The Psychology of Life Stories

Stories matter. Stories have been passed from generation to generation imparting wisdom. When you look back at your life, you won’t remember the numbers (dates, times, analytics, money) but the feelings and the meaning behind the memories. In the end, stories are what mattered the most. To understand people, you must understand their story, how they tell it to others and themselves. Dr. Dan P. McAdams of Northwestern University is at the forefront psychologist studying of narratives. His seminal review of his work published in 2001 provides invaluable insight into the human mind.

McAdams, D. P. (2001) The Psychology of Life Stories. Review of General Psychology, Vol. 5 (2), 100-122.

“In his life story model of identity, McAdams (1985, 1993, 1996) has argued that identity itself takes the form of a story, complete with setting, scenes, character, plot, and theme.”

Your identity is your story, the one you tell yourself everyday, the one you share with other people, and the one you compare upon new and old experiences. Words matter. Character is destiny and words are the steps into the future.

“McAdams (1985) found that, in comparison with adults low in ego development tended to include more different kinds of plots in their life stories, suggesting greater narrative complexity.”

Those that have developed in maturity were also the ones that tended to have a more complicated story. This may have to do with one’s ability to adapt to adversity with using their story to make choices that have important outcomes.

[more later]

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