage between intelligence and primitive drives. This creates the possibility of incipient opposition against the ruling power of primitive instincts. Such an opposition, in the course of progressing development, creates the possibility of multilevel internal conflicts.
We observe erudition which can be extensive and brilliant but without systematization and evaluation of knowledge, there is no felt necessity to penetrate into the meaning of knowledge, to analyze in order to uncover the “hidden order of things,” or to arrive at a deeper synthesis. Exceptional abilities in many fields can be, nevertheless, one-sided.
Intellectual overexcitability intensifies the tendency toward inner conflicts and intensifies the activity of all dynamisms of spontaneous multilevel disintegration. It enhances the development of awareness and of self-awareness. It develops the need for finding the meaning of knowledge and of human experience. Conflict and cooperation with emotional overexcitability. Development of intuitive intelligence.
Intellectual overexcitability in close linkage with emotional and imaginational operates in a united harmony of drives, emotions, and volition. The DDC is more closely unified with personality (the level of secondary integration). Intellectual interests are extensive, universal, and multilevel. Great deal of interest and effort in objectivization of the hierarchy of values. Inclinations toward synthesis. Intellectual-emotional and intellectual-emotional-imaginational linkages are the basis of highly creative intelligence.
⧈ 10.2.5 MYTH: High intelligence is required for development.
REALITY: Nixon (2005, p. 5) showed, "Dabrowski reports that for all the children he examined who had both general and special abilities, the lowest I.Q. score was 110. This would suggest that an I.Q. at or above 110 meets the level required for personality development in TPD."
⧈ 10.2.6 MYTH: Overexcitabilities can be used to identify giftedness.
REALITY: As Ackerman (1997, p. 233) stated: "Classificatory analysis performed at the end of the discriminant analysis indicated that a total of 70.9% of all subjects were correctly classified using psychomotor, intellectual, and emotional OE scores; that is, into the groups the schools had placed them. However, 23 subjects were classified incorrectly: 13 of the 37 (35.1%) nongifted subjects were classified as gifted and 10 of the 42 (23.8%) gifted subjects were classified as nongifted." As to this last group, Ackerman concluded that the school had misclassified them; they actually ought to have been classified as gifted. It would seem, based on subsequent research that has accumulated over the years, that there is not a strong relationship between the five overexcitabilities and being gifted, and therefore measures of overexcitability should not be used to make inferences about being gifted or not gifted.
⧈ 10.2.7 MYTH: Dąbrowski has made a major impact in the gifted field.
REALITY: Major handbooks in the gifted field do not refer to Dąbrowski (and never have). A quote by McEachern (2018) illustrates the issue: "[This makes me wonder why] the gifted community has been so dogmatic about its belief in overexcitabilities, despite the lack of empirical evidence. It may be that people decided they liked the idea when it was just a hypothesis and haven't kept up with the research findings. It was striking how fast thought-leaders in the gifted community jumped on the wagon when the hypothesis was first popularized in the 1980's, despite a near total lack of any evidence at the time. I think it could also be due to the 'halo effect.' Professionals in the gifted community want to see the people they work with through a positive lens. For parents, the idea that their child is oversensitive as part of their giftedness and that's a good thing may be more appealing than an additional diagnosis of AHDH or Asperger’s or anxiety. Finally, we all want to think that pain and suffering will prove, in the long run, to be for the best. We want to believe it, and so we do."
⧈ 10.2.8a MYTH: All that really counts is having overexcitabilities.
REALITY: Dąbrowski described developmental potential as involving far more than simply overexcitability. Other factors include; instincts, dynamisms, abilities and talents, and the third factor, to list the main ones. The process of development also requires psychoneuroses acting in concert with specific developmental potentials.
⧈ 10.2.8b MYTH: All that really counts is having strong developmental potential.
REALITY: Dąbrowski was very clear that even with very strong developmental potential growth is not a given. Growth does not occur automatically or without conscious and volitional input. Developmental potential is necessary but not sufficient for growth. One must navigate the development of one's inner psychic milieu and be able to bring the dynamisms of development under conscious management. These include the third factor. Dąbrowski's number one concern was always suicide precipitated by the stresses of development, and he emphasized that navigating "the dark night of the soul" is an existential challenge that not everyone can surmount.
⧈ 10.2.9 MYTH: Overexcitabilities are just intense excitabilities.
REALITY: Overexcitabilities are not just being excited or hyper. First, they require management to inhibit, control, and direct their energy in positive ways. Without any management, they tend to be simply disruptive or disorganizing and sometimes may border on hypomania. Dąbrowski (undated and unpublished manuscript) emphasized: "What is increased psychic excitability or so-called nervousness? We could describe it in general terms as the increased sensitivity toward the multilevelness of reality. It is our excessive, stronger than normal, reactivity to external and internal stimuli, in which the reactions are long-lasting and create strong engrams as well as easily undergo ecphory." Here we see two critical psychological impacts of overexcitability. First, they give us a deeper and more nuanced view of reality. This contributes to the development of vertical conflicts: an important component of disintegration. Second, they contribute to a more comprehensive memory and to a more sensitive memory. Increased ecphory means that memories can be more easily retrieved based on various cues.
⚀ "When overexcitability (usually confined to psychomotor and sensual) distinctly dominates nervous activity, such that there is little or no inhibition or no conscious control, the indication is Level I. When overexcitability (usually including emotional) is accompanied by inhibition, but without conscious control, the indication is Level II. When inhibition distinctly dominates nervous activity giving rise to great and pervasive tension, but with little or no conscious control, the indication is the borderline between Levels II and III. When overexcitability and strong inhibition appear concurrently or simultaneously, with some conscious control, the indication is Level III. The distinct predominance of conscious control, in the presence of overexcitability and inhibition, indicates the borderline between Levels III and IV, or higher.
The five forms of overexcitability are ordered in terms of increasing importance for development: psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational, emotional. In particular cases, it is necessary to know the forms and extent of overexcitability. For example, even when overexcitability pervasively dominates over inhibition, if emotional overexcitability is present, the level diagnosis is higher. The kind and form of inhibition is also important in particular cases, for example, uniform and indiscriminate inhibition of all forms of overexcitability including higher forms, is less positive than selective inhibition of lower forms, which shows some conscious control" (Dąbrowski & Piechowski, 1996, p. 186).
⧈ 10.2.10 MYTH: Level I consists of only a handful of psychopaths.
REALITY: Dąbrowski described a continuum at level I. At the lower sub-level, psychopaths who are incapable of development exist ("moral dwarfs"). At the mid-level is the average person. At the higher sub-level are people who display some psychoneurotic elements. Level I is also characterized by a continuum of integration: the extreme rigid integration of the psychopath and the strong integration of the average person. Those with psychoneurotic elements show weaker integration and may slip back and forth into level II (depending on their level of developmental potential). The alternative view is promoted by Piechowski.
⧈ 10.2.11 MYTH: Level II contains the average person, and disintegration is not a major factor.
REALITY: Dąbrowski described level II as being a transitional level characterized by its name—unilevel disintegration. This is a level of extreme stress and confusion. The individual does not have a clear view of what they want and therefore displays ambivalence: one choice is as good as the other (and they are both horizontal choices). The individual is also characterized by ambitendencies—they are drawn to one alternative and then another and tend to go back and forth. The alternative view is promoted by Piechowski.
⧈ 10.2.12 MYTH: Dąbrowski was anti-psychiatry.
REALITY: Dąbrowski recognized traditional psychiatric diagnoses and advocated their treatment with conventional psychiatric medication. For example, schizophrenia. He felt that the average person should utilize traditional psychotherapy when necessary. For people with multilevelness he advocated what he called autopsychotherapy. Unfortunately, the manuscript describing this has only been seen by a handful of people in North America and although many people suggest they do this kind of therapy, it would have to be based on the seminal approach of Dąbrowski.
⧈ 10.2.13 MYTH: We don't need to suffer or disintegrate to grow.
REALITY: Dąbrowski assigned several important roles to the idea of suffering and disintegration. First, in his theory, unilevel integration inhibits individual autonomy and growth. This initial integration must break down to allow the locus of control to shift from the environment and lower instincts to the volitional control of the individual. This marks the beginning of true autonomous development. Individual development does not occur spontaneously—the self must be constructed. The personality ideal must be developed. The hierarchy of values must be created by the individual. These constructions do not happen under the conditions of unilevel integration. Next. Dąbrowski felt that through the process of subject-object we could come to see the inevitable suffering that life brings us in a different context. Rather than feeling anger or resentment that we have suffered, subject-object allows us to see others and appreciate their suffering, giving us a perspective that our situation is often not as dire as we think. It gives us humility and seeing that others have it worse, giving us strength to carry on. It gives us empathy and compassion for others. Piechowski has advocated that the role of suffering in growth is greatly exaggerated by Dąbrowski in TPD due to his own personal and harsh life experiences.
⧈ 10.2.14 MYTH: Developmental potential does not have to be genetic.
REALITY: Dąbrowski conceptualized developmental potential as genetic. He compared it to intelligence. Although the environment may enhance or stunt intelligence, the fundamental basis of intelligence is genetic. The alternative view is promoted by Piechowski.
⧈ 10.2.15 MYTH: We can have a good healthy (and moral) society of unilevel individuals.
REALITY: Reflecting Plato's approach, Dąbrowski was clear that the goal of both individual and societal development ought to be the rich, deep, and nuanced experience described by multilevelness. He fundamentally believed that, again, both individual and societal development must reflect autonomy and authenticity: qualities that can only be derived by multilevel development. This development emphasizes an internal locus of control that supersedes the impact of the environment and either supersedes or transforms lower impulses. The individual's morality must come from within and be based upon a uniquely developed hierarchy of values reflecting the individual's essence. The alternative view is promoted by Piechowski.
⧈ 10.2.16a MYTH: Dąbrowski's theory is about emotional development.
REALITY: Dabrowski said that he could not find a psychological theory that could adequately explain both the lowest and highest levels of behavior that he had observed in his lifetime. He was also intrigued by exemplary personalities and how their development occurred and differed from that of the average person. In discussions, Dąbrowski presented the theory as one of personality development.
⚀ The theory is not about emotional development per se. Here, emotional development parallels and occurs in tandem with personal and personality development. Emotions in the theory change and are transformed with development. For example, at the lowest levels, emotions reflect primitive ego states; I am mad because I didn't get the promotion. I am jealous because my wife looked at another man. I am envious because my neighbor got a new car. At the average level of development, emotions largely reflect social expectations and syntony. I cry at funerals because that's what I've learned people do. I laugh at jokes around the water cooler because the people beside me laugh (syntony). I'm sad when my parents are mad at me because I want them to love me and give me things and their attention. These are unilevel emotions.
⚀ If overexcitability and other developmental potentials are present, then these will impact emotional development and expression. As the personality develops, emotions take on a different role and expression as they become multilevel. Emotions shift to an internal locus of control and become less dependent on the environment. I may be at my birthday party, and everyone is happy, but I feel sad because of what I saw on the news last night.
The development of the inner psychic milieu allows more volitional control in organizing emotions and developing a hierarchy of higher and lower emotions. Multilevel emotions reflect self-awareness and a growing degree of objectivity of the self as subject-object develops. At the highest levels, emotions become exclusive; for example, unique feelings of love develop for a partner. Emotional overexcitability influences the expression of intellectual and imaginational and takes a dominant role in organizing one's emotional expression.
Dąbrowski said that at the highest levels, emotions and values become synonymous. One's hierarchy of values becomes a unique expression of one's character, expressed through one's emotions. A synthesis occurs by bringing together personality ideal, the third factor, one's values, one's intuitive intelligence, and one's imagination and emotions. At this high-level, self-education and autopsychotherapy are important components in managing and maintaining self-development.
⧈ 10.2.16b MYTH: Dąbrowski's theory is about moral development.
REALITY: As with emotion above, the theory is not about moral development per se. Morality and values reflect the level of one's development. At the lowest level, there really is no sense of morality or values, and Dąbrowski refers to these individuals as "moral dwarfs." At the average level of development, the individual reflects the values and morals of their social environment. Values are interiorized with little examination or evaluation. As multilevelness develops, a shift inwards occurs. The development of the inner psychic milieu provides a framework for creating a self-created and autonomous hierarchy of values. A unique and autonomous morality reflecting an individual's deep essence and character emerges.
⧈ 10.2.16c MYTH: Dąbrowski's theory is all about overexcitabilities
REALITY: The theory of positive disintegration is a broad and complex network of constructs. Overexcitability is a component of developmental potential, an important part, but certainly not "the whole picture," either in terms of developmental potential or of the overall theory. Overexcitability acts in the theory in conjunction with other developmental potentials, for example, the third factor and, as well, the dynamisms. Overexcitability acts in conjunction with psychoneuroses to create disintegration. The expression of overexcitabilities depends on the level of development—thus, the multilevel aspects of the individual case need to be evaluated and taken into account. Each overexcitability has different expressions on each of the five levels creating 25 descriptions. It should be kept in mind that overexcitabilities are a necessary but not sufficient condition for advanced development to occur.
⧈ 10.2.17 MYTH: "Tillier's issues simply reflect a personal issue he has with Piechowski."
REALITY: Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strong loyalty to Dąbrowski and his theory for what they have given me in my life. I am also acutely aware of the tremendous needs many people have today and the potential of the approach of positive disintegration to help at least a segment of these people. I am very sad and concerned that, over the past 40 years, the theory has not had the benefit of a clear, original, and complete presentation and appears to have suffered "a wrong turn on the road." For me, this is a matter of academic integrity and the future of the theory—the stakes are the life or death of the theory. I am not alone in my concern; many people feel the same way.
⚀ In 1976 I met and began attending lectures by Dąbrowski. Christmas, 1977, I met Michael Piechowski. Over the years, I had many cordial discussions with Michael, including him spending the weekend with me at my home. Again over years, Michael and I became less communicative as he became frustrated that I would not alter my position—I supported the original views of Dąbrowski and confronted him about the way he presented his ideas. Michael presented his ideas in such a way that the reader unfamiliar with Dąbrowski had a difficult challenge knowing what material reflected Dąbrowski's original position and what material reflected Michael's interpretations. I urged him many times to clearly differentiate his views from Dąbrowski’s, and he refused, saying, "I'm not offering a different theory; I am simply correcting mistakes in Dąbrowski."
⚀ From 1980 to 1994, Norbert Duda was the public face advocating for the fidelity of Dąbrowski's theory. He attended many workshops and spoke up. In 1994, Sharon Lind organized the Keystone Colorado workshop, and, after attending that, I took on a public role along with Norbert. I created the website in 1995, and I organized the next conference in Canada in 1996.
⚀ Over the past 40 years, people have primarily seen TPD linked only to overexcitability and to the gifted. Michael's ideas had a major impact on shaping how the theory was perceived and understood. Initially, the original materials of Dąbrowski were difficult to obtain and readers relied upon Piechowski's publications. Readers were left to judge the theory of positive disintegration solely upon the basis of overexcitability as measured in the gifted population. Again, over the years, accumulating research results have not supported a strong association between the five overexcitabilities and the gifted population. Thus, many in the gifted field have now rejected Dąbrowski's work in toto.
⚀ Unfortunately, today, some people seem to gloss over the differences between the two authors and even consider them insignificant. Others appear to endorse Piechowski's views, preferring them to Dąbrowski's original.
⚀ I fully endorse the orderly research and development of the TPD. However, the only way for the theory to develop and grow is for challenges and alternatives to be presented so that the reader can compare and contrast different versions, along with research evidence. This would eventually lead to neo-Dąbrowskian formulations.
For example, the work of Aron on HSP individuals has had a great impact. It has become a popular theory in the public realm and has also had an impact on academic psychology. The two theories seem to share some major similarities, but as well, some major differences. Aron's strategy for dealing with heightened sensitivity is quite different from Dąbrowski's and she does not link heightened sensitivity to any sense of growth or positivity. It would be worthwhile for both theories to be carefully compared and contrasted and consider the implications of their similarities and differences.