The most common path people follow to discover the Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) seems to start from Dabrowski’s concept of overexcitability (OE), which psychologists have defined as a heightened response and lower threshold to stimuli.
In ordinary language, this means that for a person with OE, life is intense. You take in more than others, and you respond more readily and more strongly to all that you take in. Overexcitability (or simply “excitability,” if you prefer; the “over” is an awkward translation and shouldn’t imply that one is out of bounds) is about how you’re wired—an all-encompassing property of the central nervous system. Here’s a fun fact about an overexcitable person’s physiology: if an average person closes her eyes and someone presses on her eyelids, her heart rate will fall ten percent, while if someone does this to an excitable person, hers will drop fifteen to twenty percent. (For an explanation, jump to about 16:30 in this presentation from the 2016 Dabrowski Congress.)
There are five distinct categories of overexcitability: intellectual, imaginational, psychomotor, sensory, and emotional. A person can have any one of them, or a few at different levels, but they frequently function as a package deal. That means that people with OE have up to five channels through which they’re absorbing, processing, and reacting to an unusually high amount of external stimuli. As one author puts it in Living With Intensity, an excellent book on the subject, people with OEs have been told that they are simply “too too.”
There’s nothing like personal stories to bring definitions to life, so I thought I’d start by sharing my own lived experience, from childhood through my mid-thirties (where I find myself as I write this). Below you’ll find links to a basic description of each overexcitability from an authoritative source, followed by a sketch of my lived experience.
Since I’m merely one individual, I’d love to add other people’s stories here to flesh out the picture. If you also have OE and would like to share a story here, I invite you to post a comment on the relevant page or reach out if you’re interested in a longer contribution. Please feel free to post links to your own blogs describing your experiences with OE, too. Here are a few that I’ve collected so far:
- Laugh, Love, Learn is Lucinda’s blog all about her overexcitable family, chock-full of stories you’ll relate to whether you’re a parent of overexcitable children or an overexcitable person yourself (or maybe both), as well as ideas and suggestions for living this oh-so-intense life.
In addition, I’m planning to use OE as a lens to parse some biographical projects, which I’ll share here in the future. I invite you to follow this blog if you’d like to know when those arrive. (I should warn you that political posts unrelated to, or tangentially related to, OE will also be part of the mix, but hey, even dissenting opinions are always welcome to comment on those, too!)
As I noted earlier, overexcitability seems to be the most common route through which people discover Dabrowski’s work. I figure this is both because it’s easy for people with OE (or their parents) to recognize themselves in the descriptions, and because OE has been adopted by gifted educators because of a correlation between OE and giftedness. (It’s important to note, though, that not all people with OE necessarily meet various definitions of “gifted,” and not all gifted people are overexcitable.)
It’s therefore important to emphasize that OEs are just the launch pad for this complex theory. The copious amount of information that an overexcitable person absorbs and processes is a wellspring for developmental potential, the sine qua non of the Dabrowskian idea of “personality.” It’s unfortunate that some people have extracted the concept of OEs from Dabrowski’s work and never bother to dig deeper into the Theory of Positive Disintegration, thereby missing what I’d argue are the most important implications of a life lived with “superstimulatability” (which is a more literal translation of the term Dabrowski used in his native Polish, nadpobudliwosc.)
So on that note, let’s move on to a likely result of a life lived with overexcitability: positive disintegration.
Or if you want dig deeper on this subject, I’ll be adding blog posts exploring or illustrating OEs. Some posts that I plan to write soon include these topics:
- Dabrowski on the importance of subordinating intelligence to emotion
- Why adult women appear to lose imaginational OE
- A response to the concerns of some who dislike the concept of OE and the way it has been applied
This page is also a part of Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop.
Follow the link for loads more takes on this topic.