Giftedness in Dabrowski's Works

151 results from retrievals for gifted, genius, outstanding, superior, and talented

Did Dąbrowski include the gifted in his work? Yes, he did. This retrieval was done back in 2019 when Chris and Frank Falk were working on their paper “The Origins and Conceptual Evolution of Overexcitability.” 

Excerpts from Psychological Bases of Self-Mutilation (1937)

Taking into consideration the peculiar form of his emotional link with Cavalieri (who must have been a very handsome man) and his feeling for Victoria Colonna, a woman of a rather masculine type, one may assume the possible existence of a certain homosexual and infantile trait in the genius of sculpture. Another indication of this is his portrayal of young forms of physical beauty in art, his lack of desire to marry (from a group of five brothers including Michelangelo only one was married), and a feeling of particular affection for handsome adolescents. This, however, was not of a definitely pathological character. Traits such as the subjection to mood changes the difficulty or impossibility of making a decision, and outbursts of anger point also to infantilism. From childhood Michelangelo suffered from states of anxiety. He was afraid of being infected with the Black Plague and worried about the health of his family; he was afraid of persecution and attacks on his life. (Dabrowski, 1937)

When he finished work on “The Taking Down from the Cross,” he broke it with a hammer. He would have shattered it to pieces if not for his servant, Anthony, who begged him to make him a gift of it. Such was the indifference which Michelangelo showed towards his work just before his death. The following factors contributed to his increasing pessimism and withdrawal into himself: the frequent chronic pathological disorders; the feeling that he was inferior in looks and in certain character traits; continual restlessness; the need for and lack of a strong love and the appreciation of his and great moral value, together with the realization of his vacillation; lack of decision, lies and flattery; sudden arousal of likes and dislikes; disharmony between his numerous plans and the unfulfillment of the majority of his projects; the greatness of his ideas and genius of his work, and the frequent immaturity of his procedure; and lastly, continuous disappointments in life. (Dabrowski, 1937)

This scarcity of outer excitations can be explained by the conditions of his rearing as well as by the influence of overexcitability and hypochondria. Dostoyefsky's parents spent a rather isolated life, and the children had no companions at home or even later at school. The lack of this broader relationship was compensated by a tightening of the link with the siblings and hence one had to have his brother's traits to be a real friend. Dostoyefsky did not dance, he avoided the large meetings and brightly lighted places, and showed from his early years a tendency to discuss the principles of life. He hardly knew the countryside, did not embrace nature, and it played no part in his life and creations. He was a novelist of the town, a talented creator of darkness and of human evil. Being an introvert, he was predisposed, under the influence of these tendencies, to inward reactions, to an inability to associate with others, to states of anxiety, to excessive inhibition, and to self-mutilation. (Dabrowski, 1937)

One of the more important causes of unrest and torture in Tolstoy was the contrast of his two halves: the artist and the moralist. As an artist he was above all a naturalist, an impressionist, a genius in reproducing nature's life in its most varied forms, especially physical life. As a moralist, he considered the spirit as the only indestructible substance which develops more and more with the suppression of sensual life. Nearly all forms of art, outside of some works designed for special moments (religious music) were to Tolstoy harmful to spiritual perfection, because they excited passions particularly the imagination. “Everybody knows that most adulteries are committed under the influence created by these arts especially music.” (Dabrowski, 1937)


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

Great, even outstanding abilities, of children are usually associated with this form of excitability [intellectual]. We can say that a distinct dominance of excitability of the mental sphere does not create any special difficulties except for one-sided development of the theoretical side at the cost of the practical, and except for certain disharmony between mental maturity and the lack of maturity of other structures; we also observe a kind of affective infantilism side by side with mental maturity. As is the case for other forms of increased excitability, also here appear two kinds of increased mental excitability: an increased excitability encompassing the mental structure globally and a narrow excitability encompassing specific structures and mental functions in a more limited range, namely increased tendency toward introspection or external observation, excessive criticism, apprehending reality causally, logically, and symbolically, etc. (Dąbrowski, 1938/2019)

When a very broad receptivity is associated with affective overexcitability, the global form of excitability favors the development of a very rich mental structure with multiple abilities and with high self-awareness (eminent personalities). The narrow form brings about one-sided development of outstanding abilities that in the face of life difficulties, combined with small plasticity, may lead to disintegration of a negative character or to rigidity and arrest of development. (Dąbrowski, 1938/2019)


Excerpts From Positive Disintegration (1964)

The essence of the process of unilevel disintegration may be shown in the following extract from a diary written by a young male patient who present signs of increased affective and ideational excitability in a period of emotionally retarded puberty: I cannot understand what has recently happened to me. I have periods of strength and weakness. Sometimes, I think I am able to handle everything and at others a feeling of complete helplessness. It seems to me at some hours or days that I am intelligent, gifted and subtle. But then, I see myself as a fool. Yesterday, I felt very hostile toward my father and mother, toward my whole family. Their movements and gestures, even the tones of their voices struck me as unpleasant. But today, away from them, I feel they are the only people I know intimately. I often have sensations of actual fear when watching tragic plays and movies; yet, at the same time, I weep for joy or sorrow at what I see and hear, especially when the heroes mostly lose in their struggles or die. (Dabrowski, 1964)

Symptoms of disintegration occur in highly talented people. There is a difference between the disintegration process in the development of personality in a subject of normal intelligence and that process in the course of life of a genius. In the normal subject disintegration occurs chiefly through the dynamism of the instinct of self-improvement, but in the genius it takes place through the instinct of creativity. The first concerns the total psychic structure, the second only certain parts of psychic organization. (Dabrowski, 1964)

P–, a 3-year-old girl, very intelligent (I.Q. = 140), impulsive, imaginative, and emotionally hyperexcitable, had a clear attitude of opposition to but at the same time a deep affection for both her parents. Although there was strong mutual confidence between her and her parents, she presented mood changes with egocentrism to which her parents were in opposition. She reacted to the position of the parents by crying. However, a change occurred in this development. Without any coercion from her parents, but on her own initiative, she began to muffle her cries by placing her hands over her mouth. She declared she did not want to be a “crybaby” (the word utilized by the parents at the times of her crises). She rejected this baby crying and said she would be a very “good girl.” Her father said at one time that it sounded as if her cries were going up the chimney. After this, whenever she had a tendency to cry, she opened the chimney flue and waited for her crying spell to go away. (Dabrowski, 1964)

What is the role of the third agent? The third agent, together with the first agent (inherited and inborn dynamics) and the second (environmental influences), becomes the major developmental agent in highly cultured individuals with a high degree of self-consciousness. The dynamics of the third agent arise and develop in a certain number of individuals during periods of stress and during the developmental crises of life such as puberty, adolescence, and the climacteric. Rudiments of this agent may be seen in especially talented, sensitive, and sometimes nervous children. The third agent functions to deny some and affirm other specific peculiarities and dynamics within the individual's internal environment, at the same time denying and affirming certain forms of influences of the external environment. The third agent selects, separates, and eliminates heterogeneous elements acting in both internal and external environments. The third agent becomes active during periods of strong tension of the developmental instinct and during positive multilevel disintegration. It operates in individuals endowed with strong tendencies toward positive development and, therefore, may be often seen in nervous, neurotic, and psychoneurotic persons. Such individuals often have inferiority feelings (typical of these disorders), connected as a rule with the process of disintegration. (Dabrowski, 1964)

The Jacksonian hypothesis that the highest mental levels are most easily injured and are initially involved during illness has not been validated. Pierre Janet's “function of reality” places highest value on synthetic adaptation to the actual situation. However, the majority of outstanding creative minds in the field of art and even of science manifest in great measure an underdevelopment of this function of reality in conditions of everyday life. This indicates that their evolution involves disintegration. In this type of individual a strong instinct of development has overcome a lower “function of reality.” Neurasthenics and psychasthenics are in many cases mentally and morally very efficient, though often not able to complete this or that concrete action. Also there is no adequate evidence to support the hypothesis that dissolution begins in higher and newer functions and proceeds downward to simple, automatic ones. (Dabrowski, 1964)

In assessing the mental health of outstanding persons one should apply individual, almost unique, personality norms, for the course of their development must be evaluated in terms of their own personality ideals. These individuals often show accelerated development in one direction or another. They are likely to have psychoneuroses, one-sided skills, little stereotypy in their attitudes, often more or less impaired reality testing, easy transfer of mental tension to the autonomic nervous system, and often outstanding dexterity of higher functions with retardation of lower ones. An accurate evaluation must be based on a thorough knowledge of the history of their life and development. (Dabrowski, 1964)


Excerpts From Personality-Shaping through Positive Disintegration (1967)

As for the question of the religious attitude in the development of historical figures, it should be noted here that religious inspiration was for most artists and philosophers of genius one of the most important and sometimes the only factor that led to the great successes they achieved in their creative work. Even among scholars devoted to strict sciences we observe many who are deeply religious or interested in religious problems, and not only from the scientific point of view. It seems that the multidimensional attitude in every field of life, including creative work, induces and forces man to overstep the scope of his limited field of knowledge and to explore what is not only outside it, but also above it. When one adopts the multidimensional attitude one begins as a rule to understand and experience religious life and all that goes with it. (Dabrowski, 1967)

In the case of so-called positive disintegration that is, disintegration signaling and producing positive transformations of the psychic structure which is a source of creativity, we may be dealing with permanent disintegration, which is decisive for the positiveness of the individual's transformation, throughout his entire life, and is responsible for ever-vital sources of creativity (Michelangelo, Dostoevsky, Zeromski, Weininger, and others). It characterizes the path of genius and the path to moral personality. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Let us now pass to some psychoneuroses and neuroses. The many forms of hysterical syndromes present great difficulties in classification and in our attempt to set up a group unity. According to Kretschmer hysteria arises out of the difficulties in realizing the self-preservation and sexual instincts. Hysterical reactions, according to this author, are instinctive reactions with the selection of lower instinctive “old ways” (higher “new ways” are always mental in character). The actions of an hysteric are subordinated to impulses, and accompanied by hypobulia, dissolution of the will, and weakness and contradictoriness of purposes. According to Janet, hysteria is a form of mental depression characterized by the narrowing of the field of consciousness, a lowering of the level of mental activities, susceptibility to suggestion, and dissociation of personality. The most important characteristics—according to the majority of authors—are vegetative stigmatization and infantilism. A great difficulty with the points of view of the authors just cited is presented by the fact of the existence of many “hysterics” of intellectual and moral prominence (religious leaders, diviners) who stand out with respect to strength of decision and persistency (anorexia, asceticism). Therefore the reduction of hysterical mechanisms to the lowering of mental and volitional activities does not always agree with the facts. In our opinion, the so-called “hysterics” are characterized, not by a lower but by another kind of mental and volitive activities, not by a lower but by different kind of moral ideals. Strong emotionalism and dissociation, stressed by Janet as morbid characteristics (symptomatic of an arrest in development), are, in our opinion, often positive properties. However, in cases where there is a lack of sufficiently developed intellectual traits, many hysterics do not arrive at secondary integration as do “hysteric” geniuses and saints. Individuals strongly emotional and susceptible to dissociation, with insufficient mental resources, remain at the level of various forms of disintegration,  which make adaptation difficult and reflect uneven, often abortive, forms of syntony, with an external accentuation of the self-preservation or sexual instincts, although these instincts are in most cases weakened. The results of studies confirming the opinion that all emotional life has its neurological counterpart in the extensions of the vegetative nervous system of the frontocortical area which govern all psychophysical life will give, we think, the proper foundation for an estimation of the role of emotionality and its positive disintegration in the development of man. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Let us consider first of all disturbances in the intellectual functions, primarily disturbances in the experiencing, perception, and comprehension of sensations. Hyperesthesia and hyperalgesia, occurring in many mental diseases, may reflect general sensitivity or periodic hypersensitivity, which, like depression, may play a positive role in development (objective, critical attitude). A feeling of estrangement and freshness of sensations in relation to various types of stimuli may have creative significance and is often observed among poets. Illusions are characteristic not only of the mentally sick but also of the majority of writers, painters, and people with highly developed emotions and capacity for phantasy. Furthermore, simple and conjugated hallucinations have often been observed in prominent people in the period of their mental diseases (Beers, Mayer, Kandinsky) and in other outstanding people who were not suspected of such disease (Wagner, Wladislaw Dawid). Many kinds of hallucinations reveal a mechanism similar to that of dreams. Regardless of the organic ground of hallucinations, we observe them in individuals inclined to eidetism, in people with a highly excitable imagination, in maladjusted individuals, in people with a high sensitivity to external stimuli and with a capacity for plastic memory. (Dabrowski, 1967)

The essential characteristic of nervousness is an increased excitability, symptomatized in the forms of sensual, psychomotor, affectional, imaginational, and mental hyperexcitability. It consists in an unproportional reaction to a stimulus, an extended, long-lasting, accelerated reaction, and a peculiar reaction to a neutral stimulus. This hyperexcitability is therefore a strong, uncommon sensitivity to external and internal stimuli; it is virtually a positive trait. Talented people, capable of controlling their own actions and fighting against social injustice, are characterized by a sensitivity to esthetic, moral, and social stimuli, to various psychic processes in their own internal environment. Each of the forms of psychic hyperexcitability mentioned is characterized by valuable, actual or prospective, properties. Sensual hyperexcitability is an attitude of being sensitive to external stimuli, such as the sense of color, form, and tone. Psychomotor hyperexcitability gives sharpness, speed, and an immediacy of reaction and capacity for action; it is a “permanent” psychomotor readiness. Affectional hyperexcitability is evidence of the development of a property which is the controlling dynamism of the psyche. Imaginational hyperexcitability gives prospective and creative capabilities, as well as those of projecting and foreseeing. Finally, mental hyperexcitability results in easier and stronger conjugations of particular forms of increased sensibility, which facilitates their developmental work and is a factor that controls and enriches the mentioned dynamism (creativity, psychomotor readiness, etc.). None of the forms of hyperexcitability mentioned above develops in isolation. As a rule these are mixed forms with predominance of this or that form. They are disintegrating factors and, in conjugation with mental hyperexcitability, permit preparation for higher forms of disintegration and secondary integration. (Dabrowski, 1967)

In its global form, the process of secondary integration occurs rather rarely. It takes place with persons who are “prepared” for it, universally sensitive, and who possess a distinct developmental readiness. This process is often shaped by poignant experiences, suffering, and failures in life. It is shaped from the personality nuclei, by way of the realization of a program of internal perfection set by oneself which is continually made dynamic by one's feeling of the multilevel character of reality, and by the feeling of reality of a higher dimension. This process is most often observed with outstanding persons, the moral leaders of societies. (Dabrowski, 1967)

An example of secondary integration in the full meaning of this term is the psychic integrative process in the developmental drama of Wladislaw Dawid, an outstanding Polish psychologist, who, after a personal tragedy, after a period of disintegrative confusion, developed in himself a new structure with a new disposing and directing center regrouping his principal interests, his methods of work, his world outlook, in what he himself and his closest friends estimated to be a reflection of a higher form of development. The process entailed the mobilization of considerably greater moral forces, a strengthened and developed alterocentrism, and it tied his personal life and his new world outlook into an inseparable whole. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Michelangelo, genius that he was, is an example of an unfinished process of disintegration and secondary integration which reflect the process of negation in relation to actual reality, and the gradual formation of the attitude of affirmation in relation to the arising reality of a higher dimension, with participation of the negation and death instincts, as well as the self-affirmation and perfection instincts. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Internal conditions of the development of personality would include certain intellectual equipment, namely, various kinds of qualities and intellectual difficulties, connected functionally with the oscillation of the disposing and directing center “upward,” that is, to a higher level. Our most recent extensive investigations of the correlation between outstanding capabilities and psychoneurotic symptoms show that a higher level of intellectual and artistic interests and capabilities correlate positively to about 80 per cent of subjects with light psychoneurotic sets. We shall not consider more intensely at this point the matter of sex; according to our observations sex is not an essential problem' in the development of personality, although the direction, rate, and scope of the development are in some measure dependent on this factor. (Dabrowski, 1967)

How many of us continue under the impression of a feeling of the greatness of creative “flights” when contemplating the works of Michelangelo, how many of us experience entanglement and depth as a result of the diseased creative genius of Van Gogh, and how many of us experience ineffaceable moments when we recall reading the works of Camus or Faulkner? How deeply one is influenced by reading Gandhi's autobiography! We recall a conversation with one of our acquaintances who told us that he often reverts in these experiences to the epigraph on the monument of A. de Musset in Paris,  the  words  of  which  concern  the  indissoluble  link  of  greatness  with suffering: “Great poetry is often the product of weeping, depression, distress and even agony.” (Dabrowski, 1967)

A 6-year-old girl, L,—-, gifted, greatly egocentric, and introverted, revealed a strong irritability or childish depression, lasting sometimes for several hours. Although she had great confidence in her father and mother, it usually took many hours for her to confess, during a sincere evening talk, often accompanied by sobbing, that she was impossible, for she knew that she behaved badly with respect to one of her parents, but she could not come out and say it. When she was asked to explain why she could not speak about it, she answered that something kept her from doing so, that she had to wait until she felt “easier in her mind.” (Dabrowski, 1967)

Twelve-year-old M-, of outstanding intelligence, schizothymic in character, very early experienced the difference between what is “true” and what is “appearance.” One day she had a long, emotionally hot conversation with her father about lasting affectional “serious” bonds, which to her were the only worthy bonds and the only ones having meaning. This conversation took place after the girl had for many months experienced these problems. She could not accept and explain to herself the ease with which her so- called friendly relations with her girlfriends changed. It was difficult for her to make such contacts because she realized their changeability and temporariness. She did not know that with the “demands” she was making, it was not easy to have good friends. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Seven-year-old S–, who was gifted, inhibited, timid, had worked out for herself a plan for fighting back uncertainty and inhibitions, through exercises in overcoming the difficulties she had when dealing with new problems. She knew that she too greatly exaggerated the difficulty of the problem when she encountered it for the first time. In this connection she had worked out a “table of mistakes” made during a given month, judging certain exercises as difficult. In this childish way she had worked out the percentage of negative estimates; on this basis she could increase her certainty in new trials and improve the objectivity of her own estimates. (Dabrowski, 1967)

The child was of outstanding intelligence, and of the type displaying affectional and imaginational excitability. She had an early and pronounced attitude of ambition; she accepted no interdictions and she reacted well to persuasion. When her father explained  to her, in a way understandable to the child, why her parents had forbidden her to see such films, S—- said: “Father, I must know all that and manage to get through it.” After several longer talks on the matter, the parents made an agreement with the girl that she would be allowed to see the films as before, provided that she would cover her eyes with her hand or turn her head away when the dreadful scenes she feared were about to take place. With the girl's consent the agreement also provided that in case she failed to perceive such scenes early enough, one of the parents would give her a sign by touching her hand. This agreement took effect and was observed rather strictly. When similar methods were applied in other areas of the girl's sensibility, the nightmares completely disappeared. (Dabrowski, 1967)

MC was a 9-year-old girl, gifted and impulsive, with an inclination to rapid reactions, and with great affective and imaginational excitability. From the time she was 18 months old, M displayed an inclination to obstinacy. The parents tried to eliminate these symptoms by using the method of not yielding to the child's obstinacy (she was very well liked and rationally educated). This method gave no results, and, at the same time, nightmares were noted. Obstinacy and symptoms of an “affectional wrecking” increased considerably. (Dabrowski, 1967)

L—, a 16-year-old boy of introvertive type with a markedly increased affectional and imaginational excitability, very gifted, experienced a strong and inappropriate dislike of his father (characteristic of the maturation period of such individuals), arising from the weakening of the parent's authority and from his severe criticism of him. Up to that time the father was for him always an authority and a highest example; the boy was simultaneously very much attached to his mother. In this period many features of the father, his movements, gestures, attitudes, ways of doing things, became annoying and even repellent. These states were so strong that there developed a strong feeling of guilt and a state of collision between this feeling of guilt and the boy's growing critical attitude toward the father which was accompanied by a weakening of the father's authority. At that time L–, transferred his ideal opinions and feelings from his father to one of his acquaintances, who stood much lower than his father with respect to type, interests, and capabilities. (Dabrowski, 1967)

The study of historical personalities brings into full view elements of man's development in general and of personality development in particular. Moreover, it throws light on the differences between a personality and a genius, between a personality and an outstanding criminal individual; and, finally, it permits us to demonstrate the need for a multilevel understanding of personality. (Dabrowski, 1967)

In our consideration of historical personalities we will try to point out, among others, the following three problems:

  1. The main differences in the structure of qualities in the development of personalities and geniuses
  2. Differences in the structure of qualities in the development of personalities and in the development of outstanding criminal individuals
  3. The necessity for understanding the personality both as an empirical and as a normative conception (Dabrowski, 1967)

Let us briefly treat the first point, paying attention to the essential differences between the process of positive disintegration in the development of personality and in the development of outstanding individuals and individuals of genius. One cannot here draw a very clear demarcation line; nonetheless, it seems that our former considerations will permit us to highlight the differences between the two groups. (Dabrowski, 1967)

As regards the process of disintegration among individuals of genius, their “developmental drama” takes place in the area of the creative instinct. Although the aspiration for the personality ideal exists, it is not continuous and the source of its main forces is not the structure of the personality ideal but the changeable structure of the internal milieu and the stimuli issuing from the external world. (Dabrowski, 1967)

While the process of disintegration in the development of personality usually has a total character, since it embraces the whole structure of the individual, the process of disintegration among geniuses may not embrace the entire personality but only some fundamental traits of its structure. The process of disintegration in the development of personality shows predominance of multilevel disintegration, but the process of disintegration of geniuses may display an unsteady balance between unilevel and multilevel disintegration. On account of the fundamentally distinct direction of development and the totalization and canalization of ways between the personality ideal and the different layers of the internal environment, the process of disintegration in the development of personality in general moves along the way of progress, and apart from rare cases, does not deflect toward suicide or involutional mental disease or antisocial forms of protest. In outstanding individuals and individuals of genius, the process of disintegration however, may reveal this danger in its development. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Of course, we have also observed instances of conjunction between the process of development of personality and the development of genius. Such conjunction is most advantageous for the individual and the society. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Michelangelo was both a genius and an individual aiming, with all the richness of his psyche, at realization of moral personality. He exemplifies such a fullness of psychic experiences, such a strong development of dynamisms, such great creative tension, and such a vast scale of interests and capabilities that he was unable to complete his development along fundamental lines. He did not arrive at inner peace, that state which we call secondary integration. As we have shown, his process of positive disintegration, with tension and extent almost unequaled, had no time to crystallize fully, although Michelangelo lived a relatively long life. Despite very strong tension in the developmental process and despite great achievements in this development, his genius and personality were too rich to attain within the span of his life secondary tenacity and the new hierarchy of values with a new disposing and directing center, and to remove himself from creative and instinctive- affectional unrest. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Michelangelo is an example of the coexistence of enhanced psychic excitability in various areas, chiefly imaginational, affective, and psychomotor, with exceptionally strong dynamisms of volition and with genius and many-sided capabilities. From his early youth these qualities were outlined very clearly. The hard childhood of the boy only served to deepen his prospective attitude, showed him the brutality of life, and made the sensitive boy withdraw within himself. The hard conditions of growth in his youth cast a shadow over Michelangelo's later life. He lost his mother when he was only 6 years old and he remained under the severe control of his stepmother. His father was a difficult, narrow-minded man who scorned his son's interest in “stonecutting.” For any neglect in his studies he was severely and brutally punished by his father and uncles. His brothers, who were unbalanced, narrow-minded, and greedy, were a burden to him all his life. The sight of a hanged man (who attempted to kill Lorenzo de Medici) and the recollection of a scuffle in which a fellow painter mutilated Michelangelo's nose, increasing his congenital facial ugliness, remained in his memory for life. (Dabrowski, 1967)

The sensitive boy had to make do with an unbalanced development and to give up cultivation of a number of personality traits and qualities with which lie was liberally endowed. We find them only in later years, during the long formative period of Michelangelo's personality. We may observe how exuberant they are, how they outrun one another in development, some of them declining, but all—of very great tension—illustrate perfectly Michelangelo's struggle with himself. Reducing the above to a few points, we may say that the indicators of Michelangelo's personality were enhanced psychic sensitivity in relation to himself and his environment, his outstanding capabilities in all directions, his conjugation of the feeling of inferiority, of dissatisfaction with himself, with these outstanding capabilities, as well as the remarkable tenseness of the developmental instinct, and psychic disintegrative nuclei (ugliness and outstanding capabilities, physical endurance and susceptibility to diseases, pride and ambitional drives, and affectional attitudes of a lower type). (Dabrowski, 1967)

Michelangelo's capacity for genius extended in many directions, beginning with sculpture, through painting and poetry, architecture, defense strategy, and ending with a capability for intuitional mathematical analysis and synthesis. Today the design of St. Peter's great dome would require a knowledge of differential calculus, a knowledge which had not been formulated in the 16th century, but which Michelangelo foresaw by such a brilliant design that it gave the maximum strength to the church's architectural composition. He was enthusiastic about philosophy, was on friendly terms with philologists, willingly talked with men of letters and with scholars, was passionately fond of anatomy, and desired to write a work on the shape of the human body He possessed immense capabilities for representing other people's experiences plastically in carving, painting, and in words, and he had a tendency to aggrandize the psychic and physical aspects of observed reality. He was completely independent in his judgments concerning creativity. He executed innumerable sculptures, statues, paintings, all of great artistic value. Ascanio Condivi, Michelangelo's best pupil and later companion and collaborator, when writing about his creation stated the following opinion: “He was up until now the only creator who so worthily applied his hand both to chisel and brush that today no memory is left of ancient painting; and in sculpture he was second to none.” (Dabrowski, 1967)

Work in the direction of his own interests became the center of the development of Michelangelo's personality. Around his work settled, on various levels and with varying tension, moral, social, and religious traits. This determination and dissociation of the development, as it were, were the cause of the artist's permanent unrest and of his ambivalent feelings and tendencies. Great vigilance with respect to the hierarchy of values, enhanced by the innate genius of his mind and deepened by prospection and the state of ungratified aspirations, are the characteristic traits of Michelangelo. They expressed themselves in nervousness, so often emphasized by his biographers. The artist set his own ugliness against the beauty of the works he created. Filled with introverted sentimentality, he met with resistances in conveying his rich experiences to his environment. Unable to express his need for love and friendship to other people's hearts, the artist worked the raw, hard stone, conveying to it his most lofty dreams and the ideals of his own personality. Excessive activity, the immensity of his projects and interests, his losing himself in his work, his plans for creation (he intended to carve a mountain into a statue to be seen from afar by sailors), all these were the marks of a man who was always in a state of unrest, fear, dissatisfaction with himself. From these sources originated his changeability of mood, his outbursts of anger, his lack of decision, his vehemence and impetuosity. (Dabrowski, 1967)

W. Dawid, a Polish psychologist known for his numerous outstanding works, is a relatively rare instance of a fundamental typological and mental transformation which took place in the course of a few years under the influence of a great psychic injury. This injury brought about the disintegration of his former psychic structure and the replacement of it by a new structure of a different character, of different aspirations and attitudes toward life, and of a different world outlook and different hierarchy of values. (Dabrowski, 1967)

What attitude should we assume toward those opinions which, despite his own statements, maintain that the second part of David's life was less valuable, and even that in this period he suffered disorders of the function of reality and revealed many pathological symptoms? Of course, when one handles the matter schematically, such a complete loss of the desire to live, suicidal tendencies, the transformation of an empiricist into a mystic, the tendency to ecstasy, to talking to oneself in thought, and to extreme solitariness may suggest these opinions. It appears, however, that one may answer such an analysis by learning to know the fundamental developmental process of many outstanding personalities and by taking into consideration Dawid's statement that only the second phase of his life, the one subordinated to mysticism and the death-instinct, was meaningful. These opinions are also answered by the fact that his life was organized on new foundations in which he revealed creative abilities and great concern about the future of education. (Dabrowski, 1967)

As an addition to this work we wish to present the results of our systematic investigations, carried out under the author's direction at the Institute of Mental Hygiene and Children's Psychiatry of the Polish Academy of Sciences, which throw light on a considerable section of our inquiries. These investigations concern personality and its development in correlation with outstanding abilities and psychoneuroses in children and young people. Thus, they represent preliminary experimental confirmation of the main hypotheses advanced and statements made throughout this text. It is nevertheless desirable, even necessary, that further experimentation be carried out, not only concerning the specific hypotheses tested here, but also many other hypotheses found throughout the text. (Dabrowski, 1967)

The problem of outstanding abilities in a given field of science, art, or endeavor has been, for some years now, the subject of some interest to many specialists. Particularly valuable, from the point of view of social usefulness and pedagogical practice, is the knowledge of the mental and physical development of gifted children and young people. In the Soviet Union, as well as in the United States, a great deal of research work is done in this direction. This work was also started in Poland, for the first time on an extensive scale, in the Department of Mental Hygiene and Children's Psychiatry of the Polish Academy of Sciences. In this work we were greatly helped by the Polish Society of Mental Hygiene. (Dabrowski, 1967)

When studying outstanding abilities, one encounters numerous difficulties both in the course of studies and when one attempts to systematize their results. The difficulties of the first kind concern the methods of study, which should permit the acquisition of exhaustive data on the physical and psychic development of the individual; the difficulties of the second kind appear when one tries to determine the correlation between examined abilities and somatopsychic qualities, indissolubly connected with all other qualities of the individual. (Dabrowski, 1967)

We selected, from a very great number of problems, several of weighty and practical importance. These were problems concerning personality, outstanding abilities, and psychoneuroses. These conceptions are known to the reader and we shall omit here their detailed definition. We would like, however, to call attention to their correlation and arrangement in the children and young people examined by us. We have not found in literature any attempt to discover and compare the correlations between these three qualities. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Of course, one should keep in mind that both our investigations and conclusions are no more than the initial phase of further, widely planned studies of outstanding abilities, that in our conclusion we endeavor only to indicate directions, the “tender” points of the problem, and that therefore these conclusions should not be regarded as fully elaborated and permanent schemes and generalizations. On the contrary, it is our wish that the themes touched upon should encourage other institutions to cooperate with us in our study of outstanding abilities, and also to examine critically some of the correlations indicated here. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Herein we will give the results of experimental investigation of a group of gifted children and young people, aged 8 to 23. Conclusions are based on the examination of 80 children, of whom 30 were generally intellectually gifted (from elementary schools), and 50 were children and young people from art schools (drama, ballet, and plastic art schools). One of the first control groups was a group of 30 mentally deficient children; among them were 10 examined at the same time as the gifted children, and 20 diagnoses were taken from the card register of the author. Every child was examined by means of the best available and best-developed psychological methods (personal inquiries, questionnaires, tests, talks, observations) and was subjected to detailed internal neurological and psychiatric examination. Every child was subjected also to a medical inquiry extending back to the prenatal period and including his hereditary make-up. The examinations were carried out in the autumn of 1962, in Warsaw schools, by a dozen or so physicians and psychologists. (Dabrowski, 1967)

Since we shall dwell here on the correlation between outstanding abilities, personality, and psychoneuroses, we will briefly recall what we mean by these concepts. (Dabrowski, 1967)

The term outstanding abilities denotes abilities (in any field of a man's life) which permit him to achieve results considerably surpassing the average standard accepted for individuals of the same age, education, and so forth. In our examinations we came into contact with two kinds of capabilities: general and special. Outstanding general abilities were noted in children from elementary schools who were able to attain higher than average results in general learning on tests (though in school they did not always attain these results). The I.Q. of this group (general ability) ranged from 120 to 146. General abilities were divided into humanistic, mathematical, and natural. Outstanding special abilities were possessed by children attending art schools. Manifestations of these abilities differentiated into theatrical, dancing, plastic art, and finally into musical abilities. All the examined children who possessed special abilities had an I.Q. rating of between 110 and 155, that is to say they were, at the same time, generally intellectually capable. (Dabrowski, 1967)

One may inquire as to the cause of the increased tendency among gifted children who have good conditions of life and learning to become subject to states of nervousness or psychoneuroses. Probably the cause is more than average sensitivity which not only permits one to achieve outstanding results in learning and work, but at the same time increases the number of points sensitive to all experiences that may accelerate anomalous reactions revealing themselves in the psychoneurotic sets. (Dabrowski, 1967)

When dealing with the internal environment one should refer to other qualities which, together with it, go to make up the concept of personality. We have in mind here, primarily, outstanding abilities, interests, thoughts, and manifestations of one's relation to the external environment – all encompassed in the internal environment – as related to the level and kind of psychoneurosis. Due to lack of space we shall give only some of the correlations. (Dabrowski, 1967)

All gifted children and young people display symptoms of increased psychoneurotic excitability, or lighter or more serious psychoneurotic symptoms. (Dabrowski, 1967)

The development of personality with gifted children and young people usually passes through the process of positive disintegration, which is connected with the already mentioned complexity of neurosis, and on the other hand it leads to self-control, self-education, and autopsychotherapy. (Dabrowski, 1967)

We think that we shall have reached our goal if this work will focus attention on the positive relation between the structure of personality and susceptibility to being afflicted with psychoneuroses. The practical conclusions should be drawn primarily by psychiatrists, psychologists, pedagogists, and all those dealing with the problem of outstanding abilities. It may be that in the future it will be the gifted, internally rich children who will start the process of lowering psychic tension and the process of liquidating the manifestations of nervousness by developing their internal environment, that is, by the development and shaping of personality. (Dabrowski, 1967)


Excerpts from Mental Growth through Positive Disintegration (1970)

Dąbrowski's approach is empirical. He starts with clinical observations, derives his concepts and hypotheses inductively from experience without assuming any underlying or “supra” reality. If he speaks of personality integration as the developmental goal, he is still empirical in the sense that he relies on what is empirically accessible, because it has already been attained by outstanding individuals. In his “personality ideal” (a developmental dynamism) he consciously and deliberately allows some degree of vagueness and emphasizes that the contours of the next developmental stage may reveal themselves more clearly once the immediately preceding stage will be fully attained. Thus he avoids the overconfident assertion of some rationalists, all too willing to be specific about the endpoint of development. (Dabrowski, 1970)

The genesis and present situation of the theory of positive disintegration conforms entirely to these requirements. It was conceived not earlier than after two decades of clinical work of the author during which he carefully accumulated files with data that seemed to be of significance for an understanding and theoretical elaboration of mental disturbances. First he tried to explain them by means of current theories and only when it became clear to him that this effort cannot be successful, he made his first attempt to interpret clinical data from the standpoint of mental development. Biographical studies on the role of nervousness and psychoneurotic states in outstanding personalities followed. The developmental significance of psychoneurotic symptoms became increasingly evident. Then, after years of further clinical work and successful testing of the first intuitive insights in his psychiatric practice, the second stage followed: new concepts were introduced and broad conceptual schemes were set up. (Dabrowski, 1970)

The above-mentioned observations indicate that the processes of mental disintegration are not necessarily harmful or negative. We have also found a high degree of correlation between aptitudes and nervousness, as well as a conspicuous correlation between the content and course of psychoneurotic processes in outstanding personalities and the growth of their creative capacity and creative output. All this, together with the data accumulated in clinical and experimental research, brings us to the definite conclusion that the processes of mental disintegration play a useful, positive, developmental role. (Dabrowski, 1970)

The author's clinical experience and investigations demonstrated the existence of positive correlation between outstanding abilities and periods of psychic disequilibrium (especially psycho neuroses) and of negative correlation between mental deficiency and neurotic behavior. Clinical studies that support this conclusion can be summarized as follows: (Dabrowski, 1970)

It is recognized that the great majority of highly gifted children, youths and adults, show very strong and very clear psychoneurotic components. L. M. Terman claims that his studies show the opposite, but in his research he did not include psychiatric examinations and did not take into account levels of emotional development analogous to the levels of intellectual development. (Dabrowski, 1970)

In creative men of talent and genius one encounters much stronger states of mental disequilibrium than in normal people; for example, emotional and imaginational overexcitability, states of high tension, strong inhibitions and profound anxiety and other traits of neurotic character. (Dabrowski, 1970)

It is being contended here that every human individual, and especially those who are talented and undergo an accelerated process of development, exhibit in their lives the phenomenon of partial disintegration which may become a part of a general process of positive disintegration or culminate in partial secondary integration, or in negative disintegration. (Dabrowski, 1970)

The more accelerated is mental development, the more universally gifted is the individual, the more positive psychoneurotic symptoms he exhibits, the more there is likelihood that his disintegration will take a global character. The lower the level of his development, the less universal is an individual's growth, the more frequently partial disintegrations and partial reintegrations will be observed in an individual. (Dabrowski, 1970)

In the first kind of development we usually observe an average level of intellectual functions and some degree of emotional underdevelopment. In the other kind of development we usually observe above average abilities, emotional richness and depth, as well as inclination to psychoneurosis. The individuals who manifest the second kind of development are from their childhood maladjusted, talented, experiencing serious developmental cries. They show a tendency toward mental hyperexcitability, toward dissolution of lower levels in their drive toward higher levels. Hence, they exhibit disturbances and disharmony in their internal and external environment, the feeling of “otherness,” strangeness. In this group we can find bright children, creative and outstanding personalities, men of genius, i.e. those who contribute new values. (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)

In most gifted individuals who show accelerated development the autonomous factors can be found and described fairly accurately. As mentioned earlier they are found where we detect developmental potentials, and where we find appropriate social conditions for development. They appear under conditions of inner conflicts, expressing themselves through the development of the inner psychic milieu and the elaboration of a hierarchy of values. (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)

A young man of outstanding and multidirectional abilities, of increased affective and imaginational sensitivity, of inner milieu built on recognized hierarchy, with dominant elements of highest dynamisms of mental life, considerable ability for inner psychic transformation, creative capacity. The dynamisms “subject-object” in oneself and the third factor are manifested by his careful observation of the changeability of his own states, by their evaluation, and by his selective attitude (positive to some states, negative to others). This is also manifested in his attitude to his own artistic work. Moral values which he put on the highest level fascinated him, so that he subordinated all other values to them (thus placing his disposing and directing center on a high level). His highest values were global and humanistic. The whole organization of his life was based on these dynamisms together with constant retrospection and prospection in relation to himself and to the world around him. All these characteristics, with concomitant decrease in activity of the instinct of self-preservation and strong multilevel disintegration (feelings of responsibility, “excessive” syntony, dissatisfaction with himself, process of subject-object in oneself, the third factor, definite localization of disposing and directing center at a higher level) all these indicate the development of insight, of a wide scale and deep penetration of aims and firm nonadjustment to lower levels of reality. (Dabrowski, 1970)

S.M. has outstanding multidirectional abilities, high psychic sensitivity, distinct empathy. The hierarchy of his inner psychic milieu was marked by dominance of the highest dynamisms of mental life, creative ability, and considerable capacity for inner psychic transformation (he shows a constant need of self-development, of increasing his insight, of enlarging his understanding of others). (Dabrowski, 1970)

The first question can be answered as follows. S.M. represents an outstanding, positive personality development at the level of advanced multilevel disintegration. He is very sensitive, with increased affective, imaginational, sensual and mental activity. In connection with the process of multilevel disintegration, his inner psychic milieu is strongly developed and differentiated with definite hierarchization. He manifests a strong attitude of meditative empathy and responsibility towards others. He also demonstrates a highly educated awareness in the service of a well-developed moral personality. Creativity is present, with reality function definitely developed at a higher level, and somewhat lacking at the low level. S.M. represents, in the great majority of his symptoms, positive nuclei of personality formation, nuclei which are being actively developed and realized. (Dabrowski, 1970)

At this point it seems appropriate to quote two opinions concerning psychoneurosis, in particular, anxiety and depressive psychoneuroses. The first is derived from the writings of Paul Abély (1, 2): 

“It seems that to be a good psychoanalyst, one must submit oneself to this test of liberation and it is important that one must get rid of one's complexes and relieve the subconscious. But is it not possible that in so doing we take the risk of depriving a human being of a personal treasure which nourishes perhaps his dynamics and his genius? I shudder at the thought that such elite members as Molière, Mozart, Beethoven, Goethe, August Comte, Baudelaire, and many others, could possibly have been subjected to such a ‘frustration'.

“I have known in my life, especially in artistic milieus, many young neurotics of great talent who, happily remained such.

“I have even heard an inaugural and presidential address at the occasion of the Strasbourg Congress, an excellent conference by Professor Nayrac on ‘The anxiety of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry'. He said something of this nature: ‘This anxiety was of a particular type. It bore a quality promoting personality development. Such anxieties are instrumental to elevation and greater self-development. Thus a doctor must approach them with prudence and respect'.” (Dabrowski, 1970)

As mentioned earlier, very often capable, creative, talented men in poetry, music, literature, or painting are quite impractical. Marcel Proust had not only a great ability to penetrate into complex and subtle problems of characters he chose as his heroes, but he was also capable of catching their individual, unique or even pathological content. He was thus very highly developed with respect to the creative aspect of the reality function, represented in a high level of his creative synthesis, but little efficiency with respect to practical matters. (Dąbrowski, 1970)

Inner psychic milieu with loosening (disintegration) of structures and functions. The loosening (disintegration) of mental structures and functions may be moderate, considerable or quite extensive (global). It appears under conditions of mental tension, strong emotional experiences, internal, and external conflicts. It is evident in developmental crises (periods of adolescence, climacteric, etc.), especially among people talented in arts and literature, among neurotics and psychoneurotics as well as in certain psychoses of fair or good prognosis. (Dabrowski, 1970)

We shall discuss the role of the inner psychic milieu in two classes of outstanding people, namely: people of genius whose development is being guided mainly by their creative instinct, and people whose development is guided mainly by their instinct of self-perfection. In some cases both groups of dynamisms operate and overlap in their action, which obviously is exceptionally fortunate for the development of such individuals. (Dabrowski, 1970)

In people of genius the inner milieu is usually characterized by astonishment and anxiety with respect to oneself and to the environment, cyclic feelings of superiority and inferiority, feelings of guilt, maladjustment to the actual environment, and the presence of creative factors. In other words we encounter here unilevel disintegration and the first phase of multilevel disintegration. Among psychoneurotic factors, characteristic for this class of people, we find fear and anxiety, hysterical dramatization, infantile psychoneurotic reactions, and strong identification with various personalities. The reality function is very often weak. (Dabrowski, 1970)

The accelerated but often one-sided development of people of genius is most often associated with very high psychic tension. Great thinkers are given to obsessions; great artists-to quickly changing syntonic associations with a variety of psychological types, attitudes and levels. The developmental drama of such outstanding individuals is elaborated mainly in the area of the instinct of creativity. Their personality ideal is maintained, but is not a constant source of motivation. The main developmental forces are derived not so much from the personality ideal, but rather-from the spontaneous changes within their inner psychic milieu and from the stimuli of the external world. (Dabrowski, 1970)

Personality ideal is the guiding dynamism in the development of outstanding individuals of the other class mentioned at the beginning. Their development is propelled primarily by the instinct of self-perfection. (Dabrowski, 1970)

Outstanding personalities, particularly those who have attained a high level of universal development, give in the course of their lives a dynamic example of the manner in which the transition from lower to higher levels is accomplished. At the same time they exhibit the highest presently recognizable levels of development and thus show the function of the ideal of personality in development. Through their own concrete examples they indicate to others programs of moral and social development, i.e. the aims to be reached and the methods to be used. (Dabrowski, 1970)


22. Creative individuals in general, and those creative in arts and humanities in particular, show above average, enduring and even growing components of animistic, intuitive and emotional thinking. Distinct elements of the above nature can be found in outstanding painters, sculptors, musicians, poets and representatives of other branches of art and humanities. At the same time, they frequently show great appreciation and ability for analytic-discursive thinking. Striking examples are the works of Shakespeare whose penetrating psychological thought of an analytic nature is matched by the intensity of imaginative, and magical elements. Michelangelo intuitively applied in architecture the then unknown elements of the integral and differential calculus in construction. The creative work of Goethe in poetry, science and philosophy shows both analytic-synthetic thinking and mythical and intuitive elements, all on a very high level. This hypothesis seems to find confirmation in recent studies of Hackworth and Werner. (Dabrowski, 1970)

23. High level of general and special abilities correlates positively with mental disequilibrium, nervousness, neuroses, and psychoneuroses. cf. Neuroses, Psychoneuroses.

This hypothesis refers to all ages with a special application to children and youth. It has been confirmed with correlations of 0.75 to 0.85 in experimental studies on various groups in Poland. It is conspicuous that increased general and special sensitivity, loosening of mental structures and the operation of the main dynamisms of the inner psychic milieu seem to constitute a necessary condition for development of mental abilities. Kubie and Terman assert the contrary, but their analysis of symptoms differs from the one developed here. (Dabrowski, 1970)

24. Highly talented individuals and individuals of genius show at the stages of multilevel disintegration and secondary integration a distinct presence of the instinct of self-perfection. cf. Self-perfection instinct.

Although we cannot test the presence of the instinct itself, we can test its manifestations. The instinct of self-perfection occurs later in the development than the instinct of creativity and is constituted by a highly organized system of moral and social dynamisms. The processes of multilevel disintegration and secondary integration cause the growth of sensitivity to external and internal stimuli in increasingly wider mental spheres. A highly talented individual or a genius at higher levels of multilevel disintegration acts not only in accordance with creative dynamisms, but also in harmony with the emerging instinct of self-perfection. (Dabrowski, 1970)

40. One-sided development of some mental functions leads to an integration within the narrow sphere of these functions without loosening and dissolution of a wider scope of structures and dynamisms, and without the development of key functions. It increases egocentrism, lack of syntony, tendency towards autocratic attitudes with a simultaneous lack of self-consciousness, self-control, and without the development of the inner psychic milieu. Individuals exceptionally talented in some respects, even approaching the level of a genius, with exceptional courage or ambition, but without a sufficiently developed instinct of self-perfection, that is to say, without empathy, without basic constituents of the psychic milieu, may easily subordinate their activity to a primitive disposing and directing center and lay barriers to the growth of other underdeveloped elements of personality. Hence, lust for power and ambition can be found among individuals highly, but one-sidedly developed. Such individuals, when they succeed in attaining positions of power, cause grave, sometimes disastrous, effects for social groups and societies. (Dabrowski, 1970)

41. The presence and operation of the dynamisms of the third factor, inner psychic transformation, identification and autopsychotherapy cause positive outcome of psychotic processes. The above dynamisms constitute forceful, autonomous, conscious factors of positive development. If these factors develop in persons who suffer psychotic processes, favorable turn of the illness can be expected. This is frequently observed in many outstanding and creative individuals. These individuals succumb to mental illness because of an acute temporary disequilibrium in their mental functions. But due to the creative dynamisms of their inner psychic milieu their mental health may be restored. (Dabrowski, 1970)

43. The potential for mental growth correlates positively with susceptibility to neuroses and psychoneuroses. cf. Neurosis, psychoneurosis.

This hypothesis assumes that the greater the capability for mental development, the more distinct and intensive are the states of mental tension and disintegration. Consequently, the individuals with a particularly favorable endowment are more susceptible to neurotic and psychoneurotic processes than those of a lesser potential. The potential for mental growth may be investigated and established either through an analysis of actual mental dynamisms active in an individual or retrospectively, by judging according to his final achievements.

The biographies of outstanding historical personalities are most revealing in this respect. (Dabrowski, 1970)

48. Individuals of a high all-around level of abilities which approaches the level of a genius show during their whole lives or in some periods of their development until the proximity of secondary integration, mental disturbances of a psychoneurotic or even psychotic type. Biographies of great personalities whose works are generally considered as works of genius very clearly confirm this hypothesis, to mention only a few such as Baudelaire, Beers, Dostoevsky, Hamsun, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Lincoln, Maupassant, Michelangelo, Mill, Newton, Nietzsche, Proust, Rousseau, Shaw, Strindberg, Wittgenstein. Psycho-clinical examination reveal numerous examples of this correlation. (Dabrowski, 1970)

49. Individuals of average abilities show weaker correlation with psychoneurotic elements than the individuals with above average or outstanding abilities.

This hypothesis may be stated as follows: The greater are the abilities of a person, the greater is the probability of psychoneurotic symptoms. The conclusions from the clinical and experimental material clearly confirm the correlation of outstanding abilities with psychoneurotic elements. The correlation in the other direction, that is the correlation of psychoneurotic symptoms with above average abilities, has not yet been sufficiently investigated. More specifically, the conclusion of the correlation of outstanding abilities with the presence of psychoneurotic symptoms is .75 to .85, but the conclusion in the opposite direction, that is of the presence of psychoneurotic elements with outstanding abilities has not been equally confirmed. (Dabrowski, 1970)

57. Mental illness occurs much less frequently in advanced stages of multilevel disintegration than at lower developmental levels. (b) No mental illness occurs at the stage of secondary integration, and the second part of organized multilevel disintegration. (c) The facts described in (a) and (b) are due to the development of protective developmental forces. In the course of the processes of multilevel disintegration a new mental organization is built up which is conscious and autonomous, has a distinct disposing and directing center, a distinct and firm hierarchy of developmental values and a hierarchy of aims. Personality with its clear directional attitude, with distinct directional dynamisms and plasticity of affective memory constitutes an unbreakable barrier which is composed of protective forces formed during the whole course of development and strengthened by the cohesive structure of secondary integration and by further development as traced by the hierarchy of aims. Everyday observations indicate that individuals of talent or of genius frequently show symptoms of psychoneurosis, but very rarely of psychosis: individuals at the level close to secondary integration rarely show symptoms of psychoneurosis and never symptoms of psychosis. (Dabrowski, 1970)

From Existential Thoughts and Aphorisms (Cienin, 1972)

4 Who indeed are the existentialists, not in name but substance? Who were Kierkegaard, Beckett, Jaspers, Camus? They were simply extreme psychoneurotics, who, moreover, apprehended most fully the pain and suffering of this world and expressed it with genius. (Cienin, 1972a)


From Fragments from the Diary of a Madman (Cienin, 1972)

I knew a girl with a logical and reasonable mentality. In the first few years of school she did not talk spontaneously to her friends—she only answered when spoken to. Outside of school, in everyday matters she was impractical, unsure; she had to be assured that she understood practical matters and could do them. And indeed, being very intelligent she could do these matters very well and thoroughly. She was not shy with her family, on whom she depended very much. She was with her mother and father all the time. Before she went to bed she had to have emotional contact with everybody, especially with her parents. She had to go to sleep in harmony with those closest to her.

She had outstanding global abilities and abilities for intravertive insight in stories about animals of the forest, imaginary figures. She noticed very early “matters of death.” When she was 4 or 5 years old she learned that, after death, people are thrown into “a hole” in the ground. She did not want to look at death she tried to wall it out; she did not want to transfer it to her beloved world. (Cienin, 1972b)


Excerpts from Psychoneurosis is Not an Illness (1972)

Psychoneuroses are observed in people possessing special talents, sensitivity, and creative capacities; they are common among outstanding people. Psychoneurotic syndromes are not found among those who are moderately or considerably mentally retarded. With all due regard to present general medical, neurological or endocrinological methods of treatment, in our opinion it is essential that psychologists and psychiatrists do not reduce Psychoneuroses to organic factors. Rather it is our main task to understand them as representing an individual complex evolution of conflicts. These conflicts yield positive effects, i.e. their outcome is individual growth, and it is our task to see also their other aspect, i.e. as difficulties in contact with the environment, or opposition to it, when invariably it is the psychoneurotic individual that is morally superior to his environment, and therefore cannot adjust to it. Thus we find both inner and outer collisions in individuals who are characterized by constitutional elements of positive or even accelerated development. (Dabrowski, 1972)

In individuals whose developmental potential is more limited and who also present low psychic resilience because their developmental nuclei are somewhat weak, the stereotyped social influence reduces their abilities for creativity for the sake of adjustment and may lead to negative disintegration. In individuals who are richly endowed and talented the same influence leads to psychoneurotic creative processes which, although rich in their content, are described by the social milieu and the physicians as pathological. Such a label is, of course, detrimental to both the psychoneurotic individuals and the society. In this, way the path of collisions between psychoneurotics with their creative components and the environment takes shape. The path of these collisions is a hard road of liberation for creative individuals, it is a path of suffering—not always necessary and not always useful. It is a path which does not quickly lead to finding one's own road of development because of the strong inhibitions and frequently high suggestibility of these individuals. (Dabrowski, 1972)

The tendency to develop these conditions were innate (forms of her overexcitability, suggestibility, and nuclei of an ahierarchical inner psychic milieu were evident in her from childhood), and were intensified by the transition from a protective psychical atmosphere during childhood and adolescence on one hand, to less attractive environment during her adult life. The condition was aggravated by inappropriate upbringing (she was spoiled by her parents) and her specific history of emotional experiences. Although she possessed these negative symptoms which were unpleasant to herself as well as to others, she was sensitive, individualistic, subtle, talented in some ways, and was very easily influenced in the development of her psychoneurotic condition. She was more susceptible to positive than to negative influences, but she was easily swayed by either. Thus we find a positive correlation between the symptoms of neurosis on one hand, and positive elements of the patient's personality on the other. We see here distinct nuclei of positive development which had been arrested by lack of understanding on the part of the parents, her husband, and her physicians who treated her as ill and did not see her relatively rich developmental potential (emotional sensitivity, talents, highly altruistic behaviour when the members of her family were in danger). (Dabrowski, 1972)

According to my observations, to the first group usually belong intelligent not infrequently outstanding, individuals, having psychical structures capable of high, even accelerated development through positive disintegration (Dabrowski, 1967; Dabrowski, Kawczak, and Piechowski (1970). Those belonging to the second group are, in the majority of cases, inclined to psychical bankruptcy, possessing largely involutionary structures, and are inclined toward tendencies which arrest their personal development. They usually exhibit little creativity in the disintegrative process. They have a limited developmental potential (see Chapter 1). (Dabrowski, 1972)

Such infantilism is often found in psychoneurotics, especially in psychasthenics, but also among outstanding individuals in art, science, and sometimes in public service. Here belong Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Keats, Musset, Slowacki, Shelley, Rousseau, Chagall, Walt Disney, and thousands of others. (Dabrowski, 1972)

Proust, for instance, suffered unbearably when he had to take care of his household duties, his finances, etc. Nevertheless, he was capable of sustained and systematic hard work of writing. It gave him a great creative satisfaction Kierkegaard, Unamuno and Chopin were very similar in this respect. We can observe a similar phenomenon daily in very talented children who quickly tire, become exhausted under conditions of imposed school instruction but can without fatigue spend long time playing with things they like. (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)

M. has outstanding multidirectional abilities, high sensitivity, and distinct empathy. The hierarchy of his inner psychic milieu is marked by dominance of the highest dynamisms of mental life, creative ability, and considerable capacity for inner psychic transformation (he shows a constant need of self-development, of increasing his insight, of enlarging his understanding of others). On the other hand, he demonstrated disproportional development of certain dynamisms of the inner psychic milieu, such as dissatisfaction with himself, feelings of inferiority with respect to himself, the dynamism “subject-object” in oneself, and also the third factor. In clinical diagnosis it may be considered that S. M. suffered from psychasthenia retaining his reality function at a high level (refinement, and moral concerns of universal nature) but with weakened reality function at a lower level. (Dabrowski, 1972)

M. represents an outstanding, positive personality development at the level of advanced multilevel disintegration. He is very sensitive, with increased affective, imaginational, sensual and mental activity. He manifests a strong attitude of meditative empathy and responsibility towards others. He also demonstrates a highly educated awareness in the service of a well-developed moral personality. He has distinct creative abilities. S. M. represents, in the great majority of his symptoms, positive nuclei of personality formation, nuclei which are being actively developed and realized. (Dabrowski, 1972)

When obsessions stem from the highest psychic functions and the most outstanding traits of man then we have the highest level of obsession. They can be said to be normal for an individual on a high level of development. These are, for example, obsessions of heroism and self-sacrifice, obsessions of responsibility and love, or obsessions of existential character involving empathic tension in response to the suffering of others and actual readiness to help them. (Dabrowski, 1972)

Investigation of the specially gifted children has indicated that, depending on the level of development of a child's personality, the psychoneurosis will also have a corresponding level of disturbed functions. This indicates that the tendency for development of a specific psychoneurosis is directly related, level by level, to the personality development in a child (see Chapter 11). This view in relation to psychoneuroses of adult individuals was expressed by Manfred Bleuler (1941) and Karl Menninger (1963; also Menninger and Menninger, 1942) (see also Chapter 7). (Dabrowski, 1972)

In his creative thinking Kafka became aware of the worthlessness of speaking. He maintained that only that counts what cannot be put into words. According to Albérès and Boisdefferre (1968) Kafka was blinded by Truth and at the same time was a genius of the absurd—a man who was searching for truths that are not only unknown but also incomprehensible in his time. Kafka's world was composed of three realms: dreams, creativity, and everyday reality with which he felt the least in common and which often repulsed him. He felt more at home in other levels of reality. The world of his dreams became his real world. Contrary to the usually experienced fragmentation, unreality, and discontinuity of dreams Kafka's dream world had a distinct continuity and a distinct relationship to the realities of human existence. The transposition of his main current of activity to the dream world was for Kafka also a means of handling the difficulties of everyday life. (Dabrowski, 1972)

The essential creative elements of Gérard de Nerval's poetry were arealism, imagination and fantasy. We can, I suppose recognize here the realism of a world of fantasy with strong contemplative components, if such perceptions are strong, wide and systematized. De Nerval, practiced some form of meditation fairly regularly as a result he experienced states of autosuggestion, trance, premonitions and visions. Such elaborated world of imagination in spite of being removed from ordinary reality has its own sense, its own limits, its own organization, its own laws independent to a large extent from the laws of the ordinary reality. According to Richer (1962) all of de Nerval's visionary, symbolic, obsessive elements together-expressed his “unceasing care to endow the smallest detail of individual character with a universal significance.”

Such a world gives an experiential satisfaction to those who dwell in it. To Kafka it was the world of his dreams, to Proust it was the world of his memories, and to Gérard de Nerval it was the visionary world of persons, events, and symbolicized premonitions.

Inspiration came to him easily, it was rich in fantasy and emotional explosions which expressed his inability to adjust to ordinary reality. One may say that he was not highly conscious of these processes but the fact of their spontaneity does not make his creative process something automatic. Judging from the creative and magical elements of his poetry based on enhanced emotions and imagination one can suppose that he had visions of living persons, imaginary characters, and ghosts. Richer (1962) said that de Nerval's states of greatest disequilibrium were related in time and in content with his most creative periods. At such times he produced his most outstanding works, such as “Les filles du feu,” “Les chimères,” and “aurélia.” (Dabrowski, 1972)

Strong elements of positive maladjustment to both the inner and the outer milieus are manifested by a tendency (more pronounced in personality development) to strive for that which “ought to be” (striving for self-perfection). All clinical cases and all outstanding personalities demonstrate higher or lower degree of positive maladjustment. Cases 6, 2 and 3 and all outstanding personalities show also strong maladjustment to some traits in their own psychological make-up and their own growth process. (Dabrowski, 1972)

Creative abilities connected with hereditary endowment appear in both psychoneurotics and outstanding personalities. Their expression is a positive maladjustment to oneself and to the environment and a search for new higher ways of understanding reality and of creating or discovering these new ways. Creative abilities are the outstanding trait of Kafka, de Nerval, Dawid and Wittgenstein, and are also present in Cases 2, 3, 6, and partly 5. (Dabrowski, 1972)

These creative tendencies are evident in the genesis and development of the inner psychic milieu, in the sensitivity to stimuli form the external milieu, and in the tendency for accelerated development. Both groups of phenomena (psychoneuroses and outstanding personality development), apart from their similar hereditary endowment, are subordinated to the process of positive disintegration as well as to accelerated development through crises. Inner conflicts often lead to emotional, philosophical and existential crises. Both represent tendencies towards internal autonomy and authentism. (Dabrowski, 1972)

Among some philosophers, especially among outstanding existentialists, we encounter a history of anxieties, and also anxieties experienced often at the time of their creative writing. There is a strong concurrence of the experiences of courage, heroism, humility, fear of the unknown and the decision that one must enter the unknown, as in the case of Buddha or Kierkegaard, who spoke of fear and trembling and the courage necessary to search for the absolute, portrayed in Durer's “Knight.” This is the relationship of the highest heroism and anxiety. We refer here especially to the “fear and trembling” of Kierkegaard, which was characteristic of his personality development and is also characteristic of the first stage of multilevel disintegration (i.e. spontaneous multilevel disintegration, or level III). Among the psychologists and psychiatrists of analytic, introverted character who are capable of self-analysis we frequently find anxious and obsessive types. (Dabrowski, 1972)

The problem of superior abilities in science, art, or any other creative endeavor, has been the subject of interest to many specialists. Particularly valuable, from the point of view of social usefulness and education, is the knowledge of the mental and physical development of gifted children and young people. In the United States of America as well as in Great Britain and the Soviet Union, a great deal of research is done in this direction. The work under current discussion was started in Poland at the Institute of Mental Hygiene and the Children's Psychiatry Institute of the Polish academy of Sciences in Warsaw. We were helped greatly by the Polish Society for Mental Hygiene. (Dabrowski, 1972)

We selected, from a very great number of problems, several of significant practical importance. These were problems related to superior abilities and psychoneuroses. We have not found in the literature any major attempt to discover and correlate these two sets of characteristics as we studied them in children and young people. (Dabrowski, 1972)

Of course, one should keep in mind that both our investigations and conclusions, represent at the present, no more than the initial phase of further, widely planned studies of superior abilities and that in our conclusions, we only endeavor to indicate directions, the “tender” point of the problem. These conclusions, then, should not be considered as fully elaborated permanent schemes and generalizations. On the contrary, it is our wish that the themes touched upon should encourage other institutions to cooperate with us in our study of superior abilities, and also to examine critically some of the correlates indicated here. (Dabrowski, 1972)

In the following are given the results of experimental investigations of a group of gifted children and young people, aged 8 to 23. The subjects were 80 children, of whom 30 were generally intellectually gifted (from elementary schools), and 50 were children and young people from art schools (theatre, ballet, and art). One control group consisted of 30 mentally retarded children; among them 10 were examined at the same time as the gifted children; a further 20 diagnoses were taken from the card register of the author. Every child was examined by means of the best developed psychological methods and was subjected to detailed neurological and psychiatric examination. Every child was also subjected to a medical inquiry extending back to the parental period and including his hereditary makeup. The following tests were used: Wechsler- Bellevue, Rorschach, Thematic Apperception Test, special questionnaire designed to identify the presence or absence of psychoneurotic traits, detailed social interview and case study. (Dabrowski, 1972)

Since we shall dwell here on the correlation between superior abilities and psychoneuroses, we will briefly recall what we mean by these concepts.

The term superior abilities denotes abilities (in any field) which permit an individual to achieve results considerably surpassing the average accepted as standard for individuals of the same age and the same level of education. In our examinations we came into contact with two kinds of abilities: general and special. Superior general abilities were noted in children from elementary schools who were able to attain higher than average results in learning general subjects (though in practice they did not always attain these results). The I.Q. of this group ranged from 120 to 146. The general abilities were divided into humanistic, mathematical, and scientific. Children attending art schools possessed superior special abilities. Manifestations of these abilities were evident in different areas like drama, dance, art, and music. All the children examined who possessed special abilities had an I.Q. between 110 and 155. (Dabrowski, 1972)

One may ask what is the origin of the increased tendency among gifted children, who have good conditions of life and learning, to become subject to psychoneurotic states. The origin lies probably in the constitutional hypersensitivity toward the whole of the individual's experiences. An individual who has a differentiated and multilevel developmental potential not only can achieve outstanding results in learning and in work, but at the same time is equipped with an increased number of points of sensitivity to all experiences; this may accelerate “anomalous” reactions which reveal themselves in psychoneurotic behavior (Dąbrowski, 1958; Dąbrowski, 1959). (Dabrowski, 1972)

All gifted children and young people display symptoms of increased psychic excitability, or psychoneurotic symptoms of greater or lesser intensity. (Dabrowski, 1972)

The development of personality among gifted children and young people usually passes through the process of positive disintegration (strictly related to the complexity of the psychoneurosis), and it leads to self-control, education-of-oneself, and autopsychotherapy, in other words, to a conscious inner psychic transformation. (Dabrowski, 1972)

At this point I would like to turn our attention to my own reservations with respect to the material presented. One of the weaknesses of this study of gifted children and young people is the lack of longitudinal studies and an insufficient number of control groups. This deficiency is partly compensated by the group of retarded children (Chapter 9, Section 6) and by the author's experiences gained from the study of children of an average mental level. We have found that nervousness and psychoneuroses are phenomena normal in the course of development. We should therefore look upon the majority of forms of nervousness and psychoneurosis as indicators of developmentally “normal” phenomena. (Dabrowski, 1972)

A girl, 20 years old, with favourable home background. I.Q. 116. Superior ability in all general subjects, plus dancing and acting. From early childhood she had fits of capriciousness, bad temper, and suicidal threats; she blackmailed those closest to her. At the time of the examination she suffered from headaches, giddiness and heart pains without apparent reason. In addition she had disorders in breathing, difficulties in falling asleep; nausea when caught by an emotion; allergy to the odors of ether and benzene. When in anger she easily fainted. Her body, extremities were cool; her hands and feet moist. Psychomotor reactions and thinking processes were accelerated. She could not concentrate. (Dabrowski, 1972)

She was nervous, touchy, chatty, noisy, complaining. She smoked cigarettes, had an uneven appetite. She was claustrophobic and afraid of loneliness. The tempo and the quality of her work depended on her mood. She bad outbursts of joy and periods of shyness. Her interests were one-sided and she spent much of her time seeking new thrills. She showed mannerism of behavior. When in states of nervous tension she was capable of striking others physically. (Dabrowski, 1972)

We think that we shall have reached our goal if this work will focus attention on the positive relation between the development of superior abilities and talents and the development of psychoneuroses in the direction of their higher forms. The practical conclusions may be drawn by psychiatrists, psychologists, educators and all those dealing with the problem of outstanding abilities. Such an approach, if accepted by the centers deciding about our education and culture could bring it about that nervous and psychoneurotic individuals would suffer less from unnecessary tension operating on lower levels, and from other negative dynamisms related to psychoneuroses and enhanced by wrong attitudes in relation to psychoneurotics. The new approach would permit to accelerate individual development and its greater fullness, and in consequence would give the society the advantage of making use of the original and creative aspects related to nervousness and psychoneuroses. (Dabrowski, 1972)

She liked dolls, fairy-tales and legends and had many-sided superior abilities, especially in art. She began menstruating at the age of 16; her menstruation was normal. She was treated by a gynecologist and an endocrinologist; no disturbances were noted. This treatment was rather shocking to her, she began to have outbursts of crying and sleeplessness. Light depression condition followed with a tendency for isolation. (Dąbrowski, 1972)

Kristine: But so many people, especially my family tell me that I am not serious, that I am emotionally immature, hysterical, that “such fools are often quite capable, but nevertheless they are fools.” They often tell me that I am unrealistic, because I still like dolls and stories—and that this is impossible at my age.

K.D.: My dear young lady, please do not be disturbed one bit about it, but rather be content and desirous to retain this childlike attitude for quite some time; it may be very creative. Let me tell you that you are already someone quite outstanding and have a bright prognosis, that you will give much joy and of high quality to people and they will be proud of you.  This magic and fairyland thinking of yours, all this world of fantasy and theatre, is still more important in the influence on your behaviour, your spontaneity, sincerity and the definite sympathy you have for children. It indicates that you have considerable developmental tension and talents; your growth will be very long and intense. 

Kristine: I am so glad to hear what you are saying, doctor, but why is it that others have so different a view of me? If you will pardon me, I have an impression that you are just trying to console me to strengthen me and make my life more easy. 

D.: You are wrong, Miss Kristine. I always feel bad about consoling, pedagogizing or moralizing. But you see, I believe this is true, and if a doctor is not thinking about consolation in the first place. Let us accept such consolation. Because that is something entirely different from that which we usually attribute to the term “consolation.” Certainly such a definition may have a therapeutic effect, but that is because it is endowed with what we call, as physicians, multidimensional consideration, that is to say, the capacity to view the issues from many sides and many levels. In literary terms this may be called “whence we came and whither we are tending,” and in psychological language “developmental dynamics” with recognition of past and future prognosis, that is with respect to both retrospective and prospective methods. (Dabrowski, 1972)

L. was a girl 10 years old. She was highly excitable emotionally, sensually, and in the psychomotor and imagination areas. She was very capable, especially in the arts and humanities. She was attached to her parents, yet seemed fairly independent and stubborn.

Her parents were nervous, but controlled; the atmosphere at home was on high moral level. Besides B. L. there were two other children—a boy and a girl— all differently talented. There were occasional arguments and fights among the children due to typological and age differences. No traumas or repression patterns of psychoanalytic type were noticed nor was there any discrimination towards the children on the part of parents. The girl was known from earliest childhood to have excessive excitability of imagination and emotions. (Dabrowski, 1972)


Excerpts from The Dynamics of Concepts (1973)

The changeability of concepts and terms depends on the psychic transformation of man and expresses the developmental transformation of human individuals, the growth of their autonomy and authenticity, of their inner psychic milieu and of their growing richness of life experiences. Great creative individuals in the fields of art, literature and on the borderline of those two fields, often challenge and transform ideas and aesthetic forms and, thus, contribute to the formation and later, general acceptance of new form by more or less large social circles. Sometimes the general atmosphere is particularly favorable to a creative revision of concepts. The social, political, artistic and moral spirit, characteristic for certain periods of accelerated cultural growth, e.g. Athens at the time of Pericles, Renaissance, etc., not only allows great transformations, but stimulates and “reinforces” the creative activity of talented individuals. (Dabrowski, 1973)

There is, however, a discrepancy between the views of outstanding individuals on a high level of a fully rounded mental development, as well as, the experiences of the majority of people under stress and great moral tension, and the tendency of many researchers to take the viewpoint of the relativity of values, of their complete dependence on cultural factors and to question the validity of all claims referring to higher levels of reality. It is worthwhile to emphasize that, at times of great national or social perils, frequently societies split into two groups. One shows distinct recognition and acceptance of a hierarchy of realities and values, while the other falls down to the most primitive levels of behavior without recognition and observance of any rules of conduct or values. (Dabrowski, 1973)

The Polish psychologist Wladyslaw Dawid experienced his wife's suicide so deeply that he completely changed', his psychological type, his methods of research, and his attitude toward reality. We can notice in both cases a very low threshold of resistance to frustration and an outstanding ability for transformation, development and empathy. (Dabrowski, 1973)

In outstanding individuals we have the symptoms of “smiling through tears” and “smiles of concern and sorrow.” These symptoms are connected with profound and many-sided insights and with the feeling of the transitory nature. They are also connected with existential attitude. (Dabrowski, 1973)

In outstanding and creative individuals the formation and realization of creative ideas is associated with depression experienced in confrontation of reality of a lower level and with a tendency to discover reality of a higher level. Such individuals continually experience states of “disruption,” mental “elevation,” increase of creativity, empathy and authenticity. (Dabrowski, 1973)

The creative process frequently occurs in states of meditation, contemplation or even ecstasy all of which represent higher phases of disintegration. In suffering, sorrow, sadness, despair and tragedy, the states of depression and dejection coexist with the states of elevation, loftiness, and joy. Depressions and existential anxiety are characteristic of the majority of outstanding artists, especially poets, writers and painters to mention only a few: Proust, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Saint Exupéry, Tolstoi, Camus, Michelangelo, Van, Gogh, etc. Serious disintegrative transformations stimulated and enhanced creative forces in Clifford Beers, Wladyslaw Dawid, Fedor Dostoevsky, John Keats, etc. (Dabrowski, 1973)

Some critics quote the example of Mendelson as a case of development without the process of disintegration. It should be noted, however, that Mendelson did not represent a great outstanding talent and that his main characterological trait, associated with a degree of musical ability, consisted in his capacity for being fashionable, likable and in easy adjustment to his social environment. Another alleged counterexample refers to Mozart. On a closer study, it becomes evident that he experienced grave, although not well known, psychoneurotic states, particularly those associated with the problem of death; and these psychoneurotic experiences, sometimes of an intense and obsessive nature, were dominant in certain periods of his life. (Dabrowski, 1973)

These “hierarchical values”—the particular levels of which can be distinguished in the sphere of emotional functions and which can find confirmation in the program of self-perfection of outstanding individuals—can be considered as norms and criteria for the levels of values which are objectively binding for all people in behavior, education, marriage; in family, social and even political life. (Dabrowski, 1973)

We can find positive elements in various forms of regression or its related forms of psychic infantilism. Here can be included manifestations of accelerated development, psychoneuroses and creativity. A closer acquaintance and understanding of this problem allows a definitely positive interpretation of many symptoms of infantilism. The need for application of positive regression is particularly important in education and, very frequently, in dealing with children endowed with above average abilities. The usefulness of the concept of positive regression is manifest in developmental and educational psychology, in the theory of psychoneuroses, in self-education and autopsychotherapy; it is also striking in the study of outstanding and creative individuals. (Dabrowski, 1973)

The present writer frequently indicated that the processes of affirmation, negation and choice are of fundamental significance in the operation of the third factor. We may refer here to the examples of Father Maksymilian Kolbe and Dr. Janusz Korczak. Father Kolbe voluntarily replaced one of the prisoners of the extermination camp in Auschwitz and, thus, saved him from certain death through the sacrifice of his life. Dr. Korczak accompanied his pupils to the gas chamber and died with them, although it was easy for him to escape. In both cases we are dealing with a distinct activity of the third factor, especially in the opposition against the most fundamental instincts in oneself and against primitive influences of the environment. The activity of the third factor is also clearly noticeable in the behavior of all those outstanding personalities for whom the maxim, “If the sheep are dying, the shepherd also has to die,” has authentic meaning. (Dabrowski, 1973)

From the standpoint of the important role which mental tension plays in human development, the negative approach and attempts to remove tension by means of mechanical means, only impede the process of creative growth of personality. It seems, on the contrary, that mental tension in outstanding creative individuals should not and cannot be eliminated, because it is an expression and an essential part of the creative process. (Dabrowski, 1973)

The above problem is of great importance in existentialist, and especially in existentio-essentialist philosophy. It is also important in developmental psychology, particularly that of talented, outstanding individuals and personalities for whom philosophizing plays a significant role in their development. (Dabrowski, 1973)

On that level, such interesting phenomena arise, as: a high level of mental activity in severely ill people, even those who are struggling with death; a high level of scientific, moral, and political activity of people in a very advanced age (Gandhi, de Gaulle); compensatory mental activities at the level of genius in individuals with considerable atrophy of the cortex (Pasteur). (Dabrowski, 1973)

The problem of transcendence of the psychological type has particular significance in the psychotherapy of neuroses. A change of former attitudes of the patient and a gradual development of new manners of behavior weakens the operation of undesirable dynamisms and traits and brings about typological transformations. Biographies of outstanding individuals in saints, as well as, in daily psychotherapeutic practice furnish a large number of examples of a successful transcendence of the psychological type. (Dabrowski, 1973)

Cooperation of systems of values with experiences, takes the form of fairly strictly correlated compounds. This cooperation is clearly noticeable in discussions in which such problems as dilation, cribbing, slapping one's companion on his face, and manifestations of cheap “popularity,” are examined. The question of whether a kind of behavior is appropriate or inappropriate, fair or unfair, just or unjust is constantly in the center of discussion. Life experiences contribute to the differentiation and modification of value judgments. Our behavior in everyday life is examined from the standpoint of higher and lower levels and evaluated as being in accordance or as incompatible with what is experienced as “fair” and “noble,” “lower” and “higher.” This kind of conjunction of what is empirical with that which is evaluative, and vice versa, can be distinctly observed in outstanding human individuals with an all-around mental development. They control their development by means of discursive thinking and through the participation of emotional dynamisms of a higher level (empathy, the third factor, “subject-object” in oneself). Those individuals develop through a systematic periodical differential diagnosis of their own level of behavior and their level of emotional functions more and more cohesive empirico-normative compounds. In proportion to cultural growth of societies, these compounds and their associated hierarchies of values appear as correct to increasingly larger social groups. They are corrected through deeper and more versatile experiences of the successors of outstanding individuals who are the leaders in moral and social development of their communities. (Dabrowski, 1973)

Such individuals frequently indicated with their “maladjusted imagination,” activity and “immature” ideas the direction of the future development in are, philosophy, morals and social relations. They set up ideas, approaches and conception which are later creatively applied and developed by others and, thus, paved the way toward further outstanding achievement in arts and sciences. We may point out the following examples: the concept of unique, unrepeatable, consciously chose, subjective self in Kierkegaard; absolute harmony between word and act in the writings of the great Polish poet of the 19th century, C. Norwid; the transference of the dominant aspect of life from reality into dreams and development of “concreteness” of dreams in Franz Kafka; the treatment of states of depression in creative individuals through finding an appropriate aesthetic expression, characteristic for many discussed creative artists and applied by the Polish modernistic poet, Jan Lechon. All these were ideas “out of this world,” ideas derived from the transcendental sphere. (Dabrowski, 1973)

The concept of “positive immaturity” can be applied in the wide are of developmental and educational psychology, in the study of creative processes, in psychological analyses of talented individuals and on the borderline of psychology and psychiatry, particularly in the study of neuroses and psychoneuroses. (Dabrowski, 1973)

Knowledge of this problem will permit basic changes in decisions concerning prognosis and methods of treatment of psychoneurosis. The problem of inter- and intraneurotic differences in levels of functions is basic for a better understanding of the development of gifted people, especially of prominent personalities, and also as a basis for an appropriate attitude and  approach toward them. (Dabrowski, 1973)

Knowledge of psychoneurosis is crucial in understanding talented people and outstanding personalities. (Dabrowski, 1973)

We cannot disregard the fact that a great majority of outstanding individuals in art, literature, and science exhibited psychoneurotic traits and dynamisms. We also know that many psychotics, especially catatonic schizophrenics and those who suffered from manic-depressive psychosis, exhibited great creative abilities and, in many cases, after periods of aggravated illness, reached states of secondary harmony, and preserved and developed their creative talents. (Dabrowski, 1973)

The concept of creative psychopathology has applications in developmental and educational psychology, in psychiatry, and especially in the psychology of creative individuals—that is to say, outstanding men. The acquaintance of cultured people with the main problems and methods in this area is of basic significance for a change in education with regard to the so-called educational difficulties and nervousness among bright children. It also implies a change in the attitude and approach of psychiatrists and psychologists toward psychoneurotics who show distinct abilities and talents. (Dabrowski, 1973)


From The Heroism of Sensitivity (1994)

The correlation between the highly talented and psychoneurosis and neurosis is very high. Almost 97 percent of the highly creative suffer from different kinds of overexcitabilities, neuroses, and psychoneuroses. So, neurotics and psychoneurotics are a mine of social treasure.  If their emotionality, talents, interests, and sensitivity were discovered at an early age, society and science would profit. Meanwhile, under the influence of psychopaths, and the so-called “statistically normal” people eager to emulate the apparent efficiency of psychopaths, the sensitive and creative are put aside. (Dabrowski, 1994)


From Multilevelness of Emotional and Instinctive Functions (1996)

When one studies the life histories of writers, composers, artists, scientists, one is struck by the fact that from early childhood they manifest an enhanced mode of reacting to the world around them. Furthermore, their enhanced reactivity is coupled with intensified experiencing in cognitive, imaginational, and emotional areas. One observes a similar pattern in gifted and creative children and youth (Dabrowski, 1972). In tracing the development of such individuals it becomes quite clear that in those cases where development reaches toward universal human values, i.e. values which persist across epochs and cultures, emotional factors play a dominant role. They appear as internal conflicts, striving through anxieties and depressions for true empathy and genuine concern for others, striving for unique and exclusive bonds of love and friendship, desperate search for the meaning of human existence, or a desperate search for God not as an abstraction or institutionalized father figure, but as a personally felt living presence. (Dąbrowski, 1996)

This view of development as a process of positive disintegration is based on several decades of clinical and psychological study of children, adolescents, and adults, talented and creative as well as retarded and psychopathic (Dąbrowski, 1949, 1964, 1967, 1970, 1972). Gradually it became apparent that within each group the individuals functioned at strikingly different levels, and that these levels had certain distinguishing characteristics. But what was most striking was the realization that those with, as Jackson would put it, partly or completely “dissolved” areas of functioning (creative psychoneurotics, some psychotics) were actually undergoing a process of transformation and reorganization in their internal psychological makeup, and it was not so much their intellectual but their emotional structure which was being demolished. Amidst the debris a new one would emerge, often not precipitously but slowly and painfully. (Dąbrowski, 1996)

In the Introduction we discussed the significance of emotional development. It was mentioned that creative and gifted individuals react and experience in an intensified manner, and that this particular characteristic can be observed in intellectual, imaginational and emotional areas. We now add the psychomotor and the sensual as well. The enhanced mode of reacting in these five areas was called psychic overexcitability (Dąbrowski, 1938 and 1959). (Dąbrowski, 1996)

Accelerated development is an expression of developmental differentiation, certain degree of autonomy from biological laws, creativity of universal character, and transformation of the innate psychological type. Here we observe above average abilities in many areas, emotional richness and depth, and multiple and strong manifestations of psychic overexcitability. In individuals so endowed one may observe from childhood difficulties of adjustment, serious developmental crises, psychoneurotic processes, and tendency toward disintegration of lower levels of functioning and reaching toward higher levels of functioning. This however, does not occur without disturbances and disharmony with their external environment and within their internal environment. Feelings of “otherness” and strangeness are not uncommon. We find this in gifted children, creative and prominent personalities, men of genius, i.e. those who contribute new discoveries and new values, (Dabrowski, 1970, pp. 29-30). (Dąbrowski, 1996)


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