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Recent reviews have underscored the need to better link different identity models, in order to better understand the complexity of identity pursuits. Therefore, we used a mixed approach in which we investigated the relation between a process-oriented approach and a narrative life-story approach. Having common theoretical background in Erikson’s seminal work of identity development, the integration of the two models allows for a more comprehensive understanding of how people develop a sense of self. While the process-oriented approach focuses mainly on models of decision-making and life choices, the narrative approach nuances these processes by addressing their composition and subjective experiences. More specifically, for the process-oriented approach we used the five-dimensional identity formation model that is focused on general future plans, respectively for the narrative approach we investigated the extent to which participants derived meaning from a past turning point in their life. By linking the two models, we could better understand the temporal fluidity of self-defining identity contents regarding the past in relation with identity processes for future plans and goals.
In view of meaning-making as an cognitive readjustment process following experiences of events that are conflicting with one’s larger beliefs, we expect that meaning-making will be related to ruminative exploration processes as this dimension of identity is specific to individuals who have difficulties in settling on satisfying answers to identity issues. In addition, we presume that meaning-making will be negatively related to commitment processes as this dimension is specific to a greater certainty and identification with personal choices.
To measure these constructs, we used a cross-sectional design in which 85 Romanian emerging adults (Mage = 23. 18 years; SDage = 2. 17 years; 71. 8% women) completed self-reported instruments and narrated a turning point in their lives. The narratives were coded for meaning-making using an adapted version of McLean and Pratt’s (2006) coding schema which defined meaning-making as the degree to which the reporter is able to connect an event to some aspect or understanding of oneself. Identity processes were measured by using the five dimensions identity model from The Dimensions of Identity Development Scale which includes: exploration in breadth, commitment making, ruminative exploration, exploration in depth, and identification with commitment.
Using Roy’s largest root, there was a significant effect of meaning making among emerging adults based on identity processes, Θ = 0. 20, F(5, 79) = 3. 17, p <. 05. Separate univariate ANOVAs on the outcome variables revealed that only commitment making F(2, 82) = 3. 84, p <. 05 and ruminative exploration F(2, 82) = 3. 57, p <. 05. ANOVAs were statistically significant. Finally, a series of post-hoc analyses (Scheffe) were performed to examine individual mean difference comparisons across all four levels of meaning making and all five identity processes. The results revealed that more complex forms of meaning-making are more specific to ruminative exploration, while less sophisticated forms of meaning-making are more particular to commitment making. These results suggest that emerging adults who tend to derive more sophisticated forms of meaning from past experiences are more likely to also have greater diﬃculties settling on satisfying answers regarding general future plans. In addition, emerging adults who tend to derive less sophisticated forms of meaning from past experiences are inclined to a greater degree to make choices about important future identity-relevant issues. This could be explained by previous studies in which meaning-making is viewed as an adjustment strategy that occurs when facing experiences that are conflicting with one’s larger beliefs, plans, and desires. Therefore, meaning-making is more likely to occur when faced with difficulties in settling on satisfying answers to identity issues.
Our results further highlighted the importance of using mixed methods and linking different identity models, as used together they can provide a more comprehensive perspective on identity. From an applied viewpoint, our findings highlight that meaning-making could be a possible strategy that practitioners could take into account when working with emerging adults who are confronted with identity or life crises.
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