Welcome, readers! Allow us to introduce ourselves: we are Jessie Mannisto and Chris Wells, a former CIA leadership analyst and Google fellow, and an educational psychologist and author, respectively. We’re the founders and lead editors of Third Factor, a new webzine that will bring together psychologists, educators, activists, writers and artists, spiritual leaders, divergent thinkers, and others interested in exploring this thing called positive disintegration.
The theory of positive disintegration (TPD) was developed by Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980), a Polish psychologist and psychiatrist who also did much of his work in Canada, at the Universities of Alberta and Calgary, and with the support of the Canadian government. The theory he created is rich and rewarding; it’s also complex. We’ll be putting out a series of articles that explain elements of TPD in easy-to-understand language (our first one is here), but the key introductory point is this: being maladjusted to a disordered society is not in itself a disorder.
To be sure, Dabrowski understood the worst form of maladjustment: his best friend, a fellow musician, took his own life, leading Dabrowski to give up his own dream of studying music and instead to pursue psychology, the better to understand what drove his friend to such a tragic end. Dabrowski also lived through both world wars, as well as the Stalinist takeover of Poland. The terrible things he saw in those dark times led him to ask why some people turned their backs on the suffering of the Jews while others risked their own safety to protect them. What differentiated the inhumane from the heroic among us?
These experiences led Dabrowski to study exemplars of personality development, eventually making two noteworthy observations. First, his subjects tended to go through periods of intense psychological crisis on the path to being recognized as exemplary. Second, they tended to have an unusually intense experience of life—an innate response to stimuli that significantly exceeded the norm. Dabrowski labeled this trait overexcitability. This overexcitability fueled their psychological crises, leading Dabrowski to describe them as maladjusted to what is and adjusted to what ought to be.
The exemplars Dabrowski studied tended to go through periods of psychological crisis on the path to becoming exemplary, and they tended to have an unusually intense experience of life.
Some will scoff at this notion. After all, what ought to be often is not, but we must still get out of bed in the morning. Regardless, no matter where you stand on the various social and political spectra, you probably see plenty of disorder in the world around you—disorder to which you don’t want to adjust. Norms that you think would actually harm you if you truly accepted them.
That’s positive maladjustment. And this maladjustment has the capacity to fuel both personal growth and positive social change—if it’s handled wisely.
That’s the nexus that interests us here at Third Factor. Hitting that sweet spot is one of life’s major challenges. The world is teeming with the negative maladjustment of all sorts—from clinical depression and anxiety to general sadness and frustration at all the ways the world seems to have failed us and we seem to have failed the world.
On top of that, it often happens that people gravitate to one side or the other side of that dichotomy. Either it’s that the world has failed us, or it’s that we are defective people who just need to double down on self-improvement. The fact is, any given problem we face is bound to be affected by both our personal shortcomings and the system. It’s up to us to take responsibility for our own improvement, and, simultaneously, recognize that our social structures give us plenty of cause for maladjustment that is essential to name and worth working to counter.
The theory of positive disintegration is where those two partial truths merge. That makes TPD a powerful—potentially catalytic—tool in our efforts to address the maladjustment so many face today, at this particular moment in history.
Catalytic—that’s what we at Third Factor aim to be. We want to help intense, sensitive people play the unusual hands that nature and nurture dealt them to reach for our personality ideals—recognizing that overexcitability is not a pathology, but a source of strength. We seek to create a community dedicated to a good faith exchange of ideas that will help us transcend our present personal limitations and envision ways to overcome—and eventually dismantle—the hurdles in our environments. We see the possibility for a positive feedback loop between these internal and external efforts, and believe that our efforts are more likely to succeed if we, who are simultaneously eccentric and social creatures, find like-minded souls. We’re looking for other questioners, visionaries, and divergent thinkers who are interested in harnessing the transformative potential of the third factor.
What, you may ask, is this “third factor” we speak of? I’m glad you asked.
So, TPD talks about three factors that shape us into the people we become. The first factor is your biological endowment: the genes you were granted, which wired those of us who are overexcitable to be the way we are, as well as environmental influences that trigger epigenetic and other physiological influences. The second factor is everything bequeathed to you through social forces: the rules of your parents, the pressures of your peers, the examples of those you admire. In other words, the first and second factors are simply the “nature” and “nurture” we mentioned earlier.
Dabrowski described the third factor as the role of our conscious choices in becoming who we are. It certainly emerges from what we’re dealt by the first and second factors; and yet, there’s more than one way to play a hand of cards. Our values have a say.
TPD also speaks of dynamisms. These are the forces that unfold inside of us as we go through positive disintegration and that result in our self-transformation. The third factor works as a dynamism by leading us to affirm or reject certain qualities in ourselves and in our environments. In a variety of ways (to be explored in later articles in this webzine) it takes our internal control center and remodels it, replacing its outdated instructions and instruments with new and improved ones that will help us be the people we want to be and do what we now realize we should do.
It’s a lofty goal, to be sure. It’s not going to be easy. We’ll make mistakes along the way. So we figure we should be open about those mistakes and what we learned from them. We see a need to share the stories of the people who have overcome them. We see the use of adding words to our vocabulary that make it easier for us to talk about these processes. And that’s what we founded this magazine to do.
We invite you to join us in our efforts. If you’re intrigued, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or—better yet!—join our fledgling community in our forums. (As much as we want to use social media to get the word out to like-minded souls, many of us are also positively maladjusted to modern social media.) If you really believe in what we’re doing here, please consider supporting us via Patreon. We’ll use your donations to share our message more broadly, hire some artists to decorate this place, and pay the writers and editors who are dedicating their time to our mission.
No cash to spare? No worries! One of the most valuable things you can do to support us is to spread the word, via social media or otherwise, about positive disintegration and this community of people trying to reintegrate at a higher level. There are millions out there who are positively maladjusted. In many of them, the third factor is strong. They, and you, have the potential to be human catalysts.
There are millions out there who are positively maladjusted. In many of them, the third factor is strong. They, and you, have the potential to be human catalysts.
Finally, we also invite you to subscribe to our newsletter to be among the first to hear about new issues. Upcoming themes include non/conformity, managing overexcitability, and disintegration and reintegration in spirituality.
We look forward to getting to know you, and to growing and reintegrating alongside you.
Jessie Mannisto & Chris Wells
Editors, Third Factor Magazine