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Your Stories Don’t Define You, How You Tell Them Will

Nov 5, 2019

Dr. Kate McLean was raised by a man who loved to share stories. Her father is a master storyteller, entertaining family and friends for hours with his sense of humor and insights. It’s not surprising that Kate found herself compelled by the narratives she heard in her first research position, focused on attachment theory in human development and psychology. She was so touched by the trust of people sharing their most intimate memories and experiences, that she knew her area of focus would revolve around the impact of telling those stories on the people sharing them and on the people hearing them.

Some of her colleagues focus their research on early childhood narrative, Kate’s area of interest revolves more around the transformative years between young adulthood and adulthood, roughly 17 - 22 years old.

She finds that the stories parents and caregivers share about their children in front of them, can have positive and negative effects in terms of their relationship, and how the young adult moves through those transformative years.

If the stories a parent or caregiver share about the young adult’s childhood don’t fit how that young adult sees themselves and how they are transforming into adulthood, conflict develops between them, and the transformation can become stilted.

On the other hand, if the narrative continues to resonate with the young adult, it may help them move forward with confidence in their identity as they move into adulthood.

Our conversation took some twists and turns, one thing that struck me was our mutual respect and admiration for those who share their stories with us. When someone chooses to trust you with their most intimate memories, we must respect that story and the person sharing it.


Learn more about Dr. McLean’s work, and check out her book, The Co-Authored Self.

Kate C. McLean, Professor of Psychology at Western Washington University, was trained in Developmental and Personality Psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz (Ph.D., 2004).  Her research focuses on adolescent and emerging adult identity development.  She is on the governing council for the Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood, and is an Associate Editor for the Journal Personality and Social Psychology: PPID. She teaches courses in Developmental and Personality Psychology, as well as research methods.  She currently serves as the Director for the Center for Cross-Cultural Research at WWU.