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Quotes from Dąbrowski

Mental overexcitability, anxiety, inability to adapt oneself to new surroundings, and especially poor sociability and difficulty in one's relationship with others may be the bases of self-criticism and self-reproach. Individuals with such peculiarities reproach themselves for their inadequate behavior in play and in work; they discover a series of faults in their conduct and in adverse and grave situations: they always foresee the worst possibilities and have no faith in themselves. Some real inadequacy of behavior in a given situation, together with the feeling of inferiority and the need to assert oneself, is the cause of continuous reproaches as well as of overexcitability, depression, and "eating oneself up" with worry.(Dąbrowski, 1937, p. 22)


In such individuals we meet, on the one hand, with anxiety, embarrassment in new surroundings, and observation of one's own behavior with a consequent sense of uneasiness and awkwardness of movement; on the other hand, we meet with an extremely subtle conscience, with the tendency to analyze oneself, with a sense of one's peculiarity, and a feeling of distinctiveness. Introverted types, retiring individuals, natural only in a familiar group, are usually marked by a greater subtleness of thought and feeling, a tendency to contemplation, and to finding interests in uncommon problems. These are some of the factors causing self-consciousness and the discovery of many traits of one's own superiority. (Dąbrowski, 1937, p. 22-23)


Transformation and development in the individual with imaginative overexcitability often occur. Indeed, a person of this type has the potential for considerable development. Through positive disintegration he will deepen his imagination and at the same time enlarge his sensitivity to the external world of nature and of social life. He will develop tendencies to evaluate and limit his impetuous, incorrect observations. As he enlarges his sense of reality, he will increase the degree of organization of his psychic structure. This form of transformation will permit him to build a heterogenic psychic structure in which intellectual, psychomotor, emotional, and sensory elements will help to deepen his imagination. (Dąbrowski, 1964, p. 72)


The child with imaginative hyperexcitability is not able to agree with his environment; he will often reach out beyond the limits of actual life into a world of dreams and fantasy. He manifests a pronounced maladaptation to reality. The child with sensory hyperexcitability, the exaggerated growth of the sensory sphere to the disadvantage of other spheres, may also have difficulties in adapting to his surroundings and in managing himself in conditions demanding reactions of a different kind from sensory ones. The child with mental hyperexcitability can also be maladapted, owing to an exaggerated search for explanations and a tendency to intellectualize problems in everyday life. (Dąbrowski, 1964, pp. 98-99)


Imaginative excitability reveals itself in the form of daydreaming, in the intensification of night dreams, in illusions, in artistic ideas arising, which point to the tendency toward dissolution and disintegration of one’s adaptability to the narrow actual reality. Affectional hyperexcitability produces states of agitation and depression, sympathy for or dislike of oneself and the world, dissatisfaction with oneself and the environment, strangeness in relation to oneself and the environment, and feelings of inferiority or superiority. Sensual excitability, with the cooperation of other forms of hyperexcitability, develops the complex receptors under the pressure of sensations and stimuli, making them sensitive (strengthening and refining the sensual and esthetic experiences, but leaving one with a feeling of their relative incompleteness), which, in turn, dissolves the tenacity of the structure. Finally, increased mental excitability causes the dissolution of its conjugation with the controlling set, makes itself independent, and dissociates itself from its too close relation with the aspirational and emotional structure; it discovers within itself and develops new directing tendencies, intellectualized to a great extent. (Dąbrowski, 1967, pp. 61-62)


In states of depression a man does not always aim at removing the conditions that brought it about, but at a deeper association with them (in contrast to the stereotyped advice that one should change his conditions of living immediately after the death of a close relative). In relation to phantasy, dream, exorbitant prospections, there is a tendency, not to diminish their strength and scope, but to mentally elaborate and deepen them. In relation to dreams during sleep one does not come to a belief that they reflect suppressed wishes or are manifestations of an archaic structure, but one asks the question whether they are not a reflection of a widened consciousness, beyond the actual sphere, and of the moral reshapings of personality. This is an attitude of frequent seizure by the consciousness of the developmental inner life, which overruns the framework of actual reality, a reality consisting of a narrow system of stimuli and receptors, and of the framework of biological causality. (Dąbrowski, 1967, p. 140)


The attitude of good will towards others is an expression of reflective syntony. The degree of syntonization arrived at through multilevel disintegration activates the memory of one’s own experiences and makes their translation to others possible. By drawing from the storehouse of one’s own experiences and suffering one can understand and help others who undergo similar trials. Such manner of identification with others is the only possible one: it grows from self-acquired knowledge in the developmental of personality. It is a manner of seeing others as individuals with a potential for inner growth. (Dąbrowski, 1970, p. 72)


One could say that one who manifests a given form of overexcitability, and especially one who manifests several forms of overexcitability, sees reality in a different, stronger and more multisided manner. Reality for such an individual ceases to be indifferent but affects him deeply and leaves long-lasting impressions. Enhanced excitability is thus a means for more frequent interactions and a wider range of experiencing. (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 7)


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. (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 10)


Experiencing the new in the form of deeper problems and of wider scope is a critical experience (meaning crisis) usually related to the experiencing of a hierarchy in the levels of interests and goals. This "new,” "different” and "deep” as a rule mobilizes creative forces. This is practically a universal phenomenon for individuals endowed with positive developmental potential. A deep experience of sadness and depression as a response to some kinds of reality activates powers affirming the existence of a higher reality together with powers needed to come to the realization of that higher reality. Such depression is often followed by creative excitement, and contains elements for bringing to completion a creative effort. Representative types of this condition are, among others, Saint-Exupéry and Wladyslaw Dawid (1935). (Dąbrowski, 1972, pp. 122-123)


Individuals endowed with positive developmental potential utilize, so to speak, the nuclei of their depressive and manic states as modes of their personality growth. The depressive states are the means of "purification” of one’s tendencies. If the individual at the time of his depression is capable to activate a state of sadness and distress in relation to others, then in the hypomanic state that follows after, he is able to mount considerable power of help and protection to others. By this he is safeguarded against adevelopmental forms of depression and hypomanic states. The manic states are a means of developing creativity, enthusiasm, inner movement "upward.” If, therefore, there exists some positive developmental endowment, then, give appropriate environmental conditions, we can find in hypomanic-depressive conditions all the necessary defensive and immunological factors protecting against more severe mental disorders. (Dąbrowski, 1972, pp. 127-128)


Nervousness, neuroses, and especially psychoneuroses, bring the nervous system to a state of greater sensitivity. They make a person more susceptible to positive change. The high psychic structures gradually gain control over the low ones. The lower psychic structures undergo a refinement this process of inner psychic transformation. This transformation is the fruition of the developmental potential which makes these states possible and makes possible their further development. The components of the development potential like enhanced overexcitability, nuclei of the inner psychic milieu, and special abilities and talents play here an active role. Through multilevel disintegration there occurs positive evolution, making possible the achievement of a high level. (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 160)


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. (Dąbrowski, 1972, pp. 182-183)


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. Such a world gives an experiential satisfaction to those who dwell in it. (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 187)


Much of the inner subconscious or unconscious content is not revealed, not because it is being opposed by consciousness, but often because we either do not feel the need, or we lack the ability to transform and understand subconscious experiences, past or present. Daydreaming, fantasy, tendencies for mystical experience, are connected consciously or unconsciously with prospective tendencies slowly grasping the new, still uncontrolled reality. (Dąbrowski, 1972, p. 228)


For a great number of artists and those who strive for self-perfection the realities of intuition, dreams, and fantasy are much higher, much more understandable than the reality of the senses. It is easier for them successfully to deal with the problems of this reality than the reality of everyday life. This reality is in the center of their concerns and inner experiences. In practical matters, however, they may perform poorly and be outclassed by the practically-minded people. (Dąbrowski, 1973, p. 3)


A child or youth who suffered a trauma, a pain or failure, who finds it difficult to adjust to actual conditions, who requires soothing and sincerity, returns in his thinking and imagination, and—in cases of understanding on the part of his parents—also in reality, for a shorter or longer period of time to the family environment or something similar. The child or youth wishes to experience another atmosphere than that by which he is surrounded. (Dąbrowski, 1973, pp. 71-72)


Sometimes positive regression may become a permanent state. This means that the individual, on the one hand, is capable of fulfilling his tasks, his developmental program, his work imposed by the requirements of daily life; while, on the other hand, "half” of his inner self lives in positive regression from which source he draws the strength to be active in daily chores, and even creative dreaming, always in the atmosphere of fantasy and security. For some individuals, this is reality at a higher level, a condition sine qua non of adjustment to the everyday life. (Dąbrowski, 1973, pp. 72-73)


Disorientation in relation to oneself is a phenomena more complicated and harder to diagnose as pathological. The experiencing of this type of disorientation is related to a higher level of mental growth, to a separation between "lower” and "higher” in oneself, and often to the interlacing of these two levels. It is related to the chaos resulting from the conflict between the need to leave the lower level and the necessity to return to the same level from a higher reality because of either too strong ties with the level of reality, or pressure from the external environment. (Cienin, 1972, p. 32)


The impossibility of reaching for a solution or understanding of fundamental matters of the sense of life forces a change in the level of emotional attitude, the levels of reasoning, of wants, of the hierarchy of values and of the hierarchy of reality.  We become satiated, we become so saturated with the reality of one level that we fall into discouragement, into the experience of barrenness, into feeling that the experience on the present level can give us nothing. We force ourselves to a higher level which is perhaps not approachable to all, but which is often as concrete as is everyday reality for some individuals, for some groups of people.  The world of intuitive recognition, the mystical world, the world of dreams—in the systematization and description—becomes "different,” becomes a higher level of reality into which we slowly enter. In this way grows our different perception of external and internal worlds. (Cienin, 1972, p. 77)



Cienin, P. (1972). Fragments from the diary of a madman. London, England: Gryf.

Dąbrowski, C. (1937). Psychological bases of self-mutilation. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 19, 1-104.

Dąbrowski, K. (1964). Positive disintegration. Boston, MA: Little, Brown. 

Dąbrowski, K. (1967). Personality-shaping through positive disintegration. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

Dąbrowski, K. (with Kawczak, A., & Piechowski, M. M.). (1970). Mental growth through positive disintegration. London, England: Gryf.

Dąbrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness. London, England: Gryf.

Dąbrowski, K. (1973). The dynamics of concepts. London: Gryf.