Storytelling is Shaping Your Identity

A Theoretical Journey

The purpose of this article is to provide insight into the theoretical foundations that guide my approach when assisting individuals or organisations in deciphering the narratives that shape identities. 

It's important to remember that organisations are a collection of individuals, each contributing to the collective narrative. Thus, any endeavour to aid an organisation inevitably involves addressing the personal narratives of those who shape and sustain its culture.

The stories we tell ourselves and others play a vital role in shaping our identities. Influential thinkers across diverse fields, such as psychologist Dan McAdams, psychologist A. N. Leontjev, psychoanalyst Daniel Stern, and therapist Michael White, are some of the people who have contributed to my understanding of the powerful intersection of narrative and identity.

The Story of The Self: Dan McAdams

Dan McAdams, a prominent personality psychologist, has dedicated much of his work to understanding the 'storied self.' He asserts that identity is a self-authored life story, where past, present, and future are woven together to form a personal narrative. 

Every decision, memory, and aspiration are episodes of our ongoing narrative, contributing to a larger, cohesive self-identity. We interpret and present these episodes in ways that align with our evolving self-conception, making us not just participants but also authors of our own lives.

Activity as Identity: A. N. Leontjev

In contrast McAdams, A. N. Leontjev brings forth a distinct perspective on the relationship between activity and consciousness. His Activity Theory proposes that the essence of human psychology lies in purposeful activity. Our identities are constructed through a continual process of engaging with the world, where each action shapes our self-understanding and defines our place within our social and cultural context. 

In essence, the story of our identity unfolds through our interactions, and each activity writes a new line in the story of our identity.

Experiential Narratives: Daniel Stern

Daniel Stern's work on infant development demonstrates that our narrative journey begins much earlier than we consciously remember. 

Stern's theory of 'narrative envelope' suggests that our earliest experiences, though not verbally accessible, profoundly influence our emotional world and subsequently our identity. 

These pre-verbal stories exist within us, informing our sense of self and our interactions, long before we can verbally articulate them. They are the foundational chapters of our stories, written in the language of emotions and experiences rather than words.

Healing Through Re-authoring: Michael White

In the therapeutic domain, Michael White, a co-founder of Narrative Therapy, which led him to develop narrative coaching, offers an empowering perspective on narrative and identity. 

White argues that “people are not the problem; the problem is the problem”. Through Narrative Therapy, individuals are encouraged to rewrite their problem-saturated stories into narratives of resilience, agency, and hope. This approach facilitates the reshaping of identities, shifting from victims of circumstances to authors of their own stories.

Identity and Life Stories

These theorists each contribute a unique perspective to understanding how narratives shape our identities. 

Together, these perspectives illustrate a comprehensive view of our identity as a life story, evolving through self-authorship, social engagement, emotional experiences, and, if necessary, therapeutic rewriting. 

We are not static beings but dynamic story-tellers, continuously weaving threads of experiences, interactions, and aspirations into the narrative tapestry of our identities. Our identities are not merely who we are, but also the actions we take, the emotions we experience, and the changes we dare to make.

Every moment of our lives is a part of our story. Some moments become chapters; others serve as turning points.

Our struggles do not define us. They contribute to the richness and depth of our evolving life story. Understanding this can empower us to take charge of our narratives, to reshape our identities and, ultimately, to live more fulfilled and meaningful lives.

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