Positive Disintegration Part 2: Dabrowski’s Levels 1-5 of Integration

Level I: Primary Integration

Dąbrowski distinguished the two subgroups of Level I by degree: “the state of primary integration is a state contrary to mental health. A fairly high degree of primary integration is present in the average person; a very high degree of primary integration is present in the psychopath”. Marked by selfishness and egocentrism (both reticent and explicit), those at level one development generally seek self-fulfillment above all . . . they adhere strongly to the phrase “the end justifies the means”, sometimes disregarding the severity of the “means”. Many people who are considered “leaders” often fall into this category.

A vast majority of people either do not break down their primitive integration at all, or after a relatively short period of disintegration, usually experienced at the time of adolescence and early youth, end in a reintegration at the former level or in partial integration of some of the functions at slightly higher levels, without a transformation of the whole mental structure.

Level II: Unilevel Disintegration

The prominent feature of this level is an initial, brief and often intense crisis or series of crises. Crises are spontaneous and occur on only one level. These crises involve alternatives that may appear to be different but ultimately are on the same level.

Conflicts on the same level (horizontal) produce ambitendencies and ambivalences: the person is equally attracted by different but equivalent choices on the same level (ambitendencies) and is not able to decide what to do because he or she has no real preference between the choices (ambivalences). If developmental forces are strong enough, ultimately, the person is thrust into an existential crisis. . . . During this phase, existential despair is the predominant emotion. The resolution of this phase begins as individually chosen values begin to replace social mores that have been ingrained by rote and are integrated into a new hierarchy of personal values. These new values often conflict with the person’s previous social values.

Positive maladjustment prevails. For Dąbrowski, these crises represent a strong potential for development toward personal growth and mental health. Using a positive definition, mental health reflects more than social conformity: it involves a careful, personal examination of the world and of one’s values, leading to the development of an individual personality.

Level II is a transitional period. Dąbrowski said you either fall back (reintegration on a lower level), move ahead or end negatively, in suicide or psychosis.

The transition from Level II to Level III involves a fundamental shift that requires a phenomenal amount of energy. This period is the crossroads of development: from here one must either progress or regress. The struggle between Dąbrowski’s three factors reflects this transitional crisis: “Do I follow my instincts (first factor), my teachings (second factor) or my heart (third factor)?” The developmental answer is to transform one’s lower instincts (automatic reactions like anger) into positive motivation, to resist rote and social answers, and to listen to one’s inner sense of what one ought to do.

Level III: Spontaneous Multilevel Disintegration

Level III describes a new type of conflict: a vertical conflict between two alternatives that are not simply different, but that exist on different levels. One is genuinely higher and the other is lower in comparison. These vertical conflicts initially arise from involuntary perceptions of higher versus lower choices in life. You just look at something, maybe for the 1000th time (to use the words of G. K. Chesterton), and it strikes you — you see this one thing differently and once you do, it changes things. You can no longer “go back and see it the way you did before.” Dąbrowski called this vertical dimension multilevelness. Multilevelness is a gradual realization of the “possibility of the higher” (a phrase Dąbrowski used frequently) and of the subsequent contrasts between the higher and the lower in life. . . . Dąbrowski believed that the authentic individual would choose the higher path as the clear and obvious one to follow (erasing the ambivalences and ambitendencies of unilevel conflicts). If the person’s actual behavior subsequently falls short of the ideal, internal disharmony and a drive to review and reconstruct one’s life often follow. Multilevelness thus represents a new and powerful type of conflict, a conflict that is developmental in Dąbrowski’s approach.

These vertical conflicts are critical in leading to autonomy and advanced personality growth. If the person is to achieve higher levels, the shift to multilevelness must occur. If a person does not have the developmental potential to move into a multilevel view, then he or she will fall back from the crises of Level II to reintegrate at Level I. In the shift to multilevelness, the horizontal (unilevel), stimulus-response model of life is replaced by a vertical and hierarchical analysis. This vertical view becomes anchored by one’s emerging individual value structure, and all events are seen in relation to personal ideals. These personal value ideals become the personality ideal: how the person wants to live his or her life. As events in life are seen in relation to this multilevel, vertical view, it becomes impossible to support positions that favor the lower course when higher goals can be identified (or imagined).

Level IV: Directed Multilevel Disintegration

In Level IV the person takes full control of his or her development. The involuntary spontaneous development of Level III is replaced by a deliberate, conscious and self-directed review of life from the multilevel perspective. This level marks the real emergence of the third factor, described by Dąbrowski as an autonomous factor “of conscious choice (valuation) by which one affirms or rejects certain qualities in oneself and in one’s environment”.The person consciously reviews his or her existing belief system and tries to replace lower, automatic views and reactions with carefully thought out, examined and chosen ideals. These new values will increasingly be reflected in the person’s behavior. Behavior becomes less reactive, less automatic and more deliberate as behavioral choices fall under the influence of the person’s higher, chosen ideals.

Social mores are reviewed and re-accepted by a conscious internalization when the individual feels it is appropriate.

Given their genuine (authentic) prosocial outlook, people achieving higher development also raise the level of their society. . . . These positions often conflict with the status quo of a lower society (positive maladjustment). In other words, to be maladjusted to a low-level society is a positive feature.

Level V: Secondary Integration

The fifth level displays an integrated and harmonious character, but one vastly different from that at the first level. At this highest level, one’s behavior is guided by conscious, carefully weighed decisions based on an individualized and chosen hierarchy of personal values. Behavior conforms to this inner standard of how life ought to be lived and, thus, little inner conflict arises.

Level V is often marked by creative expression. Especially at Level V, problem solving and art represent the highest and noblest features of human life. Art captures the innermost emotional states and is based on a deep empathy and understanding of the subject. Often, human suffering and sacrifice are the subjects of these works. Truly visionary works, works that are unique and novel, are created by people expressing a vision unrestrained by convention. Advances in society, through politics, philosophy and religion, are therefore commonly associated with strong individual creativity or accomplishments.

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