Since the name of this publication is Third Factor, a lot of people probably wonder what that means. The name comes out of Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration, referring to what he called the third factor of development. The third factor is one of the most complex aspects of the theory—and a critical part of the process of development that Dabrowski described.
The three factors are a fundamental part of Dabrowski’s theory. They are called factors of development because they’re the factors that go into directing how we become who we are.
The first factor is the influence of heredity — the genetic factors we are born with, along with any lasting effects of pregnancy, delivery, birth defects, nutritional deficits, or drug and alcohol use. Dabrowski referred to this as “constitutional endowment” or “original endowment.” (He sometimes abbreviated this as OE; this was confusing because he also abbreviated overexcitability as OE.) The second factor represents external reality — mainly the family and social milieu. For children, this includes school experiences, and for adults, the work environment. It also includes general social and cultural norms, especially in one’s local social group.
It was Dabrowski’s observation that for some individuals, the first factor is the strongest influence guiding behavior, leading to behaviour that reflects lower instincts. The person governed by the first factor seeks gratification of his or her basic instincts without regard for the feelings or needs of others.
The average person displays the strongest influence from the second factor. Such people’s behavior is commonly guided by, and conforms to, the norms of the social group.
The average person displays the strongest influence from the second factor. Such people’s behavior is commonly guided by, and conforms to, the norms of the social group. The majority of people also show a mixture of influences from both factors: genetic drives and impulses are normally mediated by social expectations and are expressed through socially sanctioned behaviors. Occasionally, a first factor impulse may break through social norms and be expressed.
The First and Second Factors in Other Frameworks
Dabrowski was not the first to describe these two categories. The first and second factors are represented in Sigmund Freud’s work: Freud’s construct of the id corresponds to the lower drives and instincts of Dabrowski’s first factor, while Freud’s superego corresponds to the second. The average person develops a superego — a moral conscience – as a child by internalizing the moral views and standards of her parents and the wider society. Freud’s ego does not correspond directly to any of Dabrowski’s factors of development, but rather negotiates between the first and second: it tries to figure out how to fulfill the desires of the id, but within the constraints of the rules imposed by the superego.
In another example, in Lawrence Kohlberg’s model of moral development, children do not have internal moral guidelines. At Kohlberg’s first level, children see that authority is external, and they make their decisions based on the consequences of their behavior, whether it is rewarded or punished. The second factor is equivalent to Kohlberg’s second level, which he called conventional morality. This level, held by the average person, is characterized by the individual’s unquestioned internalization of social rules and moral standards. The individual behaves either to be seen as a good person or to avoid punishment and guilt.
What Dabrowski’s Third Factor Adds
The third factor can be hard to wrap your mind around. It represents the totality of the autonomous forces of an individual: it is an internal and conscious drive to achieve autonomy.
The third factor does emerge out of the first factor, and the origin of these autonomous forces is in the genetics of the first factor. When one’s genetic potential (i.e., the first factor) is strong and favourable—in other words, when one has strong developmental potential—the third factor emerges with the help of other developmental features like overexcitability and the dynamisms. The second factor plays a role, too: Dabrowski suggested that if a person’s second factor is strong, he will feel security in conforming to social norms, and the longer this goes on, the stronger this person’s primary integration becomes. This integration often blocks any opportunity for the third factor to emerge. In this way, lifelong conformity usurps an individual’s autonomy and authenticity. In effect, this is the basis of Dabrowski’s idea of disintegration: this strong initial integration must disintegrate to allow for growth. When growth occurs, the disintegration is positive. In some cases, disintegration may occur without growth, leading to negative disintegration.
Lifelong conformity usurps an individual’s autonomy and authenticity. In effect, this is the basis of Dabrowski’s idea of disintegration: this strong initial integration must disintegrate to allow for growth.
But then it gets more complicated. In true Dabrowskian form, he first describes the third factor as outlined above, i.e., the totality of autonomous forces in an individual. But he also describes the third factor as one of the dynamisms of positive disintegration—that is, as an internal force for development. In Dabrowski’s theory, dynamisms carry out both the disintegration and, with growth, lead to reintegrations on higher levels. When the third factor functions as a dynamism, it acts as the agent of conscious, volitional choice exercised by the individual in the furtherance of her own development, as guided by what he called the personality ideal. As the third factor gains momentum and use, it becomes the “dominant dynamism” of multilevel disintegration.
Dabrowski also interweaves the third factor with the other major features of development. Let’s first look at his concept of the personality ideal. To achieve an authentic and true self, the individual must become the “self-determining” agent of her own development, which she does by expressing the third factor. The instinct of self-perfection pushes this process forward. The third factor also works in concert with the dynamisms of development, which include dissatisfaction with oneself, self-education, self-awareness, self-control, subject-object in oneself, autopsychotherapy, empathy, and hierarchization, among others. Dabrowski calls the third factor the dynamism of valuation because it plays a critical role in the development of the consciously chosen, autonomous hierarchy of values. The development of the third factor also must coincide with at least mild psychoneuroses. Finally, the actions of the third factor lead to the development and coordination of the inner psychic milieu.
The third factor is an active force of affirmation and choice-making: accepting values that are closer to the personality ideal and rejecting values that are farther from one’s ideal. In other words, the third factor distinguishes what is “less one’s self” and what is “more one’s self.”
The Role of the Third Factor in Multilevel Disintegration
The bulk of the activity of the third factor occurs during directed multilevel disintegration, also known as level IV. In Dabrowski’s words, “[i]t is a sort of active conscience of the budding individual, determining what represents a greater or smaller value in self-education, what is ‘higher’ or ‘lower,’ what does or does not agree with the personality ideal, and what should be the course of internal development.” (1964, 59)
The appearance and growth of the third [factor] is to some degree dependent on inherited abilities and on environmental experiences, but as it develops it achieves an independence from these factors and through conscious differentiation and self-definition takes its own position in determining the course of development of personality.
While the roots of the third factor lay in genetics, it emerges “in the course of an increasingly conscious, self-determined, autonomous and authentic development.” (1973, 78) The third factor eventually comes to eclipse its genetic roots: “The appearance and growth of the third [factor] is to some degree dependent on inherited abilities and on environmental experiences, but as it develops it achieves an independence from these factors and through conscious differentiation and self-definition takes its own position in determining the course of development of personality.” (1964, 54) This adds a metaphysical aspect to the theory—the fully developed third factor becomes an autonomous force with a life of its own, so to speak. It represents the drive of a person to achieve a unique personality and authentic autonomy; it often operates against both genetic and social influences that previously acted on the individual.
In Dabrowski’s theory, the third factor begins to appear at the third level of development, spontaneous multilevel disintegration, and finds its full expression at level IV, directed multilevel disintegration. As the final level, secondary integration, begins to coalesce, the major work of the third factor is largely done, and the personality ideal surpasses it. Now, the third factor and the dynamisms of authenticity and autonomy augment the role of the personality ideal in ongoing development.
In summary, the third factor is one of the most challenging but most important parts of the theory of positive disintegration. This brief introduction has not fully explored all of the aspects and implications of the third factor. Really, this exploration needs to occur in the context of learning the whole theory.