Stories We Tell

Suppose there is a lady. She is a very caring mother for her children, an enormously diligent worker at her workplace, an old-fashioned obedient daughter to her parents, rather a rebellious wife to her husband, a talkative girl to her girl friends, and a stammering introvert in front of men. She looks like different persons according to the situation.

Vivian Burr, a social constructionist, wrote [1]:

Rather than view personality as something which exists inside us, in the form of traits or characteristics, we could see the person we are as the product of social encounters and relationships – that is, socially constructed. …Instead, then, of people having single, unified and fixed selves, perhaps, we are fragmented, having a multiplicity of potential selves which are not necessarily consistent with each other. …It is possible to say that we have no ‘true’ self but that we have a number of selves which are equally real.

Once I wrote a paper and proposed a concept called the persona [2]. An individual has many personalities, or personas. According to the situation, an individual chooses one of the personas as the lady I mentioned above.

Adler, however, wrote [3]:

Very early in my work, I found man to be a self-consistent unity. The foremost task of Individual Psychology is to prove this unity in each individual – in his thinking, feeling, acting, in his so-called conscious and unconscious, in every expression of his personality. This self-consistent unity we call the style of life of the individual.

Oh, no! I am a heretic. Fortunately, I learned Elsa Andriessens’ theory on Life Style from Yvonne Schürer at ICASSI. Andriessens distinguishes “Private Meinung“, the private meaning, and “Private Logik“, the private logic. The private meaning is the striving from the felt minus to the felt plus; “I am inferior in such-and-such a part. The world is inferior in such-and-such a place. I should be such to belong to the community.” The private meaning is the universal proposition about life. It is, however, too abstract to apply to actual problems. An individual therefore makes a private logic referring to the private meaning; “This is the problem. The law is like this. Okay, I will do this.”

I found that the idea of the prvate logic was very similar to the concept of the persona. We have a unified core of personality; the private meaning. In actual life, however, we use many personas; the private logics. A persona is discrete from other ones, or, in other words, we have limited numbers of the private logics. One of the personas is selected according to a story. The story is sometimes called the narrative, the legend or the myth. It is a socially shared set of episodes. For example, we share the story of mothers, the story of men, the story of the Japanese, etc. The stories construct the culture.

When you communicate with another person, you act in the context of a shared story. If the antagonist adopts the same story to you, he or she can understand you. If the story is different from yours, he or she may misunderstand you. If you and the antagonist share no common story, you look crazy from him or her. This idea is post-modern, but, as I admit the core of the unified self, the private meaning, this is still Adlerian. I have written another paper [4]. I am very glad not to be burnt at the stake.

[1] Burr, Vivian: An Introduction to Social Constructionism. Routledge, London, 1995, pp.28-29.
[2] Noda, S.: The Multi-Personality Theory in Individual Psychology. The Adlerian, 15(3): 197, 2002. (Japanese)
[3] Ansbacher, H.L. and Ansbacher,R.R.: The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler. Harper, New York, 1955, p.175.
[4] Noda, S.: On the Theory of Life Style. The Adlerian, 22(3), 2009, in print. (Japanese)