The Redemptive Self

A central idea in the commitment stories constructed by highly generative adults is redemption. In a redemptive sequence, an affectively negative or bad life-narrative scene is followed by an affectively positive or good outcome. The good ultimately redeems or salvages the bad that precedes it. Redemption is a central idea in all of the world’s major religions, and it has assumed especially interesting and characteristic forms and qualities in American cultural history. Many American adults today see their lives in redemptive terms or seek to narrate their lives in ways to suggest that some form of redemption will ultimately prevail.

Researchers at the Foley Center have examined the prevalence and correlates of redemption sequences in people’s life narrative accounts, and they have compared those findings to what they have learned about the opposite narrative form – that is, contamination sequences, wherein extremely good life narrative scenes suddenly, and sometimes dramatically, turn bad. Whereas redemption sequences in life narrative have been associated with generativity among adults and with self-report psychological well-being among both adults and students, contamination sequences have been linked to reports of depression, low self-esteem and a sense that one’s life is incoherent. Dan McAdams' book The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By (Oxford University Press, 2006) describes psychological research on redemptive life narratives and explores the meaning of redemption in American history and culture. The theme of redemption is also a central idea in the criminology research conducted by former Foley associate Shadd Maruna, and described in his book Making Good: How Ex-Convicts Reform and Rebuild Their Lives (APA Press, 2001).

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