This process I am going through can probably be called a Disintegration, and I sure hope that hindsight will reveal it as the kind of Positive Disintegration that Kazimierz Dabrowski created his theory about, and not just a part of a downward spiral without a happy ending!
The process definitely involves many of the overexcitabilities he describes, and even though I work hard to keep it together most of the time, a part of me always feels as if there is no ground underneath my feet.
Being emotionally overexcitable quickly gets quite exhausting. People going through life without this peculiarity also experience exhausting emotions, of course, especially when living through heartbreak or grief, as we all do from time to time. But ever since I was a small child, I have picked up on many signals that my way of experiencing (or perhaps I ought to say my way of expressing) emotions was abnormal and unattractive. Other people just did not want to be loved that intensely, scrutinized to such a degree, or be around someone who deflated like a punctured balloon for every minor disappointment. I can relate to that, I find such displays of emotions in other people taxing, too, even when that other person is the one I am charged with guiding through life; my mini-me.
Even my meta-cognitive self gets worn out by observing my own emotional transgressions. («Getting all that worked up about some person you don’t know writing a somewhat derogatory comment about some other person you don’t know? Are you sure? Of course, no point in asking, the emotion is definitely not to scale, logically. When was it ever? Etc.») And that’s just the observation!
I also actually FEEL all these emotions as strongly, or even more strongly, than I express them. Is this possible to imagine, I wonder? Can «normal» people use their creativity and empathy to such a degree that it is possible to get an idea of what it is like to have every single emotion magnified to at least 120 % of the usual?
It would be easier to imagine if you shared my imaginational overexcitability. This makes it almost impossible not to feel how others are feeling. Many people are quite adept at interpreting verbal and non-verbal language to suss out how others feel, but the more I learn, the more I realize that my way of just sensing this, almost physically, without really needing to pay attention to clues, is a lot rarer than I ever imagined. Knowing what I know now, I finally understand why so many other people have absolutely no trouble reading Knut Hamsun’s «Hunger» or watching Stanley Kubrik’s «A Clockwork Orange», both of which made me physically ill during the period of exposition, and for weeks afterwards (and even while writing this, as my memory is far too vivid for my liking). This is also a good thing: watching someone look lovingly at someone else gives me a lovely feeling inside. At least until i start thinking about why I automatically identify with the lover, not the beloved, and immediately fall into the good, old abyss of self-loathing…
Realizing that my thought pattern is self-destructive is a good thing, right? It ought to make it possible to stop beating myself up and start getting more constructive. With all the knowledge I have amassed over the years, one would think that by now I possessed the perfect recipe for some upside-down cake that would make me feel good about the person I am and the decisions I make, but, alas, this never seems to come true. Is it possible that knowledge is not necessarily enough? Russel Barkley, of course, says that ADHD causes a person not to be able to translate knowledge into action, as the disorder is a motivational one. I know from long and thorough experience that knowing exactly what to eat and how to exercise, for example, in no way translates to actually doing any of that. But why? How can a bright brain so blatantly overlook valid information and keep on making decisions that are harmful to the organism in the long term? Does that not at some point hurt that very same brain? How much of this can be associated with Dopamine, or Noradrenaline? You know, there is brand new research out there proving at least one neurobiological origin of ADHD, and this particular version has nothing to do with Dopamine, but with hyper-stimulation of the superior culliculus due to a Noradrenaline build-up. Yup. Brand new, published just a few days ago! I read the short version, of course, and now have to go looking for somewhere to read the long version without a pay-wall, as I have to understand exactly how Noradrenaline works, in that part of the brain and in other parts of the brain, and how it interacts with Dopamine, and how Concerta works versus how it would affect me to reduce the build-up of the stress hormone Noradrenaline etc.
Have to understand? Yes, of course! This is so interesting, and so useful, and I really cannot see any way to keep being me without understanding, completely, anything that affects me and what makes me ME. That’s part of my intellectual overexcitability. I have an intense drive to understand. Luckily, it does not apply to absolutely everything (even though some guy once managed to make the principle of electricity slightly interesting at a party once by comparing the charge to metal filaments being pushed by magnets), I am far more vulnerable to knowledge about languages, books, music, aesthetics, cultures, brains, thoughts and social features than to knowledge about spider bacteria or the 314th decimal of pi, but given the right situation, I seem to manage to get fascinated by the strangest of things.
This hunger for understanding can be an enormous advantage, like when having to write a paper on a book I do not like one bit. At some point, I will start analysing exactly what features it is that turn me off, why they turn me off, why the author is likely to have used them, what it was about the culture of the author that made this use of features likely, why other people get less turned off by them and so on. As you can see, the paper practically writes itself from then on. But in other ways, it is extremely impractical. My interest tends to go very deep, and I stay on track for extended periods of time (sometimes years), excluding other activities that are more socially acceptable (such as concentrating on work or talking to old friends about the same old topics). The research more or less takes over my whole life for a while, and I start combining this new knowledge with my old knowledge, see connections, get more excited, do more research, see more connections and so on. It does not take long at all until I run out of people to talk to about this, as very, very few others have gone deep into whatever combination I am currently obsessing over. I might find an expert in one field, who knows a lot about one topic I am into and a lot more slightly on the side of my topic, but with no interest whatsoever in the other topic(s) that I have also researched and thus unable and unwilling to discuss the interaction of the phenomena.
(Rarely, but luckily sometimes, I come across another person who is also intellectually overexcitable who hooks onto my ideas and start reading up. Sometimes they know something interesting and relevant from another field, but most of the time they will stay behind me en route because I got obsessed first. Intellectual Overexcitability is a lonely land).
It is not easy to complete this while the fan of the computer «pillow» hums loudly, my ears and back itch, and the reflection of the light from the small windows hit the TV screen in just such a way that it hits my eyes almost as much as the pictures on the screen do, but at least I know that the meds will soon kick in and make the sensual overexcitability more bearable. Is it not interesting that this overexcitability is the one that is most affected by decreased Dopamine re-uptake? Oh, here I go again with the «interesting» trap… I’ll just move swiftly on to a tiny comment about how the physiological OE does not really bother me as much. It is probably more irritating for others the way I constantly change positions and keep picking at stuff, I am not all that bothered as long as I can type while moving my feet, hunching my shoulders, wiggle my bum etc.
I could also add some paragraphs about «Impostor Syndrome» (especially as I scored so appallingly badly on the 20 minute IQ-test administered by Mensa), the Dunning-Kruger effect and the long term effects of bullying to explain why I am presently going through (another) disintegration, but I feel pretty confident that anyone reading this is well-read enough to recognize it without me having to point it out. Instead, I opt to devote some effort into the term «disintegration» itself.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary explains it like this:
«dis·in·te·grate verb \(ˌ)dis-ˈin-tə-ˌgrāt\: to break apart into many small parts or pieces».
To feel like that would probably feel immensely uncomfortable to most people, and downright scary to everyone who is slightly ill at ease with change (which, apparently, is the great majority). Yet for me, and for several other people I know, this state of mind seems to me more normal than not.
While I strongly feel that I am me, that I was me yesterday and hopefully will be me tomorrow, I also fully recognize that the me that I was yesterday (metaphorically) is not the me I am today or will be tomorrow. That old «you can never step into the same river twice» adage, you know. But it is more complicated than that. The me of yesterday now seems like an illusion that I happened to believe in at the time, but see through now. Because now I behold the truth? Well, no. Now I realize that both the me of yesterday AND today’s version are illusions, and I only manage to hold on to the idea of believing in this identity for tiny moments at a time.
I am me, yet I don’t believe that I see, understand or hold on to who this «me» is? Is that not a tad too compliated? «Too», you say?, where is the limit where «complicated» turns into «too complicated», and is that limit stable of flexible? Oh, here I go again, sorry! But when you really start distrusting your perceptions and interpretations, it follows that you also distrust everyone else’s, which makes for a challenging way of living your life.
So living through disintegration is hard. More than hard, actually, it is really draining at times, claiming any energy you might have and then some. Yet there is this theory that disintegration can actually be a positive thing. Positive disintegration? Really?
“In Dabrowski’s (1964) theory, positive disintegration is the process by which development occurs. For Dabrowski, growth occurs through a series of psychological disintegrations and reintegrations, resulting in dramatic change to a person’s conceptions of self and the world. Positive disintegration forges a personality that motivates one to perform at increasingly high levels, emphasizing altruism and morality. However, not all disintegrations are positive. When negative disintegrations occur, psychoses or suicide may be the outcome. An important theme of TPD is the movement from an initial egocentric approach to life to an altruistic one. The factors needed for positive disintegration and their operation are primary concerns of TPD.
Positive disintegration propels a person to TPD’s higher levels of development. There are five levels of development: initial or primary integration; three levels referring to increasing complexity of disintegration called unilevel, spontaneous multilevel and organized multilevel; and secondary integration that refers to the highest level (see Dabrowski 1964). Levels of development may lead one to believe that TPD is a type of stage theory similar to well-known theories of development, such as Erikson’s (1963) theory of life span development and Piaget’s theory of cognitive development (Piaget and Inhelder 1969). There are some significant differences between Dabrowski’s use of level and the notion of stage. For one thing, progression beyond level one, primary integration, is by no means universal in the population. In addition, progression through the levels is not accomplished in a linear, invariant sequence. The concept of level allows for progression and regression, for unique patterns of development.
TPD is not a theory of emotional development, though it provides some useful insights into emotionality. Dabrowski’s theory describes how human beings transform themselves from self-serving, conforming individuals to self-aware, self-directed persons who transcend their primitive natures and strive to “walk the moral talk.” Certain prerequisites are needed for the journey from egocentrism to altruism. One is familiar to us, namely, a facilitative social environment; the other, developmental potential, is unique to TPD.
See more at: http://www.sengifted.org/archives/articles/dabrowskis-theory-of-positive-disintegration-some-implications-for-teachers-of-gifted-students#sthash.ZPjGXMxg.dpuf “
While I have been going through my nth disintegration lately, it has been paramount to me to turn it into a transformative and overall positive process, but I have struggled to figure out how this falling apart could do me any good. Luckily, circumstances beyond my control conspired to enable me to travel to a former home town and spend time with long-time friends as well as the much needed solitary confinement. One of these friends wanted me to come along and make art with her, and it felt to me as if this was an opportunity I needed.
I started out with a blank canvas and three colours, and absolutely no idea what I wanted to achieve. Did I want to make something figurative? Realistic? Perhaps continue my quest to sketch quickly, without too much detail or correction? I still did not know, so I decided to just go for a base coat, and then see where it took me. I placed the colours in fields, intending to blend them into each other and make a gradual darker-to-lighter effect, and set to work with a brush. My friend looked over, and suggested using a spatula for spreading the colours evenly. It seemed only logical, but once that spatula started interacting with the paint, I was mesmerized!
The spatula brought out structures in the paint that fascinated me, and I experimented with different angles and directions, adding more paint, and having loads of fun. Once again, my friend propelled the art forwards through offering a tool: a patterned spatula with four different edges. I was completely hooked, and spent a lot of time building up structures and colour blends, and somewhere in this process, I recognized my pattern of making paintings into a kind of sculptural collage.
As the structure and colours began to take a shape I found pleasing, it gradually dawned on me that this looked a lot like beautiful chaos. It reminded me of something really pretty that had been splashed all over the canvas. And that’s when it hit me: I knew what I was making! This picture was actually an illustration of a Positive Disintegration!
Once I knew what I was making, I started getting inspiration everywhere, and it was so clear to me what I needed to complete the picture. I still did not know what it would look like, but I knew that there had to be several examples of beautiful small pieces scattered about, without a single entire entity. All of a sudden, I realized that the best way to understand my disintegration as positive was to recognize that what felt like chaos may be disorganized and difficult to understand, but most of the pieces that are within that constricting frame are still beautiful!
For someone who has recently been told I came across as autistic, with compulsive tendencies, it seems like supreme irony to so love the process of developing two parallel pieces of art (you’re reading one!), both unplanned, both improvised, both dwelling on something so limitless and unpredictable as disintegration. I may depend on my home and belongings being somewhat in order, and find it difficult not to straighten a picture that hangs crookedly on a wall, but I sure do enjoy a bit of chaos in my life, as well!
So here it is, then, my take on Positive Disintegration:
Some of us are too large and uneven to fit flatly and orderly into a frame. We try to fit in and not break the frames, because we realize that each piece of the frame is also somebody else’s frame, and they rarely appreciate having their definitions disturbed. But at some point it becomes impossible to ignore the larger connection, all the space behind and in front of this flat canvas, and all those unfilled edges in everyone else’s pictures. One starts to feel the need for variety, for harmony, for growth, and the frame just seems to shrink until the feeling of self implodes.
During the implosion, the ego shrinks until it is uncomfortably tiny, and all of the identity markers one thought were pretty well defined fall apart at the seams. Depending on the circumstances, this disintegration can be small or humongous, quick or painfully looooooong. Sometimes it appears as if it is all over, and life has gotten back on track, and then some tiny little incidence sets the whole thing spinning again.
I imagine myself fluttering about between all the elements of my picture, confused, scared, surprised and disappointed, wondering about the blobs of paint landing near me, or even on me. I imagine myself being partly stuck in a small part of the picture while it dries, overnight, in a dark and unoccupied room. And I imagine the light coming back on, and the picture building those extra layers, and finally I understand with all that I am that those elements were already there. They are all pieces of me, but they used to be arranged differently. Some have grown, and look better than before, and some have become almost inconsequential. Some look weird, even unattractive, but a majority of the elements are actually quite lovely. All in all, it’s a highly interesting conglomerate of disparate bobs and pieces, wonderfully mismatched, a gorgeous disarray. A Positive Disintegration!