Many giftedness ideas can be traced back to the work of Polish psychiatrist and psychologist Kasmierz Dabrowski. Dabrowski developed his own theory of personality development from his lifetime study of gifted youth.
He called his idea the theory of positive disintegration (TPD).
While gifted peoples’ intensity, sensitivity, and tendency toward emotional extremes could easily be interpreted pathologically, Dabrowski believed that these qualities were, in fact, raw ingredients necessary for profound personality growth.
Dabrowski’s TPD posits that personality development is powered by the tension between lower and higher aspects of the self. Put differently, a person’s personality is propelled forward by her or his experience of “good” and “bad” within her or his self: a desire to move toward what is deemed “good” and away from what is felt as “bad”.
Dabrowski argued that personality advances through a series of positive disintegrations. Positive disintegrations are painful times when a person experiences intense inner conflict between her or his lower more egocentric self, and his or her higher more humane self.
Daniels and Piechowski (2009):
Dabrowski’s theory describes the process of inner growth wherein the guiding principle is to be true to oneself. The search for self-knowledge entails inner struggles, doubts, and even despair about one’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual shortcomings, and yet it always leads back again to the process of gaining greater understanding of others, ridding oneself of prejudices, and becoming more self-determined in achieving one’s inner ideal (p. 16).
A person’s personality transforms during a positive disintegration. Her or his lower self shatters and then reforms closer to her or his more altruistic personality ideal.
The personality growth process (which often includes periods of positive disintegration) continues throughout the lifespan.
Put differently, we are never done growing.
When I first learned about Dabrowski’s TPD, it resonated deeply with me. It described well my own process of personal development and helped me understand why life has been so difficult for me at times.
If you are interested in learning more about Dabrowski’s ideas, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Living with Intensity: Understanding the sensitivity, excitability, and emotional development of gifted children, adolescents, and adults (edited by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski). Living with Intensity consists of a collection of essays tied together by the TPD.
In my in-person (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) and online counselling & coaching practice, I help gifted individuals cope with their often difficult developmental journeys. Contact me to take the next step in your journey.
Daniels, S., & Piechowski, M. M. (2009). Embracing intensity: Overexcitability, sensitivity, and the developmental potential of the gifted. In S. Daniels & M. M. Piechowski (Eds.), Living with Intensity (pp. 3–18). Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.