Each individual has a different personality and a unique outlook on life. They may also have several events in their life that affect their identity and how they view themselves. Throughout one’s life, they build a sense of “temporal continuity in life – a reflexive understanding of ‘how [their] past self has developed into [their] present self, and how [their] present self will, in turn, develop into an envisioned future self” (McAdams, 2019). These transitional events can have a lasting impact on a person, change the way they understand both themselves and others, and be a factor in why they are the way that they are. As one grows older into adolescence and adulthood, they mature and develop the “ability to construct a retrospective and prospective story” about themselves and events in their life through a narrative or story (McAdams, 2019). From this narrative comes a narrative identity, which helps break down and analyze the story to give the reader personal insights about the author.
In the 2013 article “Current Directions in Psychological Science,” authors Dan McAdams and Kate McLean define one’s narrative identity as “an evolving and integrative story for life…[that] reconstructs the autobiographical past and imagines the future in such a way as to provide a person’s life with some degree of unity, purpose, and meaning” (McAdams & McLean, 2013, p. 233). The authors theorize that the way one narrates both positive and negative events in their life gives insight into their values, personality, and emotional maturity. There are several themes that may be present in one’s narrative, including agency, communion, redemption, contamination, meaning making, exploratory narrative processing, and coherent positive resolution (McAdams & McLean, 2019). The authors of narratives that contain the themes of agency, meaning making and exploratory narrative processing tend to lead more proactive lifestyles and generally have a brighter outlook on life. My narrative details my experience growing up as one of the only Asians in my school district and the struggles that came with that. I also describe how coming to college marked an important transition in my life, as it changed my perspective of both myself and where I was born. Applying McAdams’s and McLean’s narrative identity themes to my own narrative, they indicate that I may lead a meaningful life, as my story has high degrees of agency, communion, and redemption.
My narrative describes my struggles growing up as a Chinese-adoptee in a conservative, rural, majority-white city. I was sometimes bullied throughout elementary and middle school for the way I looked and had trouble with my racial self-identity. Although this was a negative period in my life, as I got older, I came to peace with myself and found a loving community in which I feel accepted. My negative experiences eventually turned to positive ones, and thus my narrative exemplifies McAdams’s and McLean’s theory of redemption, which they define as “scenes in which a demonstrably ‘bad’ or emotionally negative event or circumstance leads to a demonstrably ‘good’ or positive outcome. The initial negative state is ‘redeemed’ or salvaged by the good that follows it” (McAdams & McLean, 2013, p. 234). They claim that negative life experiences typically involve two steps; the first step analyzes the negative experience and how it impacted the individual, and how the individual is going to react to the negative experience (McAdams and McLean, 2013). In my case, my negative experience was not feeling I belonged in my community growing up, and my response as I got older was to search for a new community in which I knew I would be accepted. McAdams describes the second step in the process as coming to terms with the negative experience, and “commit[ting] the self to a positive resolution of the event” (McAdams & McLean, 2013, p. 234). My narrative has a positive resolution that offers some closure, as I found a community in which I fit in and I came to terms with who I am and where I was born. According to McAdams and McLean, “narrators who [can] articulate detailed and thoughtful accounts of loss and struggle…tend to score higher on independent indices of psychological maturity” (McAdams & McLean, 2013, p. 234). People who have this ability to learn lessons or make meaning from their sufferings tend to lead happier lives. Since I there was a more positive ending to a more negative beginning in my story, McAdams’s and McLean’s theories would suggest that I am happy, as I was able to associate personal growth from my sufferings. I feel that this is accurate, as I feel that I am a generally happy person, and I often make an effort to see the good from the bad.
Also present in my story is the theme of communion, which McAdams and McLean define as “the degree to which protagonists demonstrate or experience interpersonal connection through love, friendship, dialogue, or connection to a broad collective…[it] emphasizes intimacy, caring, and belongingness” (McAdams & McLean, 2013, p. 234). The story began with a lack of communion, as I had trouble relating and connecting to some of my peers. Since Fulton (where I grew up) has a majority white population (over 95% of the population is white), many people there are not accustomed to seeing people of a different race. Due to this racial disparity and the other kids’ lack of exposure to different races and cultures, they had often treated me as if I was different from them. Towards the end of high school, kids became more accepting and I found a good group of friends who I enjoyed spending time with. However, it was not until college until I met people like myself and obtained more of a sense of communion. Towards the end of the narrative, I stated that “I now feel like I have a sense of belonging and am no longer alone,” and expressed my desire to connect to other Chinese adoptees in the future (Lang, 2019). This act of connecting with others shows “interpersonal connection,” and thus exemplifies the theme of communion (McAdams and McLean, 2013, p. 234). Using McAdams’s and McLean’s theories about how narratives tie to personality, the transition from a lack of communion to communion exhibited in the narrative may show that I came out of my shell and became more outgoing as I grew older. I believe their theories are true, as I felt that as I got older, I became more outgoing, talkative, and had an easier time expressing my personality to others.
Finally, my narrative conveys agency, which is “the degree to which protagonists are able to affect change in their own lives or influence others in their environment” (McAdams and McLean, 2013, p. 234). Over the course of the narrative, I learned that through my actions, I could take control of my future. In the beginning, I lacked agency; I felt that I could not control how others viewed me due to their fixed mindsets. Yet, during this period, I did not realize that I also had a fixed mindset. I thought the only way I could influence them to think I was cool was to play along with their jokes. However, as I grew older, I realized that I had more ability to choose my peers and choose my future. As I was applying to schools, I stated that “I knew I wanted a change” (Lang, 2019). I deliberately applied to colleges with a high level of racial and geographical diversity. Had I not sought out a college with inclusive campus culture, I may have risked the chance of feeling further isolated. The diversity I saw on campus while touring the University of Rochester played a major role in my decision to attend here. As I began college, I also made a conscious decision to join clubs that helped me connect to others with similar backgrounds. I joined the University of Rochester’s Asian American Alliance and chose to take Elementary Chinese 101. Through these actions, in a way, I chose which path I wanted to take with my life and further decided to engage in activities that would give me a sense of connectedness and community. According to McAdams and McLean (2013), “life stories that feature themes of personal agency…tend to enjoy higher levels of mental health, well-being, and maturity” (p. 233). Although this statement is broad, I feel that it properly reflects my current outlook on life, as I feel that I am mentally strong and positive.
One can learn a lot from reading the self-narratives of other people. They can also learn a lot about themselves by reading their own writing. Through the themes of redemption, communion, and agency present in my narrative, McAdams’s and McLean’s study indicates that I may have a meaningful life, as I can keep a positive attitude and make meaning from the negative events that occur. In his 2019 article “Self and Identity,” McAdams states that “the self is inherently reflexive – it reflects back on itself…we work on [improving] ourselves… the key is to begin thinking about your whole life story in a completely different way, in a way that you hope will bring you more happiness, fulfillment, peace, or excitement” (McAdams, 2019). From this statement, I believe there is always time for someone to improve themselves and their life. I have tried to make a greater effort to put some of the circumstances in my life from a different perspective and try to see more positive from negative. I have realized that a fresh, positive mindset is critical in having a meaningful life and grow psychologically. Through my own narrative identity, I will try to envision an improved future self, created from my current self.