2017 Yamaguchi Lecture

Authoring a Life:  Narrative Identity, Redemption, and Donald J. Trump

Presented by Dan P. McAdams

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 
4:30 pm: Doors open and light reception
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm: Lecture
SSA Lobby
Free; 1.5 CEUs

This event has passed.

Beginning in late adolescence and young adulthood, many people create broad stories for their lives to explain how they have come to be the persons they are becoming.  Through authoring a narrative identity, a person reconstructs the past and imagines the future in such a way as to provide his or her life with a sense of temporal continuity, coherence, and purpose.  Narrative identities come in many different forms and variations, but one especially powerful prototype in American society is what I call the redemptive self

In its idealized form, the redemptive self tells the story of a gifted protagonist who journeys forth into a dangerous world and who, equipped with deep conviction and moral steadfastness, transforms suffering into enhancement, aiming ultimately to leave a positive legacy of the self for future generations.  Americans seem to love redemptive life stories, cultural variations of which include narratives of religious atonement, upward social mobility, personal emancipation, and recovery. 

Contemporary psychological research shows that, in the midlife years, crafting a narrative identity that more or less resembles the redemptive self tends to be associated with psychological well being and with leading a productive and caring life.  Redemptive life narratives, therefore, serve as valuable psychological resources for countless American adults today.  Indeed, until quite recently, men (and women) who aspired to become President of the United States typically aimed to project strongly redemptive life stories, as was especially the case for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  But then Mr. Trump came along.  It is not even clear that President Trump has developed a coherent narrative identity of any kind, to make sense of his life in time.   And to the extent he has, the story departs wildly from the cherished American form.


The Professional Development Program at SSA is a licensed State of Illinois provider of continuing education (CE) for social workers, clinical psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and professional counselors. License numbers: 159.000140; 168.000115; 268.000004. It is recommended that professionals review rules for their licensing board prior to registering for a workshop to ensure that the content meets their renewal requirements.