You’ve probably never heard of Kazimierz Dabrowski.
He was a psychologist in the 1940s and had an interesting career. He studied with Freud’s contemporaries in Vienna, worked with mentally ill patients, participated in the Polish resistance during World War II, was captured and tortured in a prisoner of war camp, and in the process I lost many friends and family.1
These traumatic experiences shaped his study of pain and trauma, leading to groundbreaking insights that are still relevant today.
One of those insights was Dabrowski’s positive decay theory.2 This goes against many conventional wisdom about suffering.
He argued that growth and self-improvement require a certain amount of mental distress. According to Dombrowski, a certain amount of pressure or stress can force people to reach their very best, push their limits and evolve.
While Western psychologists of the time focused on self-esteem and well-being, Dombrowski emphasized the importance of being realistic about pain and its potential benefits.
Although his ideas were revolutionary, they remained largely unknown because of the Iron Curtain that separated Eastern and Western scholars.
Ultimately, Dombrowski’s research inspired the research field of post-traumatic growth to help countless people grow out of pain.
Here are some thoughts on psychological distress before and after Dombrowski’s time. This reflects his position that pain is a valuable part of the life process and highlights several points that can be applied to oneself.
Post-Traumatic Growth: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of Pain
Post-traumatic growth theory explores how our pain can lead to a better personality and well-being.
Rather than viewing pain and trauma as purely negative, post-traumatic growth highlights the transformative power of adversity.
By learning from our struggles and accepting the lessons that come from them, we can become better and more resilient people.
This is far from a simple process, but many factors have been identified that contribute to it. If you want to dig deeper, I’ve written about them here.
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Buddha’s Wisdom on Constant Grievances
A prince who seemingly has it all, the Buddha realized that our minds are always attached to things, which leads to perpetual dissatisfaction.3
He called this endless, painful cycle of life, death, and rebirth Rinne, and developed teachings to help people overcome reincarnation.
The Buddha’s central message was about letting go of the pain and meaning we associate with conflict. By recognizing that we have the power to decide how we interpret pain, we can use pain as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement.
Do we consider our struggles futile and blame others for our suffering, or do we infuse meaning into our struggles and accept responsibility for coping with life’s inevitable pain? ?
We have the choice. And there lies our power.
“Do this and you’ll be happy” game: human quirks
The mental games we all play are: Achieving a certain goal or reaching a certain milestone makes us happy.
Unfortunately, we often overlook the problems and sacrifices that come with these goals. This constant desire for something more or less is both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, it motivates us to survive and improve, but on the other hand, it can prevent us from achieving lasting happiness and contentment.
The trick is understanding that happiness is a by-product of a fulfilling life, not a goal in itself. It often happens in life that the more we run towards them, the further away they are.
Let go of the illusion that all you need is X to be happy. Accept your pain as part of your life. Then find your happiness.