Introducing Narrative Psychology: Self, Trauma, and the Construction of Meaning

By Michele L. Crossley | Go to book overview
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4
Doing a narrative analysis

If you want to know me then you must know my story, for my story defines who I
am. And if I want to know myself, to gain insight into the meaning of my own life,
then I, too, must come to know my own story.

(McAdams 1993: I I, original emphasis)


What is a personal narrative?

The personal narrative is a special kind of story that every one of us constructs to bring together different parts of our selves into a purposeful and convincing whole. Like all narratives, the personal narrative has a beginning, middle and end, and is defined according to the development of plot and character. A personal narrative represents one of the ways in which we narratively structure and configure life (discussed in Chapter 3) insofar as it is an 'act of imagination that is a patterned integration of our remembered past, perceived present and anticipated future' (McAdams 1993: 12).

It is important to emphasize that we do not 'discover' ourselves in narrative, rather, we make or create ourselves through narrative (McAdams 1993: 13). Even before we consciously know what a story is we are gathering material for the 'self-defining story we will someday compose' (p. 13). Maturity demands the 'acceptance and meaningful organisation of past events' (p. 92). Thus, as adults we impose a narrative plan on our lives where no plan existed before. We create a narrative so that 'our lives, and the lives of others will make sense' (p. 92). Through narrative we define who we are, who we were and who we may become in the future. Hence, to make meaning in life is to create 'dynamic narratives that render sensible and coherent the seeming chaos of human existence' (p. 166). McAdams argues that if we fail in this act of narrative configuration we experience the 'malaise and stagnation that come with an insufficient narration of human life' (p. 166). It is useful at this point to recall our discussion in the last chapter of traumatizing events which have the capacity to produce 'narrative wreckage' in the life

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