Positive Maladjustment in Piechowski's Work

These excerpts contain the term positive maladjustment and were initially compiled during Chris's 2017 literature review. 

Other constellations or traits, such as mixture of extraversion and introversion, or the opposition of impulsive and careless vs. deliberate and thoughtful behavior, are the seeds of many conflicts. Together with different forms of overexcitability, the conflicts sooner or later become multilevel (i.e., between ”what is” against ”what ought to be”). The dynamisms of level III, listed in Figure 1, receive their names from different types of cognitive (astonishment, positive maladjustment) and emotional conflicts (shame, guilt, disquietude, inferiority, dissatisfaction). The dynamisms of level II are named for conflicting fluctuations of feelings (ambivalences) and actions (ambitendencies). The intensity of conflicts reflects the strength of these dynamisms, but the strength of development depends on the greater strength of the multilevel ones. (Piechowski, 1975a)

“All neuroses are compromises between impulses and defenses” is the psychoanalytic definition of neuroses (Rangell, 1965, p. 139). In the theory of positive disintegration this would correspond to unilevel neuroses. Psychoanalysis does not appear to recognize neuroses of a distinctly developmental nature, i.e., those which are an expression of striving for an autonomous hierarchy of values, positive maladjustment, creative strivings, emotional overexcitability, inhibitions, which show elevated moral sensitivity. Thus to distinguish the level of neurosis is crucial. Dabrowski (1972) devoted a book to this subject, where he discusses levels of neuroses, psychoneuroses, obsessions, phobias and psychoses. (Piechowski, 1975b)

The theory identifies methods of coping with the troubled cauldron of overexcitabilities (to be explained) and presses to resolve conflicts arising from positive maladjustment (to be explained), from self-judgment, or from the search for a deeper meaning of one's life. (Piechowski, 1991)

Dabrowski called this process positive maladjustment, because such persons are in direct conflict with the values around them, which they are expected to adopt—this is maladjustment—but they come into congruence with their own deeply felt values, which is its positive aspect. Being true to oneself is a positive step in personal growth. Filing for CO status was Lieutenant Font's “decision for self,” a decisive action taken on the path toward self­actualization” (Brennan, 1987). (Piechowski, 1991)

Dabrowski's theory is complex. Each level, and especially levels III, IV, and V, is characterized by a number of developmental dynamisms. A few of these have been mentioned: in Level III, astonishment with oneself, positive maladjustment, dissatisfaction with oneself, subject-object in oneself; in Level IV, self-­therapy (illustrated by Eleanor Roosevelt's quiet contemplation), inner psychic transformation, and personality ideal. A more detailed exposition of the theory must be sought in a number of available and unavailable sources (Brennan, 1987; Dabrowski, 1964, 1967; Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Hague, 1988; Lysy & Piechowski, 1983; Miller & Silverman, 1987; Nelson, 1989; Piechowski, 1975, 1978; Weckowicz, 1988). As with any conceptually rich theory, we must remind our­selves that a mere skeletal outline will not bring forth for us the understanding that only closer study and application can give. (Piechowski, 1991)

We see in these concepts keen questioning and self-scrutiny. We can recognize the Dabrowskian dynamisms of astonishment (first excerpt), dissatisfaction with oneself (second excerpt), and positive maladjustment (both excerpts). These youngsters are gifted not only in terms of their talents and abilities but in terms of character growth—they sincerely want to become better persons. Their self-knowledge is impressive for this age. It shows emotional giftedness in the making. It fits Gardner's (1983) concept of intrapersonal intelligence. (Grant & Piechowski, 1999)

Dabrowski's concept of developmental potential as the constellation of abilities powered by enhanced modes of experiencing (overexcitabilities) has been particularly helpful in understanding the ways in which the experience of gifted children is qualitatively different from those in whom these attributes are more modest. His concept of positive maladjustment as a moral clash with conformity to an ethically dubious status quo is another example of insight into the different nature of the potential for advanced development of many gifted young people (Piechowski, 1986, 1991, 1997). (Grant & Piechowski, 1999)

If we are to serve the good of gifted children, then we must be particularly alert that we do not inadvertently bait them with rewards into choices that compromise their values. One high school student caught sharply the contradiction between competing and serving (Piechowski, 1997). When he was 15, he said about himself: “I feel that I am a person who is on the earth that is destined to use his abilities and talents to his fullest. This is simply what I think I really am.”

When he turned 17, he saw it differently, an example of what Dabrowski called positive maladjustment: A few years ago I was a person who wanted things for himself. Now I am trying to change that person to a person who wants to contribute to others and the world, not just himself. Obtaining this type of person in this world is not that easy. The one thing that is a roadblock is competition. Not necessarily losing to other people, but beating them. How can I compete to get into medical school when a doctor is supposed to build people's confidence and restore their sense of security? The process is self-defeating. (Grant & Piechowski, 1999)

To be emotionally gifted is to dare to act on one's awareness of what is happening with others by alleviating hunger, relieving emotional distress, opposing unfairness, and fighting injustice (Roeper, 1982). Gifted adolescents in particular, with their advanced thinking, see through pretense and double standards. Often they meet with opposition and ridicule. Not compromising one's ideals, resisting peer pressure, and being able to stand alone, Dabrowski (1970) called positive maladjustment. It is positive because it means being true to oneself and to the universal ideals of compassion, caring, and the conviction that each individual deserves consideration. Rooted in empathy and a sense of justice, such a stance is often in opposition to others' self-interest, prejudice, and ruthlessness. Therefore the two terms, emotional giftedness and positive maladjustment overlap. (Piechowski, 2003a)

In their study, Mayer et al. (2001) noted that situations presented to the participants led those higher in emotional intelligence to defy their peers in order to protect others, an expression of positive maladjustment. They concluded that high emotional intelligence is isomorphic with emotional giftedness and positive maladjustment, two concepts that were shown to overlap to a large extent (Piechowski, 1997a). The convergence of the meanings of these different terms inspires confidence that emotional giftedness is not something elusive and hard to define, nor is high emotional intelligence. Thus, Pfeiffer's (2001) doubts to the contrary can be put to sleep. (Piechowski, 2003a)

The initial descriptions of emotional giftedness relied on instances of children's actions taken individually. Silverman (1993) collected numerous observations of emotional sensitivity, compassion, and moral sensitivity in gifted children as young as two and a half and three years of age. Lovecky (1992, 1998) described many examples of empathic and moral action of gifted children on behalf of others as an expression of their values. In an example of positive maladjustment in a very young person, six year old Madeline “decided to boycott all Miramax films because she didn't approve of the negative values in some of them. She felt she couldn't just go to the good films and ignore the rest but had to make a broader decision that reflected her values” (Lovecky, 1998). (Piechowski, 2003a)

There are numerous examples of positive maladjustment and empathy that drive people to action. Conscientious objectors, social reformers, religious leaders, whistle blowers, peace workers, and ecoheroes are the exceptional individuals who see clearly that the exploitation of people is dehumanizing and must be stopped. They see that deprivation and poverty can be abolished, that poor health from malnutrition and lack of sanitary living conditions can be corrected, and that our environment has to be respected. These adult counterparts of the inspired teenagers mentioned earlier are described by Berkowitz (1987), Colby and Damon (1992), Craig (1985), Daloz, Keen, Keen, and Parks (1996), Everett (1986), Oliner and Oliner (1988), Wallace (1993), Witty, (1990), and others. (Piechowski, 2003b)

The purpose of this chapter is to introduce theoretical bridges between Maslow's construct of self-actualization, Dabrowski's theory of emotional development, Bandura's model of the self-system, and Gardner's concept of intrapersonal intelligence. In brief, self-actualization fits into Level IV of Dabrowski's five levels of development. Bandura's self-system furnishes the component processes of self-evaluation for Dabrowski's theory and gains from it emotional fuel. Where Gardner has equated intrapersonal intelligence with introspection, Dabrowski's theory complements it with dynamics of inner transformation. His concept of developmental potential with its five dimensions of felt experience is extremely useful for recognizing the signs of potential toward advanced development, self-actualization, and inner transformation. The concepts of emotional giftedness, positive maladjustment, and spiritual giftedness are also relevant in this context. (Piechowski, 2003b)

However, there have always been those whose emotional system rebels, whether through psychosomatic illness or doubt, leading to positive maladjustment. Conscientious objectors are cases in point, such as Lt. Louis Font during the Vietnam war (Piechowski, 1991), the airman Daniel Cobos, or others who broke ranks with established but dishonest and secretive power structures (Everett, 1989). At least half of those described by Everett were in jobs requiring exceptional intelligence. It is significant that the emotional and moral sensitivity of high I.Q. children is frequently and consistently observed (Hollingworth, 1942/1977; Lovecky, 1997, 1998; Roeper, 1982; Silverman, 1993; Terman, 1925). A closer study of the self-system in emotionally precocious children is needed. (Piechowski, 2003b, p. 297)

Dabrowski (1970) called taking action in this manner positive maladjustment. Thus, emotional giftedness and positive maladjustment overlap to a large degree. Standing by one's beliefs and ideals is a common experience for gifted teens. Here are a few examples taken from responses to the OEQ (Piechowski, 1979) (p. 309). A 16-year-old student was asked the question “How well do you like being all by yourself?” She replied: Depends—all on the circumstances. I can take standing alone—if I have to. I spent seven years of my life (almost 7) as a social outcast because I refused to conform to some demands of my society or couldn't conform to others—I'm not at all likely to be afraid of ostracism now. As far as being alone from time to time just to have a few quiet moments, I find I not only enjoy it but need it. There are just definitely times when I don't want to see anyone but myself. (Piechowski, 2003b, p. 310)

Positive maladjustment leads to action. Pleasing others and seeking their acceptance may be desirable. At the same time, it may conflict with what one believes is right, for instance to be self-directed rather than other-directed. Here are replies, two years apart, from a boy responding to, “Who am I?” When he was 15 he wrote: “I feel that I am a person who is on the earth that is destined to use his abilities and talents to his fullest. This is simply what I think I really am.” He gave it much thought over the next two years. At 17, he recognized a moral conflict between getting ahead and being considerate of others: The answer to this question has changed over the past few years. A few years ago I was a person who wanted things for himself. Now I am trying to change that person to a person who wants to contribute to others and the world not just himself. Obtaining this type of person in this world is not that easy. The one thing that is a roadblock is competition. Not necessarily losing to other people, but beating them. How can I compete to get into medical school when a doctor is supposed to build people's confidence and restore their sense of security? The process is self-defeating. (Piechowski, 2003b, pp. 310-311)

Thus, as long as intrapersonal intelligence is understood chiefly as introspective capacity, it can be considered a talent, but when the concept is extended to include a highly developed, mature self of a moral exemplar then it would be more fitting to call it emotional giftedness, and in some cases even spiritual giftedness (Piechowski, 1997, 2000). It was, therefore, necessary to broaden Gardner's (1983) concept of intrapersonal intelligence and its extension, “continued development, where an individual has an option of becoming increasingly autonomous, integrated, or self-actualized …. The end goal of these developing processes is a self that is highly developed and fully differentiated from others (p. 252) and to support his original conclusion, one he did not subsequently develop further, that perhaps a knowledge of self is a “higher level, more integrated form of intelligence… one that ultimately comes to control and to regulate more ‘primary orders' of intelligence” (p. 274). Doesn't this sound almost Dabrowskian? The elaboration outlined here fills the hole by identifying the processes of evaluation in general and self-judgment in particular, inner transformation, positive maladjustment, and much more that characterizes emotional giftedness. (Piechowski, 2003b, p. 313)

This chapter has two sets of components, one theoretical and one descriptive. The descriptive set consists of case examples of advanced development, characteristics of children and adolescents suggesting potentials for advanced development, description of types of emotional development, emotional giftedness, and positive maladjustment. The theoretical set consists of a constellation of bridged theories with Dabrowski's theory as the overarching scaffolding. The five levels of development in this theory cover the whole range of human personality: at one end restricted to survival and self-protection and at the other end expanded to the most self-giving and inspired (pp. 313-314). The theory has one more level beyond self-actualization because Dabrowski looked at the extraordinary people first and did not concern himself whether they existed in statistically significant numbers. (Piechowski, 2008)

Using the Saint-Exupéry’s material, I set out to identify the characteristics of self-actualization. First, I compiled a list of descriptors of self-actualization from Maslow’s chapter in Motivation and Personality (Maslow, 1970), in which he delineated 16 characteristics of self-actualizing people. Then I tried to identify these characteristics in each of the 113 units from Saint-Exupéry. The task of working out the intersection of the 16 characteristics of self-actualization with the 30 dynamisms of Dabrowski’s theory was extraordinarily tedious, yet deeply satisfying. Of Level III, only two dynamisms, hierarchization and positive maladjustment, were strongly represented in Saint-Exupéry’s profile, but of Level IV, all but two were present. There were no traces of Level II. This, to me, convincingly demonstrated that when Maslow described self-actualizing people, he was looking at the same kind of people on whom Dabrowski had been formulating his idea of Level IV (Piechowski, 1978). (Piechowski, 2008)

A change comes when this state of affairs begins to tire with its meaningless emotional treading water and growing malaise. The search for a way out starts with the realization of the possibility of a more meaningful focus in life. A sense of higher and lower in oneself opens new horizons. Sensing the possibility of something higher in oneself engenders the feeling of inferiority, not to others but toward oneself. It is an inferiority before one’s unrealized better self. Soon this feeling of inferiority toward oneself is followed by an array of inner currents and rifts with descriptive names like disquietude with oneself, dissatisfaction with oneself, positive maladjustment, and so on. What they all have in common is the vertical axis of self-evaluation, that judges the distance from the higher in oneself, which attracts, and grows a stronger reaction against the lower in oneself, which repels. (Piechowski, 2014a)

Self-knowledge and awareness of one's feelings and motives equip a person to evaluate what is going on in one's world.  This may create a strong opposition to how things are—what Dabrowski called positive maladjustment. (Piechowski, 2014a)

Not compromising one's ideals, resisting peer pressure, and being able to stand alone are instances of what Dabrowski called positive maladjustment. It is positive because it means being true to oneself, acting out of compassion, caring, and the conviction that each individual deserves to be treated fairly.  Such a stance frequently can be in opposition to others' self-interest, prejudice, and ruthlessness that often rule the day.  When empathy, together with a sense of justice, inspires action to help and protect others, then emotional giftedness and positive maladjustment are two sides of the same coin. (Piechowski, 2014a)

In an example of positive maladjustment in a very young person, 6-year-old Madeline “decided to boycott all Miramax Films because she didn't approve of the negative values in some of them.  She felt she couldn't just go to the good films and ignore the rest but had to make a broader decision that reflected her values.” (Piechowski, 2014a)

In the situations presented to the participants by Mayer and his colleagues, those higher in emotional intelligence defied their peers in order to protect others.  We saw this in the second example.  Resisting and defying peer pressure is an expression of positive maladjustment.  This moved Mayer and his colleagues to conclude that high emotional intelligence is the same as emotional giftedness and positive maladjustment combined.  Like different parts of the proverbial elephant, these findings inspire confidence that emotional giftedness is not something elusive and hard to define, nor is high emotional intelligence. (Piechowski, 2014a)

Conscientious objectors like Lieutenant Louis Font during the Vietnam War and Daniel Cobos, the first well-known resister in the Air Force, were all alone when they came to the realization that they could no longer serve causes that were morally wrong.  Lieutenant Louis Font was a distinguished graduate of West Point.  He came from a family steeped in the tradition of patriotism and devoted to serving God and country.  Contemplating the words of the cadet prayer for “sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer,” he realized that it was the Vietnamese people who sorrowed and suffered and that he was in the uniform of an army that was bringing sorrow and suffering to those people.  No one helped him in making the decision to become a conscientious objector, and no one supported him once he made it.  He sacrificed his lifelong dream of a military career.  He was within four months of earning his Master's degree, and he sacrificed that, too.  He felt that he could not wait the few months to file for the CO status after graduation because “it would have been insincere to wait.” To stand alone, as he did to be true to himself, exacts a price.  Because his action brought him into direct conflict with the values around him, values that until that point were his as well, his decision is an outstanding example of positive maladjustment. (Piechowski, 2014a)

Janet's normal individual was not the statistical mean of Quetelet's l'homme moyen but a healthy well-functioning organism. Janet analyzed behavior in terms of balance between resources and expenditures of personal energy (Janet, 1925). Most of our energy, he said, is tied up in social life it is high maintenance as we would say today. Depleting one's resources (one's coping energy) leads to mental breakdown. To regain mental health, the energy has to be replenished. Healthy development tends toward unity of personality. Janet reflected in detail on physical personality (posture, gestures, walk, vocal expression), social personality, and on how personality changes over time. He considered feelings to be regulators of action (Sjövall, 1967). Fully developed self-aware individuality was, in his view, expressed not only in responsibility for one's actions but also in opposing society when society is wrong. The latter idea can be recognized in Dabrowski's dynamism of positive maladjustment. Janet outlined no less than nine levels in the evolution of behavior (Janet, 1929; Sjövall, 1967). (Piechowski, 2014b)

Dabrowski did his doctoral dissertation on the psychology of suicide at the University of Geneva and published it with his name phoneticized to Dombrowski (1929). It is an extremely detailed systematic review of all the possible conditions leading to suicide, including suicide by couples and by children. Dabrowski also draws attention to cases in which there is a conflict between the individual and social life, “between his affective tendencies and a critical stance toward others, between an ideal, that sometimes even the subject himself recognizes as unreal, and the world of reality” (p. 87). He also discusses cases when strong imagination and a series of disappointments may lead some individuals to a deeply pessimistic outlook on life. He speaks of a “thirst for the absolute, the unshakeableness of emotions, the firmness of values” that exert a decisive influence on how a person who is “hypersensitive, hyperindividualistic, and overexcitable” views life (p. 64). Later he will describe these things as inner conflict and positive maladjustment. (Piechowski, 2014b)

An example of a hierarchic factor is the dynamism of positive maladjustment in which one catches on to the disparity between “what is”—injustice, dishonesty, exploitation, denial of human rights, and “what ought to be”—the universal values of justice, truth, fairness, and respect for human rights. Dabrowski did not mean that everyone agrees on them, only that people at advanced level of development do, people like Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Father Kolbe, and Janusz Korczak (Dabrowski, 1970); one can add Eleanor Roosevelt, Etty Hillesum, Dag Hammarskjöld, Peace Pilgrim, Dorothy Day, Abraham H. Maslow, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu, Muhammad Yunus, Malala Yusafzai, and modern martyrs such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., archbishop Janani Luwum, Bishop Oscar Romero, Maria Skobtsova (Craig, 1985), and Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, who as a witness to truth and human dignity inspired Solidarity, and whose murder accelerated the end of communism in Poland (Ruane, 2004). (Piechowski, 2017)

References

Piechowski, M. M. (1975a). A theoretical and empirical approach to the study of development. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 92, 231-297.

Piechowski, M. M. (1975b). Formless forms: The conceptual structure of theories of counseling and psychotherapy. [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Piechowski, M. M. (1991). Emotional development and emotional giftedness. In N. Colangelo & G. A. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (pp. 285-306). Allyn & Bacon.

Grant, B. A., & Piechowski, M. M. (1999). Theories and the good: Toward child-centered gifted education. Gifted Child Quarterly, 43(1), 4-12.

Piechowski, M. M. (2003a). Emotional and spiritual giftedness. In N. Colangelo & G. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (3rd ed., pp. 403-416). Allyn & Bacon.

Piechowski, M. M. (2003). From William James to Maslow and Dabrowski: Excitability of character and self-actualization. In D. Ambrose, L. M. Cohen, & A. J. Tannenbaum (Eds.), Creative intelligence: Toward a theoretic integration (pp. 283-322). Hampton Press.

Piechowski, M. M. (2008). Discovering Dabrowski’s theory. In S. Mendaglio (Ed.), Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration (pp. 41-77). Great Potential Press.

Piechowski, M. M. (2014a). “Mellow out,” they say. If I only could: Intensities and sensitivities of the young and bright (2nd Ed.). Royal Fireworks Press.

Piechowski, M. M. (2014b). The roots of Dąbrowski’s theory. Advanced Development, 14, 28-41.

Piechowski, M. M. (2017). Rethinking Dąbrowski’s theory II: It’s not all flat here. Roeper Review, 39(2), 87-95.