At each stage of life, your sense of self and personal identity finds expression in the story you tell about yourself and the story significant others tell about you. That continual and evolving self-narrative is a fundamental way to understand yourself; to bring together the different parts of yourself; and to organize your important experi- ences, past, present and expected, into a coherent story. Therefore, self-narrative and identity are tightly meshed.
Your personal coherent story is your way of maintaining a sense of personal continuity as you change and as your life changes: this is who I am; this is what made me the person I am; this is what I expect from life; this is what gives meaning to my life now.
You ground that story not just in your biographical details but in experiences and turning points that were particularly important to you. In childhood, your identity is centred around specific events and experiences that are usually shared and co-remembered with a parent – that is why, as an adult, it is sometimes hard to separate out what you actually experienced from what you were told you experienced. In adolescence, and again at midlife, your identity deepens and widens, your story extending over a larger segment of time.
You engage with your story in a deeper way as you try to respond to a new imperative – you want to make your life amount to something, to identify its purpose and its larger meaning. You begin to see recurring themes in your life, extending further back in time and into the future. You begin to see more clearly your place in your family and social group, and even in historical time – a process that emerges during young adulthood and becomes particularly pronounced at midlife. As you become conscious of time left, you interrogate your past to better understand where you are now, in order to cast some light on what is possible for the future.
Your One Wild and Precious Life is available now.
Leading psychologist Dr Maureen Gaffney combines work in academia with a busy international consultancy business. She also serves on the executive committee of the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Her last book, Flourishing, was a Number One bestseller in Ireland and has sold over 70,000 copies. She is also a columnist, broadcaster and speaker.