The author’s basic thesis can be stated as follows: Personality development, especially accelerated development, cannot be realized without manifest nervousness and psychoneurosis. It is in this way that such experiences as inner conflict, sadness, anxiety, obsession, depression, and psychic tension all cooperate in the promotion of humanistic development. Those especially trying moments of life are indispensable for the shaping of personality. An effort to overcome and transform psychoneurotic dynamisms reveals the action of self-directing and self-determining dynamisms that make autopsychotherapy possible and successful. The difficult moments that promote personality growth generate psychic tension. We cannot, however, advise one to seek liberation from psychic tension since this very tension is absolutely necessary for creative development. Neither can we advise certain forms of “treatment” of nervousness and psychoneuroses that aim at ridding the individual of the so-called pathological dynamisms. In our opinion, most of these dynamisms are not pathological but are developmental and creative.
Throughout this work the reader will find reference to primary and secondary integration. These expressions correspond rather closely in their meanings to what Freud, in his 1911 paper entitled “Formulations Regarding Two Principles in Mental Functioning,” called the Pleasure Principle and the Reality Principle. For Dabrowski, primary integration is a life style that is instinct dominated, pleasure-oriented, primitive. And secondary integration means a higher, more mature personality structure. Thus, primary and secondary, as here used, have nothing to do with importance or desirability. They have a purely temporal reference, implying what comes first and what comes second – but not secondarily.
The reader may also at first be puzzled by Dabrowski’s use of the terms unilevel and multilevel disintegration. First it should be noted that as this author commonly uses the term, disintegration means what is often implied by the term conflict. Thus unilevel primary conflict would be conflict between two or more instinctual drives or impulses. Unilevel secondary conflict would be conflict between higher, socialized, moral considerations. And multilevel conflict, or “disintegration,” is conflict between levels, lower and higher. Multilevel conflict occurs first of all externally, between the child and his parents and other socializers, and then internally, between ego and superego or conscience. As previously noted, therapy for Freud involved an attempt to get the superego (and parents) to soften their demands, modify their expectations. Dabrowski, on the contrary, feels that the problem is not usually one of too high expectation but of helping the individual move toward greater maturity and responsibility, toward learning to meet obligations rather than abrogating them. This is a considerable part of what Dabrowski has in mind when he refers to the “hierarchical psychological structure” (p. 22).
When one stops to think of it, one sees that much of what presently passes for therapy or treatment, psychological or otherwise, involves an attempt to lessen, arbitrarily and artificially, the pain of multilevel conflict
the transcendently important consideration is whether an individual chooses to live secretly or “in community.” If a person resolves to keep his behavior hidden, he is weak in the face of temptation, since he does not now have to deal with the moral and interpersonal consequences of his irresponsible, self-indulgent behavior. Therefore, he is likely to “solve” a conflict in a shortsighted, primitive, ultimately self-defeating way; whereas, if he subjects himself to the discipline of openness, he will have the benefit of the negative sanctions which others provide for wrong action and will thus be more likely to behave “integratively.”
What may at first escape the reader, and is quite important for full comprehension of this volume, is that the author is using the term personality in an extraordinary way. Usually we assume that everyone has, or is, a personality; but Dabrowski rejects this view. To everyone he attributes what he calls individuality; but, personality, or full person-hood, is a state of higher evolvement of which many of us fall far short and none of us attain completely
While the person possessing individuality, in enhancing his personal values, capabilities, and knowledge, usually has his own egoistic aims in view, the person characterized by personality enhances his qualities and powers in order to offer them in the service of mankind.