The psychological power of narrative: 3 levels of our autobiographical "I"

Science journalist Jennifer Ouellet tells how we create our own autobiographical "I", what role in our life plays narrative identity and what gives us life script of "redemption".

"Ultimately, we're all stories".
Doctor Who, "the Big Bang"

In 2003, James Frey published a book of autobiographical memoir "a Million little pieces" in which he in detail described your path to overcome addiction.

About three years later, while appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show, he admitted that some alleged actual parts were fabricated or embellished.

All subsequent editions of the book included a Foreword in which he admits that he exaggerated a lot, but notes that his main error was:

"write about the person I created in my mind to help me cope, and not about who went through this experience."

It was an interesting choice of words, given the role that history plays in personal identity.

Deep down we're all good storytellers, relying on past memories and combining them into a single narrative to build his autobiographical "I".

Dan McAdams, a psychologist at northwestern University, which specializiruetsya on the autobiographical self and narrative psychology, said:

"Metaphor of history coming to life. It has a beginning, middle and end. It includes characteristics of the times and scenes. It's about what is life really is and how others see it".

In their model, the autobiographical "I" McAdams has identified three separate levels.

1. At the age of two years most of us can recognize themselves in the mirror and understand how we fit into relationships with others. At the moment we are actors in our personal narratives, defining ourselves through specific traits and roles that we play. We can be shy and kind students, while others are funny and sociable.

2. Around the age of 8 years , we add another layer: the "I" as a representative of themselves. Now, in addition to existence as an actor in their own lives, we also perceive our own activity: we can look at our past projects for the future and set goals — do we want to be an astronaut, a writer or just find a best friend.

3. And finally, when we are approaching the beginning of adulthood, we begin to perceive yourself as the author, developing the narrative identity, which we will continue to hone throughout his life to describe what the actors are and why we, as representatives of the "I" we do what we do.

Its findings are based on hundreds of stories about his personal life, he had heard during interviews with adults from different walks of life, conducted them for many years. Each interview lasted for two hours, they were recorded and transcribed, and then, McAdams worked with the written transcription.

Subjects were asked to imagine life as a book with chapters — as well as write a novel.

McAdams then asked them to focus on key scenes: high points, low points, turning points, early negative memories, positive memories, and so on – all the universal elements of good storytelling.

Broad strokes were all the same: we all experience many such key moments in our lives and weave them into our story and its development.

After that, McAdams asked interviewees to identify those people who played the roles of heroes and villains. Subjects were also asked to think about future chapters, goals and aspirations, and how their values and beliefs are reflected in the whole picture of personal history.

Finally, McAdams asked the subjects to identify the main themes running through their stories. One common theme was the atonement, especially among people whom he calls "highly generative" — those who acted as volunteers in the free feedings or political campaigns, started his own charitable non-profit activities, or otherwise sought to have a positive impact on the world. Their history has always included hardship and suffering, but with an optimistic motive: they triumphed over their misfortunes, have learned valuable lessons from the pain and became stronger after all this.

This does not mean that "degenerative" people are definitely the worst storytellers; it's just that their stories are not expressed clearly the theme of healing/redemption. In order to become a "generative person", you need to go through a lot and perform a lot of hard work; wouldn't it be easier just to stay home and watch American Idol? And McAdams believes that the presence of a powerful redemptive narrative serves as a motivating tool.

For example, this tool was have former US President George Bush. So, in 2011, McAdams has published the first comprehensive psychological portrait of former President George W. Bush and the redemptive dream. As the psychologist shows, Bush demonstrates a classic redemptive narrative, achieving a sober and literal rebirth in a good Christian. According to McAdams, it gave Bush a powerful motivation to try and impose their own narrative the rest of the country.

Frey also borrowed redemptive theme in "Million little pieces".

In the end, of course, all the stories are about change. No one tells the story of how he was always the same. This is the psychological power of the narrative.

We can change our stories, thereby changing itself, although the core of our personality remains unchanged.published


P. S. And remember, just changing your mind — together we change the world! ©



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