Life Narratives, Identity, and the Self
• What are the main aspects of McAdams’s life-story model?
• What are the main points of Whitbourne’s identity theory?
• How does self-concept come to take adult form? What is its development during adulthood?
• What are possible selves? Do they show differences during adulthood?
• What role does religion play in adult life?
• How does gender-role identity develop in adulthood?
• What conclusions can be drawn from research using life narratives?
ntje is a 19-year-old sophomore at a community college. She expects her study of early childhood education to be difficult but rewarding. She figures that along the way she will meet a great guy, whom she will marry soon after graduation. They will have two children before she turns 30. Antje sees herself getting a good job teaching preschool children and someday owning her own day care center.
Who are you? What kind of person are you trying to become? These are the kinds of questions Antje is trying to answer. Answering these questions requires concepts of personality that go beyond dispositional traits and personal concerns. The aspects of personality we have discussed thus far are important, but they lack a sense of integration, unity, coherence, and overall purpose (McAdams, 1999, 2001). For example, understanding a person’s goals (from the level of personal concerns) does not reveal who a person is trying to be, or what kind
of person the person is trying to create. What is lacking in other levels of analysis is a sense of the person’s identity or sense of self.
In contrast to Erikson’s (1982) proposition that identity formation is the central task of adolescence, many researchers are now coming to understand the important ways in which identity and the creation of the self continue to develop throughout adulthood (e. g., Labouvie-Vief et al., 1995; Whitbourne & Connolly, 1999). This emerging field of how adults continue constructing identity and the self relies on life narratives, or the internalized and evolving story that integrates a person’s reconstructed past, perceived present, and anticipated future into a coherent and vitalizing life myth (McAdams, 1994,
2001) . Careful analysis of people’s life narratives provides insight into their identity.
In this section, we will consider two evolving theories of identity. Dan McAdams is concerned with understanding how people see themselves and how they fit into the adult world. Susan Krauss Whitbourne investigated people’s own conceptions of the life course and how they differ from age norms and the expectations for society as a whole. To round out our understanding of identity and the self, we will also examine related constructs. Before beginning, though, take time to complete the exercise in the Discovering Development feature. It will give you a sense of what a life narrative is and how it might be used to gain insight into identity and the sense of self.
McAdams’s Life-Story Model
McAdams (1994, 1999, 2001) argues that a person’s sense of identity cannot be understood using the language of dispositional traits or personal concerns. It is not just a collection of traits, nor is it a collection of plans, strategies, or goals. Instead, it is based on a story of how the person came into being, where the person has been, where he or she is going, and who he or she will become, much like Antje’s story. McAdams argues that people create a life story that is an internalized narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an anticipated ending. The life story is created and revised throughout adulthood
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