Positive disintegration: ( A Complete Guide)

In this article we will discuss positive disintegration. We all have been through difficult circumstances in life.

It is a common observation that some people tend to come out of a tragedy with a better version of them and others let the difficulties take control of them.

It is hard to know who will make the best use of the tragedy and who will be swept away by them.

That is pretty sure that every one of us wants to be in the former category. But it is difficult to understand the factors that lead to certain types of transformation through tragedy. 

One psychologist has attempted to explain the factors associated with such transformation and the type of individuals who are most likely to take the advantage of tragedy and take it as an opportunity for growth.

This theory is known as Positive disintegration. 

The word disintegration seems somewhat misfit in this theory. Disintegration means something being disintegrated or broken down into pieces after some difficult circumstances.

In this theory, disintegration implies the situation where sense of self is swept away. As in the time of tragedy, one starts to question his sense of identity and go through an existential crisis.

In such times, a person redefines his identity and revisits the question who am I.

When such questions are addressed, he keeps the part of himself which he wants to keep and leaves the other and constructs an authentic identity. 

It is important to note here that it does not necessarily take a tragedy for transformation of one’s sense of identity rather it just acts as a catalyst for such transformation where one’s philosophical journey starts and personality development unfolds.

All these have been explained in theory of positive integration by Kazimierz Dabrowski. 

Theory of Positive disintegration:

Theory of positive integration was presented by Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski in the 1960s.

Positive disintegration explains personality development through integration and disintegration. 

Dabrowski’s childhood was heavily influenced by WWI which started at the time he was 12 years old and it continued through his teenage life.

During those tragic circumstances he saw that some of the people around him became victims of those circumstances while others utilized that time for personal growth.

In answering his question of why this difference exists, he gave the theory of positive disintegration which later formed the foundation for post traumatic growth. 

Theory of positive disintegration is distinct in its explanation of an individual’s transition from one level to another as it stresses the role of psychological discomfort in growth.

While other theories prefer a smooth transition for healthy growth of individuals, theory of positive disintegration is driven by conflict, angst and even trauma. 

Dabrowski observed that individuals who are likely to make use of crisis have some kind of extra psychological sensitivity or over excitability that renders them to go through the trauma in a more personal way.

These individuals tend to go through trauma or tragic circumstances with self-reflection. Self-reflection through tragic circumstances act as a propelling force for a person to go through the five stages laid out by Dabrowski.

The propelling force that drive person through development can be described as follow:

  1. Instinctual factor:

The first factor driving people through development is most basic and instinctual.

It is the genetic expression of a person for survival. It also includes hunger and competition.

  1. Socialization:

This factor drives our most daily experiences. It consists of external influences through our family, education and relationship.

Socialization and conformation usually occurs at unconscious level. 

  1. Values:

This factor is a result of conscious thoughts. It consists of what we value as a person. It consists of qualities we want to pursue and what we want to reject.

This is most authentic of oneself. 

Positive disintegration can also explain the concept of Hedonic Treadmill.

Five level of development in theory of positive disintegration:

Dabrowski described five levels of development in his theory of positive disintegration.

It is important to note here that according to Dabrowski not every individual goes through all those five stages but only those with high over excitability.

According to Dabrowski, the majority of the population gets stuck on one of the following levels and only individuals with extra psychological sensitivity go through five stages and come out with a fully formed, altruistic personality. 

Bailey’s (2010) gave description of five level described by Dabrowski as follow:

  1. Primary integration:

It is the most basic and primitive level. At the level individuals only care about instinctual needs and do not have higher meaning in life.

Mostly young children are at this level. They do not have any need for a meaningful relationship with others.

They lack sympathy, empathy and have no regard for other physical and psychological needs. 

  1. Unilevel integration:

This level is maintained by the second factor. Individuals mostly try to fit in social groups where they conform to the values imposed on them by social groups.

They are easily influenced by the social group they belong to.

At this level some individuals start questioning the values imposed on them and after questioning start the process of discovering their own values. 

  1. Multilevel disintegration:

Individuals who start to question the values imposed on them by the group will form their own values and belief system in level three.

They will have a closer look at the discrepancy between the way things are and the way things should be.

This discrepancy will lead to negative emotions in individuals such as shame and guilt on their previously owned values. 

  1. Directed Multilevel disintegration:

At this level, own the values defined in the third values. Their behavior becomes more value and goal directed.

It becomes clear for an individual who he is, who he should be and how he can do what he is ought to be. Individuals at this level are more empathetic and deeply care for others.

They act in accordance with their values. 

  1. Secondary integration:

This is the highest level achieved by a person according to Dabrowski.

At this level a person is at peace with oneself and works towards a betterment of society in general.

Person makes a distinction between his personal values and his behavior. At this level one has achieved their higher self.

Behavior here is motivated by empathy, authenticity and autonomy. 

Over excitability:

Over excitability has been defined by Dabrowski  in his theory of positive disintegration as higher responsiveness towards stimuli than average.

According to the theory of positive disintegration, individuals differ in their potential for personality development.

Theory of positive disintegration does not give a deterministic view that individuals are destined to achieve a certain level of development rather he suggested that there is inherent potential among individuals and this potential is affected by environmental conditions of individuals which drive developmental processes. 

There are five different types of over excitability defined in theory of positive disintegration:

  • Psychomotor overexcitability 
  • Sensual overexcitability
  • Imagination over excitability
  • Intellectual overexcitability
  • Emotional overexcitability

Factors in theory of positive disintegration and Freud’s theory:

Three factors laid by Dabrowski share resemblance with the three structures of personality defined by Frued: Id, ego and superego.

Id resembles the first factor which is instinctual as Id consists of raw animal instinct so does the first factor.

Role of second factors is much related to ego where it takes into account the interaction with other members of the community and the role of values can be associated with the role of superego where one acts according to his defined values. 

Levels in theory of disintegration and Maslow’s theory:

Dabrowski was a friend of Maslow and influence of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is apparent in levels presented by Dabrowski in his theory of positive disintegration.

As a person achieves self actualization after going through all hierarchy of needs, similarly person achieves ideal personality by going through five levels of disintegration.

One level is higher than the other in both theories and each level shares much resemblance with the corresponding level of the other. 

Evidence for theory of positive disintegration:

Many researches have been conducted on Dabrowski theory of positive disintegration, which suggest that it provides a good conceptualization to understand personality development.

Although there has been a lack of connection between higher developmental potential and higher development achieved. 

Chang and Kuo (2013) conducted a research on over excitability as it derives the behavior during career choices and other aspects of life too.

Another research showed that the connection between developmental level potential and level of development achieved.

Potential was measured by over excitability. Over excitability has also been associated with perfectionism by other researchers. 

These findings suggest that theory of positive integration provides a useful perspective in understanding human development although it is not very comprehensive.

Theory of positive integration and counseling:

As assumed by theory of positive disintegration individual’s are over excitable and may end up needing psychological help.

For some individuals, over excitability may render individuals bursting with individuals that might be psychological, emotional or physical.

Such over excitability might also lead individuals to perform behavior that might be outside the social norm. 

In some cases, over excitability may help individuals in personal development while on the other hand some might have to struggle with over excitability as their external factors might not support their developmental process or might actively inhibit it. 

The individuals with over excitability might need to have more attention or care during counseling.

Their over sensitivity towards their environment or to their inner feelings and emotions might render them unable to focus fully on other tasks.

On the other hand this environment of being over pampered might prove to be a boon for them. 

Dabrowski suggested that even individuals with highest developmental potential might get stuck in one or other developmental level because of social and environmental factors.

Thus he suggests providing a nurturing environment for them to reach their highest potential. He also made a distinction between different kinds of counseling needed for different kinds of over excitable individuals.

For example the strategies helpful for emotionally over excitable individuals might not be useful for individuals with psychomotor excitability and those strategies would not be a fit for intellectually over excitable individuals. 


Theory of positive disintegration was given by Dabrowski in the 1960s where he defined how conflict can help individuals in his personality development and propels individuals to go through five levels of development, achieving ideal self in the end. 

FAQs  about Positive disintegration

What is personality disintegration?

Personality disintegration is fragmentation of personality to the extent where a person can be identified as one person and there is discrepancy in his ideas, beliefs and attitudes.

A person becomes disorganized. Most extreme form of personality disintegration is schizophrenia. 

   2. How is integration of personality achieved?

According to Carl Jung, integration is a process where a person as an individual and his collective unconscious is completely integrated into his personality. 

    3. What is psychological disintegration?

Psychological disintegration is the expression of feeling of being falling into pieces or being disintegrated into pieces.

Individuals feel that those pieces are not connected together. 




Dabrowski, K. (1967). Personality-Shaping Through Positive Disintegration. Boston, MA: Little Brown.


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