National Character Counts Week: Welcome to Pathocracy

“The presence or absence of conscience is perhaps the deepest human division.”

Ian Hughes

Last week Donald Trump put another nail in the coffin of health care for American citizens, especially the most vulnerable ones; undermined the painstakingly drafted and internationally supported Iran nuclear deal; challenged his Secretary of State to an IQ test; chastised residents of Puerto Rico for their audacity to suffer and die in a hurricane-caused mayhem, and berated football players for their willingness to protest racial injustice. He also proclaimed the next six days, October 15 to 21, National Character Counts Week.

Yes, you have read that correctly.

The man who lies easier than he breathes (there is that perpetual snort, you know), who takes sadistic pleasure in the pain and suffering of others, and who lives for adulation and revenge without any efforts at disguising his destructive motives, lectures America about character.

Let it sink it.

It is apparent that someone in the White House came up with this bizarre proposal to divert our and Trump’s own attention from the chaos and mayhem he sows around him and spreads upon the world; and to erase, in our minds and his, the awareness of it happening.

Also to silence his critics.

In this past several days we have seen a growing chorus of voices openly questioning Trump’s fitness for duty, starting with Senator Corker’s warning about our unstable leader starting WW3 — a very real possibility if Trump remains in office, let’s be extremely clear about it. The subject of Trump’s disordered character has been gaining renewed attention in the media, not in the least thanks to the new book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” which has quickly gone to second printing and made the NYT bestsellers list the second week in a row. (I have written a chapter for it, on “Tyranny as a Triumph of Narcissism.”)

Trump and his handlers are determined to obscure and deny what we can clearly see every day: that he is profoundly unfit for his job and poses clear danger to our survival, not to mention to what passes for our democracy. The emperor has no conscience and we are not supposed to notice it.

But we do. It is beyond preposterous to watch a man who is a walking embodiment of the seven deadly sins pontificate about the importance of character, even if the idea and its execution came from his handlers, as it is undoubtedly the case. It is beyond absurd, and unbearable, to watch him carry on his destructive conduct as usual, even though we knew what to expect.

We are only at day three of National Character Counts Week as I’m writing this piece, and so far Trump has managed to

  1. lie about, insult and pick fights with families of killed soldiers;
  2. lie about and insult former presidents;
  3. sadistically and publicly humiliate his Chief of Staff by dragging his son’s death into the fray, a subject John Kelly was adamant about avoiding;
  4. threaten  Senator McCain who battles brain cancer with vicious retribution for daring to criticize him; and
  5. propose plundering Afghanistan’s national resources.

And that’s just the top of this sordid list. We are not observing National Character Counts Week, but National (or at least presidential) Character Disorder Counts Week. One word, a yuge difference.

Jennifer Rubin sums up the ongoing debacle of the last few days by stating that

Trump may in fact be reaching the point at which the 25th Amendment becomes a consideration. In the future, we must never, ever elect someone as intellectually, temperamentally and morally deficient as Trump. He remains a menace to the country. 

She is right, of course. But in order to not ever elect someone as deficient as Trump, a mistake human societies make time and again, we must learn to recognize and name this particular deficiency — because it has a name — to better understand the dangers it represents and ways to avoid it.

Narcissistic psychopathy, a.k.a malignant narcissism is a character defect that manifests, mainly, in a severely impaired or absent conscience and an insatiable drive for power, adulation and revenge. Its other essential features are Machiavellianism — a tendency to deceive, manipulate and use people for one’s own gain; and sadism — a desire to inflict pain on others for one’s pleasure.

Narcissistic psychopathy is fixed (inflexible, unchangeable), permanent (won’t go away with time) and incurable. It is also inherently destructive.

This means that individuals affected with it, especially when in power, cannot be counted on doing the right and decent thing — on the contrary: they prove time and again that they live for destruction as it gives them a sense of power and pleasure.

Narcissistic psychopaths clamor for power and, if skilled and/or lucky enough, they achieve it. Once in power, they fully exhibit their pathology as they are no longer inhibited by the need to curb it to secure other people’s approval. We call it decompensation, but it is actually the narcissistic psychopath coming into his own, unleashing the contents of his defective psyche on the world without any constraints.

Not having a conscience means that narcissistic psychopaths are incapable of experiencing empathy, guilt, shame, as well as understanding and respecting higher human values (compassion, truth, justice, equality, freedom).

Their insatiable and thus usually frustrated desire for power and adulation, and a sadistic, irrepressible need for revenge (this is the narcissist part of narcissistic psychopathy) manifest in acts of aggression, verbal and/or physical, or in draconian, punitive political decisions if NPs happen to have such power. Often both.

In practical terms, it means that, for example, our narcissistic psychopath may go to a disaster-stricken area for a photo-op and once there, will toss paper towels to people who have lost everything, hamming it up for the cameras and bragging afterwards about his humanitarian efforts.

Then, when criticized for it, he will contemptuously chastise his critics, call them names, and try to refocus his own and everyone else’s attention on the softness of the paper towels he tossed. Meanwhile, he redoubles his efforts to starve the afflicted of the desperately needed governmental assistance and blames them for their predicament.

This is not just cluelessness, this is sadism, a feature of narcissistic psychopathy. It is also glaring evidence that he cannot be counted on understanding sentient beings and their suffering, and, for that matter, reality as such. His incurable emotional and cognitive deficits make it impossible. He can be counted on, however, to destroy anyone and anything that will interfere with his drive for power and adulation. Ultimately, this will be the world.

Normal people may not understand this pathology. They look for normal explanations, which often assume, incorrectly, that a narcissistic psychopath may change; that “deep down” he suffers from repressed guilt and/or low self-esteem; that he does evil “accidentally” and/or out of fear of something.

There is nothing accidental about the destruction narcissistic psychopaths, especially in power, inflict on the world. Destruction is coded in their character defect. They not only lack empathy and conscience, which makes them incapable of understanding human values, but they are driven to hurt and destroy everyone and everything that stands on their way to power and self-aggrandizement, and/or reminds them of their weaknesses. It is not a question of IF a narcissistic psychopath in power will destroy his world, but how soon.

Narcissistic psychopathy is the most dangerous form of psychopathology known to humankind. It is shared by all tyrants in human history, among other unsavory types. It is not mental illness, although this term is sometimes used to describe it, and there are some forms of mental illness, most notably paranoia, that are often associated with it. Diagnostic nomenclature aside, this character pathology is not a medical issue as there is no medical (or any) cure for it (although some associated symptoms may be medically managed). Narcissistic psychopaths are also not known for seeking  help, although normal people who have a misfortune to live or work with them often do. But it is a public health problem since character defective individuals are responsible for most man-made evil in the world. They destroy families,  organizations and countries. And we let them, mostly because we don’t understand what is happening and why.

This makes it imperative for us, human beings world over, to educate ourselves about dangers of these character defects and their consequences, and to keep those afflicted from power, since once they achieve it, their destructiveness is exponentially magnified.

The moral injury, for one, that blatant violations of norms and contemptuous disregard for values by a conscience-defective leader cause in people with a more or less functioning conscience is real and damaging. It induces anxiety, confusion, hopelessness, helplessness and defeat, eventually leading to depression, anomie and alienation. And that is by design, however unconscious it may be, as people alienated from their own selves and each other are more easily exploited by toxic leaders.

In his recent article for The Atlantic, Norm Ornstein described Trump’s government as kakistocracy — a governance by the incompetent and unscrupulous fools, the worst of society. A more accurate term, however, is pathocracy — governance by individuals with a seriously defective or missing conscience, specifically psychopaths, narcissists and their ilk. “States are as the men are; they grow out of human characters,” as Plato reminded us in The Republic, ca. 380 BC, describing how democracies turn into tyrannies.

The distinction (kakistocracy vs pathocracy) matters, as this kind of governance and destruction of society it ushers is not a result of some bumbling foolery, but of malignant and predictable actions of character defective individuals. Conscience-based character defects represent a well described though often misunderstood form of psychopathology; and those afflicted with them are drawn to power and influence others, including society at large, in predictable ways. Andrew Lobaczewski’s Political Ponerology is devoted to the problem of pathocracy and the character pathologies behind it. SystemsThinker‘s website has a good summary of Lobaczewski’s work.

Pathocracies — pathological human systems run by conscience-deficient people  — establish themselves so easily (yes) mostly because normal people remain either uneducated or in denial, and perhaps both, about the character pathology that gives rise to them.

Usually, pathocracies develop around a charismatic leader with a narcissistically psychopathic (malignantly narcissistic) character disorder. Lobaczewski called such charismatic narcissistic psychopaths “spellbinders.”

Narcissistic psychopaths are both malevolent and incompetent, as people without a conscience are incapable of building and supporting anything that expresses higher and lasting human values, no matter their IQ or expertise. Their intelligence, typically narrow and one-sided, bereft of broad abstract thinking abilities, is subsumed under primitive drives for power and adulation.

Once they achieve ultimate power in society — a process made easier by their lack of scruples, inhibitions, and empathy and respect for others — they start remaking it in their image. They do it through trampling on and dismantling society’s norms and undoing its laws, replacing them with their primitive versions (if at all) meant to satisfy their need for power, money and adulation.

Establishing pathocracy proves to be frighteningly easy when conditions are right, i.e. when the society is weakened by internal strife and facing external threats. It quickly becomes apparent how many so-called normal people are eager to support the narcissistic psychopath’s rule and obey his orders. There is never a shortage of sycophants ready to justify and enact any of his unlawful, inhumane and sadistic orders. Pathocracies are therefore tests of conscience, and what they tend to reveal about human nature does not inspire confidence in it (yet).

Employment of paralogisms — ways of distorting facts and replacing them with their propagandist “alternative” versions; and paramoralisms — perverting values by insisting that evil is good and vice versa, is how pathocrats change relatively normal shared reality of a society into what Robert Jay Lifton calls malignant normality. In the malignant normality of pathocracy up is down, war is peace, vice is virtue, and the conscienceless leader proclaims National Character Count Week to obscure his latest misdeeds. Forty six percent of Republicans believe that attacking North Korea is a good idea, while 46% of all Americans are convinced that the news media make up stories about Trump. Pathocracy normalizes individual and collective disorder and enables its spread.

People without a conscience (psychopaths) are a minority in the human society, about 4 percent, according to Martha Stout; but as their character defect drives them to power they are inordinately represented in leadership positions.

Stout says:

But what does 4 percent really mean to society? As points of reference to problems we hear about more often, consider the following statistics: The prevalence rate for anorexic eating disorders is estimated at 3.43 percent, deemed to be nearly epidemic, and yet this figure is a fraction lower than the rate for antisocial personality. The high-profile disorders classed as schizophrenia occur in about 1 percent of us — a mere quarter of the rate of antisocial personality — and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention say that the rate of colon cancer in the USA, considered “alarmingly high,” is about 40 per 100,000 — one hundred times lower than the rate of antisocial personality. Put more succinctly, there are more sociopaths among us than people who suffer from the much publicized disorder of anorexia, four times as many sociopaths as schizophrenics, and one hundred times as many sociopaths as people diagnosed with a known scourge such as colon cancer. (Stout, 2005, p.8)

Lobaczewski estimated that about 6% of the population becomes part of the pathological ruling class in pathocracy, with another 12% of variously conscience-impaired individuals serving in supportive roles. The rest of the population, people with normally functioning conscience, chafe and suffer under the pathocrats’ rule, which eventually ends as it must. Any human system built on lies and oppression is doomed to fail — people of conscience and human values always prevail, but only after much misery and destruction caused by pathocracies.

Two weeks ago there was a conference at Yale titled How Do Democracies Fall Apart (And Could It Happen Here?). One of the major takeaways from it was a consensus that “democracies don’t fall apart — they’re taken apart”  through deliberate decisions of human beings.

Sean Illing writes about it, quoting Nancy Bermeo:

Usually, it’s because the people in power take democratic institutions for granted. They become disconnected from the citizenry. They develop interests separate and apart from the voters. They push policies that benefit themselves and harm the broader population. Do that long enough, Bermeo says, and you’ll cultivate an angry, divided society that pulls apart at the seams.

What Illing and Bermeo describe here is exactly the kind of damage inflicted on society by character defective, conscience-impaired leaders, although there is no indication that character pathologies and their destructive influences on democracy were discussed during the conference.

This is not an unusual omission. For some reason we are unable and maybe unwilling to see how people with conscience-impairing character defects influence our lives, and that’s as there appears to be an increase in the number of these individuals in positions of political power since the Cold War. The corresponding increase in the popularity of fascistic ideologies and parties around the globe is more easily noted in our collective awareness.

We are not very good at spotting those defects in the first place, an ignorance with tragic consequences. Polish psychiatrist and psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski warned us,  decades ago, that

Our inability to recognize the psychological type of psychopaths causes immense suffering, mass terror, violent oppression, genocide and the decay of civilization.

THE question begging itself time and again is when will we open our eyes?

In February this year, historian Timothy Snyder gave an interview to German English language publication, Suddeutsche Zeitung, that was titled We Have a Year to Defend American Democracy, Perhaps Less. He was correct in his predictions of what would happen to America under Trump, as were those of us who warned about them based on understanding of the psychopathology at work here.

It is incumbent upon our lawmakers to take the warnings of mental health experts and historians seriously.


Our Positive Disintegration

[image source]

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Patient Trust

These are the times of disintegration.

Its first symptoms became vaguely sensed and then reported by the therapists, massage and others, concerned about the rising anxiety levels of their clients, as well as their own, in the spring of last year. And we know that there is a problem when the East Coast massage therapists report it. It ain’t real till the $250-per-hour-masseur’s comfortably afflicted client bemoans. Canaries in coal mines and all that.

The more tangible yet ignored disintegration, of the unmassageable kind, has been progressing in America for decades, driven by the corporate greed that has shrank the middle class and enslaved the working (and not) poor, fed the war machine and violence within our borders, led to the declining health of the populace, and an erosion of social bonds. It has been growing a split, on every level of existence, between the haves and have-nots, the comfortable and the afflicted, between men and women, between people of different religions and races, between human beings and other living species. We are seeing now that there never has been one America indivisible under God, but several disparate ones existing in opposition and a perpetual, deepening conflict fueled by rapacious capitalism.

The disintegration we are experiencing now was not caused by Trump/ism, but revealed through it. At its core, as it is always the case, lies a clash of values, specifically the clash of primitive, dehumanizing pursuits of power, money and self-aggrandizement, with higher universal human values, the importance of which, and their dearth in our lives, has been dramatically unveiled in this conflict. This clash has pierced our willful blindness, unearthing the rifts in our society which we pretended, for too long, did not exist.

The breakthrough is not done yet, however — the revelation is rarely if ever complete. Neither the powerful and privileged, nor those who seek a sense of power and validation through identification with the strongman understand it. Yes, judging by the proliferation of the poverty porn — the journos’ heartfelt dispatches from the forgotten America where despair and decay rule — the awareness of this one rift, among many, may be growing; however, history teaches us that narcissism is not broken by seeing but only through living, if that. As long as poverty is something the haves use as topics for their award-winning exposes, books and sermons from the Mount of TED (at $7,500 a pop), rather than see as an affront to their humanity demanding direct personal engagement through decisive social action, they will not see well, if at all.

We don’t like to talk seriously about our values, certainly not how they relate to mental health of individuals and nations, because such conversations, if honest, would necessitate change — and nobody likes change. Yes, we trot out values for important speeches and other special occasions, bragging about them and using them as weapons with which to clobber our opponents. In general, though, we relegate them to the domains of religion and/or the feel-good, for those comfortable enough in life, monetized spirituality. There they can be either safely ignored, and/or dangled over the heads of the suffering masses as something to maybe aspire to, some day. But as long as the masseurs’ clients remained mostly satisfied, authentic values, or rather their lack, had no emotional impact on the consciousness of the nation. Until now.

Now,  as the darkness is making itself rapidly visible, thanks to the short-fingered vulgarian whose lack of manners has made even the well-mannered panic, it cannot be ignored so easily — although it is not for the lack of trying, because if there is one thing that America has perfected is the art of denial. This is why the country, as we believed we have known it, is disintegrating now, and with it our complacent, erroneous beliefs about it and ourselves. This process is inevitable; and although it is and will be painful, it is also potentially positive, for many individuals and maybe even the entire nation.

That because even though disintegration, personal and not, is something that is typically feared — understandably so, as it means destruction of what’s known and thus safe – there is also another, positive way to look at it.

Positive Disintegration

The alternative view of disintegration of the personal kind was articulated over half a century ago by a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist, Kazimierz Dabrowski, who observed that his patients struggling with neurotic and especially psychoneurotic symptoms (the difference is the predominance of the mental over somatic problems in the latter) were creative, thoughtful, and yearning to change themselves and the world.

He also noted that all creative people who have left the positive mark on the world – especially artists, philosophers, moral exemplars and saints – frequently struggled with similar psychological difficulties which, painful as they were, often enriched their characters, stimulated their creativity, and propelled their development. Thus rather than pathologize such symptoms, or otherwise make his patients conform to the status quo, Dabrowski stressed their positive value as both harbingers and mechanisms of personality development.

His clinical experience led him to develop the Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD), which posits that, far from being destructive and undesirable, many forms of psychological suffering — anxiety, depression, doubts, inner conflicts, even psychosis — are positive and necessary for emotional and personality development. More often than not, they are expressive of the emerging understanding of the multilevel nature of reality, inner and external, and, related, an objectively existing hierarchy of human values. This understanding becomes a basis of personality growth through positive disintegration.

Dabrowski’s theory is well worth knowing, but even though its creator spent part of his life in the US and he and his work were warmly received for a time by the greats of American psychology, it never gained popularity here, for some reasons that are more obvious than others. Two of them seem to loom large.

One, people in general, and Americans in particular, do not like being reminded that pain and suffering are an inextricable part of the human condition. We understandably want to avoid both; and when we can no longer do so, we still try — through distractions, medication, or employment of various forms of magical thinking, from self-help to positive psychology. Not that there is anything terribly wrong with such attempts; however, they offer only temporary solutions — and sometimes no solutions at all; sometimes they obscure the source of our suffering and the means of its amelioration, which is authentic growth and change.

Two, the theory is counter-cultural in that its ideas go against the prevailing (unilevel, as Dabrowski would call them) beliefs and social mores, with a potential to revolutionize our outlook on mental health and disorder, and our life in general.

Unlike other theories of human development, TPD presents, and assists, the human being in the dynamic, arduous and often tragic process of becoming.

It postulates that mental health is the capacity for personality development, which is understood as a conscious dismantling of our more or less primitively integrated (egocentric) individuality, and replacing it with a consciously chosen and created (altruistic) personality. That process, called positive disintegration, is rooted primarily in our emotional-motivational sphere, and guided by deeply felt and lived universal values embedded in our conscience. A recognition of an objectively existing hierarchy of universal human values is essential for development, although Dabrowski avoids specifying what that hierarchy looks like. Instead, he advocates studying the lives of moral exemplars to arrive at its understanding and empirical verification.

Personality development, if done right, inevitably sets us on a collision course with the unjust world in which we live, and with everything that is primitive, unevolved and destructive within ourselves.

One of the major developmental dynamisms — internal forces guiding our individual growth as described in TPD — is positive maladjustment: a lack of adjustment to the world as is, guided by our vision of what ought to be which turns us into eternal misfits, “guests of reality,” to use a title of Par Lagerkvist’s story.

Positive maladjustment is always rooted in universal human values embedded in our conscience and gives rise to our protest, internal and external, against the inhumane status quo. Sometimes this protest can take a form of non-cooperation and/or silence, or even mental illness, but it is still positive and expressive of better mental health than unreflective adjustment to what is. Jiddu Krishnamurti reminded us that “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

Positive disintegration may start with positive maladjustment, which then awakens other developmental dynamisms such as guilt, shame, astonishment with oneself, disquietude with oneself, subject-object in oneself, and others that create the basis for transcending our biological and social limitations through personality growth.

This growth through positive disintegration, from primitive egocentrism / narcissism to conscious altruism, can be also expected, to some degree at least, in human groups and entire societies inspired and guided by moral exemplars. We can see it clearly in the social and political changes which expanded human rights and affirmed human values like freedom, equality and justice that took place thanks to the work of Gandhi, MLK, or Anna Walentynowicz, the mother of Solidarity movement in Poland.

While the full scope and depth of TPD are impossible to summarize in one article, one aspect that begs special attention here is its conceptualization of human society on the spectrum of emotional development.

TPD posits five levels of development — the table in this article shows how humanity fits on those levels:

  1. primary integration, where a pursuit of biological imperatives and unreflective adjustment to social norms rules;
  2. unilevel disintegration — the time of  ambivalencies and ambitendencies, intense inner conflicts between equally valued, usually unilevel options;
  3. spontaneous multilevel disintegration, when we see inner conflicts between what is and what ought to be; a first awakening of conscience;
  4. organized multilevel disintegration which marks the full awakening of conscience and beginning of inner transformation;
  5. secondary integration where a sense of purpose and meaning derived from the realization of higher values rule and guide us, harmoniously, toward transcending our biological and psychological type; inner peace; universal compassion and empathy are predominant developmental dynamisms.

As we can see,  this multilevel spectrum of character / personality development is also a spectrum of conscience, since our conscience is the active ingredient which makes development possible.

Dabrowski talks about the “overactive conscience” of psychoneurotics, who, endowed with multiple forms of overexcitability, feel and respond to life and its problems more deeply and acutely. This “oversensitivity” leads to frequent frustrations, pain, inner conflicts, doubts, and traumas, but also signals the existence of and activates developmental forces that enable healing and growth. The active conscience is an indispensable condition of emotional development. Dabrowski considered it a separate developmental dynamism and called it the third factor (the first factor is our biological endowment, and the second factor are the influences of our social world). Advanced emotional and personality development is impossible without the third factor.

The health of a society can be measured by the number of people who have achieved the level of personality, and by the emotional and moral health of the average people inhabiting the so-called statistical norm. The greater the number of moral exemplars, but also average people who are closer in their character profiles to psychoneurotics (folks with an overactive conscience), the healthier the society. Unfortunately, in most human societies the so-called average people are closer in their (lack of) development to psychopaths, as Dabrowski noted.

Psychopathy: “the greatest obstacle to development of individuals and societies.”*

Dabrowski was one of the first mental health experts who tried to bring the world’s attention to the dangers posed by psychopaths. His writings show an astute understanding of the effect that psychopathic individuals have on society. He warned that “our general inability to recognize the psychological type of psychopaths causes immense suffering, mass terror, violent oppression, genocide and the decay of civilization” (Dabrowski 1973).

He himself suffered persecution in political regimes created by psychopaths in power. Imprisoned and mistreated first by the Nazis and then by communists, he saw his work impeded and its fruits destroyed, along with his reputation and professional standing under communism. Nevertheless, he persisted.

Dabrowski’s views on psychopathy, which is characterized by an absent conscience, and its (clinical) opposite, psychoneurosis, defined by an “overactive conscience,” and on positive disintegration, are distinctly applicable to this moment in history, so let’s spend a moment on them here.

Psychopathy is a highly integrated character structure where intelligence is subsumed under primitive drives: for sex, money, and power. Psychoneurotics, in contrast, are nearly chronically disintegrated, as their increased sensitivity (overexcitability) weakens their primitive drives through introduction of conflicting motives and ideas, inhibitions, inner doubts, and ambivalencies. Their primitive drives, if present at all, are usually engaged in an inner battle with an overactive conscience, leading to much inner turmoil, which tends to subside with the growth of personality in those predisposed to it.

Psychopaths are incapable of grasping or experiencing higher values, while psychoneurotics are preoccupied with them to the detriment of their “successful” adjustment to everyday life and its requirements. That’s one reason why psychopaths, unlike psychoneurotics, are usually viewed favorably (and erroneously) by society as good leaders since they present as strong, decisive and “level-headed.” Yes, they are strong and decisive, but driven by unilevel — egocentric, primitive and thus destructive – motives, and their actions bring much suffering to others.

Psychoneurotics, on the other hand, are seen as impractical and ineffective, lost in reality, and/or “pathologically” maladjusted to it, since their motivations are “not from this world,” rooted as they are in the realm of the highest ideals which their oversensitive, overexcitable and conflicted nature cannot always, if ever, translate into everyday reality.

Dabrowski said that “Psychopaths have aims but not values. Psychoneurotics have values but not aims. Personalities have both values and aims.” (Dabrowski 1970, p. 160) One of developmental goals for psychoneurotics is to learn how to overcome their doubts and inhibitions and put their idealism with its values into consistent practice. This quest, not surprisingly, is what defines developmental struggles of all idealists, creatives and reformers world over.

Periods of social disintegration provide just the right opportunity to do so.

In times of social strife and upheaval, when the going gets tough because human values come under threat from conscienceless individuals and systems, psychoneurotics often find their mettle and proper role – and goals – in society. Thanks to their lived understanding of human values, they are capable of seeing both dangers of current events and often the correct ways of counteracting them. And so, for instance, people who may have lingered in a limbo of their own inner conflicts and doubts, spring to righteous action when confronted with the threat of encroaching tyranny, organizing and participating in a multifaceted resistance movement. We see this happening today on a large scale in America and the world.

In addition to external threats, such as those caused by oppressive political regimes that engender mass protest and rebellion, situations that spur positive disintegration in predisposed individuals include disappointments and traumas which lead us to a confrontation with our shadow, individual and collective, and a critical re-examination of our way of life. This confrontation, painful and difficult by necessity, enables emotional and spiritual growth of individuals, first, and then entire groups of people. It is the process of making darkness visible, so that we can better understand and tame it to aid our development.

The resultant disquietude, guilt and shame – feelings that are much maligned and unwelcome in our narcissistic society – bring us down to the level of truth, which also contains a possibility of redemption and transformation. This happens through restoration of our most important and cherished values in our daily life.

Such disintegrative experiences teach us that once we confront and comprehend the darkness residing in our hearts, we will choose to replace it with love and compassion. But as long as we lurch toward ritual sacrifice of The Others, instead of examining the fear, rage, and hatred that drive it, individual and mass scale encounters with our shadow will keep repeating with a frightening regularity, enlarging our misery to better direct our attention to what’s going on.

Thanks to Trump/ism, we are entering, or rather opening and deepening, a period of our collective “dark night of the soul,” which is a prolonged confrontation with our shadow. That journey to Hades must be undertaken if we are to see our true nature and choose, freely, its aspects worth cultivating, while abandoning the unworthy ones, which we have allowed to take over our lives for too long.

By opening for all to see the chasm between the primitive, valueless existence of psychopaths and their ilk, and the conscience-driven lives of exemplars of the highest levels of emotional development — or even just the “regular people” who have not shut down their conscience — this confrontation presents a unique opportunity for personal and collective growth. It becomes as clear as never before what’s most important in our short lives on this planet — and for the conscience-endowed, it won’t be the primitive goals of psychopaths. We can no longer deny this truth; but if for some reason we still do, and we are not character impaired, our positive disintegration will continue to manifest through our unsettled conscience.

With the emerging clarity comes freedom and resolve to reclaim and put our cherished values in action — because that’s where they really matter — with the positively maladjusted leading the way.  As difficult as this process is, it is a beginning of a much needed positive change for many, if not for all.


*In: Dabrowski, K. (1986). Trud istnienia. Warszawa: Wiedza Powszechna. p. 123

Dabrowski, K., Kawczak, A., Sochanska, J. (1973). The Dynamics of Concepts. London: Gryf Publications.

Dabrowski, K., Kawczak, A., Piechowski, M.M. (1970). Mental growth through positive disintegration. London: Gryf Publications Ltd.


Originally written in September 2016. Slightly updated for 2017.