God made man because He loves stories. ~ Elie Wiesel
I’ve always loved this quote in part because I’m a sucker for stories. (As a writer I guess that’s a prerequisite, but we’re all storytellers by nature; yes, all of us.)
Stories are how we make sense of our lives and the world and how we communicate with others.
Stories also are how we make sense of ourselves. According to researcher Dan P. McAdams in his chapter in the Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research:
…the stories we construct to make sense of our lives are fundamentally about our struggle to reconcile who we imagine we were, are and might be in our heads and bodies with who we were, are and might be in the social contexts of family, community, the workplace, ethnicity, religion, gender, social class and culture writ large.
So essentially, the stories we tell are a window into our personalities. And many personality researchers, including McAdams, have been culling our stories for clues. A key concept, writes McAdams, in this literature is “narrative identity,” or “an individual’s internalized, evolving and integrative story of the self.”
As McAdams and Pals write in the American Psychologist:
Narrative approaches to personality suggest that human beings construe their own lives as ongoing stories and that these life stories help to shape behavior, establish identity, and integrate individuals into modern social life (Hermans, Kempen, & van Loon, 1992; Josselson & Lieblich, 1993; McAdams, 1985; Singer & Salovey, 1993; Tomkins, 1987).
Six Principles of Storytelling
According to McAdams, there are many theories about life stories, which differ in various ways. But there are six common principles to the “narrative study of lives” that researchers do agree on, which he discusses in the book chapter.