Kazimierz’s life Dąbrowski, though prolific, is marked by war and censorship. Nevertheless, and despite this, his work has managed to leave his native Poland, cross the Iron Curtain and gain the popularity it deserves.

This Polish psychologist, psychiatrist and doctor always looked for ways to continue expanding his knowledge, as well as contributing to the dissemination of it by teaching and lecturing all over Europe and North America.

His theory of positive disintegration has been seen as a true 360-degree turn in understanding how personality develops. Let’s see in more detail the life of this researcher through a biography of Kazimierz Dąbrowski , in which we will also know his particular theory.

Biography of Kazimierz Dąbrowski

Although marked by some misfortunes, both personal and experienced in his native Poland, Kazimierz Dąbrowski did not fail to contribute to psychology and psychiatry. His life is extensively interesting, and we will see it below.

First years

Kazimierz Dąbrowski was born on September 1, 1902 in Klarów, Poland. He was the second of four children born to a family of farm managers .

Even in her early childhood she had to live with the loss of someone close to her, her little sister, who died of meningitis at the age of three.

But it was not only the death of his sister that marked him, since he lived through the First World War from a very young age , being a town close to where he lived on one of the battlefields.

When he was only twelve years old, he could see with his own eyes the hundreds of corpses of soldiers killed during the war, scattered in the streets and places where he played.

Already at that time he was able to observe first-hand how capable humanity was of committing the most atrocious acts.

Training and professional initiation

The academic life of Dąbrowski is characterized by being very prolific and extensive , without having had direct contact with violence being an impediment to being one of the great minds of the last century.

Although he was initially home-schooled by his family, he later enrolled in the Stefan Batory private school in Lublin, attending the centre between 1916 and 1921.

In 1921 he entered the Catholic University of Lublin, now John Paul II University, and enrolled in the Faculty of Polish Studies. There he also attended lectures on philosophy and psychology .

Between 1924 and 1926 he studied philosophy at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. Later, he studied at the Medical Faculty of the University of Warsaw.

He later managed to obtain the opportunity to study at the School of Educational Sciences and then to attend the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, an institution created by the neurologist Édouard Claparède. Claparède, together with Jean Piaget and Pierre Bovet, were involved in the instruction of Dąbrowski during their stay in the Swiss country.

In 1929 Kazimierz Dąbrowski completed his doctoral thesis at the University of Geneva on suicide , entitled ‘The Psychopathological Conditions of Suicide’.

After having trained extensively while in Switzerland, on returning to Poland Dąbrowski took charge of founding several centres focusing on the treatment of people suffering from some kind of psychological disorder.

In 1931 he created a clinic focused on treating neurotic patients and people with intellectual problems . In 1933 he was invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to go to the United States and train at Harvard University. Then, in 1934, he returned to Poland to found the Polish League for Mental Hygiene, where he became the organization’s secretary.

War and post-war times

If the First World War was already a hard stage for Kazimierz Dąbrowski, the times of the second were not better, especially considering how the Third Reich treated Poland during the conflict.

It is striking that the 400 or so Polish psychiatrists who were practising before the conflict, only about 38 of them were still alive when the war ended. Dąbrowski suffered on a personal level, as his younger brother was killed and his older brother was interned in a concentration camp.

However, despite the difficult times, had the opportunity to found the College of Mental Hygiene and Applied Psychology in 1942 , although it was also that year that the Gestapo arrested him.

At the end of the war, and having been released, Dąbrowski returned to Warsaw and became the director of the Institute of Mental Hygiene and later, in 1948, obtained the official title of psychiatrist

Stalinist imprisonment

In 1949 the Polish government, under the guidelines of Iosif Stalin in the Soviet Union, decided to close the Institute of Mental Hygiene and declared Kazimierz Dąbrowski persona non grata.

Dąbrowski and his wife Eugenia were deprived of their liberty in 1950 and spent eighteen months in prison. Once released, the psychiatrist’s activities were intensely monitored by the communist authorities .

After a few years working as a tuberculosis specialist, without the right to educate or even treat in psychology or psychiatry, the Polish authorities considered him a ‘rehabilitated person’ and he was allowed to return to practice in these fields.

In 1962 the Polish state allowed him to travel to the other side of the Iron Curtain , visiting countries such as Spain, the United States, France and the United Kingdom, giving lectures on his vision of personality and the treatment of people with mental disorders.

Last two decades of life

In the 1960s, Dąbrowski traveled to the United States and was able to translate some of the research conducted by Polish colleagues into English, to ensure that the world was aware of the psychiatry and psychology practiced in Poland.

It was in 1964 when his main work, Positive Disintegration was published in English, becoming widely popular within the field of personality psychology.

During his stay in North America, Dąbrowski got to know great American psychologists and psychiatrists , among them Abraham Maslow, who became interested in their theory.

Throughout the two decades of Kazimierz’s life Dąbrowski, the psychiatrist devoted himself to teaching and writing, travelling between Canada and Poland.

Kazimierz Dąbrowski died in Warsaw, Poland, on November 26, 1980. After his death, the Polish communist authorities expropriated his property from his widow and children.

Theory of positive disintegration

Kazimierz’s theory of positive disintegration Dąbrowski is a theory of personality development . Unlike most psychology, the view of Dąbrowski is that anxiety is a necessary factor for the correct development of an individual’s personality. This aspect, seen as something ‘disintegrative’ becomes something positive if it is given the right form and knows how to deal with it.

In the model it is argued that there are up to five levels of integration-disintegration , which influence the formation of a unique personality far from the lack of individuality.

1. Level I: primary integration

At this level people are influenced only by their biological factors, i.e. heredity, along with influences from the environment.

People manifest a ‘primitive’ personality, characterized by presenting selfish and egocentric behaviours , with the only purpose of satisfying their own desires and cravings, being something typical of childhood.

  • You may be interested in: “The Main Personality Theories”

2. Level II: single-level disintegration

This level occurs during a crisis, such as puberty and menopause , or during periods when you have to deal with a stressful event. It is here where automatic dynamics, such as greater self-awareness and self-control, play a greater role.

The person can rethink many things that, either because of the education received or because of the culture in which one lives, have been taught to him or her in a way that he or she now questions, criticizing the status quo .

This, according to Dąbrowski, is the moment when a personality begins to form, which will go in one direction or another depending on how it assimilates and approaches the events in question from an ethical standpoint.

3. Level III: spontaneous multi-level integration

After having critically considered a specific situation or event, the person considers multiple ways of dealing with them .

The appearance of several alternatives makes you wonder what it would be like if you had done it the other way you had thought.

On the basis of the decision taken and the consequences given, the person will or will not develop a personality that is increasingly adapted , but at the same time is his/her own and unique.

4. Level IV: multilevel directed disintegration

At this level the person comes to achieve absolute control of his development.

If in the previous level what was done was done in a more or less random way, in the fourth one it is done in a deliberate way, fully conscious and with a well directed intentionality towards a specific objective.

5. Level V: secondary integration

At this level, the person is already a fully stable individual , as long as he or she has successfully passed the four previous levels. He or she has become a responsible person who meditates appropriately on his or her actions.

Bibliographic references:

  • Dąbrowski, K. (1929). Les conditions psychologique du suicide. Geneva: Imprimerie du Commerce.
  • Dąbrowski, K. (1964b). Positive disintegration. Boston: Little Brown and Co.
  • Dąbrowski, K. (1966). The theory of positive disintegration. International Journal of Psychiatry, 2(2), 229-244.
  • Dąbrowski, K. (1967). Personality-shaping through positive disintegration. Boston: Little Brown & Co.