What’s Your Story? – Issue 30: Identity

We’re all stories in the end.— “

In 2003, author James Frey published a bestselling autobiographical memoir, A Million Little Pieces, purportedly detailing his struggle to overcome addiction. Nearly three years later, during a riveting appearance on Oprah, he admitted that several supposedly factual details had been embellished or fabricated. All later editions of the book included a note from Frey, admitting his embellishments but claiming that his primary mistake had been “writing about the person I created in my mind to help me cope, and not the person who went through the experience.”

It was an interesting choice of words, given the role story plays in personal identity. Deep down, we are all raconteurs, drawing on past memories and weaving them into a coherent narrative to construct our autobiographical selves. “The story metaphor fits lives,” says Dan McAdams, a psychologist at Northwestern University who specializes in the autobiographical self. “It has a beginning, middle, and end. It has characters with times and scenes. That is how life is, and that is how people see life.”

“The Boyhood of Raleigh”: by John Everett Millais1870. Tate Gallery/WikiPaintings

McAdams has identified three distinct layers to his model for the autobiographical self. By…

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