Positive disintegration, crises in highly intelligent people


People with high abilities often go through several existential crises. Psychiatrist Kazimier Dabrowski has defined this phenomenon as positive disintegration. 

highly intelligent people

There are many types of crisis. Some fall on the side of the existential, in that strange but obsessive abyss in which some people constantly wonder what the world, life, and even themselves have. Kazimierz Dabrowski, coined the term "positive disintegration" in the 1960s to explain this psychological phenomenon so common among people with high intellectual capacities.

This concept is always interesting and illustrative. It is as if the minds of these gifted teenagers and adults sometimes enter into a kind of defragmentation. The minds collapse (figuratively speaking) to reintegrate themselves in another way after finding answers, finding vital meanings and explanations to their deep doubts.

Dabrowski has chosen the definition of this phenomenon, this kind of existential depression. Disintegration, because there are parts that eventually dissolve, beliefs, thought patterns, emotions, values that are no longer valid and are reformulated in another way. The mind comes up to date, so to speak. Developing and acquiring new potentials at the same time.

Hence a positive disintegration, because what is finally achieved is a step forward in human development, which moves on to another stage. In fact, this Polish psychiatrist, an expert in personality psychology and high intellectual capacities has defined up to 5 stages. Different stages that a person with a high IQ usually goes through.

Positive disintegration, the evolution to the construction of the authentic self

Dabrowski's theory of positive disintegration has been around since it was formulated more than six decades ago. Moreover, in the field of high ability, it is a valuable framework for understanding how the personality construction of these individuals evolves.

Thus, according to this approach, the mental development of a person with a high IQ goes through a series of very concrete transitions. These go upward. In other words, there is an evolution, again both cognitively and emotionally. However, and here's the curious fact, each advance starts with a crisis. From a moment when that child, teenager, or adult experiences great suffering, perplexity, anxiety, and frustration.

These states almost always start from existential doubts. Those in which they question themselves by feeling different from others. These are moments in which they fall into states of introspection in which they reflect on why the world is the way it is, why people act the way they do, the purpose of their future, the awareness of their mortality, etc.

Mendaglio and Tillier (2006) analyzed it in their work The Theory of Positive Disintegration and Dabrowski's Giftedness. What they found in their research is that, on average, people with high abilities also experience high overexcitement. In other words, they have a great imagination. A tendency to feel emotions more intensely, they also tend to be more impulsive.

All this makes these times of existential crisis often very problematic and require a type of intervention and support to come out of it stronger. The most common is that at this time they stop being productive in class or at work and suffer problems with their social relationships. But let's look at the stages of development defined by Dabrowski.

1. Primary disintegration

This first level of development is in early childhood. Here, the child with high capacities undergoes the first crisis. The one in which instincts and egocentric behaviors mix with the interest of what is in their immediate context. The desire to explore, discover, manipulate and learn will gradually mature earlier.

2. Disintegration at one level

At this stage, the child or pre-teen needs to feel accepted in the peer group. However, he or she does not achieve this connection and the first major existential crisis occurs.

In addition, there is the need to analyze the social values in which he grows up and which impact his life. He asks questions about people's behavior. About the rules that govern society, about their role in this environment.

3. Multi-level spontaneous disintegration

Positive disintegration also occurs when a person suddenly feels dissatisfied with who they are and what they have accomplished to this point.

This crisis usually occurs in early youth. When he is forced to reformulate objectives, to leave behind certain projects and ideas. He comes into conflict with himself but manages to get out of it by taking new solutions.

4. Multi-level organized disintegration

The fourth stage of personal development for this man or woman with a high IQ occurs when he or she realizes that perhaps he or she has spent a lot of time focusing on himself or herself and his or her needs. Perhaps it is time to open up to others. To be more altruistic and play a more productive role for the good of others. This is the time when more universal and higher values are assumed.

5. Positive disintegration and secondary integration

Responsibility, kindness, altruism... In this last stage, the person begins to look at more abstract and higher principles. He or she has already focused on helping others, contributing through work or efforts to be useful. From now on, he aspires to leave his mark on the culture, to promote the progress of his society.

To conclude, there is something important about positive disintegration. This model contains a somewhat optimistic and sometimes even unrealistic perspective. Not everyone manages to "move forward" on these steps. It is not automatic. Many get stuck, mired in crises that lead to anxiety or depression.

It is therefore a priority that they benefit from professional support in these moments of doubt and personal crisis. Only then will they be able to achieve well-being.