Moral Development & Existential Depression

Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski developed a personality development theory called Positive Disintegration (TPD), which claims individuals can progress through stages of moral development by shaping a set of internal values. Dabrowski believed people develop by breaking old psychological structures, not by building upon them; he called this process "positive disintegration" and saw mental breakdowns/depression/anxiety and emotions as necessary to the process. Thus the theory is essential for understanding pieces of existential depression.

A brief outline of the theory is below, followed by its relationship with existential depression.

TPD: The Five Stages
Dabrowski outlined five stages of moral development, characterized by different levels of self-actualization:

1. Primary Integration: Happy With the Herd
At this level, people internalize their society's values and thus have no individual personality. There is no moral conflict of any sort.

2. Unilevel Disintegration: A Spot of Doubt
Here some conflict arises between a person's internal values and their society's values, but there is no sense of one value path being better than the other (hence "unilevel.")
Stage 2 often brings doubt, confusion, and occasionally despair.

3. Spontaneous Multilevel Disintegration: A Big Fat Mess
People in Stage 3 grow subconsciously dissatisfied with "what is," and start to think about "what should be" in their world and their lives. A Stage 3-er considers different values to be "higher" or "lower" and consciously chooses between them. A sense of the "ideal person" begins to form as the individual shapes a set of autonomous inner values.

4. Organized Multilevel Disintegration: Starting to Come Together
People in Stage 4 act according to their clear and refined values, bringing their "ideal self" to life.

5. Secondary Integration: The Holy Grail Most People Never Get To
 Since Stage 5-ers' values are fully refined and realized, there's no internal conflict. People continue to develop according to their ideal personalities and typically want to help others.

Existential Depression
Central to Dabrowski's theory was the positive role of anxiety/depression/general psychological malaise in facilitating development. Existential depression is an extremely common part of Stage 3 since it destroys previously held values and makes space to build new ones; hence the sense of moral emptiness. Basically, your existential depression may be part of your personality development if it helps facilitate greater moral autonomy (which it typically does.) If it doesn't, the questioning probably will result in you going back to a lower stage of development--which isn't necessarily a bad thing if it keeps you sane.

Works Cited:
Bainbridge, Carol. "Gifted Children and Moral Development.", n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.

"Kazimierz Dabrowski." Personality Development. Mollom, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.

Tillier, Bill. "The key points of the theory of positive disintegration." Positive Disintegration. n.p. n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.

Mendaglio, Sal. "Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration: Some Implications for Gifted Students." SENG. SENG, Fall 2002. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.


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