Positive Disintegration
Positive Disintegration Podcast
Depression and Anxiety in Development

Depression and Anxiety in Development

Join hosts Emma Nicholson and Chris Wells for Episode 4 with guest Bill Tillier

In episode 4, Chris and Emma were joined again by Dąbrowski archivist, Bill Tillier. Bill talked about neuroses and psychoneuroses from a historical perspective and then tied them to Dąbrowski’s views. Anxiety and depression were discussed in light of the theory of positive disintegration and their developmental implications.

Instead of our usual list of links in the show notes, for this episode, we’re glad to share the following notes from Bill. The quotations he’s shared are from Dąbrowksi’s books:

Multidimensionality – a broad view

The levels of mental development can be defined with respect to such properties as: typological characteristics; instincts; intelligence; social, moral, religious and aesthetic emotions; inner psychic milieu; volition; creativity; and mental disturbances. On the basis of observation and clinical tests we should be able to place these properties in the sequence of developmental transformations of an individual. 1970, p. 99

Multilevelness – hierarchy; a deep view

DEVELOPMENTAL POTENTIAL. The constitutional endowment which determines the character and the extent of mental growth possible for a given individual. The developmental potential can be assessed on the basis of the following components: psychic overexcitability (q.v.), special abilities and talents, and autonomous factors (notably the Third factor). 1972, p. 293

1970 title – Mental growth through positive disintegration

Without nervousness and neuroses there is no positive disintegration, and without positive disintegration there seems to be no positive development. 1972, p. 159

Overexcitability and nervousness are synonymous:

PSYCHIC OVEREXCITABILITY. Higher than average responsiveness to stimuli, manifested either by psychomotor, sensual, emotional (affective), imaginational, or intellectual excitability, or the combination thereof. 1972, p. 303

NERVOUSNESS. Enhanced psychic overexcitability in the form of excitability of movements, senses, affect, imagination, and intellect. Nervousness does not in any way entail the impairment of mental functions. 1972, p. 299

According to our theory accelerated psychic development is actually impossible without transition through processes of nervousness and psychoneuroses, without external and internal conflicts, without maladjustment to actual conditions in order to achieve adjustment to a higher level of values (to what “ought to be”).  1972, p. 220

1972 title – Psychoneurosis is not an illness

Neuroses – a common definition 

A relatively mild mental illness that is not caused by organic disease, involving symptoms of stress (depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour, hypochondria) but not a radical loss of touch with reality.

NEUROSIS. Psychophysiological or psychosomatic disorders characterized by a dominance of somatic processes. There are no detectable organic defects, although the functions may be severely affected. 1972, p. 299

Lower forms of neuroses – somatic neuroses, neuroses of specific organs, hypochondria, neurasthenia, and lower levels of hysteria. 1970, p. 100

According to Freud (1943), the conflict between the “ego” and the “id” results in neurosis.

Freud also saw neurosis as caused by a superego which is making unrealistic and too severe moral demands on the individual.

Today, neurosis still has a negative connotation: Neuroticism, one of the Big 5 personality traits, is typically defined as a tendency toward anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and other negative feelings. All personality traits, including neuroticism, exist on a spectrum—some people are just much more neurotic than others. In the context of the Big 5, neuroticism is sometimes described as low emotional stability or negative emotionality.

PSYCHONEUROSIS. A more or less organized form of growth through positive disintegration. Lower psychoneuroses are predominantly psychosomatic in nature – digestive, cardiovascular (fainting) dermatological, higher psychoneuroses are highly conscious internal struggles whose tensions and frustrations are not anymore translated into somatic disorders. 1972, p. 303

The level of psychoneuroses is determined by the level of the mental functions that are involved. 

Lower interneurotic levels include – neurasthenia, hysteria, hypochondria, somatic neuroses

Higher neurotic levels – the following psychoneuroses: psychasthenia, anxiety neurosis, depression neurosis, obsession and infantile neurosis, etc. 1970, p. 86

Hierarchy of psychoneuroses (see 1970, pp. 98-100)

Level I – no mental disequilibrium no psychoneuroses

Disintegration – mental disequilibrium

Level II – lower neurosis, psychoneuroses / mental disequilibrium

Level III – psychoneuroses / mental disequilibrium

Level IV – higher psychoneuroses / mental disequilibrium

Level V – no mental disequilibrium or psychoneuroses


 – Every level of development has a corresponding level of mental disturbances. 

 – The dynamism of autopsychotherapy controls and transforms mental disturbances as development occurs.

An interneurotic scale of psychoneuroses (see 1970, pp. 98-100)


somatic neuroses, 




depressive psychoneurosis, 

anxiety psychoneurosis, 

infantile psychoneurosis, 

obsessive psychoneurosis, 



1 Interneurotic Levels. The different kinds of psychoneurosis characteristic of different levels of development

2 Intraneurotic differences involve higher and lower levels of functions within the same kind of psychoneurosis Lower levels are characterized by predominant somatic control while higher levels by predominant mental control.  1972, p. 297

Evolution of the term Neurosis

(Source for Figure 1: Townsend, J. S., & Martin, J. A. (1983). Whatever happened to neurosis? An overview. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 14(3), 323–329. https://doi.org/10.1037/0735-7028.14.3.323)

In summary, we have a continuum from neurosis to psychoneurosis. At the lower end, neuroses are more physical, more unconscious, and more automatic and at the higher end, psychoneuroses are more psychological, more conscious, and more under the volitional control of the person.


Dabrowski, K. (With Kawczak, A., & Piechowski, M. M.). (1970). Mental growth through positive disintegration. Gryf.

Dabrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness: Neuroses and psychoneuroses from the perspective of positive disintegration. Gryf.

* A transcript of this episode is available on the Dabrowski Center website.

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Positive Disintegration
Positive Disintegration Podcast
What can be positive about disintegration? Join us for an exploration of positive disintegration through conversation and shared stories. It’s a framework for understanding a variety of intense experiences that often look and feel like mental illness, but which can also be viewed as building blocks for creating an authentic personality.