December 31, 2022

Gifted adult personal development

Gifted adult personal development

Gifted adult personal development. Several giftedness-related ideas can be traced back to the work of Polish psychiatrist and psychologist Kasmierz Dąbrowski. Dąbrowski developed his own theory of personal(ity) development from his lifetime study of gifted youth.

He called his idea the theory of positive disintegration (TPD).

personality shaping positive disintegration book cover dabrowski

While gifted peoples’ intensity, sensitivity, and tendency toward emotional extremes could easily be interpreted pathologically, Dąbrowski believed that these qualities were, in fact, raw ingredients necessary for profound humanistic personality growth.

Dąbrowski’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 their experience of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ within their self: a desire to move toward what is deemed ‘good’ and away from what is felt as ‘bad’.

Dąbrowski argued that personality advances through a series of positive disintegrations. Positive disintegrations are painful times when a person experiences intense inner conflict between their lower more egocentric self, and their higher more humane self.

Daniels and Piechowski (2009):

Dąbrowski’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. Their lower self shatters and then reforms closer to their more authentic and 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. (And, many gifted adults are perpetually driven to grow and develop—cue the third factor: a deep-seated motivation to develop autonomy—an inner drive to develop and express one’s own unique character and personality.)

When I first learned about Dabrowski’s TPD, it resonated deeply with me. It described well my own process of personal(ity) development and helped me understand why life has been so difficult for me at times (I have been though at least two, likely three, positive disintegrations thus far).

If you are interested in learning more about Dąbrowski’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 is very accessible and consists of a collection of essays tied together by the TPD.

You may be interested in reading more about giftedness or learning about how you can care for your unique self. Gifted adult personal development. 

In my in-person (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) and online counselling, psychotherapy & 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.