IDENTITY CRISIS: When Our Story Falls Apart

May 23, 2024


Art Credit: Jano Tantongco, jano.tantongco@gmail.com


Narrative identity is an evolving story that individuals create to make sense of their lives. This story integrates past experiences, present realities, and future aspirations into a coherent whole. It provides a sense of continuity and purpose, helping individuals understand who they are. When this narrative is disrupted, it can lead to crisis.

Memory plays a crucial role in shaping narrative identity. Rather than simply replaying events, memory is a reconstructive process influenced by emotions, beliefs, and context. This means the meaning of experiences can change over time. Our memories are constantly being rewritten as we reinterpret past events in light of new information.

Meaning-making is a fundamental human activity that helps us cope with life’s challenges. We create a coherent story that explains our experiences by assigning significance to events. This process helps us understand our place in the world and maintain psychological well-being. When we struggle to make sense of our experiences, our narrative identity can become fragmented.

Emotional regulation is facilitated by the creation of personal narratives. Framing experiences within a coherent story allows individuals to process their emotions more effectively. This can promote emotional stability and resilience. Without a stable narrative, emotional turmoil can intensify, leading to an identity crisis.

Cognitive processes such as perception, attention, memory, and reasoning are involved in constructing our narratives. These processes help us organize our experiences into structured stories that make sense. Disruptions in these cognitive processes can lead to a disjointed narrative identity. This can result in confusion about who we are and where we are going.

Social and cultural influences shape the personal narratives we create. Cultural narratives and societal norms provide frameworks for understanding our experiences. Interpersonal interactions also play a significant role in shaping our stories. When these influences are in conflict, it can destabilize our narrative identity.

The coherence of our narrative identity is essential for a stable sense of self. Coherent narratives help us understand the past, navigate the present, and plan for the future. When our stories are fragmented, it can be challenging to find meaning and direction. This lack of coherence can lead to an identity crisis.

Life transitions and traumatic events can significantly disrupt our narrative identity. These disruptions challenge our existing stories and force us to reevaluate our self-understanding. Rebuilding a coherent narrative can be difficult and time-consuming. Without a stable story, we may feel lost and uncertain.

Identity crises often arise when there is a significant discrepancy between our narrative identity and lived experiences. This discrepancy can cause disorientation and confusion. We may struggle to reconcile our self-concept with the reality of our experiences, which can lead to profound psychological distress.

Reconstructing a fragmented narrative identity involves integrating new experiences and insights. This process requires reflection, self-awareness, and, sometimes, external support. Therapy can facilitate the reconstruction of a coherent narrative. By making sense of our experiences, we can rebuild a stable sense of self.

A coherent narrative identity contributes to overall psychological well-being. It provides a framework for understanding our experiences and making decisions. When our narrative is disrupted, it can impact our mental health and functioning. Re-establishing a coherent story is crucial for recovery and growth.

Identity crises can be opportunities for growth and transformation. They challenge us to reevaluate our stories and develop a deeper understanding of ourselves. Through this process, we can create more authentic and resilient narratives. These new stories can better reflect our evolving selves and aspirations.

Personal narratives are not static; they evolve as we gain new experiences and insights. This dynamic nature allows us to adapt and grow. However, it can also destabilize our narratives. Maintaining a flexible and adaptive narrative identity is crucial for navigating life’s challenges.

Our narrative identity is closely linked to our sense of meaning and purpose. When our story is coherent, it provides direction and motivation. Disruptions to our narrative can lead to a loss of meaning and a sense of purposelessness. Rebuilding a coherent story helps restore a sense of direction and fulfillment.

Understanding the psychology of narrative identity can help us navigate identity crises more effectively. By recognizing the importance of our personal stories, we can take steps to maintain a coherent and adaptive narrative. This involves reflecting on our experiences, seeking support when needed, and being open to revising our stories. Doing so can build a stronger and more resilient sense of self.

Identity crises can manifest in various ways, including emotional instability, confusion about one’s role, and disconnection from oneself and others. Significant life changes, such as a career shift, relationship changes, or major life milestones, can trigger these crises. Addressing these crises requires introspection and often the support of others. By understanding the underlying causes, individuals can begin to rebuild their sense of identity.

Narratives also influence how we interact with others and form social connections. Shared stories and experiences can strengthen relationships and foster a sense of community. Conversely, conflicting narratives can lead to misunderstandings and interpersonal strife. Recognizing the power of narrative in our social lives can help us build more meaningful and harmonious relationships.

Exploring and reconstructing personal narratives can be a powerful tool for healing in therapeutic settings. Therapy provides a space for individuals to reflect on their stories, identify inconsistencies, and integrate new insights. This process can lead to a more coheren and empowering narrative identity, which can result in greater psychological well-being and resilience.

The concept of narrative identity highlights the interplay between individual and collective stories. Cultural and societal narratives influence how we see ourselves and our place in the world. Understanding this interplay can help us navigate identity crises and build a more integrated sense of self. We can find greater meaning and purpose in our lives by aligning our personal narratives with broader cultural contexts.

Maintaining a coherent narrative identity requires ongoing reflection and adaptation. Life is dynamic, and our stories must evolve to accommodate new experiences and insights. This flexibility allows us to remain resilient in facing challenges and changes. By continuously revisiting and revising our narratives, we can ensure they remain coherent and aligned with our evolving selves.

Our thoughts and emotions are deeply intertwined, shaping our perceptions and reactions. This interplay can complicate our understanding of reality, especially during an identity crisis. Reflecting on our thoughts and feelings can help untangle this complexity, enabling greater clarity and emotional stability.

The stories we tell ourselves can be both empowering and limiting. They influence our self-perception and behavior in profound ways. Changing our narrative can change our lives. It allows us to break free from limiting beliefs and embrace new possibilities.

Complexes, as Jung described them, can hijack our narrative identity. These are splinter personalities with their own stories, often rooted in past trauma or unresolved issues. Recognizing and integrating these complexes can lead to a more coherent self-narrative. This integration process is essential for healing and growth.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) emphasizes the power of thoughts in shaping our experiences. We can alter our emotional responses and behaviors by challenging and reframing negative thoughts. This therapeutic approach highlights the malleability of our personal narratives and empowers individuals to create healthier, more adaptive stories.

Social and cultural pressures can exacerbate identity crises. Expectations and norms can conflict with our personal experiences and values. Navigating these pressures requires a strong sense of self and critical reflection. By questioning societal narratives, we can forge a more authentic identity.

The Axial Age introduced significant philosophical and religious ideas that still influence our narratives today. These ancient wisdom traditions emphasize the importance of self-reflection and ethical living. Engaging with these ideas can enrich our personal stories. They offer timeless insights into the human condition.

Our stories are influenced by both conscious and unconscious processes. Unconscious narratives can drive behaviors and emotions without our awareness. Bringing these hidden stories to light can be transformative, allowing us to make more conscious and deliberate choices.

Reflective practices like journaling and mindfulness can help us understand and reshape our narratives. These practices promote self-awareness and emotional regulation. They create space for new insights and perspectives. Through reflection, we can cultivate a more coherent and empowering narrative identity.

The narratives we construct can serve as coping mechanisms during difficult times. They help us make sense of adversity and find meaning in suffering. However, overly negative or rigid narratives can hinder our resilience. Adopting a more flexible and positive story can enhance our ability to cope with life’s challenges.

Our relationships play a crucial role in shaping our narrative identity. Interactions with others provide feedback and validation that influence our self-concept. Healthy relationships support a coherent and positive narrative. Conversely, toxic relationships can contribute to a fragmented and negative self-story.

Storytelling is a powerful tool for connection and healing. Sharing our stories with others can foster empathy and understanding, create a sense of belonging, and promote mutual support. Through storytelling, we can bridge the gap between individual and collective experiences.

The digital age has transformed the way we construct and share our narratives. Social media platforms allow for instantaneous storytelling on a global scale. This can amplify both positive and negative aspects of our narratives. Navigating this landscape requires mindfulness and discernment.

Mythological and religious stories provide a framework for understanding our lives. They offer archetypal themes and symbols that resonate with our personal experiences. Engaging with these stories can offer deeper insights into our own narratives. They connect us to a larger human tradition of meaning-making.

Identity crises are rites of passage that lead to greater self-awareness. These crises force us to confront and reevaluate our narratives, which can lead to a more authentic and resilient identity. Viewing crises as opportunities for growth can transform our approach to life’s challenges.

Incorporating new experiences into our narrative requires flexibility and openness. Rigid narratives can become outdated and misaligned with our evolving selves. Embracing change allows our story to remain relevant and empowering. This adaptability is key to maintaining a coherent narrative identity.

Therapeutic interventions can provide crucial support during an identity crisis. Therapists help individuals explore and reconstruct their narratives in a safe and structured environment. This process involves both emotional and cognitive work. Effective therapy leads to greater coherence and psychological well-being.

Narrative identity is about individual stories and how we fit into the broader social and cultural context. Our sense of self is influenced by collective narratives that shape societal values and norms.

Understanding this interplay can enhance our self-awareness and enable us to navigate identity crises with greater insight and resilience.


“I’m in school again. I learned that this semester we’re reading a book that, in real life, I helped to adapt during the height of the pandemic. I have a sense of dread because while I’ve read it many times before, I never connected with it despite my knowledge. The class takes a field trip to my childhood home. I dream about my home often. My mother abruptly lost it to bankruptcy when I was 19. A thick snow covers the ground. I open the back door, and a cat runs out into the snow. I call for it and then realize I’m calling the wrong name. Irina? Ivanka? I can’t believe that I can’t remember its name. I feel a panic that I have lost my childhood cat. Every time I call out the wrong name, another animal shows up. Soon, I am surrounded by cats, dogs, goats, and chickens, but none of them are her. I get increasingly desperate and sad, certain I’ve killed the childhood cat.”


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  1. Mamie Allegretti

    Hello Joseph, LIsa and Deb,
    Yes. The bottom line is don’t tell yourself stories that will make you suffer. The Hindus and Buddhists were and are great psychologists. I’m reminded of Buddha’s story of the two arrows. Arrow 1 is the challenges, disappointments, hardships, etc that life gives you. Those you can’t change. Arrow 2 is the story we tell ourselves about arrow 1. That we can change. Most of our suffering comes from the unneeded drama and story we create in reaction to arrow 1. It’s much easier to just deal with a problem as it comes up. Telling yourself horror stories and spinning out into catastrophe will make you suffer more. Identity is an interesting thing. I think there are 2 “levels” of identity. The first and most important is who you are in your transcendent self which can only be intuited. The second is the identities we put on like clothing all through our lives. Those identities are always changing. It’s when we get tied to a certain identity that suffering comes. There is something both unchanging and changing about my identity. We concentrate more on the changing identity but we forget that there must also be an unchanging identity. And that they are the same in a paradoxical way. The older I get, the more I’m enjoying the idea of watching my changing identity and trying not to pin it down in such a limiting way. I think trying to fix your identity comes from a need to have certainty. But there is no certainty so when something happens to undermine that, you feel broken. It’s a fine line because we need to have an identity but we also need to hold it lightly. And how to hold the tension is the issue. What if we all didn’t take our identity – our mask, our “clothing” so seriously? Could we speak more easily with one another? Could we find ourselves in the Other? Could we be less offended by relatively minor things? Could we stand back and observe it without having to inject ourselves aggressively into every conflict? Could we do our work with less anxiety about the outcome? Could we live with more inner peace and equanimity? Surely so. Thank you again for your work.

  2. Jennifer D

    Hello Lisa I was much moved by your description of when you were asked to change, overcame your first reaction and took benefit from the feedback, but then years later to realize your initial feelings had importance too. I took it to mean some part of you was overridden, having lived through a long relationship doing that … starting unconsciously and over time increasing as an inner and outer dynamic not far from gaslighting. I’ve known a lot of women for whom this has happened. In the podcast I was disappointed this wasn’t pursued more. (Instead the following train example seemed to downplay the importance of those initial feelings and what they may be pointing us to discover in ourselves.)
    In the same vein, the Byron Katie worksheet tool can be useful, but the way she taught it was to distrust and even condemn those initial feelings and the thoughts they generate, attributing them to the bad ego, in contrast to the vitalizing Jungian approach of discerning healthy ego needs and nurturing the Ego-Self axis.
    This podcast episode from Michael Meade is another nice angle on it:
    Thank you to all three of you and your guests for profound discussions and dream analyses.

  3. Jennifer D

    I meant “myself having lived…” – sorry

  4. Camilla

    I liked this episode very much but cringed a bit with the Byron Katie excerpt, thinking surely there is an excerpt from Jung that would have conveyed the same thoughts. Usually, Lisa or Joseph will pull out a reading from Jung that captures the spirit of the discussion. I hope you will default to Jung in these cases. There is so much of Jung that needs to be shared and this podcast is a great vehicle for it.


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