Identity & Narrative

Growing in clarity about who we are as a beloved, unique, embodied person.

Discovering who we are, who we belong to, and how we live meaningful lives.

One way to understand our identity is through our life narrative—the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. Healthy spirituality produces stories that connect us to love and belonging and support us as we explore who we are in our pursuit of a thriving life. Although spirituality reminds us that we are a part of something bigger, healthy spirituality celebrates our uniqueness and individuality in the way we contribute to the world. We are too often prone toward telling negative stories about our lives and others. Science reveals that our brains have tendencies to be oriented toward fear and shame, and this can limit our growth and connections. An important aspect of spiritual health is to intentionally consider and revise our stories to be oriented around love. Healthy spirituality pursues a lens of redemption, hope, and thriving. How do you understand your unique role in contributing to this greater story?

A curated content list

Discover more about identity and narrative

Dreaming Together: Dealing with Conflict, Finding Belonging, and Doing Justice with Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra

“If your community is not well, then you are not well.” Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra (Fuller Theological Seminary) is an organizer, activist, and pastor whose career has shown how individual thriving is intertwined with collective justice. With respect for marvelous human complexity, she’s encouraging us to get out of our heads and into our bodies and emotions… and is inviting us to compassion for the marginalized, and to ground our spiritual health in our connectedness to the human family, across cultural and economic lines.

Freedom from Fear: Mental Health, Justice, and Hope for an Unencumbered Life in the Black Church with Rev. Dr. Dwight Radcliff

What would it be to dream and live unencumbered? Rev. Dr. Dwight Radcliff is a pastor, community leader, and cultural theologian who wants the pages of Christian scripture to come alive to the gritty realities of justice, equity, and social transformation. Looking through the narrative vision of hip-hop and the Black church, he weaves a story of personal and communal wholeness …. holding everything together in all the tension of life … all to find thriving and spiritual health in the embodied, emotional, and empathetic now.

Getting Unstuck: Untangling the Tapestry Together (Part 2)

If our stories about ourselves are interwoven with shame, how can others provide insight to help us rewrite those stories?

Getting Unstuck: Why You Need Help to Understand Your Story (Part 1)

How do the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves help us through life's transitions? Why do we need others to help us gain insight into who we are becoming?

Identity: We Not Me (Part 3)

Identity is not just about acknowledging who we think we are, it is about listening to the voices within our communities–listening for the stories they are telling about who we are collectively.

Identity: We Not Me (Part 2)

How do our families shape our identities? By sharing our stories, or our tesimonios, we can gain insight into ourselves and communities.

Identity: We Not Me (Part 1)

What is our identity? How do we discover it? What would it look like to define our identity through the communities we participate in?

A Practice: Centering Prayer of Awareness

Awareness is a practice that allows us to train our mind and body, reorienting to the world around us.

An Integrated Life: Balancing Rigidity and Chaos

Thrive blogger, Amy Dunn, reflects on the concept of integration and how humans navigate the river of life, avoiding the rocky shores or rigidity and chaos.

Dr. Dwight Radcliff’s Prophetic Hip Hop Playlist

Want some of Rev. Dr. Radcliff's greatest hits from the history of hip hop? Check out the playlist here!

A Broad Place: We Do Not Live in a Shoebox

Thrive blogger, Amy Dunn, reflects on Miroslav Volf and creating a broad place in which we can grow and become.

The Makeup of a Flourishing Life

Thrive blogger, Amy Dunn, summarizes Miroslav Volf's ideas about a flourishing life.

A Practice: The Transformative Power of Reflection

Reflecting on our experiences reinforces or disrupts our internal narratives about ourselves and our perceptions of the world.

Eras: Attachment doesn’t fade with Age (Part 3)

What can the church learn from the success of Taylor Swift's Eras tour? This is Part 3 of a 3-Part Series.

Eras: No Longer Emerging but not Quite an Adult (Part 2)

What can the church learn from the success of Taylor Swift's Eras tour? Read more in Part 2 of a 3-Part Series.

Eras: What do Taylor Swift and the church have in common? (Part 1)

What can the church learn from the success of the Eras tour? Part 1 of a 3-Part Series.

A Practice: Questioning Beliefs to find Meaning

This practice provides questions to help you explore the beliefs that help you make meaning of life's circumstances.

Learning Who We Are: We Can’t Do it Alone.

Think of a coin—it has two sides, heads and tails. In the same way, individuality and relationality can be thought of as two sides of the same coin.

Meaning Making (Part 2): What Does Spirituality Have to do with Meaning-Making?

In order to assign meaning we must believe in a bigger picture.

Meaning-Making (Part 1): The Power of a Meaning-Making Mindset

The practice of meaning-making involves exploring our belief systems, especially our beliefs around spirituality, which offer a distinct and powerful role in making meaning.

The Gift of Losing your Keys: A Story of Neurodiversity

Finding a good fit between our unique qualities and our environments helps us thrive.

Does your sense-of-self and narrative support healthy spirituality?

What is the story you tell yourself about your life? Does it help you or keep you from thriving?

Want to become more present, healthy, and connected? Pay attention to your body (Part 2)

Our emotions are linked to how we make meaning of our lives, and attending to our embodied emotional selves leads to spiritual health.

Want to become more present, healthy, and connected? Pay attention to your body (Part 1)

Thrive Fellow, Lauren Van Vranken, offers practices for reconnecting to our bodies and asks us to think about our relationship to our embodied selves.

Perfectionism: Turning a Struggle into a Superpower

Why do so many people struggle with perfectionism? Dr. Kenneth Wang explains.

Adolescents and Spirituality: How Transcendent Experiences can Create Resilient Teens

Research with Compassion International yielded results explaining the assets that come from spirituality across countries and challenges.

Living at the Intersection of Joy, Meaning, and Balance

Research indicates spirituality links meaning to joy, and may provide insight into the balance and purpose we seek.

The Divine Individuality of a Thriving Life

Our environments impact how we thrive. If our environments don’t support us, what can we do to support ourselves?

Rethinking Traditional Church for a Modern Age

Pamela King reflects on the church of her youth and how it deeply formed her identity, sense of purpose, and belonging.

Waves forming in the ocean

Next Wave Spirituality: Thriving From Within and From Beyond

As the world continues to languish, Dr. Pamela King emphasizes the need for spirituality as a source of personal and societal transformation.

Father talking to his daughter

The Power of Storytelling: Shaping Future Generations with Our Past

Rodrigo Riveros discusses the importance of life stories in promoting brain development and meaning-making in adolescents.

Coping with Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Process Heartache we Don’t Understand

How can we make sense of loss and heartache? Guest blogger, Dr. Stephanie Trudeau, discusses ambiguous loss, sharing 3 ways we can cope with it.

Cactus Garden at the Getty

Third Culture Kids During Quarantine: Adaptability and Purpose

Who are third culture kids, and what helps them adapt and find purpose?

Father and son walking on road

On the Road to Healing: Meaning-Making and Beliefs

Dr. Stephanie Trudeau continues her discussion on loss, and how meaning-making and beliefs can guide us toward healing.

Ben Houltberg on Performance Based Identity

Ben Houltberg, associate professor of human development, reflects on his own journey away from over-identifying with his performance as an athlete, how performance-based identity can distort faith, and and his passion to help others learn to thrive. He was interviewed by Terry Hargrave, Evelyn and Frank Freed Professor of Marital and Family Therapy.

11 Warning Signs to Performance-Based Identity

Developmental scientist, Benjmain Houltberg outlines the warning signs that show whether an athlete suffers from performance-based identity.

Performance vs. Purpose

Benjamin Houltberg discusses the impact performance and success have on emotional wellbeing on the I Love Success Podcast.

37 Content Resources

A curated content list

Discover more about Thrive's research

Neurodiversity and Thriving: A Case Study in Theology-Informed Psychology

Author: Leidenhag, J. &  King, P. E.   Abstract: The concept of ‘neurodiversity’ to speak of conditions such as autism, dyslexia, and others as differences, not disorders or pathologies, relies on a robust account of human flourishing that can incorporate these conditions. Conceptions of illness and well-being are always partially theological, whilst also having to be grounded in the empirical realities of the present time. Therefore, positive developmental psychology is a particularly apt field for developing a theology-informed psychology. This article argues that recent work in theology-engaged psychology of thriving, as opposed to subjective flourishing, is the best approach to securing a vision of well-being for neurodiverse persons.   DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/09539468231187784  …

Measuring Youth Perceptions of Being Known and Loved and Positive Youth Development

Cross-National Findings from Rwanda and El Salvador   Author: Jonathan M.Tirrell, Elizabeth M.Dowling, Patience Kibbedi, Emmanuel Namurinda, Guillermo Orheta, Julia Dennis, Katelyn Malvese, Roya Abbasi-Asl, Kate Williams, Jacqueline V.Lerner, Pamela Ebstyne King, Alistair T.R.Sim and Richard M.Lerner   Abstract: Background Dynamic, relational developmental systems-based models of development emphasize that developmentally-nurturant youth-adult relationships elicit in youth perceptions of being known and loved. Although such perceptions are foundations of positive youth development (PYD), such measures do not exist. Objective We sought to create a theoretically-predicated measure of youth perceptions of being known and loved by capitalizing on data sets in two countries (Rwanda and El Salvador) wherein a multi-national study of PYD was being conducted by Compassion International (CI). Method With Rwanda data (n = 1,204, Mage = 11.84, 50% CI-supported), exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses enabled refining the measure for robustness and parsimony. Measures of intentional self-regulation, hopeful…

Thriving with Stone Age Minds

Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing

Toward a Measure for Assessing Features of Effective Youth Development Programs

Contextual Safety and the “Big Three” Components of Positive Youth Development Programs in Rwanda   Abstract Background When delivered in a safe space, programs effective in promoting positive youth development (PYD) involve key features termed the Big Three: (1) Positive and sustained adult–youth relationships; (2) Life-skill-building activities; and (3) Opportunities for youth contribution and leadership. However, no measures exist in the literature for assessing the Big Three. Objective The present study sought to develop a quantitative measure of program quality. Method Using data collected from Rwandese participants from the Compassion International (CI) Study of PYD, we developed a youth-report measure with two groups: 603 youth enrolled in CI-supported programs, and 320 youth not enrolled in CI but involved in other youth development programs (total N = 923, Mage = 11.81 years, SD = 1.68). We used exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses to refine the item pool. Using a propensity-score matched subsample, we added a measure of youth contribution to assess…

Self-Narratives and Emotional Health among Elite Athletes

Ben Houltberg and scholars examine the role of self-narrative profiles in elite athletes' wellbeing.

Thriving Conversations in Clinical Practice

This pilot program by James Furrow promotes initiative and self-confidence in at-risk youth.

Neurodiversity and Thriving: A Case Study in Theology-Informed Psychology

Author: Leidenhag, J. &  King, P. E.   Abstract: The concept of ‘neurodiversity’ to speak of conditions such as autism, dyslexia, and others as differences, not disorders or pathologies, relies on a robust account of human flourishing that can incorporate these conditions. Conceptions of illness and well-being are always partially theological, whilst also having to be grounded in the empirical realities of the present time. Therefore, positive developmental psychology is a particularly apt field for developing a theology-informed psychology. This article argues that recent work in theology-engaged psychology of thriving, as opposed to subjective flourishing, is the best approach to securing a vision of well-being for neurodiverse persons.   DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/09539468231187784  …

Measuring Youth Perceptions of Being Known and Loved and Positive Youth Development

Cross-National Findings from Rwanda and El Salvador   Author: Jonathan M.Tirrell, Elizabeth M.Dowling, Patience Kibbedi, Emmanuel Namurinda, Guillermo Orheta, Julia Dennis, Katelyn Malvese, Roya Abbasi-Asl, Kate Williams, Jacqueline V.Lerner, Pamela Ebstyne King, Alistair T.R.Sim and Richard M.Lerner   Abstract: Background Dynamic, relational developmental systems-based models of development emphasize that developmentally-nurturant youth-adult relationships elicit in youth perceptions of being known and loved. Although such perceptions are foundations of positive youth development (PYD), such measures do not exist. Objective We sought to create a theoretically-predicated measure of youth perceptions of being known and loved by capitalizing on data sets in two countries (Rwanda and El Salvador) wherein a multi-national study of PYD was being conducted by Compassion International (CI). Method With Rwanda data (n = 1,204, Mage = 11.84, 50% CI-supported), exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses enabled refining the measure for robustness and parsimony. Measures of intentional self-regulation, hopeful…

Thriving with Stone Age Minds

Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing

Toward a Measure for Assessing Features of Effective Youth Development Programs

Contextual Safety and the “Big Three” Components of Positive Youth Development Programs in Rwanda   Abstract Background When delivered in a safe space, programs effective in promoting positive youth development (PYD) involve key features termed the Big Three: (1) Positive and sustained adult–youth relationships; (2) Life-skill-building activities; and (3) Opportunities for youth contribution and leadership. However, no measures exist in the literature for assessing the Big Three. Objective The present study sought to develop a quantitative measure of program quality. Method Using data collected from Rwandese participants from the Compassion International (CI) Study of PYD, we developed a youth-report measure with two groups: 603 youth enrolled in CI-supported programs, and 320 youth not enrolled in CI but involved in other youth development programs (total N = 923, Mage = 11.81 years, SD = 1.68). We used exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses to refine the item pool. Using a propensity-score matched subsample, we added a measure of youth contribution to assess…

6 Content Resources

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Learning who we are: we can’t do it alone.

Think of a coin—it has two sides, heads and tails. In the same way, individuality and relationality can be thought of as two sides of the same coin.

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