Nature vs. Nurture: Self-identity questions

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This is a repost of my response to leex5619 blog post "Nature vs. Nurture" in writing 1 that was lost in webspace (thanks Eva for finding it!):


I was also drawn to the 'nature vs. nurture' issue in this class and your questions made me think about how I've had similar questions in life about identity and personality. I was raised in an adoptive family, always knowing that I was adopted but never knowing any information about my birth parents. Your post is interesting to me because your questions are similar to ones I've had in my own life but coming from a perspective of a broader change in environment due to relocation in cultures, whereas mine is from the perspective of relocation of families within the same (presumed) culture, though this relocation is not in my conscious memory. But in each case, enough time has passed in life that one can look back and ask the questions you're asking, which I've also had and probably always will to some degree. Would my personality have been drastically different had I been raised by my birth parents? And do I find my sense of identity within myself and the family I was placed in, or do I view myself as an 'outsider' of sorts with a conscious knowledge that the environment I was raised in apart from my biological roots completely shaped (or reshaped) who I am? My searching the web for articles related to this actually led me back to the U of M, to the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project.

The study started in the mid-80s and followed 190 adoptive families to the present, looking at numerous aspects such as relationships surrounding these families and at the adoptees themselves in relation to their development and sense of identity. An interesting part of this to me is how the researchers studied the "narrative" that adopted children create in their development to help form their identity. The study's website states,

"Adopted youth are confronted with the challenge of making meaning of their beginnings, which may be unknown, unclear, or otherwise ambiguous. Meaning-making (e.g., Kegan, 1982; Klinger, 1998) involves constructing a story about oneself that attempts to answer many questions: Where did I come from? Who were my parents? Why was I placed for adoption? Do my birthparents think about me now? Do I have siblings? What does adoption mean in my life? This story, or narrative, helps adolescents make sense of the past, understand the self in the present, and project themselves into the future (Grotevant, 1993)".

I also had all these questions and subsequent constructions in my mind growing up, but never thought of them as a "narrative" that I created to help form my sense of identity until now. I remember creating grandiose and (too) self-important histories for myself...I was the son of some refugee from a far-off land and my mother was forced to placed me up for adoption so I could have citizenship... Or she was actually very wealthy and I was the product of some elite scandal, giving me up for adoption only to someday come back and reveal that I was some heir to richness (yeah, that didn't happen). The site goes on to say,

"The narrative approach to identity highlights the integration and coherence of the self through the evaluation of the structure, content, and function of the narrative (e.g., McAdams, 1987, 1993, 2001; Mishler, 1999). From this perspective, the adolescent is viewed as creating and recreating a life story that makes meaning of and gives purpose to his or her experience of adoption".

The two constructions I pointed out about myself (of which there were many more) help me understand in this context how I did deal with being in an adoptive family. My parents' relatives, backgrounds, ancestries, etc. weren't my own, so my "story" as it were always started with my immediate surroundings, and I had to create everything beyond that. Not only was the environment I was raised in shaping who I was, but the knowledge of being adopted also helped shaped that by my trying to fill the void of what was unknown. Questions about one's identity, potentialities, character traits and such inevitably come up and change through life and through different periods of feeling fulfilled or having doubts and regrets. Everybody has these. But being adopted as I was, or moving across the world to a completely different culture in your youth - as you were - merely opens up a few more avenues for questioning who we are and where we fit into this world. I've never pursued finding my biological family beyond requesting for my original birth certificate once the record was opened, but the nature vs. nurture issue is still one that I think about often looking back at my life so far.

MN/TX Adoption Research Project http://www.cehd.umn.edu/fsos/Centers/mtarp/keyfindings/keyFindOutChild.asp#detai ls

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This is excellent subject matter, Darin. I find the necessary construction of inner narratives to be endlessly interesting. Every individual takes part in it, but you as an adopted individual have a very unique perspective.

This process also occurs collectively in cultures; it could be argued that this is essentially how mythologies, and resulting political pscyhes, emerge. I immediately think of Theseus; his mythological feats both reflect and contributed to ancient Greece's emphasis on beauty and courage.

America has some factually fictitious, but poetically true, stories about founding fathers and other characters. It's all part of our cultural identity.

The stories we carry with us are profoundly informative and sustaining.

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This page contains a single entry by wiley085 published on October 9, 2011 2:12 PM.

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