Personal Narrative: Defining My Identity

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Personal Narrative: Defining My Identity

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Writing a Personal Narrative: Brainstorming a Story for Kids

According to a strong line of research in developmental psychology, attaining this kind of understanding means acquiring a theory of mind Wellman, , which occurs for most children by the age of 4. Building on theory of mind and other cognitive and social developments, children begin to construct the self as a motivated agent in the elementary school years, layered over their still-developing sense of themselves as social actors. Schooling reinforces the shift in that teachers and curricula place increasing demands on students to work hard, adhere to schedules, focus on goals, and achieve success in particular, well-defined task domains.

Motivated agents feel good about themselves to the extent they believe that they are making good progress in achieving their goals and advancing their most important values. Goals and values become even more important for the self in adolescence, as teenagers begin to confront what Erikson famously termed the developmental challenge of identity. Committing oneself to an integrated suite of life goals and values is perhaps the greatest achievement for the self as motivated agent. There is a sense whereby any time you try to change yourself, you are assuming the role of a motivated agent.

After all, to strive to change something is inherently what an agent does. However, what particular feature of selfhood you try to change may correspond to your self as actor, agent, or author, or some combination. When you try to change your traits or roles, you take aim at the social actor. By contrast, when you try to change your values or life goals, you are focusing on yourself as a motivated agent. Adolescence and young adulthood are periods in the human life course when many of us focus attention on our values and life goals.

Perhaps you grew up as a traditional Catholic, but now in college you believe that the values inculcated in your childhood no longer function so well for you. You no longer believe in the central tenets of the Catholic Church, say, and are now working to replace your old values with new ones. Or maybe you still want to be Catholic, but you feel that your new take on faith requires a different kind of personal ideology. In the realm of the motivated agent, moreover, changing values can influence life goals. If your new value system prioritizes alleviating the suffering of others, you may decide to pursue a degree in social work, or to become a public interest lawyer, or to live a simpler life that prioritizes people over material wealth. A great deal of the identity work we do in adolescence and young adulthood is about values and goals, as we strive to articulate a personal vision or dream for what we hope to accomplish in the future.

According to Erikson, developing an identity involves more than the exploration of and commitment to life goals and values the self as motivated agent , and more than committing to new roles and re-evaluating old traits the self as social actor. It also involves achieving a sense of temporal continuity in life—a reflexive understanding of how I have come to be the person I am becoming , or put differently, how my past self has developed into my present self, and how my present self will, in turn, develop into an envisioned future self. By accepting some definition of who he is, usually on the basis of a function in an economy, a place in the sequence of generations, and a status in the structure of society, the adult is able to selectively reconstruct his past in such a way that, step for step, it seems to have planned him, or better, he seems to have planned it.

In this sense, psychologically we do choose our parents, our family history, and the history of our kings, heroes, and gods. By making them our own, we maneuver ourselves into the inner position of proprietors, of creators. The self typically becomes an autobiographical author in the early-adult years, a way of being that is layered over the motivated agent, which is layered over the social actor. In order to provide life with the sense of temporal continuity and deep meaning that Erikson believed identity should confer, we must author a personalized life story that integrates our understanding of who we once were, who we are today, and who we may become in the future.

By the time they are 5 or 6 years of age, children can tell well-formed stories about personal events in their lives Fivush, In autobiographical reasoning, a narrator is able to derive substantive conclusions about the self from analyzing his or her own personal experiences. For example, a year-old may be able to explain to herself and to others how childhood experiences in her family have shaped her vocation in life. Her parents were divorced when she was 5 years old, the teenager recalls, and this caused a great deal of stress in her family.

In more recent years, the teenager notes that her friends often come to her with their boyfriend problems. She seems to be very adept at giving advice about love and relationships, which stems, the teenager now believes, from her early experiences with her mother. Carrying this causal narrative forward, the teenager now thinks that she would like to be a marriage counselor when she grows up. Once the cognitive skills are in place, young people seek interpersonal opportunities to share and refine their developing sense of themselves as storytellers the I who tell stories about themselves the Me. Adolescents and young adults author a narrative sense of the self by telling stories about their experiences to other people, monitoring the feedback they receive from the tellings, editing their stories in light of the feedback, gaining new experiences and telling stories about those, and on and on, as selves create stories that, in turn, create new selves McLean et al.

Gradually, in fits and starts, through conversation and introspection, the I develops a convincing and coherent narrative about the Me. Contemporary research on the self as autobiographical author emphasizes the strong effect of culture on narrative identity Hammack, Culture provides a menu of favored plot lines, themes, and character types for the construction of self-defining life stories. Autobiographical authors sample selectively from the cultural menu, appropriating ideas that seem to resonate well with their own life experiences.

As such, life stories reflect the culture, wherein they are situated as much as they reflect the authorial efforts of the autobiographical I. As one example of the tight link between culture and narrative identity, McAdams and others e. Epitomized in such iconic cultural ideals as the American dream, Horatio Alger stories, and narratives of Christian atonement, redemptive stories track the move from suffering to an enhanced status or state, while scripting the development of a chosen protagonist who journeys forth into a dangerous and unredeemed world McAdams, Hollywood movies often celebrate redemptive quests.

Americans are exposed to similar narrative messages in self-help books, step programs, Sunday sermons, and in the rhetoric of political campaigns. In American society, these kinds of stories are often seen to be inspirational. Although this part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project began as a way to access texts that were already available on the Internet, it now contains hundreds of texts made available locally. The great diversity of available sources for use in modern history classes requires that selections be made with great care - since virtually unlimited material is available. The goals here are:. Sources of Material Here. Efforts have been made to confirm to US Copyright Law.

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Modern History in the Movies Bad Links 1. Literature: Humanity's Heart of Darkness? The goals here are: To present a diversity of source material in modern European, American, and Latin American history, as well as a significant amount of materal pertinent to world cultures and global studies. A number of other online source collections emphasize legal and political documents. And even controlling for general optimism, McAdams and his colleagues found that having more redemption sequences in a life story was still associated with higher well-being. There are things that happen to people that cannot be redeemed. The end. In cases like this, for people who have gone through a lot of trauma, it might be better for them not to autobiographically reason about it at all.

But after other researchers replicated her findings, she got more confident that something was going on. In one study, McLean and her colleagues interviewed adolescents attending a high school for vulnerable students. One subject, Josie, the year-old daughter of a single mother, suffered from drug and alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder, rape, and a suicide attempt. She told the researchers that her self-defining memory was that her mother had promised not to have more children and then broke that promise.

Though sometimes autobiographical reasoning can lead to dark thoughts, other times it can help people find meaning. And while you may be able to avoid reasoning about a certain event, it would be pretty hard to leave all the pages of a life story unwritten. But agency sure does. It makes sense, because feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are classic symptoms of depression, that feeling in control would be good for mental health.

Adler did a longitudinal study of 47 adults undergoing therapy, having them write personal narratives and complete mental-health assessments over the course of 12 therapy sessions. Agency, agency at all costs. If you have Stage 4 cancer, agency may be good for you, but is it a rational choice? But I wondered: Though agency may be good for you, does seeing yourself as a strong protagonist come at a cost to the other characters in your story? Are there implications for empathy if we see other people as bit players instead of protagonists in their own right? The question, perhaps, is how much people recognize that their agency is not absolute.

According to one study, highly generative people—that is, people who are caring and committed to helping future generations— often tell stories about others who helped them in the past. The more the whole world is designed to work for you, the less you are aware that it is working for you. Even allowing for the fact that people are capable of complex Joyce-ian storytelling, biases, personality differences, or emotions can lead different people to see the same event differently. A lot of false-memory research has to do with eyewitness testimony , where it matters a whole lot whether a person is telling a story precisely as it happened. Any creation of a narrative is a bit of a lie. And some lies have enough truth. Which is interesting, because the storytelling device that seems most incompatible with the realities of actual life is foreshadowing.

Metaphors, sure.

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