Positive Disintegration is a powerful theory for anyone interested in self-improvement. Level one is dominated by going along with societal norms in an unfortunate way, leaving an individual vulnerable to never finding themselves. Level two is commonly entered when mindless drifting is punctured by a harsh outer event or inner transformation.
In this post we will explore level three; a fascinating internal battle consumed by defining and articulating values through the use of role models, art, and original expression.
Characteristics of Level Three
- A person whittles away at most choices in terms of their lower and higher self.
- An ear-splitting awareness operates within the individual constantly reminding them of what mode they are operating in (higher or lower).
- They may watch themselves say or write something and be hyper-vigilant about assessing its usefulness to others.
- They understand words matter when it comes to character.
- Their internal dialogue loop may sound like this:
"Why am I speaking? Is it meant to help the situation? Explain the situation? Is it meant to prove something? Is it simply meant to draw attention? Is it meant to assert myself above others? Is it a false form of humility (the humble brag)? Is it serving a purpose (entertaining, informative, etc.)? Do I value the truth and think it should be known? WHY am I talking?
Even more fun - why is that person talking?"
Imagine this analyzation going on in every domain; friendship choices, career choices, food choices, housing choices, and basically every activity essential to living. Throughout all of it, the inner dialogue is loud and constantly analyzed. There is a conscious awareness of the intersection between the impact of intentions and actions. Spotting this process in others provides powerful lessons, but dwelling on others can be a tempting trap to avoid the harder questions of one’s own growth.
The Role of Role Models
To make constant analyzation more appropriate and manageable, a conscious choice is made to learn through non-examples and gravitate toward exemplars. This mental process involves the awakening dynamism of subject-object. In addition, at level three a person indulges in autopsychotherapy. In this pseudo-therapy, the individual actively helps the voice in their head change from the debilitating self-criticism of level two to a more coaching-style voice in level three.
Level three also gives rise to the “autonomous factor,” a third factor operating outside of heredity and the environment (nature vs. nurture). With this third element in mind, the individual realizes the profound impact of their environment. They use the autonomous factor to place themselves in more appropriate situations and they take control of their surroundings (who and what they bring into their world).
The Awakening Personality Ideal
Level three people understand the power of emotional contagion and outside influences. Typically a non-example of behavior is chosen in order to learn what not to do and a role model at a higher level is chosen as an example of how to navigate unknown higher realms of development. Oftentimes the role models are artists, writers, philosophers, or dignified people that match the person’s personality ideal.
People at level three still experience sadness and intense judgment of themselves. In addition, they navigate the loss of past relationships due to their value structure changing. Setbacks are felt harshly, but quiet confidence acts as a guiding force in attempts to move forward towards the ideal self (and the self’s ideal role in the world), making the overall day to day experience more positive than level two.
If you were to witness an argument between a level one person and a level three person, it may go down like this.
Mr. Go-Me says, “Well, everyone else does it. It’s just what people do. One billion people like (insert offensive idea here) and how could one billion people be wrong? You should like it too.”
Mr. Off-I-Go is not concerned with changing others, walks away, and thinks to himself, “Well, that is Argumentum ad populum (an appeal to change me by noting what is popular, a common logical fallacy). I don’t care if other people do it. I am not on the same mission as those people. I realize it now.”
May Positive Maladjustment Prevail!
Level three is the beginning of positive maladjustment. If the person pushes forward, outside constraints will eventually clash with their personality ideal.
If behaviors expected by others do not conform with their ideal self, they may leave behind a career, leave behind relationships, and change drastically in the eyes of others, when in fact they are becoming more of themselves.
They are not concerned about being liked by people or environments they don’t respect. They are not concerned about the expectations of their outer environment if the outer environment is incompatible with their loyalty to high standards of character. If their personality ideal comes into focus well enough, and they use creativity to gain confidence, they leave behind constraining situations and instead use their autonomous factor, causing shame and guilt about being different to take a backseat as they move into level four.
Creative Expression: Sorting Out a Messy Mind
Level three calls for some interesting conversations about creativity. The creative instinct emerges spontaneously as a dynamism at this level. The disintegration of the old self is considered positive as long as such changes contribute to expanding the inner world of the individual. People may still encounter experiences that are unsettling, intense, difficult to explain to others, and alienating. Therapy and creativity can be of excellent assistance as long as the intention is to explore (not cure) the disintegration process.
Let's leave level three with some direct quotes from peer-reviewed articles, summing up these thoughts on creativity:
- “Highly creative individuals are permanently open to personality reorganizations. For instance, during adolescence, they might display what seems to be psychopathology but without damaging consequences in adult life. The creative process allows self-reorganizations… A highly creative individual is in constant self-actualization. Creativity makes life worth living and involves a strong sense of being alive” (Chávez-Eakle, Eakle, & Cruz-Fuentes, 2012).
- “In Dabrowski’s opinion, while there can be no personality development without creativity, there can be creativity without personality development… In fact, what some might interpret as creativity or intuition at level 1 is really just shrewdness based on extensive experience...artists at level 1 are imitating primitive models...authentic fully developed creativity occurs only at level 3.”
- “Imaginational overexcitability especially in conjunction with emotional and intellectual overexcitability, gives rise to artistic creativity” (Nixon, 2016)
The next post in this series will explore characteristics of level four in the Theory of Positive Disintegration.