Back in my college days, as part of my pharmacy ciriculum, I had to take certain courses in pyschology. It was always fascinating to learn about the power of our minds and how we become trained to think based on our past experiences. As part of my work in these classes I had to read and write about a publication written by a psychologist named Kazimierz Dabowski on the mental trauma inflicted on Polish World War II surivors. It was an interesting read on how the Polish community had been traumitized by the the death and destruction of their community by the Nazi’s during the war and how they had to cope with it. It’s been nearly twenty years since I originally read this piece, it wasn’t until recently that my friend AK sent me a book by author Mark Manson titled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” did I come across a reference to this study again.
Dabrowski was both a psychologist and psychiatrist who was best known for his world renown theory on Positive Disintegration, which will be the basis of my Mid-October post. While Dabrowski was practicing psychiatry, the Germans imprisoned him several times during the war, and then again when Stalin took over Poland post-war. This time around his wife was also taken and both of them spent 18 months in custody where he was repediatly beaten and tourtered. The events and acts that Dabrowksi not just saw, but personally experienced himself, were not explainable at the time by any theory of psychology. So he set out to develop the concepts that allow humans to act in such depraved behaviors but also theorize about how those were able to endure through it and come back in such positive states. Dabrowski found that survivors could be grouped into three different subsets. These can be broken into a 20% group, 60%, and 20% population breakdown. The first 20% would be those who faced these severe experiences and be unable to bounce back – today we define this group as those having PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The second group which accounts for the majority of the population at 60% was found to be resilient and able to come back to their pre-trauma levels. The third group though was the most fascinating of them all. Not only were they able to bounce back from the crisis but to actually emerge as a stronger individual from it; this become termed as Posttraumatic Growth. Positive Disintegration is a complicated theory but Dabrowski outlined that these survivors were able to dissolve their anxieties and depressions inflicted by the war and use them to surpass the levels they were at initially. They took these memories and used them to rebuild their personalities in a stronger manner.
Manson did a great job of summarizing this work and how we must apply it to our own lives that I’m going to quote him directly:
“Our most radical changes in perspective often happen at the tail end of our worst moments. It’s only when we feel intense pain that we’re willing to look at our values and question why they seem to be failing us. We need some sort of existential crisis to take an objective look at how we’ve been deriving meaning in our own life, and then consider changing course.
You could call it “hitting bottom” or “having an existential crisis.” I prefer to call it “weathering the shitstorm. Choose what suits you.
And perhaps you’re in that kind of place right now. Perhaps you’re coming out of the most significant challenge of your life and are bewildered because everything you previously thought it to be trueand normal and good has turned out to be the opposite.
That’s good – thats the beginning. I can’t stress this enough, but pain is part of the process. It’s important to feel it.”
I want to stress Manson’s words again – Pain is part of the process. The situation I am sitting in right now is a 100% self-inflicted. It’s caused directly by a series of bad decisions that I consiously made, and I must be held responsible for them. But it is feeling the pain of my own failure that is allowing me to come back as a better, stronger, smarter individual. It’s hitting rock bottom that put me on the path that I am on today. One who is workin gdaily to help inmates whom have come from nothing to build something out of their lives. One who is diligently working to reform the prison system and create opportunities for others. And one who in the end will be known as a good son, a good brother and eventually a good husband and father.
So if you’re going through a painful time right now, how do you plan to emerge? What is your plan to achieve post-traumatic growth? How will you become that top 20%? Stay tuned for more on this topic…