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Review: Introducing Narrative Psychology: self, trauma and the construction of meaning by M. L. Crossley   Leave a comment


In this way, we live in and for the future,
believing that our actions in the present will,
at the very least, have a bearing on what we
will become
~ Crossley (2000)

As we tell our stories to others we are actually constructing shared and individual realities. Narratives are our schemes of personal knowledge connecting to how we make sense of ourselves. Crossley (2000) wrote a book titled, Introducing Narrative Psychology: self, trauma and the construction of meaning in which narrative theories are introduced, stories of trauma are revealed, and approaches are touched upon regarding how to apply these theories to one’s own autobiography. Various social constructivist approaches are focused on, for instance, postmodern, feminist analysis, discourse analysis, interpretive phenomenological analysis, and rhetorical. There are themes through the literature such as experience, uniqueness, meaning, the search for self, identity, and language. The author also incorporates case studies from individuals who have been diagnosed positive for HIV and others who were involved in sexual abuse as a child. Hence, the text is broken down into three main focuses for instance, theoretical narrative psychology being influenced by the social constructionist and considered the best method as Crossley comments, “This is because it entails certain assumptions about the relationship between self, identity and social structures (especially language)…” (p. 4). Furthermore, the author discusses narrative analysis and stories of suffering, trauma, and healing which produces narrative themes that are related to being HIV positive and childhood sexual abuse. In the literature it becomes apparent that there are various traditional perspectives, postmodernism, societal views and discourse in which to build personal meaning and identity when confronted with a traumatic occurrence that complicates ones chronological time sequence as in a HIV positive patient. Crossley (2000) notes that, “…a valid portrayal of human selves and behaviour necessitate an understanding of the inextricable connection between time and identity” (p.10).

All the perspectives and theories stem from different narrative theorists and postmodern or deconstructionism philosophers such as Taylor, Gilligan, Derrida, Lyotard, Lacan, and Foucault (philosopher/historian). According to Crossley (2000), “These authors see individuals and selves as being enfolded in language and thus constituted through social and historical relations of power and modes of discipline” (p.25). Their work is prevalent in the study of self and is seen as being constructed through our history such as, the 17thcentury when describing the adultery of a woman who was punished by Puritan judges by wearing a red scarlet letter across her chest. Taylor (1979) characterizes this as a, “…substantive definition of rationality and morality; one in which our sense of the ‘good’ is seen in terms of alliance with the pre-existent order created by God” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 17).

In comparison to the substantive order is the procedural models in which our action is judged in terms of the standards by which we and the community construct order (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 17). The Enlightenment period is portrayed in Locke’s theories on disengagement. As Crossley (2000) notes, “…theories promoting the ideal of the human as being capable of making and remaking him/herself through methodical and disciplined action, by taking a logical and instrumental stance towards desires, inclinations, tendencies…” (p. 19). This period is known for one-dimensional and exaggerated images of the self-controlled, rational and disciplined (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 20). Taylor (1979) refers to this as a, “…stance of disengagement as an image of the ‘punctual self’ in which the individual is deemed capable of exercising radical self-control over his/her thoughts and behaviours” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 19). Historically, the form of self-expression and inner voice arose in the contemporary era of the Romantic period. According to Taylor (1979), “…from this point onwards, people began to define virtuous, ‘the good’, in terms of how they ‘felt’ about the world and their lives in general” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 20). Taylor (1979) describes how the interiorization concept was crucial to how people defined morality and ‘the good life’ (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 166).

Another era discussed is the postmodernism era in which we live today. According to Crossley (2000), “The postmodern era is characterized by the increasing proliferation of high technology such as computers and the media, virtual reality and hyperspace…create the capacity for new forms of communication and knowledge, and consequent changes in social and economic formations” (p. 25). The question then becomes, “How do we begin to understand ourselves and others?
Crossley (2000) mentions four different approaches relevant to the narrative psychology lens, experimentally based social psychology referring to a quantitative method and the development of self from information around us and not the individual uniqueness. According to Crossley (2000), “…it is assumed that your development of a sense of self requires the realization that you are a ‘knower’, an ‘I’, a unique processor of the information around you” (p. 4). This approach has been criticized for its shallow and inadequate characterization of the concept ‘self’. (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 9). The second is the humanistic approach where the focus is on the individual as an individual. Crossley comments, “The main aim of this kind of approach is to capture in all its full complexity the subjective nature of self and worlds experienced by each idiosyncratic individual” (p. 7). Maslow (1970) and Rogers (1961) held the belief that all individuals have the potential for personal growth resulting in their uniqueness and encourage self-actualization (as cited in Crossley, 2000, para. p. 7). Theorists critique this method as Crossley (2000) states, “…has been criticized for imputing too great conception of human agency on to its concept of ‘self’” (Crossley, 2000, p. 9). Next is the psychodynamic/psychoanalytical or depth psychology is the perspective towards self and identity where actions are unconsciously motivated. As Crossley (2000) states it is a, “…focus in individual ‘depth’, meaning and uniqueness” (p. 8) and similar to the humanistic method. The author continues that it, “…implies that active forces are at work in the personality – “inner” causes of behaviour – which includes feelings, conflicts, and drives, that were largely unaware of” (p.8). These three traditional approaches are based on the theory that the self exists as an entity that is discovered and described similar to an object in the natural or in the physical world (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 9). The fourth method of narrative psychology is the social constructivist theory also called language based on approaches that has arisen in the past decade as Crossley has describes, “…the main effect, of this new, allegedly ‘critical’ social constructivist movement has been to: displace attention from the self-as entity and focus it on the methods of constructing the self” (p.9). This approach came about in response to the psychodynamic/psychoanalytical, humanistic, and experimentally based social psychology approaches.

The social constructivist perspective recognizes language as a part of forming and constructing one’s identity and self (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 10). Crossley (2000) acknowledges, “Narrative psychology is premised on the assumption that human experience and behaviour are meaningful and that, in order to understand ourselves and others, we need to explore the ‘meaning systems’ and the ‘structures of meaning that make up our minds and worlds” (p. 10). It is the goal of narrative psychology to study language, stories and narratives which constitute selves, the implications and permutations of those narratives for individuals and societies (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 40). Crossley (2000) discusses narrative psychological approaches as, “…a hermeneutic inquiry in which parts of the individual’s self and identity can be understood only in relation to the whole (across the life span, in the context of a particular family biography, history, society and moral perspective…” (p. 104).

We understand ourselves through language as we speak and write on a daily basis hence, we are constantly in the process of creating ourselves through the order of meaning (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 10). The narrative psychological approach was developed as a tool to help in understanding the psychology of trauma. Crossley (2000) states, “…to understand the way in which people adapt and respond to traumatizing events such as the experience of terminal illness” (p. 40), Crossley (2000) continues to suggest that perpetual openness, brain structures, and sensory abilities operate to interpret events around us in terms of connections and relationships to create meaning of the occurrences (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 11). Crossley (2000) remarks, “It is the connections or relationships among events that constitute their meaning” (p. 11).
Social psychologist Mead discussed the connection between relationships, time and language regarding our sense of self and identity while utilizing the term ‘the looking glass self’, “…to highlight the extent to which our definition of ourselves relies on the feedback and evaluations we receive from others” (p. 12). In order to enter the order of meaning of consciousness Crossley (2000) comments, “I have to see and experience myself in the past tense, that is, as a me’: As given, it is a ‘me’, but it is a me which was the ‘I’ at an earlier time” (p.12).

There are different voices heard in a narrative. The first is the interpretive voice that represents the integrated and balanced ego or psyche, the second narrative voice represents the persona aspect of the psyche, the public aspect, and last is the unconscious voice or id referring to the Freudian unconscious, the part of the mind which is unreachable to the conscious mind but effects feelings, behaviour, and emotions.

We are not born with a reflective self-consciousness as in ‘I’ and ‘me’ but develop it as we mature in later stages of our human development as we place less importance on physical characteristics and more on judgment, thoughts, feelings, and concepts of morality (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 5, 13). Narrative psychology and social constructionist methods conclude that our experience of self and the connection to meaning unfolds through social constructions, language and historical backgrounds. Keeping this in mind, what are the stepping stones from infancy to childhood, the earlier stages of human growth for the development of self?

An infant is like a sponge absorbing the environment and the people around them. Reflective self-consciousness is their entrance into the world of language, symbols, and is crucial to the development of self and others hence, ‘I’ versus ‘me’ (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 13). According to Crossley (2000), “…cultures transmit to children knowledge of typical patterns of relationships and meaning in their myths, fairy tales, histories and stories” (p. 11).

Films such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio teach children about good and evil, life and death, love and hate (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 48). At two years old a child’s sense of itself emerges as research has concluded that prior to this age a child can not recognize themselves in a mirror or differentiate self from others (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 5). Children love games and a child develops a sense of self-awareness through play time (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 14). Crossley (2000) notes, “Games constitute a crucial forum for mental and social development because they facilitate the child in the process of learning to take on the role of the other and coming to see themselves through another’s eyes; in this way the child learns respect for rules and an understanding of how rules can be made and changed” (p. 14). By the age of ten and eleven cues can be seen as games become more gender oriented. In adolescence and adulthood Priest (1996) & McLeod (1997) mentions that, “…we are exposed on a daily basis to TV dramas, soap operas, movie blockbusters and talk shows, all of which play out, in the same way as a fairy tale does for the child, these eternal moral conflicts” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 48). In adulthood we connect our self and identity to the roles we play in society for instance, wife and mother or a father who is associated with separateness.

Further, women experience time differently from men for example, women’s time is cyclical and biological rhythms whereas, men experiences are more linear and progressive (Crossley, 2000, para p. 16). Gilligan (1982) comments that, “…the female ‘I’ is defined largely in terms of connection and relationships, the male ‘I’ is alternatively construed in terms of separation and autonomy” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 14).

There is a connection between language, identity, self and society as the concept of self establishes itself in different historical and cross-cultural societies (Crossley, 2000, para p. 15). Historical conceptions of self are connected to the theories of self and morality, what he [Taylor] sometimes calls ‘the good’ as Crossley (2000) notes, “He argues that we are selves only in that certain issues matter to us…means that one of our basic aspirations is the need to feel connected with what we see as ‘good’ or crucial importance to us and our community” (p. 15, 16). Therefore, the ‘good’ and the moral good are articulated through language and symbolic methods such as a customs or rituals (Crossley, 2000, para p. 16). Taylor states, “Stories have a tremendous force in this process insofar as they have the capacity to confer meaning and substance on people’s lives, to subtly influence their progression and orientation towards a particular ‘good’” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 16). Hence, different societies incorporate different conceptions of self and morality (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 16). According to Crossley (2000), “Meaning and stories do not just ‘emerge’ from ‘within’ the isolated individual; rather, they develop in the context of specific episodes and contexts” (p. 59). Crossley (2000) continued, “We tend to think of our ‘ideas’, ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’ as existing ‘internally’, ‘within’ us, and objects in the world as existing ‘externally’, on the ‘outside’” (p. 18). The philosopher St. Augustine believes that there is a connection to a higher sense of being, morality and ‘good’. He states, “…in order to achieve a sense of being and morality, to be ‘rightly placed in relation to the good’, you have to go ‘inwards…Do not go outward; return within yourself…In the inward man dwells truth” (p. 18).
Taylor (1979) refers to this higher sense of being, radically reflexive and moving towards focusing on ‘myself’ as an agent of experience (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 19). Within the internalization characteristic of the modern self there are two types of reflexivity. The first is, self-control meaning taking control over our bodies, thoughts, feelings and even disengage and abstain from our passions. The second is self-exploration as Crossley (2000) describes, “Rather than standing back from our bodies, thoughts, feelings and desires, ‘objectifying’ them in the pursuit of self-control, the stance of self-exploration encourages us to explore these dimensions in order to establish our identity; we have to ‘search for ourselves’” (p. 20). During this reflective process is an attempt to create liberating and transforming ways of experiencing ourselves (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 63). An important theme in modern understanding of identity and self is the cultural shift in the primacy of memory which is our need to enhance self-understanding by incorporating our pasts and our memories within which those pasts reside (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 20). Taylor (1979) characterizes this as, “…an ‘inward’ turn in which we are implicitly motivated to turn towards forms of self-exploration…” (p. 103).

The field of narrative psychology is based on various tools for storytelling which includes inward journeys, the temporal foundation of the flowing of experience incorporated in direct development of our past, present and future. This creates a sense of our identity coherence that links self, time, others and the culture we live in. Presently, we are living in a postmodern era as Crossley reports, “…the social and cultural context of postmodernity produces changes in psychological experience because it creates a new sense of space and time, and new modes of experience and culture” (p.25). Postmodernists such as, Foucault and Lacan approach is to deconstruct linguistic structures and socio-historical narratives to find out what our knowledge is based on as well as, introducing being a concept that knowledge is based on language (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 25,26).

Language is seen as a structure of signs which is associated with meaning by the place they occupy in relation to other signs in the language network (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 26). It is this concept that incorporates the view of an individual defying any sense if development, order and progression hence, the ‘subject is pronounced dead (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 26). As Crossley (2000) states, “…the locus of meaning shifts to the play of linguistic signs, narratives and power (p.26). Our society is increasing complex as new technology and communication advances and overloads our world. Gergen (1991) remarks, “…the saturated self suggests that it is no longer possible to characterize the modern experience of self as one of unity, wholeness and coherent integrity. Rather, we exist in a state of ‘multiphrenia in which we are constantly bombarded with multiple relationships and truths” (p.55). Social saturation has the capacity to change our consciousness and according to Gergen (1991), “We come to be aware that each truth about ourselves is a construction of the moment, true only for a given time and within certain relationships” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 26, 27).

Furthermore, Parker (1990; 1991) introduced the idea of discourse analysis within societies that shape many aspects of our lives for instance, therapeutic or healing discourses after the occurrence of a traumatic event and experience (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 27). Branching from this theory is the feminist discourses which effects how we experience self in today’s changing world. Parker (1990; 1991) describes discourse as a, “…’coherent systems of meaning’” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 27). Discourse analysis as Crossley comments has, “…become a variety of action research in which the internal system of a discourse and its relation to others is challenged” (p.28). Potter & Wetherell (1987) explored the discourse analysis in social psychology and held different views from the traditionalists on the subject of the construction of self. Their theory is based on people using language to ‘do things’ and to achieve certain ends (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 28). This concept also challenged the epistemological status of traditional concepts of emotions, attitudes and self (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 28). Therefore, words are used to construct self and the world resulting in making things happen (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 28).

Another method is from the social constructivist in psychology, Shooter (1997) who refers to the rhetorical-responsive approach as being based on our inner lives and selves (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 29). According to Shooter (1997), “It is in the ‘brief interactive moments between people, in which speakers and listeners must continually react to each other spontaneously and practically, with an active, responsive understanding…’” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 29). Shotter focused on relational activities and conversation to understand the inner psychic lives of others in regards to their thoughts, feelings, and experiences as we try to make sense of our own lives (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 29). Shooter (1997) also mentioned, “…a person’s psyche exists according to social conditions and is thus ‘an entity with constantly contested and shifting boundaries, something that can be recollected…” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 30). Social poetics comes into play as we need to develop new stances, practices, new ways of thinking and being in order in which to sustain new forms of relating ourselves to one another in times of crisis (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 30). As per Shooter (1996), “The aim of this process is to ‘begin to sense the unique nature of (the patient’s) inner world of pain and suffering” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 30).

There are critiques on the processes for instance, Potter and Wetherell’s reduction and depersonalization of the subject and the use of the third person descriptions of ‘other’ people rather than first person descriptions of self leading to the discursive approach to understanding psychological and social life (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 32). The postmodernist and discourse analysis is associated with the tendency to lose the subject. Crossley (2000) notes we need to, “…appreciate the linguistic and discursive structuring of human psychology without losing sight of the essentially personal, coherent, and ‘real’ nature of individual experience and subjectivity” (p.32). Crossley (2000) also states that postmodernist and discourse analysis, “…produces an account of the way in which personal experience is constituted through linguistic and cultural narratives, but in the process of doing so, ‘loses’ any concept of the lived nature of such experiences” (p.131).
One of the social constructivist methods explored by Smith et al. (1997), enable us to explore the experiential reality of the self through Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis relating to the study of health and illness (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 33). A shared characteristic with discourse analysis is the commitment to language and qualitative analysis. Discourse analysis treats people’s verbal accounts as behaviours which should be analyzed in accordance with functions and activities performed in certain situations whereas, IPA is concerned with how a person feels about an occurrence by assuming a chain of connection between verbal responses and how they feel about self, their bodies, other people and the world cognition and experience (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 33). IPA is seen as being based on realist assumptions with a realist epistemology. Conrad (1987) comments, “The aim of IPA is to explore the participant’s view of the world and to adopt…an insider’s perspective” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 33). The approach is phenomenological as it is concerned with personal perceptions of an event or object (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 33, 34). Smith et al. (1997) notes, “…there is a middle position as in what respondents say does have some significance and ‘reality’ for them beyond the boundaries of the specific interview context, and that this is part of their ‘ongoing story’ which represents a manifestation of their psychological and social world” (p.88). Understanding the context meaning produced in an interview involves interpretation and an investigator engaging in an interpretive relationship (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 88).

Certain problems arise in the phenomenological approach for instance the insider view and challenging authority meaning in the process of celebrating the individual’s experience, tend to neglect structural factors which can lead to the perpetuation of inequality and unwittingly reinforce relations of domination and subordination as in the doctor-patient relationship (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 34). Smith et al. (1997) criticizes this approach as he states, “…they are premised on what they characterize as a limited ‘medicalized’ model of sex as it creates an oversimplified image of sex, body and sexual organs giving an incomplete account of sexual decisions” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 35). For example, in having unprotected sex connected with romantic discourse and rationalization, an HIV positive individual could feel it is natural and symbolic when in a sexual relationship. Is it the ultimate self-expression of love to knowingly become infected? The answer is based on the individual self, identity, cultural background, experience and personal perspective. Crossley (2000) states, “…individuals should not be taken at face value, rather, they need to be located in wider structures of discourse and power so that their implications and ramifications can be fully understood” (p.36).

Another approach addressing concepts of self and the relationship between experience and discursive structures is the feminist psychology which enables women to discover the independence and autonomy that comes from experiencing the kind of self postmodernists are in business of deconstructing (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 39). During the 1960s and 1970’s autobiographical accounts of childhood sexual abuse became prevalent as Crossley writes, “…were related to the explicitly feminist political project of making the personal political and locating the individual private experience of childhood sexual abuse within the larger public domain of a patriarchal society” (p. 114). One of the aims of this method as Gilligan (1982) viewed it as a need to listen to the voice of women and girls who speak in ‘a different voice’ and have ‘different ways of knowing’ (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 38). Frank (1995) reports

…this need to ‘find one’s own voice’ is not just limited to traumatizing experiences, but that it is a feature characteristic of postmodern contemporary culture in which subordinated people (such as women, the working class, ethnic minorities, disabled people) have been ‘written on from the outside’ and have therefore ‘lost their voices’ (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 109).

From a different viewpoint, Irigiray (1985) & Kristeva (1986) responded to the oppression associated with patriarchy’s devaluation of women by attempting to focus on the differences in gender stressing the body, values and nature (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 38). According to Crossley (2000), “…feminist approaches, like IPA, are involved in a struggle to present individual (women’s) experiences in a ‘realistic’ way which appreciates both their ‘personal’ idiosyncratic nature, and also their linguistic and discursive structuring” (p.39).

The narrative theory of psychology promotes the need to focus on the human existence as it is lived, experienced and interpreted by each person (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 45). Sarbin (1986) describes narratives as a
…conterminous with story as it is a symbolized account of actions of human beings that has a temporal dimension. The story has a beginning, middle, and an ending…the story id held together by recognizable patterns of events called plots. Central to the plot structure are human predicaments and attempted resolutions (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 46).
Sarbin (1986) also points out the narrative principle, “…that human beings think, perceive, imagine, interact and make moral choices according to narrative structures” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 46). Plots influence the flow of action and according to White (1973) who identified four structures tragedy, satire, romance and comedy (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 46). In exploring the narratives of seriously ill individuals Gergen & Gergen (1983) described three plot dimensions, stability, progression, and regression. Hence, narrative is a method of organizing accounts of actions and episodes bringing together mundane facts and creations, time and place while imposing structure of the flow of experience (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 47). There is a distinction between the three levels of personal human experience, passive experience meaning our experience automatically assumes temporally extended forms in which future, present and past mutually determine one another as a whole; experience of self/life meaning the act of narrative structure takes the form as the agent or subject of experience, and last is active experience referring to explicitly consult past experiences, envisioning the future and view the present as a bridge between the two (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 49).

Personal experience can be seen in different perspectives for example, one that resembles a story and is based on a narrative structure as Crossley (2000) mentions, “…we partially determine the course of our own lives by selecting and omitting certain elements and events” (p. 53). This could be related to plotting or story planning as we partially determine the stories of our lives (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 53). We have narratives that tell of events of the past as we are in the middle our stories, living them. What happens to a narrative that has trauma effecting the past, present and future?
Existentialist philosopher Heidegger (1962) discussed the concept of Angst being an intense anxiety or feeling of dread that is incorporated in an individual’s life and narrative leading to disorientation (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 56). Different traumas referred to as narrative wreckage can bring on these feelings for instance, loss of a loved one, divorce, terminal illness and depression, where nothing makes sense anymore, where questions arise who am I? and why am I here? (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 56). Frank (1993), comments, “…the hearing of both the tortured slave’s narrative and the ill person’s narrative rests on a belief that at extremes of suffering the body produces a truth” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 110). In the practice of psychotherapy story repairing is utilized through narrative statements which leads to meaning making in the therapeutic encounter creating a fuller plot (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 58). Crossley (20002) remarks, “In Spence’s view, the work of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy is on meanings, communicated and altered through language” (p. 58). It is the role of the therapist to play collaborator in the producing of the story like an editor of a living text (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 59). Schafer (1992) characterizes the process as a project of reauthoring, a process which involves the imposition of a powerful cultural narrative on the person’s life through coauthoring it, and a dialogue through which the individual’s life story is transformed (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 60).

According to Crossley (2000), “…the two most common means used to identify personal narratives and stories are psychotherapy and autobiography” (p.68). White & Epston (1990) reports, “Clients are encouraged to ‘externalize’ their problems and in the process of doing so enter a space for reauthorship” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 60). As the truth surfaces in psychotherapy Spence (1982) makes a distinction between historical truth and narrative truth. Crossley (2000) notes, “…that some of the basic differences between ‘life’ and ‘story’ relate to the degree of freedom we have configuring the past and the future (p.61) with factual events that occurred in the past with a realistic outlook for the future. In order to be effective, the narrative has to incorporate a commitment to historical truth as it contains a realistic assessment of both where we have come from and where we are going (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 104). Crossley (2000) also describes therapeutic approaches as, “…drawing on narrative theories tend to construe the process of memory retrieval as a more ‘dialogical’ process; memories are not simply ‘retrieved’ but are actively constructed in the process of therapeutic interactions between therapist and client” (p. 115). Crossley (2000) also comments, “…we made use of the social constructivist approaches in order to critique popularized Freudian images of the psyche which encourage us to view the process of retrieving memories from the past as a kind of ‘archaeological’ dig” (p. 115). How then does a therapist/patient approach a narrative analysis?

An individual needs to first to choose a listener such as a trained professional or a friend or family member. This hermeneutic inquiry will affect the listener as Sass (1988) suggests, “If meaning is social, if it exists in dialogue, then it legitimately depends, to a significant extent, on the person who listens” (p. 68). In selecting a family member things could get more complicated since they know of one’s history and experiences. McAdams (1993) notes, “There are two criteria to consider the nature of your relationship with the prospective listener, and the listener’s ability for the role” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 69). Crossley (2000) lists the next phase of interview protocol questions devoted to focusing on life chapters, key events, significant people, future script, stresses and problems, personal ideology, and life theme (p. 70-72). All interviews should be taped to provide raw material on which the analysis and research report will be based (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 73). The author incorporated a detailed interview of a twenty-one year old male student, CD. Crossley (2000) outlines the steps involved in analyzing CD’s personal narrative, reading and familiarizing, identifying important concepts to look for, narrative tone, imagery, themes, identifying narrative tone, identifying imagery and themes, weaving all this together into a coherent story, writing up – research report (Crossley, 2000, p. 88-100) . The author incorporates great detail in answering these questions. McAdams (1993) discussed narrative tone as, “…the most formative influence on narrative tone derives from the achievement of secure or insecure attachment relationships during the early childhood years” (p.94).

There are individuals struggling everyday with trauma, living with being HIV positive, and surviving childhood sexual abuse. Narrative style of analysis can be used in the construction of subjectivity and identity (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 113). Incorporated in this literature is the case study of Fraser (1989) portraying incest survival and was used as an example of deconstructing a survivor. The psychoanalytical/therapeutic narrative revealed five main sections, remembering, rescue, retreat, revelation, and resolution. Themes were revealed such as voices and selves. Crossley (2000) reports, “…the narrative and portrayal of experience as being feminist promoting ‘personal’ victimization suffered by Fraser as a child to the more ‘political question of treatment of women more generally in a patriarchal society” (p. 117). This case study is considered a restitution narrative as the belief that women come together as a collective group committed to the diminution of patriarchal power to male exploitation (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 170). Two agendas are portrayed in the primary narrative, the private biographical timetable related to the early years of childhood and the public referring to the other self, public social and historical context (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 118-120). Crossley details the working through the primary narrative and prioritizing the private biographical world. Symbols and themes such as, Oedipus complex, family, mental illness, death and suicide are also found in the narrative. Issues such as infantile sexuality and love/marriage were examined. The implications of utilizing psychoanalytical narrative in the case study resulted in healing process, achieving integration, adaption, and closure (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 129). The issue of narrative plausibility is criticized like postmodernism and discourse analysis since it produces an account of the way in which personal experience is constituted through linguistic and cultural narratives, but the progression of doing so, loses any concept of the lived nature of such experiences” (Crossley, 2000, para p. 131).

Furthermore, the material used in the literature is from research commissioned by the European Commission as part of its ‘Europe Against Aids’ program. In regards to surviving with long-term HIV positive diagnosis, it shatters the basic ontological assumption that an individual holds about her/himself (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 135). One question that comes to mind, does normal life end after the diagnosis? The finding is a disturbance and disruption to lived time. As Van den Berg (1972) states, “One suddenly becomes uncertain about things most taken for granted: faith and integrity of the body, of one’s role in other people’s lives and their role in one’s own life, and faith in the future” (p. 137). A patient loses their future when being told by a physician, “You will die within the year.” This is similar to the feelings and experiences of a prisoner who was held in a concentration camp Frankl (1984) wrote, “In other words, he ‘lived a provisional existence of unknown limit’” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 140). Angst arises as the familiar world becomes uncanny (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 141). Crossley (2000) described the early stages as, “…a stage which generally falls within 2 to 4 years, after an early period of denial and prior to a more stable form of adaption to living with the diagnosis” (p. 141).

There is another experiential characteristic of the feeling that imminent possibility if death may not be as inevitable as it once seemed as this confusion of trauma has two contradictory life orientations (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 142). First is the orientation towards death or a closing off from the future and the second, an orientation towards life or expanding on to the horizon (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 142). Crossley (1999a) suggests that there are three forms of temporal orientation associated with individual’s living with HIV positive longer than five years, the conversion/growth story /internal story/quest narrative, meaning a new appreciation and the sense of loss may be an opportunity for some to achieve spiritual growth, the normalizing/external story referring to the active denial not letting the diagnosis interfere with their life, and the story of loss the empty present orientation towards time (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 143). Carr (1986) mentions, “…that our experience as human beings is one in which we are constantly struggling to maintain coherence and order in the face of ‘an ever-threatening , impending chaos at all levels, from the smallest project to the overall coherence of life” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p.153). Hence, narratives stress the stories that people tell and how they constructed their self and self meaning.

My personal reflection on this literature was that it was informative and written for the individual who is unfamiliar with the field of narrative psychology, a subdivision of psychology. I had taken a few psychology courses my first year in college, many moons ago. This literature was helpful as I was able to view trauma and narrative with a new lens. While plausibility was touched on I questioned authenticity as it was barely discussed in relation to fact, realism and possibly fiction being incorporated into narratives, for instance in Fraser’s My Father’s House. I could sense the foundation of feminist storytelling and postmodernism within the text and that self was in need of unity. The author was not concerned with the possibility of self changing based on context. Would that have changed the view of self-construction?

Although, I enjoyed reading the book as a whole I found myself in the beginning stages asking the question, “Can a book have too much information such as, theories and criticisms within one chapter? It was instructive to learn about the many philosophers and theorists; I just felt that the author did a lot of name dropping. I felt overwhelmed in the first three chapters as an abundance amount of information was given on theorists, concepts and approaches to the field of narrative psychology. I also sensed that the author was trying to cram in as much information into just one sentence hence, the lengthy and wordy syntax. In using the words “arguing, criticizing, and throws doubt” on a consistent basis, I felt this added a negative tone to the literature and that I was seeing a tennis match going on in my mind between theorists. From the fourth chapter on I found my interest increased as Crossley (2000) reports on individual narratives in great detail.

I learned about my need to share my own personal traumatic occurrences with others. Half way through the book I stopped, pulled up my blog where I post old college papers. One was based on the eve of my mother’s death and the second was my eulogy for her. I never had the opportunity to read it and it helps that there are others reading my story daily throughout the world. I then added the two narratives to my autobiographical anthology that I am presently working on. The literature helped to open my eyes to what I should and need to share with others.

I realized after reading the book that there are many themes in narrative psychology for instance, human experience, uniqueness, freedom, order of meaning, and language. I learned that I am not in favor of experimental social psychology after reading about the test on chimps. I am against animal testing to begin with and I got somewhat upset to learn that in the testing process human infants had rouge on their face and the chimps, had red chemical dye. Why couldn’t rouge be used for the animal kingdom too? Isn’t it safer?

In summation, Crossley (2000) has compiled a book that combines theorists, philosophers, concepts, narratives, and approaches to narrative psychology. The heart of the book as Crossley (2000) comments is, “…an attempt to create liberating and transforming ways of experiencing ourselves” (p.63). The focus is on the inner narrative where individuals tell their story as reflection occurs. People are constructing meaning, identity, and morality while learning how to understand the past and how to move forward. We all have experienced trauma in our lives, some more severe than others and with the help of narrative approaches in psychology the healing process can begin.


Crossley, M. L. (2000). Introducing narrative psychology: Self, trauma and
the construction of meaning. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Quote p. 54; Crossley, M. L. (2000). Introducing narrative psychology: Self, trauma and
the construction of meaning. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.


Review: Living Autobiography: How we create identity in narrative by P. J. Eakin   4 comments


We can never expect to witness
the emergent sense of self,
of life story, as an observable event,
for it is an ongoing process
~ Paul John Eakin

Autobiography is a literary genre and when taken to the next level is an integral part of the lifelong process of identity formation as one constructs their lifestory. (Eakin, 2008, para. p.34). Shared subjects come together in the literature of Paul John Eakin, a Professor Emeritus of English and author of the 2008 book, Living Autobiography: How we create identity in narrative in which P. J. Eakin poses one question, “Why do people tell and sometimes write their life stories? (p. 151). The author intertwines his answers from a biological, neurological and culturist perspective. Many themes come into play such as, “I” character narrative identity, self-experience, cultural aspects, everyday life philosophers, ethics of life writing, and identity narratives rooted in people’s lives/bodies as Eakin (2008) commented, “Narrative identity, then, the notion what we are could be said to be a story of some kind, it is not merely the product of social convention; it is rooted in our lives in and as bodies (p. 74). According to the author, it all begins with the child as he focuses on memory talk, describing the role of story, and how it forms their identity as a cultural process. Furthermore, Eakin (2008) goes into great detail to answer the question, what are the subdivisions of autobiography?

Before going into specifics of the book Eakin (2008) provided many definitions of what an autobiography encompasses. To begin with, narrative autonomy as Eakin reported is, “…to have one’s own view and to express it (p.27). Second, is the narrative identity system in which we are all players and means “…an identity regime that not only sets limits, socially, to what we can say and write about ourselves but determines as well our recognition by others as normally functioning personas (p. 31). Third, neurologist Damasio described self, I-narrative, self-experience and identity narrative as a primary constituent of all conscious experience (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 71, 75). Damasio went on to discuss the autobiographical adaptive value as, “…a biological process, the imagetic representation of sequences of brain events in prelinguistic wordless stories about what happens to an organism immersed in an environment (p.153).
Additionally, the theory of homeostasis denotes the ensemble of regulations and the resulting state of regulated life in the human organism. For instance, the body emerges as a homeostasis machine as activities range from basic reflexes, metabolism, and pain/pleasure behaviors as it moves into the future while continuously fashioning identity narratives (Eakin, 2008, para. 153-154). It is the I-character stemming from self and extended consciousness that becomes important to the homeostatic machine called the body. A metaphor that comes to mind is that of a waitress who stands and watches the door for new customers at the same time ready to serve.

Furthermore, Damasio identifies two kinds of consciousness and self: first a simple level of core consciousness and core self and second is the more complex extended consciousness and autobiographical self (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 69). Consciousness as Damasio noted traces the deep roots for the self to a proto-self…we are not conscious of the proto-self and define it as “…a coherent collection of neural patterns which map, moment by moment, the state of the physical structure of the organism in its many dimensions (as cited in Eakin, 2008, para. p. 69-70). This is the connection to mapping as it registers the body homeostasis. It becomes obvious that our sense of identity is itself generated as and in a narrative dimension of consciousness (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 76). Eakin (2008) also commented, “…that self-content might be distributed throughout an I-narrative and not merely contained in the I-characters and I-narrators where the conventions of autobiographical discourse condition us to look for it and that self is not only reported but performed…” (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 84).

Eakin (2008) refers to a metaphor, movie within the brain as it is utilized to explain a moviegoer inside the movie she or he is watching (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 69). According to Damasio, “…the appearance of an owner and observer for the movie within the movie, for there is no external spectator for the movie-in-the-brain” (as cited in Eakin, 2008, p.74). As self-narrative is developed before social standards, the biological homeostasis exists and is called the move-in-the-brain resulting in no distinctions between the observed and the observer. A second metaphor Eakin drew on is, “…you are the music while the music lasts” meaning the refusal to split between perceiver and perceived (Eakin, 2008, para. p.73), and according to Damasio, “…in writing autobiography Mary Karr was doing self, doing consciousness…” (as cited in Eakin, 2008, para. p. 85). The eighth explanation comes from Aciman’s autobiographical arbitrage as remembering remembering or an act of memory tracing oneself as one seeks to retrieve selfhood though their consciousness. According to Eakin (2008) it is, “…to invest place with self so that self can be extracted from place later on (p.165). Because we live autobiographically, remembering remembering establishes autobiography in the making (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 166). The ninth term is memory talk of children in which story is constructed through parents and caregivers that teach how to tell about themselves and learn what is expected in order to display autobiographical memories (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 26).
Equally important is psychologist Neisser’s theory that suggests there are five distinct registers of self-experience, two predate the acquisition of language in a child’s development: the ecological self or the self-perceived with respect to the physical environment, the interpersonal self or the self as engaged in immediate unreflective social interaction with another person, the extended self or the self of memory and anticipation, the self existing outside the present moment, the private self or the self of conscious experiences that are not available to anyone else, and the conceptual self or the extremely diverse forms of self-information (as cited in Eakin, 2008, para. p. xii). Another concept defined by Eakin (2008) is the autobiographical imperative or the impulse to self-expression (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 152). The last theory explains memories with a lens of a neurological perspective as Eakin (2008) noted, “…analysis of memories as neurological events confirms that even when we believe that we are recalling exactly the same memory on a series of occasions, the brain constructs that memory anew each time, with different centers of brain activity involved in each occurrence” (p. 156). It is our memories from childhood that directs how we conduct ourselves today with a forecast of the future.
In early childhood development the narrative identity system is created by the making of identity narrative and is built on acquired language and narrative skills combine with historical awareness and an emerging sense of social accountability to lay the foundations of autobiographical memory (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 25). The process of socialization is explained by Fivush (1998), “The self-concept and memories of past experiences develop dialectically and begin to form a life history. The life history, in turn, helps to organize both memories of past experiences and the self-concept (as cited in Eakin, 2008, p. 26). Fivush & Reese also mentioned that children learn narrative forms that ultimately provide a structure for internally represented memories (as cited in Eakin, 2008, para. p.25). Within a child’s socialization there are two parental styles for telling of the past. First, elaborative parents tend to have lengthy conversations embellishing aspects of a story filled with rich details whereas; repetitive parents tend to have short stories incorporating repetition of questions till the child gives the correct response (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 26).

Socioeconomically speaking and self-awareness suggest that working-class and middle-class children construct self through autonomous cultural frameworks. In the context of the working-class, jointly narrated stories of the child’s past experiences helped children participate freely in expression. Narrative autonomy in this case is viewed as something to work towards and yet, the middle-class child is given small amounts of autonomy and it is considered a gift from adults (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 27). Also, differences can be noted in self-narration as the working-class may feel more uncomfortable then the middle-class. Historian Steedman also commented on working class girls, “…children learn at an early age to know their places in an economic system. The child’s sense of identity was informed by a stark economic vision (as cited in Eakin, 2008, para. p. 88).

Eakin (2008) commented on self-narration as it, “…establishes us as normal individuals…can confirm that we have led interesting lives and are, accordingly, interesting people who are worthy of respect from others” (p. 128). Self-narration relies on the rules of society. According to Eakin, “…autobiographical discourse plays a decisive part in the regime of social accountability that governs our lives, and in this sense our identities could be said to be socially constructed and regulated” (p.152-153). However, this view does not consider our identities and identity narratives that are rooted in and as bodies (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 153). Eakin (2008) also commented, “By the time we reach adulthood we know how to deliver a suitably edited version of our stories as the occasion requires” (p. 28).
Hence, the narrative identity is rooted within our culture, part of the interpretive equipment furnished by our culture, and functions as a requirement for normality as Linde noted, “In order to exist in the social world with a comfortable sense of being good, socially proper, and stable person, an individual needs to have coherent, acceptable, and constantly revised life story (as cited in Eakin, 2008, para. p. 29). It is the social accountability that as Eakin (2008) commented, “…conditions us from early childhood to believe that our recognition as persons is to be transacted through exchange of identity narratives” (p. 44). Also, children are taught ethics and rules that govern self-narration, telling the truth, respecting privacy, and displaying normalcy (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 50). Mayhew remarked how children given pressure of circumstances and situations can function self-consciously as players in a narrative identity system; they can know how to say who they are with the authority of an adult (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 144). Furthermore, Eakin (2008) stated, “…self and language, mutually enabling and independent, emerge in tandem when children learn to talk…children learn from parents and caregivers what it means to say “I” as they begin to tell stories about themselves” (p. 66). This training proves to be important to the success of our lives as adults for our recognition by others as normal people depends on our ability to perform the work of self-narration (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 152).

The “I” character narrative identity has a foundation based on resources of the cultures in which we live in and has an aspect of narrative solidity and permanence (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 77). The “I” can shift in nature and speak in the present even as it personifies itself in the past (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 62). It places people in the first-person perspective, ownership, and agency which are the main features of self, the “I” of biographical discourse, and core consciousness (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 71). Core consciousness is explained by Eakin (2008) as, “…the knowledge that materializes when you confront an object, construct a neutral pattern for it, and discover automatically that the now-salient image of the object is formed in your perspective, belongs to you, and that you can even act on it” (p.70). Also incorporated in the “I” narrative is the teller-effect as Eakin explored, “If, the counterintuitive syntax of consciousness, self inhabits both subject and predicate, narrative as well as character, then autobiography not only delivers metaphors of self, it is a metaphor of self” (p. 78).

Each of us has a self and a metaphor of self that incorporates the everyday life practices for instance, walking, reading, and speaking that are used as activities of making selves as cultural anthropologist Certeau theory concludes, “…users introduce creative play into the rigidities of ordering systems” (as cited in Eakin, 2008, para. p. 106). Anthropologist Gullestad examined three everyday philosophers, their cultural sources of identity, and lifestory to their connections of values from institutions of family, school, and church. She stated, “Constructions of self and identity, are dependent upon moral notions (as cited in Eakin, 2008, p. 109). Therefore, measuring self and lifestory involves social and cultural expectations (as cited in Eakin, 2008, para. p. 127). As Eakin (2008) reported, “…they measure themselves and their lives against what they think their culture expects of them” (p.127). It is these narratives that emerge from value dilemmas in which Hacking called, “…making up people (as cited in Eakin, 2008, para. p. 109). Within autobiography Eakin stated, “…that value may supply both a model of identity and a plot for life-story action (p. 117). The transmission of these values as Gullestad commented, “…show how social institutions are experientially linked to the individual: Values , do not only exist as explicit notions, but may also be produced in subtle ways through embodied practices in everyday life (p.124-125).
Likewise, all of the stories have what Gullestad called, moments of interpretation meaning they lead to a decisive, existentialist choice of life project (as cited in Eakin, 2008, para. p. 112). All of the stories have acts of arbitrage, moral and ethical issues from the September 11th catastrophe resulting in the “Portraits of Grief” to Sack’s Mr. Thompson whose memory was damaged by Korsakoff’s syndrome to Alzheimer’s patients who lost self to Mayhew’s little watercress seller. One narrative was identified as having a black-backed gull model as Gullestad referred to it as”…a solitary alter ego who possesses a positive identity (first) and the will to enact its capacities, an identity endowed the possibility of action and the language with which to express it in a story (as cited in Eakin, 2008, para. p. 112). According to Eakin, “The mismatch between cultural resources for identity formation and the individual’s circumstances form double displacement, an existence on the “periphery of the periphery (p. 113).

In addition, the ethics of life autobiography are governed by societal rules. There is a connection between identity narratives that carries over to the creation of identity. As Eakin (2008) commented, “…what we say or do about identity narrative carries the potential to transfer and apply to identity; that is under the regime of social accountability, the regulation of narrative and the monitoring of identity go hand in hand (p. 49). Further, there are three transgressions for self-narration, first is the misrepresentation of biological and historical truth, second, infringement of the right to privacy, and last, failure to display normative models of personhood (Eakin, 2008, para. p. 32). These rules are set in place to hold an individual responsible for the accepted societal norms in autobiography.
Eakin (2008) discussed the consequences of misleading people in a story. Issues can range from honesty/dishonesty in the written word or dialogue for instance, Rigoberta Menchú who told of accurate facts but was guilty of presenting memories of others and not her own, James Frey who fabricated details of his criminal career seen as unscrupulous, and Binjamin Wilkomirski who was shunned for lying; followed by infringement of the right to privacy as Harrison crossed the line in publishing an autobiography that negatively affected her children, and normative models of personhood as an individual suffers from brain damage or loss of memory as in the case of Mr. Thompson whose memory was damaged by Korsakoff’s syndrome (para. p. 17, 38, 44, ). It becomes obvious that this displays societal control over how an individual forms their identity. On the other hand, ethics involve those receiving and judging the autobiography. According to Eakin (2008), “…I want to shift my perspectives from obligations of those who perform self-narrations to the responsibilities of those who receive and judge those performances: this is where the ethical dimension of narrative identity system is most strikingly displayed, this is where the potential for the regulation of identity narrative to slide into the regulation of identity is realized” (p. 43).

My personal reflection on this literature was that it was enlightening, yet left me with a couple of questions. First, is why didn’t the author read the everyday philosophers narratives himself instead of relying on Gullestad’s interpretations? I found myself searching for the complete stories of these everyday people. I will respect that each author has their own style and that as a researcher you build upon what others have learned. Second, I find the rules of privacy that govern autobiography became muddied in the story of Harrison’s Kiss as she violated her own privacy rights, is that even possible? Furthermore, I am not if sure I agree with the hypothesis that self-narrative is developed before social standards and would have liked more of an explanation as to how this is possible as it sounds like an innate characteristic.
Although, I enjoyed reading how culture, biology and neurology can all be associated with what seems simple enough, an autobiography. Come to find out, narratives have rules and theories and are more complex then what I first thought before reading this literature. I can recall the news about the bad seeds that broke the rules, but never looked at the bigger picture until Eakin helped me to understand the ethics behind the narrative and how sometimes the line is thin between what is accepted and normal and what is not.

I learned about my self-formation and the somatic process. One passage from Franzen’s “My Father’s Brain” brought tears to my eyes. Two months before my mother passed over she looked me in the eyes and asked, “Who are you…do I know you?” and according to Eakin (2008), “The only stories we could tell now were the ones we already had” (p. 57). I found myself stopping and going to the computer to pull up my blog which has old college papers I have written. According to Eakin (2008), “The internet and the World Wide Web are creating radically new opportunities for self-presentation, and perhaps, some observers think, new modes of selfhood as well (p. 94). I felt compelled to retrieve two papers and add them to my autobiographical anthology. The first titled, The Eve Of The Anniversary Of When Time Stood Still, describing the passing over of my mother and the second called, Mom’s Eulogy: You will be forever missed, in which I didn’t have the opportunity to speak it.

I realized after reading the book that it was ok to tell my stories as Eakin (2008) noted, “Belief in individualism, which seems to authorize our confidence in our freedom to think, to act, to be what we want, to say who we are, needs to be measured against the constraints of culture that condition or otherwise set our possibilities” (p. 103). Without reading this book, I might not have had the courage to make the additions to my own written narrative. This literature has made me aware that even though my lifestory may be complex, I still want and need it to be heard in order to set some memories free.
In summation, Eakin (2008) has compiled a book that combines theorists for instance, “Antonio Damasio celebrates what the brain creates, while Lewis and Pincus remind us of what the brain can destroy; what the body gives us – self and the moral life – it can also take away” (p. 84). There are theories on narrative identity in using biological lenses and cultural lenses, viewing autobiography as literary genre, but also through the perspective of the neurological aspects story while even providing a piece of his own life story regarding his father as he explained narrative identity and lifestory to the reader. I am taking from this book the message which is clear, that the acts of narrative are always an act of self-determination and self-invention as we are living autobiographically every day from the past, present, and future.


Eakin, P. J. Living autobiography: How we create identity in narrative. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Quote: Eakin, P. J. Living autobiography: How we create identity in narrative. p. 125. Ithaca Cornell University Press.

Review: Kenyon & Randall’s Restorying our lives: personal growth through autobiographical reflection   Leave a comment

book2No one but ourselves can tell us who we are,

or who we can become…

The onus is on us…

~ Kenyon & Randall

            The metaphor for life equals the story metaphor which equals self-reflection which equals self-change and transformational learning. Story means that someone is telling someone about somebody doing something which involves fact and fiction (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 65). Life as story or the story metaphor is an ontological metaphor that has the potential for positive change. Kenyon & Randall (1997), reported, “…for finding meaning in life, through storytelling and, equally important, storylistening (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 29), and demonstrates the need for a continuous return to the voice of the other (p. 12). Kenyon & Randall in 1997 wrote a book called, Restorying our lives: personal growth through autobiographical reflection in which the authors stated, “To be a person is to have a story” (p. 1) and continued, “Not only do we have a lifestory, but we are stories” implying that our very experience can be characterized from a story perspective” (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 15). It is through our narratives that we begin to make meaning of our lives according to Brunner (1986), “…centering on narrative knowing as the fundamental way in which we make sense of our lives in time, of the relationships between events, and of the links between intentions and actions, causes and effects (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 4). It is our stories that are the foundation of our identity and emotions stemming from the narrative roots as our emotions themselves have narrative roots connecting to our re-flections on the past that will stimulate specific feelings within us. They are also our pro-reflections on the future and how we experience time on the inside of our lives and of the difference between story-time and clock time (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 44). Stories combine our ideas and actions through the stages of restorying (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 79). The authors explained restorying as, the literary process of re-composing the stories we have “made up” about who we are, where we have come from, and where we are headed incorporating the past, present and future that reflects our inner and outer time perspectives (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 1).

            Our existence is based on the concept of chronological time. This includes our clocks, calendars and social clocks which is considered outer time-aging which leads to telos. Whereas, inner time-aging as Beauvoir (1973) noted, “Our private inward experience does not tell us the number of our years; no fresh perception comes into being to show us the decline of age” (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 20). While our story unfolds our phases of maturity include living with the past, present and future yet, with a focus on biological aging. Maturity does not guarantee a story as not all are willing to tell their uncompleted story (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p.20) Also the authors commented, “…if there is one to tell (p. 154). Kenyon & Randall (1997) went on to state, “…we can also leave our inside story untold on the level of inside-out because of our need to edit (p.51). In regards to stories being used in a geriatric assessment the context and themes needs to read between the lines and go beyond their story as their emotions and truth are related to the context.

            According to Mader (1995), the dimensions of lifestories can be seen as themes that influence each other and how they make up the stories of who we are for example, death, body, money, aging, etc. (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 119). These themes range from the structural story of social policy and power to the social story of social meanings associated with storytelling, the interpersonal story which includes relationships of intimacy, and last personal story referring to creation and discovery (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 16). The story metaphor is associated with the approach of restorying as it used as a strategy of guided autobiography. There are three aspects involved including educational, spiritual, and existential that incorporates elemental themes such as, the written element, the element of personal reflection, social communication, and the metaphorical element discovery (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 118). This helps the older generation trace certain themes which have occurred through their lives while noting that there are gender differences which Tannen (1990) described as, “…how people remember, how they talk about themselves and listen to others (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 8).

            Prado (1986) suggested as we grow older and go through the stages of restorying we find particular narratives or signature stories to be effective as we go about our lives as they can be viewed as parables that reveal much about how we see ourselves in the midst of our lives, of other’s lives, and of our ultimate environment (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 26, 132). Different forms of therapy are addressed by Burnside (1996) who stated, frail older persons should also be eligible for various forms of therapy including life-review and reminiscence (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 147). In reviewing the connection of maturity and lifestory it becomes clear that we follow the stages of restorying. The authors clarified, “Therapy-type approaches, including psychoanalysis, life-review, social work, and family therapy are designed to assist people in resolving neuroses, psychoses, and other specific conflicts (p. 150). The story metaphor is also linked to the therapeutic processing concepts such as narrative environment in which Nussbaum (1989) described, “…by which we are shaped, we learn these story-lines-we learn our emotions-in the same way that we learn our beliefs-from our society…They are taught above all, through stories (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 58).

            There are three corresponding stages of restorying, telling, reading, and retelling. The first is the telling phase in which we are listeners connecting, influencing, informing and getting close to others. This includes intentionally telling of ourselves to people and through autobiography as in a journal. In telling or de-storying the same elements are used in story as in themes, character, plot, and setting. As society shifts from a predominately psychodynamic model of human nature to a more therapoetic one (therapy for the sane) it incorporates implications of its entailments for instance, high plots, low plots, the need for conflicts that in turn, are central story-lines as individuals act and perform their lives in a storied manner. Ricoeur (1980) detailed what plot means, “…makes events into story” beginning with selection, direction and coherence as it creates shape to the story, the structure, morality and meaning (as cited in Kenyon & Randall , 1997, para p. 66). Reading happens when we are the authors and considered authoring when one steps back from the text of their lives as they begin to lay out and critique…” (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 129). In this stage there are six types of readers noted for restorying, point-driven, information-driven, story-driven, atmosphere-driven, character-driven, and meaning-driven. As the authors stated, “…different people, with varying stories, tend to read their lifestories for particular reasons (p. 130). Retelling is reforming, time consuming, and needs consideration of language, requires sensitivity of interpretations to others and environments, and has the possibility to change narrative environments or re-contextualizing our lives …” (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 135).

            In addition, as we story and re-story our lives to understand who we are and where we are going, we utilize three terms of the story as Schank (1990) noted, “…knowledge is experiences and stories intelligence is the apt use of experience and the creation and telling of stories, and memory being the process of creation, storage, and retrieval which when integrated creates our identity seen as a continuous story metaphor (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 3). We experience, we learn, we gain knowledge as the story incorporates I and we as people are constantly learning from and being influenced by the physical and human environment in which they find themselves located” (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p.17). Hence, the novelty of our life is as Buber & Moustaks (1967), “Every person born into this world, represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p54).

            There is something illogical yet unique regarding the role that “I” plays in creating a personal story and being meaningful in a “we” situation involving others (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 24). From this perspective, our stories are made up of two elements, the facility and the larger story, that of the cultures of embeddedness. Also included is the issue of lifestory is the process of spirituality and that people live stories with acceptance and meaning. For example, there are interpersonal, couple, family, community, class, national, generation, gender, social, political and structural stories we live in with the possibility of meaningful choices or new meanings (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 24, 85). The authors commented, “…we are concerned with the ways in which it may be possible to transcend our facility and expand our sense of possibility” (p. 25). The question then becomes, how then do we engage in the story metaphor?

            The metaphor is referred to as philosophical hermeneutics as Gadamer (1976) revealed, “…which is the process of recovering the meaning in something we have come to take for granted” (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 11). One of the issues touched upon in the literature had been the central element of personal storytelling, the metaphorical or storied perspective of the complex hermeneutic circle. As Kenyon & Randall (1997) noted, “…like a chain: a different lifestory issues in different emotions, which lead to different actions, relationships, and commitments (para. p. 142). In our stories there is no such thing as the truth or the true story, apart from a particular context or biographical encounter (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 12). Furthermore, the authors commented, “”…our stories are never true, as in accurate or clear, but multilayered and susceptible to several versions” (p. 137). Additionally, our language is metaphorically based, and thus the notion of truth or authenticity is situational or relative to a context (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 24).

            Moreover, the lifestory metaphor is considered coauthoring which incorporates storylistening but not in regards to parents as one would live by their truths or spouses as they would be an author over us and more like characters in each other’s lives. It integrates biographical coaching and emplotment which is part of our response to the autobiographical imperative as it occurs both at the pre- or quasi-narrative level. This is called the narrative quality of experience at the surface or public level (Crites, 1971as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p.68). It also incorporates larger stories and narrative truth. Nussbaum (1989) discussed, “…when we consider the narrative environments by which we are shaped, we learn these story-lines-we learn our emotions-in the same way that we learn our beliefs-from our society…they are taught, above all, through stories” (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 58). It was Kenyon & Randall (1997) that stated, “…when properly implemented biographical approaches can help a person to realize a basic acceptance of his or her life and thereby improve his or her quality of life” (p. 157). Furthermore, when combined, they help in understanding the philosophical hermeneutics and ethical issues regarding how we storylisten and storytell. According to Gubrium (1993), “…since there is a distinctively existential-spiritual dimension to the stories we are and to storylistening, all members of the encounter can be deeply changed cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 159).

            There are significant traits that lead to the existential-spiritual dimension as we are social stories influenced by interpersonal, structural and social dimensions. The authors described these aspects as first being transparency meaning from a particular view such as protagonist, author, reader, coauthor, listener, narrator (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 120). Our lifestory consists of ourselves simultaneously as a reader, author, protagonist, and narrator. (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 129). Next is completeness as our stories are never complete and we never arrive at the final truth, followed by coherence referring to the different hats we wear and the different stories that make up one’s life such as, interpersonal, economic, ethnic stories. Last, is adequacy as we create meaning in a particular situation, a situation that is already larger than we individuals (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 21-23). This becomes the metaphor of the journey.

            Along our metaphoric journey there are three ethical issues and biographical encounter strategies which are pertinent to storylistening. First there is informed consent or negotiated consent involving trust, rights to privacy and reflection based on the ongoing process from the beginning to the completion of a biographical encounter (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 144). Then there is consent and competence when people have a right to have someone listen to their story as well as voluntary consent. Third is to follow the three guidelines for effective responsive storylistening (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 143). Initially there are basic assumptions and purposes that need to be clarified with training and implementing; second, making our story available to others and third concerns the expectations of who listens and how we listen. Our expectations consist of four aspects, universality, stories are never complete and we are unique as our stories, they need to be written or in spoken words, and our stories are generalizations. Storylistening has limitations to freedom in which to choose any lifestory which stems from personal and socialcultural situations. As Kenyon & Randall (1997) commented, “Our ethical obligation to others is to respect the integrity and autonomy of another person by accepting the story that he or she chooses to live by. This is a sine qua non for entering the lifeworld of another (p. 156).

            In storylistening the question of whose story is it can be answered as reflection on one’s own attitudes or meaning during a biographical encounter, in order to clarify whose story is being constructed in various situations (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 150). Our morals come into play when dealing with practical ethics which is the reflective process to answer basic questions. Theoretical ethics meaning the ethical concepts include autonomy, freedom, and beneficence. (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 144). Ethical reasoning follows as we try to put ourselves in another’s shoes in order to see the larger story.

            Life as story has the potential for enabling growth for the storylistener, the storyteller and for the larger story which incorporates four aspects of the journey metaphor. The human journey is personal and is the out inside story, our story is social and interpersonal including wonder and anticipation, the landscape of the journey resembles a winding river in which our views are opaque bringing the element of risk, and the duration of the journey is indefinite incorporating an impermanent or transitory character (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 29-30). We know that the journey goes somewhere that is, has a “telos” or end point (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para.p.30). Also, included is biographical aging, the setting of larger stories and its characters which influence us as the authors commented, “The place is in our story, just as our story is on some level in the place” (p. 96).

            Characters which are major, minor, flat, and round imagoes which suggest that we are not just one person as we characterize ourselves in our self-concept. We go through stages of infancy in accepting storying as fact, in childhood we play and pretend, in our teenage years we begin imitating and adulthood there is a social need to “keep up with the Joneses.” In our lifestories friends exist to authorize us, to make meaning of ourselves, our relationships, our emotions, and our life.

            Additionally, other entailments include the narrator, author, and the point of view referring to the structure of a story in terms of the perspective from which it is told. Also is genre as Kenyon & Randall (1997) noted, “The character is entwined with plot” as we shape our events through choices and in turn, events shape us” (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 78). Similarly is context, content, and themes hence, our restorying becomes more empowering with the storytelling and self-narration (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 113).

            There four aspects of self-narration, time, tone, vocabulary, and voice which are considered a meta-concept. According to Kerby (1991)

            …many pieces of our lifestory run parallel within us, this is the drive to do what the novelist does, which is to continually pull a myriad events and emotions, details and developments, relationships and possibilities into an ever wider story-world that has a coherence and followability” (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 55).

Depending on the story-lines inspired within us and the emotions they construct, we can see ourselves as wizard in one situation and worm in the other (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p.75) Therefore, a lifestory is then considered authored, co-authored and re-authored with a beginning, middle, and end in order to find meaning. Does a person’s story ever end? The answer is no as it can carry on after a person has separated from life into death.

            Our world has transitioned into separateness. It is a postmodern money-oriented society filled with changes, dilemmas in family structures, births, deaths, employment, and religion. We live our lifestories within a socialcultural context that is itself deeply storied from bottom to top, and is endlessly being restoried (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p.32). We are managed from the outside resulting from the division of the stages of life, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Kenyon & Randall ( 1997) remarked, “…causing people to experience serious problems as a result of the fundamental changes in the themes and plots characterizing the stories of our lives as we approach the twenty first century” (p. 10). This does not change the fact that we have stories and are the stories we tell as notions of autonomy and independence are based on radical individualism and do not reflect our storied nature (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para p. 153). The question becomes, what are our stories made of?

            We have summaries of events and summaries of people called storyotypes which is the biographical imperative. Through the storyotypes we form some, such as those, we know intimately, are more lifelike and flexible than those we form of others, the drive holds steady to form them nonetheless (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p.74). We have short stories versus long stories as the audience prefers a synopsis, subplots versus chapters as a subplot is one element that makes up the main plot of a story incorporating guided autobiography that traces themes of one’s life, past versus future stories, shared stories, specific versus general stories, fuzzy stories versus focused stories, ordinary versus extraordinary like novelty being the change we experience in the course of ordinary living can be compared to our experience in reading a novel (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 100). We have signature stories that we like to tell and our secret stories, also public versus private, and last our untold stories. All of these stories have motivation and context related to each for example, that a cultural story may be appropriate or inappropriate to tell. As we mature so does our memory and it changes as Kenyon & Randall (1997) commented, “Things change in our memory with the passing of years- in importance, in meaning, in perceived impact on the course our life” (p. 53). This re-genre-ation empowers the lifestory metaphor.

            Some people focus on the outer image of aging and existing storyotypes as Kenyon & Randall (1997) remarked, “ …they cannot maintain an open relationship between the person they are inside, their inside story, and the social and structural dimensions of their story, the outside story (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 26). Biographical aging is explained by considering the number of individuals who assume the negative stereotypes of aging, imposed by the outside and how many persons live stories that are meaningful and positive and perhaps express the wisdom and history of aged lives (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 29).

            The concept of story has its own history referring to poetic structure and it has four levels: the outside story, the inside story, the inside-out story and the outside-in story. Kenyon & Randall (1997) clarified, “…if the outside story is what happens to me, the inside story is what I make of what happens to me and what I tell myself. In turn, the inside-out story is what I tell (and show) to others of what I make of what happens to me, while the outside-in story is what others make of me on their own, with or without my consent” (as cited in Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p.36).

            Life stories have histories, a present and a future but what they have in common is the resources behind their restorying. Resources can be formal transformative influences such as, in education when there is a transfer of knowledge and religion as a great master narrative described as a mythos which guides the plot by which the world is declared logical to us so we can live with meaning and hope. Therapy as a resource is considered food for the soul. Whereas, informal resources consist of influences such as, other people associated with coauthoring and the three types of people who we learn from living people, dead people, and fictional people. Learning from others means co-authoring and co-reading leading to as Kenyon & Randall (1997) mentioned, “…the increased potential for learning that this will entail (insofar as two texts are more textured than one)” (p.116). This also includes ourselves within the meaning of art as it tries to transfuse to our experience some aspect of their own: to connect directly with our inner world, to transform it in novel ways (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, para. p. 107-114).

            As I reflect upon the book I feel that it offered important and valuable insights as to storytelling, restorying, and storylistening. In narrative there is a beginning, middle, and an end whereas, in our lifestory there is a beginning, middle, and an ending carried on long after we have passed over. I enjoyed reading and learning that I am living my lifestory of the past, present and transitioning into the future to be the best person I can be. I found it interesting to note that as I transition it is my restorying that empowers me to critically think about my life, my experiences, and how I perceive my life looking at it from an eagle’s eye view.

            Furthermore, when I tell, retell, and edit my story I am going through the process of self-understanding as the listener begins to learn more about me. I consider situations, culture, environments, and people that are appropriate for my stories to be heard. For example, being pansexual I am comfortable revealing secret stories to a friend of mine who is a transgender man, yet I would not tell my story of marrying and divorcing a transman or being involved in a hate crime to anyone that I do not trust or do not know well, like an acquaintance. For one thing, in opening up to a stranger I will know nothing about their story or culture, views, and beliefs hence, their reactions to my restorying might not be well received.

            This literature on restorying has made me aware that my lifestory is constructed on my interpretation of my experiences and how I making meaning of them. I have learned that my metaphor of life as story is a perspective on my self-development, self-change, and self-understanding. As I mature, as each birthday that passes, I will restory who I am, what I am and how I came to be resulting in what I hope to bring positive changes for me in the future. This book was worth my time and energy reading as it has opened my eyes to a different lens which has led me to reflecting on my own lifestory as a metaphor. I feel I have changed in how I view my life after I completed the reading of the book.

            In conclusion, Kenyon & Randall utilizes their constructive perspective on how and why people storytell and storylisten, retell, and restory. Our story is a metaphor for life. Everyone has a lifestory to tell and it can be edited at times to suit the needs of the listener. For instance, one of my signature stories that I like to tell is that at forty two years of age I was told I was overqualified with due to eighteen years of experience in the field of accounting along with two bachelor’s degrees. I was also told that I was too old to be employed. According to Kenyon & Randall (1997), “In the western world, it is still the case that we live in a culture that both explicitly and implicitly discriminate against older persons” (p. 26). I was able to learn from this experience and told my story to my college mentor who suggested that I go for a master’s in adult learning. This opened up the door to a new journey as I chose the resource of education in restorying my life. During this time I struggle with slow reading skills. I have expressed this in many classes as part of my short story and have found confidence in the authors comments, “…we are not “slow” like we have always been labeled but that our learning style merely requires more time to process our thoughts, which may in fact be more solid than those of our quick-thinking peers” (p. 108). I find I am a better writer as I have written my autobiography which includes plots and subplots, characters, settings and themes. I believe editing to be tedious but necessary as I want to keep the audience’s attention as if they were reading a novel.

            I have public stories such as I am a grad student and fuzzy stories for instance, when I five years old and living in the attic with bugs that came out at night when in actuality my mother told me that I did sleep in the attic, but before I moved my stuff up there she had to fumigate hence, there were bugs but not when I slept at night afterwards. I also have secret stories which few have heard. One of them entails my going to a shrink at fifteen years old and after six months I was told she could not see me anymore since she completed her thesis paper on my lifestory. I have learned to accept myself, my memories and my stories as part of my own growth process and development as I continue on my path of collecting stories and then storytelling, storylistening, and restorying my life to others because I am a person and I do have a story to tell.


Kenyon, G. M. & Randall, W. L. (1997). Restorying our lives: personal growth through autobiographical reflection. Westport: Praeger.

Quote: Kenyon, G. M. & Randall, W. L. (1997). Restorying our lives: personal growth through autobiographical reflection. Westport: Praeger. p. 136.

Review: The stories we live by: personal myths and the making of the self by D. P. McAdams   Leave a comment


Who Am I? How do I fit in the world around me? Is the first line on most websites that sell the book, The stories we live by: personal myths and the making of the self by D. P. McAdams. We give meaning to our lives as certain questions are asked such as, who you are, where did you come from as stories reflect culture or what is your purpose in life? The author utilized the interview approach to learn how people build their stories in order to make sense of them so they may share their story to others.

The story also has a beginning, middle, and an end. It is this story that can be broken down and analyzed through themes which are recurrent patterns of characters wants and how they pursue their objectives (para. 67). For instance themes could be of power and love. The story has a conflict leading to a climax and resulting in a resolution or a denouement (para. p. 25). There are settings of time and place, and expectations such as, human like characters. Initiating events motivates the character(s) to reach a certain goal as James explained the long list of human impulses incorporating fear, sympathy, sociability, play, acquisitiveness, modesty, nurturance, and love (para. p. 70). Motives shape identity focusing on specific themes in a personal myth. Baken discussed human motivations that overlap for instance, in power/independence and love/interdependence and distinguished them as agency and communion. Agency refers to the need to be independent, power, achievement, a master and protector. However, the communion refers to the desire of intimacy and to become one with a group by losing their individuality for the bigger picture, in caring ways.

Furthermore, McAdams explained that story is connected to personal myth. What is a myth? According to the author it is, “…defining the self through myth may be seen as an ongoing act of psychological and social responsibility” (p. 35). The personal myth describes who you are as well as, who you want to be in life as it depicts society’s basic psychological, sociological, cosmological, and meta-physical truths” (para. 34). It is developed through stages, age and maturity.
Moreover, from the ages of infancy to the first year of life the child will be gathering material and attaching with the parents resulting in a narrative tone for their personal myth while achieving a psychosocial breakthrough in which subsequent development is oriented (para. p 40). There are four types of bonding. The preferred is the secure attachment or B-babies based on trust and security who display exploratory behavior. According to McAdams, “Secure attachment in infancy may promote the development of a confident and cohesive childhood self” (p. 44) and can reinforce an optimistic narrative. Insecure attachments such as, A-babies display avoidant patterns, The C-babies are resistant in patterns and D-babies are disorganized in patterns of attachment. An infant at eight or nine months old will begin to develop a sense of subjective self through affective attunement and mirroring for example, in the sharing of responses with a parent.
As a result, the first two years of life is expressed by what McAdams called narrative tone in life stories which is conveyed in the content of the story and in the manner in which it was told (para. p. 48). For instance, in a secure and trusting attachment a child will move through childhood and beyond with faith in the goodness of the world and hope for the future (para. p. 47). In contrast, insecure attachments lead to a pessimistic narrative where stories are bound to have unhappy endings (para. p. 47). McAdams (1993) noted, “Secure attachment may nudge us in the direction of comedy and romance insecure attachment, in the direction of tragedy and irony” (p. 53). A life story can be either one or both as a narrative mixture.

As maturity continues by the second and third year of life, development of images occur as recognition takes place in a mirror reflecting their own face and body (para. 46). Satre defines image as, “…an image as a synthesis of feeling, knowledge, and inner sensation, captured in an episode in time (p.65). A child then begins storytelling. Piaget concluded that the preschooler collects images that functions within a preoperational stage of cognitive development (para. p. 59). By the age of two or three years of age the child has a basic sense of self and the verbal self is portrayed through simple expressions. Through childhood and maturity the verbal self develops and is refined. A child’s reality is centered on them as the rules change in new occurrences for instance, in symbolic play as McAdams described, “Symbolic play is driven by the child’s idiosyncratic use of symbols and images in episodes of make-believe (p. 59). As maturity continues a child’s playtime carries a new meaning as it becomes more rule-governed. Other developments occur in their preoperational thoughts such as, the stage of intuitive-protective stage in which a child combines pieces of stories and images associated with their culture and environment creating their own important associations in dealing with a higher power, God (para. p. 61).
A school aged child ages six to twelve will have learned the connection between characters and goals in which they relate to their own motivational patterns and these patterns of desire will be reflected thematically in their personal myths (para. 36). According to McAdams, “…children high in intimacy motivation tended to have more stable and enduring relationships with their ”best friends,” to know more about their best friends personal lives, to be rated by their teachers as especially “affectionate” and “sincere” (p.74).

As a child develops, changes and matures so does their motivation. They begin to understand the meaning of stories and view the world in terms of what it can accomplish and mean for them. It is during this time that thought processes begin to take on a systematic quality, reaching a level of cognitive growth called concrete operations in which concrete reality and fundamental principles help to create a connection between objects and concepts, as a ten year old knows how the world must work (para. p. 68). As McAdams (1993) stated, “When a child moves from cognitive stage of preoperations to that of concrete operations, thinking becomes governed by rules” (p. 69).

The next stage of maturity is late adolescence and young adulthood as individuals are challenged to formulate their ideological setting in order to build a stable foundation for their identity. It is during this time that stories are created of a certain type (para. p. 53). A young adult has accumulated material, symbols and objects and as an adult from early childhood, it is the process of creatively drawing upon the imagery in fashioning their personal myth (para. 55). Adams (1993) commented, “…to understand our own myths we must explore the unique way in which each of us employs imagery to make sense of who we are (p. 55). It is the adult personal myth that combines the unconscious imagery of childhood which was created through family and culture. Furthermore, it is the combination of imagery and narrative tone that is a crucial influence on adult identity.

Presently, I am in a grad student who registered for a course resulting in my receiving the power to select what books would be incorporated into my academic program. What drew me to this book? It was the concept that we are the stories we tell, that we play different roles as we progress though life. McAdams called these main characters that dominate our life stories imagoes which are personified and idealized concepts of the self (para. p. 122). My reflections of the imagoes and their characteristics resonate with who I am today. I can see the conflict of the ritualist versus the traveler and the healer versus the warrior. I can see the harmonizing of the sage and teacher as well as the lover and humanist. My central imago presently is the maker who has appeared in the past and continues to guide me into the future. I live to create whether in my art, literature, or to create a unit for a gender studies course. My goals are to educate others and to leave a gift from me to them in hopes to empower them on their own journey in life. It is clear that my narrative may have started out pessimistic with tragedy mixing with optimism, but it is the optimistic personal romantic myth that has taken the lead. I embrace each day, each challenge and overcome obstacles in my path as I look forward to the next. I am on a never ending venture that creates change, enlightenment and personal victory in order to fulfill my myth.

In conclusion, I have been enlightened by the book, The stories we live by: personal myths and the making of the self by D. P. McAdams more than I ever thought I would. It would appear that the characters in my life have guided me, protected me, enlightened me, educated me and empowered me in my complex personal myth and journey. I have learned that I have gathered materials all along in creating my self-definition and can see myself evolving and growing. I have described myself in the past like being a tree whose roots are grounded deep in the earth as the sun light gives me the nutrients of knowledge and the rain provides my growth. My branches are extensions of myself as each limb symbolizes my past experiences. In my future, who will be the next imagoes to take the stage?

McAdams, D. P. (1993). The stories we live by: Personal myths and the making of the self. New York: The Guilford Press.

2013 Annual Report In Review For My Blog…The Eternal Student   4 comments

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Ooo…Ahhh…Pretty Fireworks~Celebrate Over 30,000 Hits on my blog and Counting!!!   Leave a comment

Over 30,000 Hits And Counting!!!

These fireworks are for YOU!

Wow ~ Thank you 🙂

Posted July 22, 2012 by in My Blogs

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Ooo…Ahhh…Pretty Fireworks~Celebrate Over 10,000 Hits and Counting!!!   Leave a comment


Over 10,000 Hits And Counting!!!

These fireworks are for YOU

Wow ~ Thank you  🙂

Posted March 3, 2012 by in My Reviews

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