Positive Disintegration Theory and CMM

Positive Disintegration Theory (PDT) is a theory and practice of humanistic developmental psychology, researched and developed over the course of almost a century and increasingly known for its paradoxical nuance and finesse in naming developmental dynamics in relation to other developmental theories. It is especially apt to help persons address complexity, dynamics, and adversity in their lives in a positive frame as they evolve.

The webinar was led by Sergej van Middendorp and Marit Eikaas Haavimb. Sergej is learning about PDT in the context of a course for supporting the development of adolescents and young adults who feel the formal learning system is not adapted to their will to learn, and Marit is learning about it in the context of her own and other people’s development. Both see interesting patterns that connect PDT and CMM and shared their early findings with the CMM community.

You can tune into the recording taken during the webinar here.
Use passcode: #A$G%P7+

And the slides used in their presentation can be accessed here.

Sergej has also kindly provided a set of notes that he made from Ackerman’s article to outline the key aspects of the theory.

Ackerman, Cheryl M. “The Essential Elements of Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration and How They Are Connected.” Roeper Review 31, no. 2 (March 27, 2009): 81–95. https://doi.org/10.1080/02783190902737657.

He noticed that he mistyped certain aspects of the levels (without changing the meaning, he hopes) in his slides, but his notes should give you a more complete picture.

Three factors influencing development:

First: heredity.

Second: environment.

Third: ‘own forces’ arising from first and second, but irreducible to both. Includes autonomous processes brought to development.

Developmental Potential:

Psychic overexcitabilities (see later).

Special abilities and talents.

Autonomous Factors (Third factor).

Multilevelness and hierarchy of values:

Once the third factor becomes active, a person starts to distinguish between lower and higher ‘paths of thought, emotion, and action’.

From unilevel to multilevel personality structure.

Not automatic, but a result of a developed capacity to see what is and what ought to be.

Developmental Dynamisms:

Internal processes present during development that facilitate growth.

Presence and quality of dynamisms are indicators of developmental level.

Levels of development:

In addition to nonontogeneticicity, different in that one can start at a higher level than I and regression is possible, even temporally.

A person’s development can bridge more than one level, but these are in conflict.

No consistent progress over time. Intense periods of disintegration and periods of equilibrium.

Level one and five are integrated structures, levels 2, 3 and 4 are disintegrated.

Disposing and Directing Center as a metaphor for deliberate choice in the moment.

The levels are

I: Primary Integration: lack of inner conflict and self-reflection. Behavior towards satisfaction of basic needs. Conflict external and dependent on fit with the environment.

II: Unilevel disintegration: begin to see multiple value systems, but relative. Results in hesitation, doubt, wavering, dynamisms: ambivalences, and ambitendencies. Can result in severe mental disorders.

III: Spontaneous Multilevel Disintegration: Emergence of a consciousness of what ought to be vs what is. A hierarchy of Values. Often triggered by major life event. Dynamisms: Positive Maladjustment, dissatisfaction with oneself, disquietude with oneself, astonishment with oneself, inferiority towards oneself. Personality ideal.

IV: Organized (Directed) Multilevel Disintegration: deliberate responsibility for one’s growth. Regression is no longer possible once level IV fully established. Dynamisms: Subject-object in oneself, inner psychic transformation, pervasive self-awareness, self-control, education of oneself, self perfection, third factor, authentism, auto-psychotherapy.

V: Secondary Integration: Universal compassion and self-sacrifice. Not static but a state of peace and centeredness. DDC unified with personality ideal.



Psychomotor (surplus of energy, expressions of emotional tension), sensual (enhanced sensory and aesthetic pleasure), imaginational (image, fantasy, spontaneity of visual, quickly bored), intellectual (love of solving problems that require intelligence), emotional (most important for personality growth, broad range of aspects).

People can have one, more, or none.

Present in gifted students, eminent and creative adults,

Essential for accelerated or higher development to occur (see developmental potential).


Overexcitabilities, levels of development, and dynamisms

are integrated in the process of positive disintegration.


Gifted studies.

Counseling, therapy.

Adult Development.

Teacher training (see crises as an opportunity for development, distinguishing between OE and AD(H)D, …)

Clinical (Misdiagnosis, missed diagnosis, dual diagnosis)

Support the work of the CMM Institute!

CMM Institute