Episode 17: The Highs and Lows of Positive Disintegration

Chris Wells & Emma Nicholson with Elizabeth Mika

Released July 30, 2022

In episode 17, Chris and Emma were joined by Elizabeth Mika, a Polish-born psychologist and expert on the Theory of Positive Disintegration. Elizabeth shares how she first became interested in Dabrowski’s theory as a teenager in Poland, how it inspired her to go into the field of psychology, and her journey into working with the theory once she immigrated to America.

Our conversation covered a wide range of topics, focused on the ‘lows and highs’ of Dabrowski’s levels, from the sub-levels of unilevel integration to the Fourth Factor and drive for self-transcendence. We talk about the dangers of narcissism and its various forms, the role of positive maladjustment, and how self-reflection and inner transformation is the first step in making the world a better place.

Bio: Elizabeth Mika has spent over 30 years working with diverse populations of all ages and cultural backgrounds in private practice, as well as in community mental health, inpatient and college settings. Her life-long interests center on the role of emotions in general and emotional challenges in particular in human development. She believes that our psychological difficulties can be an invitation and a pathway to transformational change. In therapy and counseling, she helps others see their developmental potential activated by their current crises. She focuses on helping clients understand and develop their strengths, values and ideals, and use them as vehicles of healing and growth.

“We need to look within before we start changing the world. The greatest gift we can give to the world is our transformed self.”

“Self-education is about personality development on the ever higher levels. Its highest goals is in the natural dimension the fullness of humanity, and in the supranatural dimension – becoming God-like. Self-education should go hand in hand with introspection, and those two activities should become one effort, lasting a lifetime, to come close to the ideal.” 

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Tyranny as a Triumph of Narcissism (article on Medium)

On Primary Integration, Psychopathy and the Average Person (article on LinkedIn)

Sudden Dynamic Insight: Moving from Conflict to Peace (PDF)

What Disintegrates? (PDF)

Pathocracy and Andrzej Łobaczewski (by Dr. Steve Taylor for Psychology Today )

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter


Emma: Well, let's get into it without further ado. With us today, listeners, is Elizabeth Mika. Elizabeth is a Polish-born psychotherapist and spent her adult life in the United States working in the field of giftedness. Welcome to the podcast, Elizabeth. It's great to have you on.

Elizabeth: Great to be here, Emma and Chris. Thank you for having me.

Chris: Thanks so much for joining us. I met Elizabeth for the first time at the Dąbrowski Congress in 2018. Your keynote was wonderful, and I was so excited to meet you. I had been following you on Twitter and reading your stuff, and I'm so excited that you're here with us tonight.

Elizabeth: Well, thank you so much, Chris. It's quite intimidating to know that somebody's listening to what I have to say and that it makes an impression. It's quite humbling, I have to admit. Thank you.

Chris: I feel the same way. It is humbling. It's an adjustment to know that people are listening. I'm a little less nervous now that we've been doing the podcast for several months, but it's an interesting thing. We start almost every episode by asking our guests how they came across the theory. Please tell us how you discovered Dąbrowski's theory.

Elizabeth: I was 15, and I lived in Poland at that time. I have an older brother. He's six years older than I am. And he was at that time, so I was 15. I was still, let me think, I think I was at the end of my elementary school. My brother went to the university at that time, and he subscribed to this magazine for university students. It was called ITD [I Tak Dalej]. The English translation would be “And So On.” In that magazine, Dąbrowski had a column. It was an advice column for students. If I am not mistaken, and I was trying to research it today again, he also had written articles for students, but the advice column is what caught my attention at first.

When I started to read that, I was smitten because this man was talking about things that nobody else was talking about, as far as I knew in Poland at that time. So he was talking about the value of suffering, about so-called psychological, psychopathological symptoms as manifestations of accelerated personality growth. He was discussing existential topics. He was talking about writers and painters and creative individuals and how their growth is often punctured by depression, anxiety, inner conflicts, even psychosis.

That was such a revelation to me. I didn't fully understand why then. Then and there I made the decision that I wanted to do what he did. I wanted to become a psychologist and work with the people he worked with. I even wanted to meet him, but at 15, I had no idea how to go about that at all. So, that did not happen. And it was 1979, I think, and he died in 1980. It was not meant to be. But I went to study psychology. I specialized in clinical psychology, and I graduated with my master's in clinical psychology in 1987. Three weeks later, I immigrated to the US.

Through a series of, well, probably unusual events, I ended up working with the gifted and working with this theory. Which was quite unthinkable to me when I moved to the US. I was dimly aware of Dąbrowski’s activity in the United States and Canada at that time. Although when I was reading his works—by the way, from the age of 15, I read everything that was available by Dąbrowski. I also read the authors he was talking about in his books. So, it was a period of accelerated growth for me at that time. Accelerated intellectual, but emotional, of course, growth as well. I knew that Dąbrowski worked for some time in the US and in Canada, but I didn't fully understand how and where. I knew, however, of Michael Piechowski, because I saw Michael's name in some of the articles I read in Poland.

I moved with my then husband here to the United States. We had our first child. The child was unusual in many respects, and one of his teachers recommended that we have him assessed for giftedness. So, again, that happened through the series of improbable events. It's almost as though there was a hand of grace.

We got our son assessed by Betty Meckstroth. This was the recommendation made to me by Joan Smutny, who was the director of the Center for the Gifted at Northern Illinois University here in Chicago. After that assessment, Betty and I started to talk. She wanted to know what I was doing. At that time, I worked as an editorial assistant for a Polish-American magazine here in the Chicago suburbs. I told her that I'm a psychologist by training, and I told her that I was brought to psychology by this obscure theory that nobody really knew anything about, this theory of positive disintegration.

Betty's eyes grew wide, and she said, well, this is the hottest thing in the gifted field right now. Of course, my jaw fell to the floor. Betty told me that she was friends with Michael Piechowski, and that there was a Dąbrowski study group at that time, and she mentioned Linda Silverman and other people associated with the theory, Frank Falk. And she said she's part of that inner circle. I was shocked, and Betty suggested that I work with her. In time, Betty retired, and I took over the task of gifted assessment and consultation and therapy and counseling for the population here.

But I went to the first, I think it was a symposium at that time in Madison, Wisconsin. Dąbrowski Symposium in 1997, if I'm not mistaken, and I met Michael Piechowski there. And it was an earthshaking experience, of course. Here was this man who worked with Dąbrowski and was his friend and collaborator, and I read his articles when I was still a teenager in Poland. It was otherworldly, almost. That was my, that's how I became acquainted with this theory. And it has been shaping, it has shaped my views on our life ever since, along with my work.

Chris: What a small world. It’s incredible to me that you would run into, that you would go to Betty Meckstroth and have that experience. It's really amazing.

Elizabeth: Right. Yes, it is definitely a hand of grace. I have to say, because what are the odds?

Chris: This afternoon I participated in the Dąbrowski study group that exists now, which started several years ago, and it's mostly those of us in Colorado, but you've attended because of COVID, we started meeting online. As you know, we meet once a month, and this month we talked about Michael's Rethinking I paper about Level I. You are one of the few people who's studied, written about, and published about the lower levels of development. I'm thinking of your chapter, “Who Goes Trump?” in the book, The Dangerous Case of Donald J. Trump. I know that you have an enormous following on Twitter of people who have really been interested in your thinking around this. And so, where do you even start?

Emma: Let's talk about what Level I is and what it looks like for people who are listening, who might not be as familiar with the theory, so that we get an understanding of, what are we talking about when we're talking about Level I?

Elizabeth: So, Level I, there are five levels of development in Dąbrowski's theory, and levels are not developmental stages, and they don't have much to do with chronological age. Level I is the level of primary or primitive integration. I think we went away from the word primitive because it had such unpleasant connotations. We officially use primary integration. This is the level which is not amenable to growth through positive disintegration.

The debate that has raged for some time in Dąbrowski's circles as to whether people on Level I are this way because of, are they born this way, or is this that the Level I society limits their development? At some point, there was some confusion about people in primary integration being psychopaths. That was the impetus for writing this little paper on primary integration, the average person.

Dąbrowski's views on Level I are more nuanced. It's not just this monolithic group. Yes, there are psychopaths in Level I in primary integration, but they constitute a minority. There are sub-levels within Level I. And I put the table in that little paper. The very bottom of the developmental hierarchy, that's Level I. So, the very bottom sub-level of Level I are psychopaths, and they are a minority. They're psychopathic-like individuals. They don't qualify for the clinical diagnosis of psychopathy, but they are very close in their development to clinical psychopaths in that they possess very little or no empathy. Their conscience is very underdeveloped. They tend to not experience inner doubts or inner conflicts, and they certainly are not susceptible to growth through positive disintegration.

The bottom level are psychopaths and psychopath-like individuals, and there's the solid average individual. And those distinctions are subtle, really. The distinctions can be conceptualized on the continuum of conscience. If we were to put people on the axis of conscience, from no conscience to highly developed conscience, we could map out Level I, the primary integration, close to that of no conscience. Above the average person, we have people who are on the borderline of average person psychoneurotics. They do experience some inner conflicts. They have more sensitive conscience. They experience inner conflicts and self-doubt. They are susceptible to what Dąbrowski would call psychoneurosis.

So, there are nuances within Level I. And so it's unfair to say that Level I are psychopaths, and I don't think we do this anymore. But in times of conflict, and we see this happening in war, for example, the so-called average person becomes very much like a psychopath. And Dąbrowski wrote quite a lot about that. When the social constraints are removed, and permission is given to do that unthinkable, then we learn all too quickly that so-called average people may not be that much different from clinical psychopaths. And that's quite scary.

Emma: That is quite scary. From what I'm hearing you say, this is quite a large group. And I suppose developmentally speaking, from Dąbrowski’s view, it's people who haven't started to go through the disintegration process. The inner conflict and the questioning of the way things are.

It seems like it's a group that could also encompass a lot of average, well-meaning people who are currently just going about their day-to-day lives and following the rules of society or their religion or the law, because they've been told that that's the right thing to do. So, it's not just people who are narcissistic or unempathetic, but there's a lot of average people in there who are just going about their daily thing, but not having conflict or questioning things.

Elizabeth: Right. They function from what Dąbrowski called negative adjustment. So adjustment to the world as is. Like you said, Emma, they do not question the customs and the orders they are given.

Emma: Which in a way is exactly what we tell people good behavior looks like. Do as you're told, stick by the rules.

Elizabeth: Right. Which can be a toxic message, depending on the context. So Dąbrowski, I don't recall this reading in, reading this in Dąbrowski’s papers. I think it was in, I think it was a quote attributed to Dąbrowski, that about 65% of the human population functions on Level I. Which, yeah.

Emma: That's a lot of people.

Elizabeth: That's a lot of people. Yes. So depending on our point of view, it may or may not be surprising.

Emma: So do we want to talk now about some of the traits? You know, what does this actually look like in practice? So for example, you know, what is narcissism? What does it look like?

Elizabeth: When I wrote that paper on tyranny as a triumph of narcissism, the comments that I received on it, some of them surprised me. Because, first of all, I don't use Trump's name in the paper at all. The “Who Goes Trump?” was inserted by the editor. That did not come from me. I wanted to make a general observation in that paper. The processes I described, they do not apply just to followers of Trump. Although they do apply to followers of Trump, but also to followers of any dictators or charismatic political figure.

The message I wanted to be taken from this paper is that in order to change the world, we need to dismantle our narcissism. And I meant our, not their. So the narcissism that's in each and every one of us. We don't have to be necessarily classified as clinical narcissists to recognize narcissistic traits in ourselves. And I think as long as we cultivate them in ourselves and don't reckon with their existence, we are not in a position to change the world for the better.

Emma: I find what was interesting in that paper is you talk about whole societies as having narcissistic traits. And there's one quote in here that you say that those societies show growing and ruthless competition, jealousy and aggression within the borders, but also directed externally towards other nations in scapegoating mechanism that is meant to prevent an internal breakdown of a society by redirecting its narcissistic rage onto external objects. So if you think about, you know, ruthlessness and competition and, you know, jealousy and aggression, I mean, that's pretty much the economic climate, right?

Elizabeth: Right. Absolutely. And this works on the macro scale, but on the micro scale as well. So, it works the same way in relationships. For example, in my work with couples, I often see this tendency to blame one another. That's actually such a common thing in couples, blaming one another for things that we tend to be guilty of oftentimes. So we are not able to see our own behavior more objectively and in more humble ways, but we unload this narcissistic tendency on our spouse or partner. We do this with countries. We do this within organizations. It's a human condition, essentially, and until we reckon with it, with its working within each and every one of us. We're not going to make much progress. I'm afraid.

Emma: I was just going to say even things like being competitive. You talk about ruthless competition, but competitiveness, I guess, could be the seeds of that, but that's something we prize today. You know, be competitive, achieve high, come first, win.

Elizabeth: By all means. Right. Yes. So, this is the ethos, if you can use that word, of primary integration. And in its extreme version, it's a psychopathic ethos. Win at all costs and destroy your competition. Our conversation has the potential to turn really dark, really fast, if it has not yet gotten there. But what gives me hope is the number of people who are not participating in this ethos anymore. They are not buying it. They are tuning out in a way from the world organized around those primitive primary integration principles.

Chris: During the Trump years, my husband would talk about how shocking it was for him that Trump supporters saw him as they did, as this heroic figure. It's not like he doesn't still have followers, but it's a shocking difference. Now that we've had him as a president, it gave so many of us the opportunity to see things like projection, for instance—when you see like the president projecting—even after he lost the election, you see him tweeting, claiming things, and you're like, well, wait a minute, you're the one doing that. It just was so classic.

All of that and his complete inability to admit that he's wrong, to apologize, to have any empathy. It was really astonishing as an American to have a president who was doing these things. And now my son is turning 16 this week and it's not lost on me that his experience of having a president has been so different. Well, no president is perfect, but Donald Trump took it to a different level, like literally when it comes to this theory, but it's just, it's hard to wrap your head around. And these psychological mechanisms or defenses that we saw, it was shocking.

Elizabeth: Right. Shocking and instructive at the same time. I believe he was elected, not despite of his character defect, but because of it. So he was elected as an agent of destruction of the society in which life has become unbearable for so, so many people. He represents all kinds of things to all kinds of people, but at the very least, he represents hope for destruction of this order of things that seems so unjust and so unfair to so many. People don't think about the fact that he is not on their side, of course. And if he is out to destroy what we see as our society, they will be victims of that destruction as well. He does not have any respect for his followers, of course.

Chris: Well, the other thing that came to mind that I wanted to bring up is kind of based on the discussion that we had today in the study group about, about Level I. One of the things that Michael brought up in that paper that he takes issue with is even the idea—of course, as you said, we've moved away from calling it primitive integration. But Michael would argue that it also shouldn't be called primary integration because Dąbrowski was developing his theory prior to the research and understanding that we have about attachment or child development, and how babies are really social beings. Michael doesn't believe that it's right to call them integrated. What do you think about calling it unilevel integration as a way of kind of circumventing that problem of a label being kind of pejorative?

Elizabeth: I have no problem with that. I think it's a good idea. You know, the more we get away from unpleasant labels, the better, because there is no point in stigmatizing people.

Chris: Right. It doesn't help. Personally, I think it makes sense to not consider it primary integration, too, because again, it's not a stage theory and we're not all born into the same level. I really don't think we are just from my understanding and my observations. Even in young children, you can see that some children really are more developmentally advanced in Dąbrowskian terms than others.

Even Dąbrowski himself gave many examples of children with incipient dynamisms, for instance. But that's not true for all children. Some children are more rigid or don't have the same capacity for empathy during childhood. So, it's interesting to me. We really shouldn't look at this theory as a progression of levels that you automatically go through. That's not what he intended.

Elizabeth: Right. And, you know, from my reading of Dąbrowski, I had an understanding that he was always looking for seeds of development in every person. And he would be, well, I cannot speak for him, obviously, but I imagine he would be the first to say that it's our job to do that with individual people we encounter in our lives, you know, to look for glimpses of developmental potential, even when it may not be apparent that it's there.

Emma: I was going to say this actually makes a lot of sense, particularly what you said, Chris, about, you know, kids don't start off that way because Elizabeth's got a bit in her paper that says, talking about people who follow tyrants saying, people see him as their long-awaited savior and father substitute, hinting at the narcissistic abuse implicated in the authoritarian upbringing that demands obedience and worship of the all-powerful parental figure, which kind of like says that that sort of socialization, like, towards, you know, the negative is, takes time. Like, you might not start off being socialized that way, but everything that you're taught takes time for you to learn. So how can children possibly be seen as being primitive or primary when they start out? That sort of behavior takes time to be embedded.

Elizabeth: Right, indeed. And so, you know, that brings another question, and it's that of the relationship of this unilevel integration to trauma, right? How much of what we see as unilevel integration is a result of trauma, developmental trauma?

Chris: That's the question I was actually going to ask you. Because that came up today during our study group discussion, too. Even in the case of Donald Trump—we know Mary Trump's book was a revelatory look into the Trump family. You can see where he came from, and we can see the damage that was done. I'll have people come and talk about their narcissistic parents. And I say, you have to have empathy and compassion for this phenomenon because it comes from pain. These people were deeply hurt, and that's why this happened.

Elizabeth: Right, right. That level of narcissism that we see in Trump, and people who show a similar kind of character organization that hints very strongly at developmental trauma. In his case, we know that he was raised by a very unempathetic father who groomed him essentially to take over his business and called him a killer. His own father called him a killer and a king and treated him accordingly, too. Sometimes a child doesn't have much of a chance.

Chris: That's right. I'm thinking of the diagram that you use where the lightning bolt of trauma—where you say the wound—it goes into the real self deeply. I wonder if we can talk a little bit about that while we have you.

Elizabeth: Yes, I like to share it with my clients because I think it's a good visual aid of what we are all about. And, in terms of the process of disintegration, what disintegrates is that outer most structure or ego or false self. And by the way, in narcissists, the more narcissistic somebody is, the more ego equals false self for them. Those two—ego and false self—are not necessarily synonymous. However, in narcissists, they tend to be. Because ego has positive functions, too, it allows us to function in the world, for example, pay the bills and mow the lawn and talk with, I don't know, construction people. You can see what's on my mind.

So, trauma has this paradoxical effect on us. It can freeze us, and it can strengthen the walls of our false self/ego or it can break them open. Oftentimes, the early childhood traumas have the freezing impact on many of us, not on all. In people with deep-seated developmental difficulties, we can often trace or speculate, at least on that freezing role of trauma. Trauma as this strengthener of the false self. As children, they learn to build false self as a weapon, in a way, as a defense against the world that was too cruel.

But then as we move on in life, those frozen layers of our being need to be melted or sometimes broken and shattered. And subsequent traumas or losses or life difficulties have that effect. While they spur this process of positive disintegration in us, they have the potential to do that.

What was on my mind for some time, and that was before the 2012 conference, is how does positive disintegration come about in us? And Dąbrowski is very clear about the role of, first of all, frustrations and life difficulties that provide this impetus to development in us. But what exactly is that? I wanted to know if there is this one event that can do this for us.

I have a tendency to ask questions that are going to be answered in my life in unexpected ways sometimes, soon after I ask them. So I was asking that question in 2012, and that was my presentation at that time on the role of sudden dynamic insight. Dąbrowski talks about sudden dynamic insight as this impetus to multilevel development through positive disintegration. I wanted to look more closely at what that was, so that's what that presentation was about. But he was kind of cheeky with all of us because he said that at the bottom of our development, there lies a mystery. We cannot pinpoint with high degree of specificity those factors and events. That create the spark that begins the process of positive disintegration in us.

Emma: Chris and I were just talking before—you've got a quote in the conclusion of your paper that says, narcissism is what gives rise to inequality, and inequality fuels our narcissism. It made me think that inequality can also fuel positive maladjustment. So, what's the difference between that? I think you've alluded to that when we say trauma can have one or two effects. It can either grow the ego and make it more solid, or it can shatter it. And maybe the difference between them is with positive maladjustment, we look inward to change ourselves. And in the case of narcissism, we just do, like as you said, with people in relationships, look for someone else to blame.

Elizabeth: And also, for the people who do well, their narcissistic response is to assume they do well because they deserve to do well, and others don't do so well. Oh, well, that's because they are not smart enough or whatever reasons are used in others observing this inequality. The people who are on the bottom usually are the ones who have a more realistic appraisal of life and the world as it is. People on the top tend to be quite withdrawn from the realities of life. They are well protected from them, for better and for worse. Actually, it's mostly for the worse, although they think it's for the better.

So, the positive maladjustment may arise in pretty much anyone, but it tends to arise in people who are confronted with injustice, with inequality, with suffering that they observe in the world, and they don't want to agree to the status quo. They think a better world is possible, and they are willing to fight for it. But there's a danger in that too. Sometimes I think that when we engage in that fight, we may become prey to our own narcissism. What I mean by that is, we again tend to go into those divisions—us vs. them—and we may have a tendency to see things in black and white. In the process of trying to make the world a better place, we may actually create a lot of hurt and suffering and problems. That's often the case with different revolutionary movements, for example. It's when one narcissism is exchanged for another's or is extinguished by another.

Chris: The dynamisms in the theory are—so many of them are around self-evaluation. One of the ways that we can check ourselves and our own personal narcissism is to make the effort to be self-reflective and to pay attention to how we treat other people. Another thing that you mentioned in your article is that there's capital-N narcissism, and well, if you didn't put it that way, I don't remember off the top of my head, but there's like big narcissism, the more pathological malignant kind, and that there's more common narcissism, I guess, or small narcissism.

Elizabeth: Right, the kind each of us has to some degree. Dąbrowski's theory is revolutionary in so many ways. It's just phenomenal, I think. The fact that Dąbrowski talks about guilt and shame as developmental dynamisms and factors—inner forces that indicate positive development—that in itself is revolutionary. We tend to not do very well with guilt and shame, both in our world and in psychology, but both feelings are essential for our growth. Of course, you know, there are degrees of that, right, so there's toxic shame and there may be pathological guilt too, and there is way too much of it. But both are absolutely essential to our development.

In fact, the absence of capacity for guilt and shame is what's indicative of psychopathy. So that self-examination, Chris, that you mentioned, that's exactly—we need to look within before we start changing the world, I think. And I think the greatest gift we can give to the world is our transformed self. We don't just talk about what the world should be like, but we are showing it through our existence.

Chris: A lot of people who are interested in a theory come to it and they wonder—they're idealistic and they wonder—well, how can I change the world? What can I do to make the world a better place? And my answer is always, well, you have to start with yourself. I mean, you can transform yourself and that is, that's how you transform the world.

Elizabeth: Right. That's exactly right. So, Emma, you mentioned this dynamism of positive maladjustment. This is how it starts, right, for those young and not so young idealists who want to change the world because they see so much wrong with it. That could be the beginning of their positive disintegration. We can assess people's developmental level by the presence of developmental dynamisms in their inner milieu. Positive maladjustment will place them on the level of spontaneous positive disintegration. So, it's a good thing. We want to encourage that, but we also want to encourage that self-reflection and the processes of self-transformation. We cannot do much in the world if, you know, we are a big mess. I mean, we can, but, you know.

Emma: That seems to me right there, the business case for why you would look at the Dąbrowski’s theory in the first place, and why you'd start taking that journey of self-reflection. Because I think if people start down that path, as you say, fighting the good fight, but they don't take that time to self-reflect. It's like, well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. If you don't take that time out to reflect and look inward, you may end up becoming the very thing that you're trying to fight because I think, you know, a lot of people don't start off wanting to hurt people, but if we don't do that inner work, then that could be a by-product of that.

Elizabeth: Right, right. There's a huge risk of projection in those fights. You know, we tend to accuse other people of what we are guilty of ourselves, and this is the narcissistic mechanism behind conflicts on a small and large scale. And until we look more objectively at ourselves, straighten ourselves out, so to speak, we run the risk of projecting our own problems onto the world and other people.

Chris: We're witnessing right now, unfortunately, the destruction and devastation of another pathocracy, which is the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the war that's going on right now. Of course, in the future, people will listen to this episode and it won't be so closely tied to what's happening, but this is what we're facing right now. And the fact that you're from Poland, I know that it's been very difficult, just from my observations with Michael. When Russia invaded Ukraine, he kept saying to me over and over, oh, it's like 1939 all over again for him. And I just could tell how triggered he was, and I know that you didn't come up with the term pathocracy, but that it just so aptly describes that situation.

Elizabeth: Right. The term was popularized by another Polish psychologist, Andrzej Łobaczewski. Who, according to what I've read, knew Dąbrowski as well and worked with Dąbrowski, which is a curious tidbit, I think. He wrote a book on Ponerology or the science of people, I think, for political purposes. He had a difficult time publishing that book and, you know, the first two or three drafts of it were destroyed and it was cobbled up. What he salvaged from destruction, I think the story of that book is interesting in itself. He wanted to publish it in the States, but it didn't quite work out. And I think it was published after his death.

Pathocracy is the role of people without a conscience, essentially. And we see this in America, we see this in Russia. Well, in Russia, we have an extreme manifestation of it that erupted in a war, of course, invasion of another nation. It is quite scary because we are in this point in time that brings so many changes all at once. And there is that sense, and I don't know if you agree with this, but there's a sense of things changing on a very deep level. I think we are in the process of transformation. And it's not quite certain that we're going to survive it. I do believe it's a process of positive disintegration and I think the positive part is there. But I don't think it's certain that the positive forces are greater than the negative ones.

Chris: It's not certain. It does feel like things are changing, and it's interesting to me just to observe the shifts over the past several years. In some ways you see in some people, or I mean a lot of people… Actually, you know, at the beginning of COVID, my friend Tina, who was in an episode a few episodes back, we talked a lot together about societal disintegration. And she kept asking me, didn't Dąbrowski write about that? And he did. But, you know, we talk so much about the theory in terms of the individual. And it's true that it absolutely applies, you know, to groups and societies as well. And so it's a really interesting thing to talk about.

Elizabeth: And Dąbrowski said that the more people who—well, he called them psychoneurotic, right? So the more people who are psychoneurotic and people on the borderline of the average range and psychoneurosis, the more advanced is the society and the better the society is. We need to look for those psychoneurotics in our midst. And, you know, we need to huddle up.

Chris: We do need to huddle up. That's exactly right.

Emma: Thinking about huddling up, enough drops of water all flow in the one direction. It's a tide.

Elizabeth: Right, right. We can make a tide yet. You know, I have to tell you that recently I have been listening religiously, pun not intended, to accounts of near-death experiences. There are tons of them. There are entire channels on YouTube, and in different places of the internet devoted to just that—to interviewing people who had a near-death experience or several.

This is what is happening nowadays. We have this disintegration of societal structures, of institutions, of long-cherished beliefs. And at the same time, we have this new knowledge, which is not new at all, but it's being disseminated by so-called ordinary people who have this direct experience of the divine, of our divine nature. And they bring this experience back with them to share with humanity.

This is happening not by accident—I believe there's a reason for that. We are to learn about who we are. And this knowledge seems to be so urgent. The sheer number of people who are coming back with those experiences. I don't know what the official data would tell us about this. But I personally am quite stunned by the transformations that are happening left and right all around us.

We don't necessarily know, people from all walks of life falling sick and experiencing clinical death, and going to the other side and having this divine experience and coming back with it. And there are some similarities. There are general similarities to those experiences, although each of them is unique. But the transformations are along the same line.

People lose their fear of death for one. Their character is transformed. So it's like positive disintegration in one swoop, so to speak. They have an instant personality transformation, although I'm simplifying this to a large degree. For some, the change is instantaneous. And in some aspects, it sticks. People are healed from their addictions, for example, from unhealthy habits. Their relationships improve, although for some, the relationships fall apart as a result of that experience. Their systems of values are flipped upside down.

So, it's quite a fascinating process that we are undergoing as a humanity. And it is contagious. When you go to any YouTube channel, for example, that has those interviews and you read the comments, you see how to every experiencer of near-death experience, there are tens or hundreds of others who are not being interviewed, but they chime in in the comments and talk about their own spiritually transformative experience. This is happening and it's quite tangible and absolutely fascinating to me. I think this is the direction in which we're going. As this world is falling apart, we are getting in touch with our true nature. I think this is the direction in which we're going. As this world is falling apart, we are getting in touch with our true nature.

Chris: It really is so fascinating. And I wonder, what kind of a challenge it presents to the idea of developmental potential as some kind of predetermined, you have this amount of potential to develop and it dictates where you can go. I really wonder when it comes to near-death experiences, what kind of a challenge they present because like you say, you see the transformation in some of these people, then I think that that would be such an interesting thing to study.

Elizabeth: I agree. Right. So there are people from, again, all walks of life. Some may not have had much evidence of high developmental potential necessarily, yet they come back transformed. I think this is our universal nature. We all have that true self. That's the spark that connects all of us. That's the divine part in us. In some, it's larger from the start. In others, it's smaller, but it's there in each and every one of us. So, very dramatic life experience, like clinical death and near-death experience.

Obviously, it's the shattering of the ego for most of the experiencers and this freeing of the true self or large parts of it, at least. Even if prior to that experience, they may not have shown much indications of having that high developmental potential, as we call it in the theory.

Emma: It's funny you mention that picture again because you had a quote on that slide that the wound is where the light gets in. Whether you're already high in developmental potential and you're porous, let's just say you're already full of holes yourself, or you just happen to have some earth-shattering experience, there's a potential for transformation, which is hopeful, I think, that anyone really does have some potential, at least.

Elizabeth: Yes, isn't it? Yes, absolutely. When we take this larger view of life in our existence, we realize how little we really understand those experiences. Those spiritually transformative experiences point the way to the reality that we don't necessarily, well, not necessarily—we generally are not very much in touch with in our daily lives. To our detriment, I think.

Dąbrowski speaks about it, and that's the part that was a surprise discovery for me. Again, as I was preparing for the 2018 presentation, I came up on this Polish article. I don't remember the exact title, but it's from 1958. In this article, he talks about the mystical instinct. Instinct, he calls it an instinct, so it's imbued in us, in our nature, as the highest manifestation of the instinct of self-development. I hadn't seen that anywhere else, so most of his books are very scientifically oriented, right? He had to do this, I think, because he was dealing with a hostile world. He published in the communist Poland, of course, so his theory was not well received there. It wasn't that well received here in the West. Again, unilevel world, obviously. And a whiff of mysticism would be so much worse received, so maybe that's why he did not write so much about it. I'm just speculating, I don't know for certain.

But the fact that he mentions the mystical instinct as the highest manifestation of our developmental instinct was a revelation to me. I loved it, of course.

Chris: I love that too, honestly.

Elizabeth: We are seeing people getting in touch—people, again, who did not have any inclinations of other, there were no manifestations of developmental instinct in them prior to NDE or other spiritually transformative experience. And yet, after this experience, there is this burst of true self, of creativity, of healing, of inner transformation. So, it proves to us who we are, I think, and that's very helpful.

Emma: I was just going to ask you, is that what you refer to as the fourth factor?

Elizabeth: Right, so the fourth factor, that's my addition from the 2018 Congress, and it's God, essentially, or the Divine, or the Source, or however people want to conceptualize that all that we are a part of. I think the number of people who are getting in touch with this grows every day. So, that's the fourth factor.

I use the term God because I was raised Catholic, and I still have those Catholic bonds in me, and it resonates with me. And it's simple too, but I know that many people are turned off to the idea of God, and they had traumatic experiences in church and through religion, so I respect that. However, this is what works for me, and I have felt and seen its manifestations, its guidance in my own life and in those of people around me. So, it's a very tangible force.

Dąbrowski speaks about it, too, he hints at it. He talks about this, I have to pull the specific quotes, but he talks about the being, that supernatural being. He talks about the fact that we are born with this desire for self-transcendence, with this drive to transcend, that's like the seeds in the ground that grow to be plants. We are those beings who come to this world with this desire for self-transcendence, and if self-transcendence is our destiny, there has to be a place, a being, a level that creates this in us, that we are transcending to, because it makes no sense from any point of view to transcend to nothing. Nothingness does not inspire the desire for transcendence.

So, he kind of looks at it from the bottom up, the fact that we come to the world with a need and desire for self-transcendence, suggest that there is something to transcend to, and that itself is an indication of a higher being, or a source, or however we want to call it. So God is as good a name as others.

Emma: On that note, I'll leave us with this quote, Elizabeth, that you have in one of your slides, and I believe it's one of Dąbrowski's, and it's: “Self-education is about personality development on the ever higher levels. Its highest goals is in the natural dimension the fullness of humanity, and in the supranatural dimension—becoming God-like. Self-education should go hand in hand with introspection, and those two activities should become one effort, lasting a lifetime, to come close to the ideal.”

Chris: Thanks so much for joining us today, Elizabeth. This was really wonderful. I knew it would be. I've been wanting to have you on since we had the first episode. So, thank you.

Elizabeth: Oh, it's such a pleasure. Yeah, it's been a great pleasure, and you know, we could certainly chat some more if a mood strikes.