Attention

This page contains excerpts from Dąbrowski’s works. References are available at the end of the page. 

These are excerpts about attention, which is a search that helped clarify the connections between overexcitability and types of neurodivergence. Eventually, we will add the attention excerpts from Dąbrowski's book Nervousness of Children and Youth from 1935.

Excerpts from Psychological Bases of Self-Mutilation (1937)

In neurotic conditions, especially in young people, we encounter an excess of such impulses, either in the form of hyperkinesis in general, or tics, with which may be combined disturbances of inhibition. In nervous individuals the sphere of impulsive and subconscious life is more strongly developed than in individuals of more resistant nervous constitution. Therefore the cortical control appears weaker and of shorter duration, or is out of proportion to the exciting agent, in consequence of which either an excessive inhibition (anxiety state) or a weakness of inhibition may appear at any given moment. The preoccupation with any emotion causes a diminution of the repression of impulses and the impulses increase (scratching the head, biting the nails, hyperkinesis while studying or reading). Meige and Feindel (55) in their work on tics present the mechanism in the following way: “Any prolonged concentration of the attention on a particular act or a particular idea presupposes a concomitant weakening of inhibitory power over other acts and ideas, which then become corrupt and inopportune, are incapable of further repression, and blossom into tics.” (Dabrowski, 1937)

We are dealing here with neuropathic dramatization of a hysterical personality. The high level of her acting was based on her innate tendencies to dramatization. In boarding schools, we have observed many cases of self-mutilation by tickling the palate to provoke vomiting, letting blood from the nose or exposure to cold. The motives behind these cases were the desire to play truant from school or to shirk work of some sort, attracting attention, and provoking affection. With minor exceptions these cases concerned neuropathic individuals, who expressed in a way most characteristic of their psychological types (introverted, passive types) this need of arousing interest in themselves, or of freeing themselves from unpleasant situations. (Dabrowski, 1937)

In the case of L we found a relatively weaker neuropathic basis. L entered the convent at the age of seven and, under influence of the convent atmosphere and religious reading, began to imitate saints by whipping herself. She locked herself in the bathroom before going to bed, and having entirely undressed herself whipped herself with a cord till she bled. She did it with the conviction that blood-letting had a purifying power. L whipped herself for several years until, on growing older she realized that using self-mutilation brought on a state of sexual excitement and gratification. She admitted that the cause of her self-mutilation was “hunger for affection.” (L was brought up away from her parents; as she states, she never was loved.) L repeatedly used self-mutilation to attract attention. It must be assumed that the need for arousing others' interest in her was also caused by the lack of parental love and care. (Dabrowski, 1937)

Suicidal tendencies, especially in youth, may, according to Adler's theory, develop on the basis of a feeling of inferiority which in turn may be caused by an inferiority of certain organs, by conditions of life, or conflicts in the family. As exposure to sickness and pain is often a form of self-mutilation in order to arouse pity among the interested ones, so may the contemplation of and attempts at suicide be used to arouse pity and to injure others. The refusal to eat and exposure to cold are often expressions of a need to attract attention or to play an important part in life. Lacking other means to reach the first rank and to arouse interest, one looks for it sometimes in dreams of death or in suicide. Suicide can finally be the strongest form of protest or vengeance for failure in life, the last stage of self-mutilation and, therefore, also of the torture of others (2). (Dabrowski, 1937)

Continuous mutual irritation by conflicting tendencies contributed to the formation of emotional or logical arguments for the degradation of the conflicting tendencies. All of Weininger's nearest friends call attention to his tendencies to self-mutilation and to asceticism, and especially the fear in the last month of his life of suicide. He exhibits, on the one hand, a search for the vilest traits of woman and, on the other, asceticism, the striving for sanctity. Exhaustion in the struggle without result was implied in Weininger's opinion that there are three ways out of mental conflicts: “Selbstmord, Galgen oder ein Ziel, grösser and herrlicher als es jedem Mensch errungen.” (Dabrowski, 1937)

 

Excerpts from Types of Increased Psychic Excitability (1938/2019)

In early childhood, we notice the first signs of psychomotor overexcitability in the form of frequent and long-lasting spells of crying, irritation, etc. In young children we may see extended bouts of screaming in anger and throwing oneself down on the floor. These outbursts are sometimes called explosions of opposition and can lead to spasms and turning blue. We suspect that at the root are subconscious traumatic elements together with constitutional qualities. In preschool, such children move too much, are impatient and disobedient, although they cause fewer complaints than at home because in preschool there is more opportunity for psychomotor release. Real difficulties begin with the transition to systematic learning. The largest number of children receiving a negative grade for behavior are from this group. These children fidget in their seats, disturb their classmates, shoot scraps of paper and metal nibs, find thousands of reasons to leave the classroom, and display an excessive mobility of attention. After class, and sometimes during class, they initiate fights, and most often take part in them and in other psychomotor excesses. Among boys, excelling in being independent, inclined toward rebellion in school, we are most often dealing with those with psychomotor overexcitability. The symptoms are particularly strong during puberty, although there is no lack of them in other periods. During puberty, we often encounter in this type frequent psychomotor release in the form of vagrancy. Among street children that jump onto streetcars, newsboys, tramps, or stowaways, we encounter predominantly this type. (Dąbrowski, 1938/2019)

Finding the point of attachment is a way of systematizing the spreading of anxiety, hence the most annoying because not contained in any way. This is similar to what happens when an individual, not sure of himself, seeks support and certainty in pedantic attention to order in his activities. Fear of death is one of the symptoms of a narrow affective excitability. It develops when death is experienced under unexpected conditions. In an introvert undergoing puberty, inclined toward excessive self-analysis, fear of death can develop from the substrate of general affective overexcitability. This is understandable when we consider that puberty is characterized by a certain mental disaggregation, regrouping of tendencies, their [internal] wrestling, and increased emotionality of individuals in this period. In nervous individuals, this state may be combined with the sense that some tendencies and personal traits are waning, and the sense that the transformation is too abrupt. (Dąbrowski, 1938/2019)

These are states of anticipatory anxiety, of fear of an unclear distressing possibility, the inchoate feeling of not completing something undefined that should have been completed, of searching for the means to do so and not finding them. We observe this in nervous youths in school. The constant apprehension of the moment of being asked a question, the fear of feeling the eyes of the whole class on oneself, and anticipating shame in the case of giving the wrong answer, causes difficulties of focusing attention on the subject as well as falling prey to intrusive fear. (Dąbrowski, 1938/2019)

Such children readily yield to a stream of involuntary associations because they are not capable of submitting themselves to the conditions imposed on them that demand constant adjustment to reality. When they start attending school they become depressed, lose weight, grow thin; they are usually viewed as able, but odd, inattentive, sickly. Inattention is the result of the necessity to tear oneself away for short or longer time from the class and the subject that does not engage them. However, when the subject, the teacher’s approach, and the general atmosphere exert a strong influence on the direction of their imaginational processes, they then temporarily earn the opinion of being bright students. (Dąbrowski, 1938/2019)

Night dreams serve the role of completing waking dreams, they are an expression of the need for imaginal experiences even more intense than in wakefulness, and lastly they are the terrain where affective needs can be realized. In children and youths with a strongly developed life of imagination who are oversensitive, feel less valued, and harbor feelings of being mistreated, we encounter fantasies of their own death, a catafalque, lying in a coffin amidst flowers, surrounded by sympathy, sorrow, and respect. Here we also encounter manifestations of nervous acting, semi-conscious confabulations, in which being noticed, in full view, the object of attention, plays a significant role. (Dąbrowski, 1938/2019)

Teachers and tutors describe this type of child as “gluey” and “sticky.” Greediness and capriciousness in regard to food is another trait of this type. We observe not only overeating but also an excessive attention to meals, preparation of dishes, and the time devoted to eating. During meals there is also more frequent sniffing of the food. (Dąbrowski, 1938/2019)

Excessive sensual sensitivity without a deeper emotional base, linked with the desire to draw attention to oneself, lies behind an attraction to jewelry; it’s notable for these persons that it is easy to let go of jewelry items while always hungering for more. The lack of more enduring relationships, the not binding sensory impressions together into a harmonious structural constellation with affective, psychomotor, and intellectual experiences, explains to some degree the lack of ability to form lasting attachments to objects, places, customs, and traditions. These types do not have a strong need for family bonds, and that lack introduces severe problems into marital and family life. Such persons as a rule do not seek in themselves the responsibility for the problems, but always in external conditions. (Dąbrowski, 1938/2019)

Interests of those who are predominately sensually overexcitable individuals are primarily connected with social and sexual life, with the need to interest others in oneself, and putting oneself first. Such persons often manifest strong interests, and often great talents, in dress, fashion, and jewelry. They find satisfaction in work that brings them in contact with well-to-do, elegant clientele, and members of the other sex. I knew a number of persons who evinced interest and talent in ballet. Some among them showed the interest and ability to tastefully appoint the living space, select trinkets, and colors; they displayed an excessive attention to comfort. To create a life plan and systematically apply one’s will is a rare phenomenon here. (Dąbrowski, 1938/2019)

Among past and current illnesses, we mention relatively frequent illnesses of the digestive system, skin diseases, blood vessels spasms, and other. Relatively frequently we observe excessive excitability of the skin to touch, pain, temperature, and excessive sensitivity to tickling. I have found that the men’s cremasteric reflex exhibits the interesting phenomenon of marked expansion of the excitable area (the whole lower abdomen, beginning with the line to the navel, interior and upper surface of the thighs to the middle of shins). From the pedagogical factors we must mention first of all the influence of the atmosphere of the immediate environment, adoration, excessive caresses, and sexual traumas. Being a single child is very often associated with this constellation of overexcitability. Excessive stimulation of the child’s erogenous areas (with kisses, caresses), sleeping with the child, and excessive attention to the child’s physical attractiveness, intensify this excitability complex. (Dąbrowski, 1938/2019)

 

Excerpts from Positive Disintegration (1964)

In both states of cyclic disorders one can observe symptoms which are positive for personality development. The depressive syndrome with inhibition which makes action difficult and gives rise to anxiety and suicidal thoughts is a disintegration of the internal environment. In this phenomenon we see cortical inhibition, an excess of self-analysis and self-criticism, and feelings of sin and inferiority. The manic state shows intensified general feeling, rapidity of thought, emotional and psychomotor excitement, and great mobility of attention. Symptoms of the manic state will vary depending on the hierarchical level attained by the individual. At lower cultural levels there will be aggressiveness, provocation of annoyance, and a tendency to respond to annoyance; individuals at higher levels will show excessive alterocentrism, social hyperactivity, and creativeness. In manic-depressive psychosis the nature of the disintegration will depend on the changeability from manic stage to depression and on the level of culture. (Dabrowski, 1964)

Paranoia is characterized by psychomotor excitability, rapidity of thinking, a great inclination to criticize others without self-criticism, and an intensified self-attention without feelings of self-consciousness and self-doubt. Paranoiacs present a very rigid integration with systematized delusions of persecution and grandeur, and egocentric excitability. They also reveal an inability to adapt to real situations that contributes to a narrow form of unilevel disintegration. The absence of self-doubt and self-criticism and the narrow range of the symptomatology reflect the absence of multilevel disintegration. Paranoid structure to some extent is similar to psychopathic structure in that both show integration. In the psychopath, the integration is broad but is at a low hierarchical level, whereas the paranoiac the integration is at a higher hierarchical level but is partial and thus contributes to narrow unilevel disintegration. (Dabrowski, 1964)

The positive effect of some forms of disintegration is shown by the fact that children (who have greater plasticity than adults) present many more symptoms of disintegration: animism, magical thinking, difficulty in concentrating attention, overexcitability, and capricious moods. During periods of developmental crisis (such as the age of opposition and especially puberty) there are many more symptoms of disintegration than at other times of life. These are also the occasions of greatest growth and development. The close correlation between personality development and the process of positive disintegration is clear. (Dabrowski, 1964)

In psychiatry, this theory leads to an increased respect for the patient, emphasis on psychic strengths as well as on psychopathological processes, and attention to the creative and developmental potential of the patient. The theory indicates the necessity in diagnosis and treatment to distinguish disintegration as either positive or negative in nature. The theory of positive disintegration represents a change in the traditional psychiatric concepts of health, illness, and normality. Perhaps these concepts can be clarified by the presentation and discussion of two case histories. (Dabrowski, 1964)

Directing Ella's attention to the products of her fantasies could result in excessive attention to them and artificially increase their effect (although knowledge of them would give increased understanding to the therapist). Regarding the symptoms as psychopathological would imply the desirability of their elimination. However, they perform a positive function for this child, and to deprive her of them would be a serious matter. Focusing on pathology might accentuate anxiety, inhibition, and flight into sickness. Viewing and treating these symptoms as psychopathological would itself create conditions that would appear to confirm the correctness of that approach. (Dabrowski, 1964)

The period of infancy is a distinctly integrated one since all the activities of an infant are directed to the goal of satisfying the basic necessities. The opposite of integration is disintegration, i.e., structures and dynamisms scattered, separated, split, and not subordinated to a distinct disposing and directing center. Disintegration is strongly manifested during the developmental periods of childhood. We may observe distinct signs of it in infants, both at about 18 months and at 2 ½ years of age. Capriciousness, dissipated attention, period of artificiality, animism, and magical thinking are closely connected with a wavering nervous system and unstable psychic structure. During this time a child's moods are changing and its acts are incoherent and very often in contradiction to one another. In the age of opposition, elements of disintegration become stronger. (Dabrowski, 1964)

 

Excerpts from Personality-Shaping through Positive Disintegration (1967)

In the sciences, even those which have departed most remotely from philosophy, such as the experimental sciences with a definite scope, methods, and aims, two different attitudes of scientists are observed. Some scientists, in their efforts to achieve a deeper understanding of fundamental problems in their special fields, seek solutions not only within the narrow scope of a given branch of knowledge but also outside it. Others, desiring to keep their methods free from extraneous influences so as to avoid dissipation of attention, do not move beyond the scope of their particular fields of study. The first attitude is characterized by a tendency toward broadening the horizon of thought, and the second to its narrowing, with the hope of obtaining a deeper insight into a particular subject matter. (Dabrowski, 1967)

The second characteristic form of unilevel disintegration is that taking place during the climacteric period. It is also characterized by a weakening or evanescence of certain dynamisms or certain values in favor of others, and general experience tells us that almost always these new elements are of lesser value compared to the retreating ones. In this period the sexual drive weakens or transforms itself into other drives, one's vital efficiency usually weakens, the interests pursued thus far are no longer as strong and one is not so vigorous in one's attempts to realize them; one's somatic side also undergoes changes which are biologically disadvantageous to the individual, changes that are reflected in the weakening of one's efficiency in action and in growing old. The individual is trying to substitute new or strengthened dynamisms in place of the retreating dynamisms, and this is usually more difficult to accomplish than in the preceding period (tendencies toward strengthening of family life, greater thriftiness in material matters, parsimony, not paying too much attention to one's dress, arbitrariness, egocentrism, and so forth). Nevertheless, the psychic state at the time of substitution is marked by the weakness of vital tension, an uncertainty in action, a feeling of inferiority, depression, retrospective tendencies and fear of the future, and a slackening of prospection. (Dabrowski, 1967)

In this process the domain of instinctive life, particularly of primitive drives, is very often clearly regarded as a lower domain from which one should make himself independent in order to be able to realize a proper plan of development. Such an attitude is sometimes accompanied by a strong sense of the fundamental differences between body and spirit. This reflects disintegration in the domain of somatopsychic interactions, which captures the attention of a given individual and makes him sensitive to these problems and to their practical manifestations. (Dabrowski, 1967)

We will now comment on manic-depressive psychosis. Its inheritance points to the importance of those factors which are summed up in the experience of generations and to the explosion of cyclicity of maniacal or melancholic moods. These states are released often by psychic injuries. The melancholic image of inhibition, difficulty in action, timidity, suicidal thoughts is the picture of the disintegration of the inner milieu. In the conflicting attitude, therefore, the upper hand is gained by such inhibitory cortical factors as the analysis and criticism of one's own affectional attitudes, and the feelings of guilt and inferiority. The “laughing melancholies” are evidence of high tension in the conflict between depression, suicidal tendencies, and the disposing and directing center, which cause internal introspection and even the attitude of being an observer of one's own drama (the “subject-object” process). The developmental character of the melancholy phase is shown to some extent by the fact that these individuals frequently regain their health, after they satiate themselves with depressing matter, and by the partial participation of reshaping mental activities of the analytical type. The maniacal image consists of an increased feeling of one's own value, an accelerated flow of thought, motor and affectional excitation, and enhanced attention. Individuals in this state make decisions easily, easily carry them into effect, display a weakening of inhibition, and they may attain very good results in their work because of their increased and indefatigable energy. Depending on the cultural level of a maniacal individual, lie may be dominantly either quarrelsome, aggressive, inclined to vexatiousness or syntony, to undue alterocentrism, to social activeness, or have a tendency to help others and show empathy in relation to them. The capacity for differentiated syntony may lead to an actor perfecting his performance, to increased creativity, or to a drive to reform. In mixed states we come into contact with experiences of unpleasant tension, with angry and depressive moods, and with manifestations of mixed feelings (pleasant and unpleasant). In manic-depressive psychosis the material for reshaping is supplied by the changeability of states (in maniacal states, depression; in depressive states, mania; and in both states, the state of unrest). (Dabrowski, 1967)

Our considerations so far have led to the isolation of so called positive disintegration from the various kinds of disintegrations. The positivity of certain forms of disintegration is manifested by the fact that a child, a developing being, reveals in certain periods of his development many more disintegrative properties than a normally developing adult traits of animism, magical thinking, an unwarranted flightiness of attention and difficulties in concentration, emotionalism, and capriciousness. In periods of intensive development, such as the period of contradictoriness and primarily the period of maturation, we come into contact with a particular intensification of disintegrative symptoms, which points to a close, positive correlation between susceptibility to development and certain forms of disintegration. The process of positive disintegration often manifests itself in the phenomenon of Rorschach's ambiequal types, in the period of contradictoriness and primarily in the period of maturation. Furthermore, we realize here the striking fact that these types, which, as Rorschach sees them, are the most harmonious, occur most frequently in periods characteristic of disintegrative processes. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Let us now stop to think for a moment about the problem of creative intelligence. Let us pose a question: what is creative, the intelligence or the whole personality of the creator? What is the process of development of creativity, at what moments is it evoked, and what are the conditions accompanying the advent of ideas? Of course, here we can make only some sketchy remarks. To the first question we can answer that, in general, the share of the creator's whole personality is proportional to the depth and extent of the creative processes. The advent of a creative idea, the development of a creative process, contains in itself several fundamental elements: an intensification of attention, the workings of thought within the scope of a given problem, the unrest that accompanies the advent of ideas and the lack of sufficient elements for their development, states of general mental and psychic disequilibrium, and states of irritation and enhanced excitability. Very often after this period there ensues a phase, as it were, of separation from the spontaneity of the creative process; there comes a period of calming down, of “rest,” not infrequently of meditation and contemplation, sometimes a period of turning one's back, for a certain time, on a given area of one's interests. The creative idea usually arises in the first period, and develops in the second, though this is not always the case. There are creators with such wide interest, with such creative passion, that the above-outlined process goes on almost permanently. In many other cases we come into contact with longer or shorter intervals, with “nights of the soul” in creativity, analogous to such intervals in general psychic development. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Directing Ella's attention to the products of her phantasies could result in excessive attention to them and artificially increase their effect (although knowledge of them would give increased understanding to the therapist). Regarding the symptoms as psychopathological would imply the desirability of their elimination. However, they perform a positive function for this child, and to deprive her of them would be a serious matter. Focusing on pathology might accentuate anxiety, inhibition, and flight into sickness. Viewing and treating these symptoms as psychopathological would itself create conditions that would appear to confirm the correctness of that approach. (Dabrowski, 1967)

 

Excerpts from Mental Growth through Positive Disintegration (1970)

Let us consider another example. S., high-school student, grade nine, was given unjustly a low mark in a subject which he knew quite well. He seriously experienced his failure which, most likely, was caused by the lack of attention on the part of the teacher or by his momentary negative attitude toward the boy or by some other accidental circumstances. The pupil's first response was to refuse to go to school, to show aggressive feelings toward his teacher, to be rude to him. After some time S. reconsidered the matter. He came to the conclusion that this kind of injustice is not necessarily a result of a conscious, deliberate wish. Following the advice of his parents and the conclusions of his own deliberations he decided to refrain from any impulsive response and to do more homework. After a few weeks he received a good mark. The teacher thought the problem over and admitted before the class that the former mark was not just. This inhibition, the internalization of this unpleasant fact, the ability to control a violent response, careful thought and reconsideration of the response led to a partial secondary integration on a higher level. (Dabrowski, 1970)

A variety of circumstances which cause fear may lead to mental disintegration, but at the same time, especially if the individual is capable of empathy, they turn his attention to other people's feelings, give rise to the feeling of responsibility for other people and the growth and refinement of empathy, then this low, primitive form of the self-preservation instinct is under control, we begin to experience fear about other people, and sometimes even show existential anxiety. If the developmental nuclei are strong enough, lower level fears are replaced by fears of a higher kind, by altruistic feelings and empathy. This process culminates in a partial integration on a higher level or in further, higher stages of partial disintegration. (Dabrowski, 1970)

One of the first dynamisms which usually arise at the time of transition from unilevel to multilevel disintegration is the feeling of disquietude with oneself. It is a feeling distinctly different from the feeling of disquietude about oneself which has its roots in the instinct of self-preservation. Disquietude with oneself, on the contrary, is an early expression of the instinct of self-perfection. It includes elements of wonder, surprise, and consists in a vague feeling that something unexpected and not entirely appropriate takes place in our mental structure. This feeling is a distinct symptom of the process of growing loosening and disintegration of the former primitive mental equilibrium. It expresses an introvert attitude which turns an individual's attention away from external objects toward his inner mental states. The feeling of a disquietude with oneself signifies an important breakthrough on the road toward gradual formation of an authentic personality. (Dabrowski, 1970)

Another case of autonomous mental development which breaks the biological life cycle was the Nobel Prize winner, outstanding American writer William Faulkner. He was depressive, maladjusted, both as a writer and as a man. Introvert, withdrawn, psychoneurotic, he created in his novels a wide gallery of disintegrated, and even asocial figures that went through dramatic transformations toward higher levels of humanity. The manner in which he focused his attention on psychological problems and depicted them in his writings make him a representative of world literature. In him were combined literary genius, maladjustment, mental disturbances and insight. (Dabrowski, 1970)

Outstanding affective and imaginational sensitivity, fairly well developed ability for transferring psychic experience into vegetative nervous system. Strong preponderance of higher levels of psychic life, considerable capacity for inner psychic transformation (when he came for treatment he was looking for help in changing himself, he understood that individual development requires universal attention to human values, and that it cannot be achieved alone). Inner psychic milieu distinctly in hierarchical order. Outstanding intelligence with more facility for the theoretical than the practical. Some original traits in thinking. Multidirectional abilities. Reality function well developed at higher levels of mental life, and poorly developed at the lower, everyday level. (Dabrowski, 1970)

This is a case, we believe, representing a rich developmental potential, and which, assuming proper conditions, could give rise to accelerated development. In our view, symptoms of such emotional tension, which resemble ecstasy, symptoms of somnambulism, resisting tragic conditions: all of these give a picture rather contrary-from the point of view of totality of character and personality–to the group of characteristics on which we usually depend in the diagnosis of hysteria. Exclusive attention to the so-called typical symptoms without attempting to correlate them with healthy personality traits gives, in our opinion, a basis for a merely schematic diagnosis that omits the rich aspects of personality structure and its developmental possibilities. (Dabrowski, 1970)

On this level one discovers the freedom of another individual and one finds it impossible to enter it unless invited by the other. The responsibility for others is fulfilled by example, by attention to the needs of others through empathy, and by constant readiness to assist others. In friendship and love there is a commitment on a very high level. This commitment generates a deep sense of responsibility for oneself and for the other. (Dabrowski, 1970)

It should be stated clearly that until now the concept of the inner psychic milieu has received in psychology, education and psychiatry, too little attention. The lack of understanding of this concept and of its importance betrays a neglect of the higher, that is, truly human elements in diagnosis, prognosis and therapy. The developmental dynamisms of the human psyche have received little, if any, consideration in the organic schools of psychiatry, in the stimulus response and reflexological schools of psychology, including also the so-called learning theorists, and in many branches of psychoanalysis. Creative dynamisms, inner psychic transformation, the third factor and the dynamism “subject-object” in oneself remain utterly neglected. These schools do not recognize the fact that the differentiation of the levels of mental functions in the inner milieu gives a firm basis for a hierarchy of values. (Dabrowski, 1970)

The higher the level of development, the less there is of conflict with the external environment, but more of sublimation of internal conflicts. This comes from a greater ability for the concentration of psychic energy on the essential and important, tasks in development and social responsibility. For example, it is essential to be able to see the hierarchy of values, and for this reason to direct one's attention and energy to the higher levels of mental functions as to the really significant ones. (Dabrowski, 1970)

The brain cortex has its own activity in the form of electric potentials which arise independently of peripheral stimuli. These brain waves, as they became to be called, arise in particular under the impact of strong emotions, stimulation of interest, attention, and the like. (Dabrowski, 1970)

 

Excerpts from Existential Thoughts and Aphorisms (1972)

33 How particular and childish we are. We often make ourselves the center of attention and desire to interest others by a new hairdo, bracelets, earrings and other trinkets. The direction of our interests and our view expresses the level of our “essential values.” (Cienin, 1972)

138 There are philosophers, psychologists and other scientists who do not concede the objectivity of levels of psychic functions of man because they can't touch or perceive these levels or measure them by standard methods. That is why insight, helpfulness, justice, empathy, thoughtfulness, aesthetic and moral sensitivity are to them “subjective” phenomena. On the other hand they search for the most “objective” methods to evaluate a good level of teachers and educators for their children; they even demand that they themselves should be evaluated objectively; they pay scrupulous attention to being well “measured” with regard to their abilities, efficiency, morality, and so on. (Cienin, 1972)

 

Excerpts from Fragments from the Diary of a Madman (1972)

Maybe I too am wounded; but I do not effuse the blood outside. My whole attention is concentrated on inner wounds, while on the surface of my body and my mucous membranes, a secretory system functions automatically. (Cienin, 1972)

How people like ceremonies, how they adore certain signs. And symbols, certain attitudes which mark them “upward climb,” which glorify them, which focus all attention on them, giving them a sense of power, of rule and of dignity. (Cienin, 1972)

We have royal, cardinal and episcopal thrones. We have the thrones of monarchs to make the slaves aware of their distance from them. We have a tendency to wear special clothes, to show off at a party, to gain attention by elegant and unusual movements. We have various ceremonies in royal palaces, at the meetings of dignitaries, in world conferences etc. We act like ballet masters and ballerinas during ceremonial speeches or when making “important contacts.” (Cienin, 1972)

The first kind is the holiness which concentrates its whole attention on dialogue: God and I, and sometimes I and God, relegating other matters to the side. It is a humble love for God, renouncement for God, suffering for God. It is love close to the world but which transforms the heavy load onto God. This yearning for “marriage” with God and for being his “wife” or “fiancée” is to some people disgusting. It is a draft toward “marriage” with God, sometimes toward a “spiritual' wedding night. This attitude is often expressed in a “sublimated” song without words about the divine lover. These constant prayers, waiting for favours and ecstasy … I am a bit afraid of such holiness. (Cienin, 1972)

Probably St. Augustine already on the level of perfection liked to observe sometimes how a spider catches a fly, sucks it blood, and how dogs run after a hare and tear him up. And in this area he contemplated “God's wisdom.” There is a fascination with the efficiency of some living creatures. One can stare impassively from “above” at the efficiency of a cat who catches a nightingale, at a snake who puts other creatures to death with one leap. But man is smarter because of the instruments and weapons he has invented. How interesting are self-control and immobility, because they exercise concentration of attention. How much a man has to intensify his mind and muscles to “pull” the trigger of a gun on his future prey. (Cienin, 1972)

I have already reflected on the problem of a hierarchic grasping of value in many areas of life and toward many problems. It is a truth to which Rorschach, Kretschmer and the author of this book have paid attention that not only the psychological type of the individual is linked with certain kinds of disturbances, but also the level of development whether the development is lower or higher, one-sided or many-sided is linked with certain disturbances. (Cienin, 1972)

One cannot reject meat because it is physically and psychically unhealthy, because it would be mocked and even derided. One cannot ignore fashion because it draws excessive attention. One cannot be too dutiful and too responsible a physician because it causes dislike and jealousy. One cannot take a too small fee for educational, medical, or lawyer's service because it would counteract the interest of the group. (Cienin, 1972)

We cannot be obsessive, we cannot repeatedly experience crimes, rapes, blood, the dead body in decay and so on.
We have to separate ourselves from that by a wall of forgetfulness, by a wall of inattention. How much more lofty is the smell of a roast than the smell of dead bodies; how much nobler is the smell of alcohol than the excessively subtle smell of flowers? Both are important but the proportion is one to a hundred and we must see this proportion clearly unless we are psychoneurotics or schizophrenics. But mental illness on the borderline of this illness is the most difficult matter. Stay as far away as possible from such matters! (Cienin, 1972)

 

Excerpts from Psychoneurosis is Not an Illness (1972)

While attending high school she tried to look more mature than she was in order to capture the attention of her elder colleagues. At this time she used to write for a school paper and participated in a school theatre. This was a very enjoyable period for her. She belonged to girl-guides but avoided going to camps, for she was afraid to leave the home milieu. (Dabrowski, 1972)

At my request W.J. described her own character as that of a person universally sensitive with a sense of beauty for the world around her and possessing a certain fear before the forces of nature. She expected much attention from her parents and others to make her life easier. She spoke of herself as having a tendency to be lazy, of being rather neglectful of her duties, unsystematic, careless, and without internal discipline. She admitted a desire to be in the limelight, but without having to earn it; she lacked sufficient interest in the needs of others and looked at the world only from the viewpoint of her own self. This opinion about herself indicates that she has the potential for an objective, negative, even sincere evaluation of herself. This points to certain potential in her to develop an attitude toward herself as object as well as to be capable of some initial process of inner psychic transformation. (Dabrowski, 1972)

S. Mz. was 34 years old. She had a Master's degree in engineering. She came with complaints of sleeplessness, depression, feelings of estrangement from herself, and a tendency to self-mutilation. She has suffered from these for many years. There were numerous symptoms such as weakening of powers of attention and concentration, disturbances in mental work, and weakening of memory. Furthermore, she experienced a rather definite decrease in will power; she could not force herself to work. (Dabrowski, 1972)

The patient should be able to understand and to accept that his development is “normal” and healthy within his type, and that his scruples and feelings of guilt need to be brought into his whole program of personality development as positive elements. Nevertheless it would be necessary for him to diminish their tension by stressing more the development of social involvement, contact with nature, in order to re-channel his attention which was centered too much on his failings. (Dabrowski, 1972)

A lack of equilibrium and a lability of one's own inner psychic milieu is expressive of disintegration, which is found at the root of conflicts between higher and lower tendencies. The “somatopsychic relations” by causing functional difficulties, collisions between conflicting “sides,” bring attention to these states, and consequently to what is happening inside the individual's mental and emotional structure. This is how attention is brought to the events of the inner psychic milieu. More extensive discussion of this subject is contained in Chapter 3 and 4. (Dabrowski, 1972)

I have indicated that such indirect inhibition or damping of lower functions may be applied to all functions in development. This can be found in clinical experience. One of my patients said: “When I recognized how easy it is to hurt people by lack of attention and care toward them I resolved to make the effort to avoid rash decisions, to avoid feeling offended, disliked, or simply being stubborn, in order not to base my reactions on such feelings. Otherwise it would be as if I looked through dark and unwashed glasses.” (Dabrowski, 1972)

We find in cases of hysteria that sometimes a patient develops an excessive need for attracting attention by being dramatic, as if he were on stage, by eccentric dress, and if this does not suffice, he will express this need by immobility or hysterical paralysis. (Dabrowski, 1972)

Outstanding affective and imaginational sensitivity, fairly well-developed ability for transposing psychic experience onto the autonomic nervous system. Strong preponderance of higher levels of emotional life, considerable capacity for inner psychic transformation (when he came for treatment he was looking for help in changing himself, he understood that individual development requires universal attention to human values, and that it cannot be achieved alone). Inner psychic milieu distinctly in hierarchical order. Outstanding intelligence with more facility for the theoretical than the practical. Some original traits in thinking. Multidirectional abilities. Reality function well developed at higher levels of mental life, and poorly developed at the lower, everyday level. (Dabrowski, 1972)

Pulse accelerated, blood pressure 150/105, red dermographia, reflex responses increased and extended; besides that no characteristic reflex responses. These meager results give more basis to expect that we are dealing here with a sensitivity directed outward (attention to events in his social milieu) with some transfer of his experiencing onto the cardio-vascular system. (Dabrowski, 1972)

A lack of balance between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems (so-called autonomic dystonia) can be regarded as an unconscious or semiconscious nucleus of an inner psychic milieu. The individual experiences a disturbance of his internal feeling. He becomes aware of some internal “noise” in his organism. His sense of well-being is disturbed, his sleep or his digestion are out of order, he may tire more easily than before and to all appearances for no apparent reason. These irregularities and perhaps some pain and fear associated with them, begin to direct his attention inwards. (Dabrowski, 1972)

We could observe, however, two groups of strong disorders of emotions and drives, but related to a very low level of functions. These are fear and hysterical syndromes. They are evoked by a simple external cause such as sudden appearance of a person or an object, beating, abuse, sudden fail, physical injury, noise, darkness, etc. Primitive hysterical reactions such as throwing oneself on the ground or hysterical spasms were caused by a desire to be the center of attention, to avoid punishment or some other unpleasantness. (Dabrowski, 1972)

Kafka was afraid to be observed by others and reacted with anxiety when people paid attention to him. One can say that the influence of his environment (his family) was sufficiently strong to develop in him this particular sensitivity. In this case his developmental potential rather than counteracting this influence yielded to it. (Dabrowski, 1972)

Can we speak of Gérard de Nerval's wisdom? We see a considerable degree of naiveté, childishness, and maladjustment to practical things. Thus his practical I.Q. was low but his intuitive I.Q. was high. He was also capable to exhibit at times a high level of stoic attitude, subtlety, trust, delicateness and high moral responsibility. Often short of money he was nevertheless generous. He often helped other writers with advice and personal attention. He was sensitive and delicate in his relationships of friendship and love–he was capable of closing certain feelings within himself and at times exercising a very strong control of himself. We can, therefore, regard it as an expression of some form of wisdom, even though only partial, one-sided and impractical. (Dabrowski, 1972)

As was mentioned before, Dawid in his “realistic period” paid little attention to the emotions. He was strongly introverted. Yet under the cover of self-control and rationalism one could perceive emotional tension, excessively sharp criticism and occasional explosiveness. This indicates that he was endowed with emotional overexcitability but subjugated it to precise and detached thinking. (Dabrowski, 1972)

In contrast to his earlier field of interest which was narrow both in method and scope, in his second period he displayed universal range of interests and greater complexity of his scientific attitudes. This increased range of scientific possibilities of research was exemplified by the fact that he gave attention to the significance of experiencing in development, that he discovered for himself the highest levels in meditation and ecstasy, and that his empathy has grown to a high degree. (Dabrowski, 1972)

All his life Wittgenstein was very critical towards himself and was capable of correcting his behavior. In his life he was more and more paying attention to essence. These characteristics are evidence of his continuing conscious inner psychic transformation. He was forgetful about everyday matters, he was beset by depressions, fears, sexual difficulties, which adds up to a summary picture of a serious psychoneurosis. His death remains an unresolved mystery, although there are valid indications of suicide. We have mentioned before the high level of his intelligence, ability, sincerity, empathy, and openness. Wittgenstein presents us with a case of restless wisdom. In the opinion of many he maintained his wisdom in spite of his psychoneurosis, and in my opinion, because of his psychoneurosis. (Dabrowski, 1972)

It is interesting to note that psychosomatic and somatopsychic disorders in the IPS+ group were observed mainly in the students of ballet. One can speculate, that since the primary mode of the art of dance is external appearance, body build and complexion, then there may exist a close relation between this and the interests of dancers and their environment in paying attention to the external features of reality. One could thus speculate further that the relative absence of somatic and hysterical symptoms in the students of drama and the fine arts is occasioned by the fact that these domains of art deal with larger and deeper contents and creative forms, and do not depend for their expression on artificial means of dramatization calculated for external appeal. (Dabrowski, 1972)

Those who cannot attain the realization of their desires may try to achieve superiority by way of limitless submission (masochism). This is the so-called transformation of form for handling the task of removing the sense of inferiority. Very submissive individuals often still want to be the center of attention and interest. (Dabrowski, 1972)

The boy, because of the above factors and excessive yielding to the flow of involuntary associations (a sign of strong emotional excitability, tension, preoccupation with difficult problems), fatigue, had difficulty in concentrating his attention and began to be noted as a poor student, which in turn increased his feelings of inferiority. (Dabrowski, 1972)

The boy exhibited even stronger than before anxiety states, of inhibition and “pathological rumination,” which were compensated through an increase of emotional and psychomotor excitability (tic-like movements), and eventually led people to be concerned about him, and even more so to his drawing excessive amount of attention to himself. (Dabrowski, 1972)

B. L. needs a wise, mildly pampering, and moderately sensitive atmosphere, help in positive regression with saturation with childish experiences. At the same time she needs a penetrating evaluation of her behavior. Decrease of her tension can be brought about through gradual strengthening of her ambition for reflection which she already had, but especially by directing her attention to greater independence from being excited by external stimuli by using her imagination, her memory and other inner resources. She also needs a considerable variety of occupations to meet her numerous interests and abilities. (Dabrowski, 1972)

 

Excerpts from The Dynamics of Concepts (1973)

The individual who develops his personality must have the feeling that his attitude is right, that his aims have significant, lasting and objective value. This is the process and the state of self-confirmation and self-objectivization. He must be aware that the course of mental development is never completed and, consequently, that he has constantly to pay attention to the problem of self-education and self-perfection. (Dabrowski, 1973)

An excerpt from a patient's biography which describes his inner psychic milieu: “as a result of my broken marriage, the causes of which I tried to analyze from all points of view and in which as a result of a variety of personal conflict and failures I took interest in the manner I responded to external facts and events surrounding me. I took interest in myself and extended this interest to the inner life of other people. I see now that strange and sad things occur in myself, things which frequently are much more fascinating than what I see in the external world. One thing which attracted my attention was the observation that there are “levels in myself” I am capable now of observing what is active in myself in specific concrete situations, what is decisive of my behavior what kinds of positive and negative forces struggle in myself. Now, I understand what is an inhibition of the ‘higher' by the ‘lower' and vice versa.” (Dabrowski, 1973)

What is transcendence of the psychological type and how is it possible? By the psychological type we understand a relatively clear setup of mental qualities, characteristic for some groups of individuals. We have in mind both temperamental qualities and the qualities of character. This setup is grounded on hereditary traits molded by the environment. The process of molding usually takes the form of enhancement of hereditary traits. Of all theories of psychological types, the most popular are the classification of C. C. Jung distinguishing the introverts and extroverts and Kretchmer's distinction of cyclothymes and schizothymes. Among recent attempts to devise a typological system grounded on physical qualities, Sheldon's theory deserves particular attention. (Dabrowski, 1973)

Psychopathology, that is to say, the science of mental abnormality does not devote enough attention to the significance of the so-called pathological dynamisms as developmentally positive, creative and containing potentials for accelerated development, especially if they are properly approached. (Dabrowski, 1973)

 

Excerpts from Multilevelness of Emotional and Instinctive Functions (1996)

[Level III Sexual Behavior] Identification and Empathy introduce the emotional components of attention to the subjective needs of the partner, and of selectivity and exclusivity of relationships of love. Sexual behavior becomes a function of the more significant and more pervasive process of building a relationship. (Dąbrowski, 1996)

[Level I Emotional OE] 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. (Dąbrowski, 1996)

[Level I Success] Success is measured externally for the sake of possession or attracting attention: as achievement in sports, exercise of violence, securing a position, money, material possessions. Success is seen as winning power and defeating others in ruthless competition. (Dąbrowski, 1996)

[Level III Intuition] Beginnings of intuition based on development of a hierarchy of sensations. Development of intuitive insight as an ability to grasp the core of a problem without having to approach it by trial and error. Beginnings of differentiating intuitions of lower and higher level. Beginning of attempts at concentration and meditation. Intuition is the product of hierarchization of values and of gradual detachment from ongoing involvements and preferences. The individual begins to pay attention to the needs of others, begins to discover new relationships and principles guiding one’s search for the “new” and the “higher.” Intuition ceases to be concerned with the manifestations of external reality, such as telepathy, ESP, and the like, but begins to outline the shapes of truths yet unknown to the individual. (Dąbrowski, 1996)

[Level II Suicide] Suicide occurs in consequence of extreme imbalance of strong drives such as loss of control in drug addiction, alcoholism or nervous illness. Suicide occurs as a result of pathological conditions, or of extreme tension when there is no possible way of channeling the tension. Suicide as a means of flight from grave difficulties, analogous to flight into sickness. Suicide as a consequence of a narrowed field of awareness to fixed ideas (monoideism) such as narrow obsessions and perseverations if accompanied by extreme tension. Suicide in children as a consequence of feeling extremely hurt or as a means of drawing attention. Suicide as a means of revenge, retaliation or in order to evoke the concern or admiration of others. (Dąbrowski, 1996)

[Level I Psychiatry] Statistical mean is accepted as the standard and ideal of normality. Abnormality is regarded as a function of the deviation from the mean. Brutal methods of treatment (electric shock, lobotomy, chemical treatment divorced from the context of personality development) of those who are not normal. The ill are taken out of their proper family and work environment, persecuted and destroyed. There is no understanding of the fact that those labeled mentally ill deteriorate in hospital conditions because of their low threshold of frustration (see p. 110), sensitivity and irritability, and because they are deprived of qualified individual attention. The mental norm is patterned after the physiological and physical norm. “Healthy mind in a healthy body” is accepted as a principle without understanding the complexity of human mental and emotional structure. Mental functions are treated as a narrow superstructure of anatomical and physiological functions. (Dąbrowski, 1996)

[Level V Psychiatry]
The highest level of empathy. Mentally ill are treated as unique and unrepeatable individuals. Most mental and emotional disturbances are looked upon as a means of development. Negative components in order to be transformed and employed in development are linked with positive ones. For instance, sensual needs for attention and frequent contact with others can be reduced by practicing relaxation and calm induced through meditation. Psychotherapy with a client is carried out with the aim of his being able to develop autopsychotherapy, i.e. to activate consciously and systematically his developmental dynamisms in the process of inner psychic transformation. Instead of treatment there is education. The goal for the client is to become capable to education-of-himself. Various systems and disciplines of yoga and self-perfection based on moral and spiritual principles have this character. (Dąbrowski, 1996)

[Level IV Politics]
Appreciation of international relations based on identification and authentism, indicating that in politics one is guided by a more highly developed hierarchy of values and by higher ethical criteria. Problems of agreement of professed beliefs with actions and of faithfulness in political obligations are given primary attention. In politics based on the differentiation of right from wrong and on the enactment of that which is right, one can detect the action of positive maladjustment, the third factor, subject-object in oneself, awareness and self-control, identification and empathy. The role of ideal and even the transcendental relationship of “I-and-Thou” makes a contribution towards solving political problems. (Dąbrowski, 1996)

 

References
Cienin, P. (1972a). Existential thoughts and aphorisms. Gryf Publications.
Cienin, P. (1972b). Fragments from the diary of a madman. Gryf Publications.
Dąbrowski, C. (1937). Psychological bases of self-mutilation. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 19, 1-104.
Dąbrowski, K. (1938/2019). Types of increased psychic excitability (Michael M. Piechowski, Trans.). Advanced Development, 17, 1-26. (Original work published 1938)
Dąbrowski, K. (1964). Positive disintegration. Little, Brown.
Dąbrowski, K. (1967). Personality-shaping through positive disintegration. Little, Brown.
Dąbrowski, K. (with Kawczak, A., & Piechowski, M. M.). (1970). Mental growth through positive disintegration. Gryf Publications.
Dąbrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness: Neuroses and psychoneuroses from the perspective of positive disintegration. Gryf Publications.
Dąbrowski, K. (1973). The dynamics of concepts. Gryf Publications.
Dąbrowski, K. (1996). Multilevelness of emotional and instinctive functions. Part 1: Theory and description of levels of behavior. Towarzystwo Naukowe Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego.