LIFE STORY

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

Your narrative identity changes with time. As well as your personality traits and your well being. You are not trapped. You decide if you want to be happy and the way you want it to be.

As a teenager you are already able to connect your past events to the present self, especially in the turning points life events. It’s called autobiographical reasoning and is an essential ingredient of a mature life story.


What’s your story? And what would happen if you told it differently?


WHAT IS NARRATIVE IDENTITY?


Narrative identity is the unique aspect of self that is tapped by one’s life story. According to this theory (McAdams), personality comprises three levels: traits, goals, and life experiences that coalesce into a life story. It’s thanks to this third level that we can be unique. No one else has exactly the same collection of life experiences.


First you’re an actor (in early childhood), then an agent (from middle childhood), and finally, beginning in adolescence, you become an author of your life.


There’s one crucial aspect - the causal link between past events and one’s present personality, or perspective on life. It’s called causal coherence (Habermas). It contributes to life story coherence by making the links between events and their importance for self-understanding. It can be also thematic, depending on our focus and topic.


CULTURE AND IDENTITY


Every individual is steeped in a culture or cultures from the moment of birth- and even before, through cultural conceptions of pregnancy- and culture most likely pervades every level and aspect of identity. One prominent dimension along which cultures differ is their orientation toward independence versus interdependence. Parent- child conversations about shared personal experiences are linked to children’s own autobiographical memories and reasoning in adolescence.


“Maori children often grow up experiencing a rich narrative environment through their exposure to these diverse narrative forms, with a particular emphasis on time and internal state references within narratives. Accordingly, Maori adults have earlier autobiographical memories than either New Zealand European or Chinese adults.” (MacDonald)


THE IMPACT ON WELL-BEING


Narrative identity in adults is connected to well-being, with higher levels of narrative coherence linked to lower levels of depression and higher self-esteem and life satisfaction across cultures. For theories of personality, it is clear that both traits and narrative identity are uniquely important for well-being. For example, conscientiousness shows dramatic age-related changes in adolescence, with lower levels in early adolescence followed by much higher levels in late adolescence.


CAN WE INFLUENCE IT?


Making sense of one’s own experiences through autobiographical reasoning to construct a narrative identity may be an important developmental task in adolescence regardless of culture. Life story causal coherence is one avenue toward narrative identity. The development of detailed, resolved, and emotionally laden narratives about one’s own life experiences may also shape narrative identity, even if these narratives do not include explicit references to changes in personality. In other words, you have the power to shape your identity by the way you tell your life story.

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 © Ewa Kampelmann 2019