- from Combs, G. and Freedman, J. “Narrative, Poststructuralism, and Social Justice: Current Practices in Narrative Therapy,” The Counseling Psychologist XX(X) 1-28. (in press) 2012. pp. 10 & 11.
Narrative therapists view identity as relational, distributed, performed, and fluid.
By relational, we mean that our stories of who we have been and who we can be wouldn’t exist outside of our relationships with other people; they are shaped by our experiences with others and our sense of how they perceive us.
By distributed, we mean that the stories and experiences that shape our moment-by-moment sense of “self” are located in different places. Stories and experiences that support our sense of self are distributed in other people’s memories, in hospital records, in graffiti, in the Facebook pages of high school friends, and many other places. At times stories from several of these places can come together to solidify a particular sense of identity. At other times, stories from different sources can give a sense of multiple possible identities. One’s associates at work may describe a different person than would the members of that same person’s once-a-month poker game, and the members of the grade-school soccer team that person coaches may describe yet a different person.
When we say that our sense of self is performed … , we mean that we are all participants in each other’s ongoing dramas. Each of us is always performer and audience at the same time. On the one hand, we become who we act like we are. We constitute ourselves through the choices we make. On the other, we are shaped by the responses and expectations of those around us. Our notions of how we can act in a given event are influenced by our memories of how people have responded in similar past events, and by which particular people are present in the current episode.
This relational, distributed, performed self is also fluid. It is not the “deep, true, authentic” self proposed by structuralism; it happens between people and is always changing, although there is also a trace that runs through all the stories of our history. One implication of this fluid sense of self is that change is practically impossible to avoid. Rather than trying to help people be “true to themselves,” we can focus on different experiences of “self,” and either help people choose the relationships, contexts, and commitments that support their preferred ways of being or help them bring other aspects of themselves into problematic contexts in ways that will change their experience.