O'Neill, Sheree Anne
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The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the influences on the construction of my identity over a period of time, through reflecting on experiences within a variety of contexts. This ‘inward’ journey can be likened to philosopher Carl Jung’s (1875–1961) proverb “your visions will become clear, only when you can look into your own heart; who looks outside dreams; who looks inside, awakes”. I had decided from the outset that my doctoral thesis would be autobiographical, believing that my life experiences, spanning a period of 47 years had significance—not only for me in understanding my own identity development, but also in terms of stimulating resonance and debate for the readers of this work. The study has drawn on the body of literature on human identity and the theorists who investigate this notion. The work of Erik Erikson (1968) and his psychosocial eight stage theory of human identity development, underpinned this investigation with relation to the construction of my identity, along with Goldberg’s (1990) five-factor model of personality. In this interpretive study, which is positioned in the qualitative paradigm of research, autobiography provided a lens through which to explore my experiences, which have influenced the construction of my identity. Autobiography provided the broad data, from which “incidents” were selected that I believed have been influential in the construction of my identity. The methodology of reflective narrative is followed, which took the form of further deep reflection on those incidents, in order to extract their significance and meaning in the construction of my identity. The significance of this thesis was twofold. Firstly, it makes a methodological contribution in two areas: through the use of an “incident” based perspective; and by tracking the emergence of my identity through exploring the relationship between then and now, “meaning” and “significance”—what such an incident meant at the time it happened and what its significance came to be looking backward from the present moment. Secondly, this study offers “transportability” to a number of vocations such as teaching, nursing and counselling—any practitioner involved in the care of others. These professionals would face ethical challenges throughout their career and it is imperative that they are aware of who they are, what shaped their identity and the ethical values they bring to their profession. As reflective practitioners they would continue to reflect on this throughout their working lives, albeit their ongoing journey of self-understanding. This ongoing self-reflection will assist them in keeping in touch with who they are and will help them address ethical challenges, whilst remaining true to their values. We learn from other people’s stories and my aim was to stimulate debate on identity construction from which new ideas will emerge, not to provide a definitive answer to the subject of identity which itself remains something of an enigma, but to share the emergence of my identity and encourage others to explore their own identities—with readers finding their resolve strengthened, to think about their identity development. The reader may relate to or recognise themselves in some of my experiences and my interpretation of it may be helpful to them, but ultimately it shares with the reader a unique process for exploring identity, namely my “incident” based approach. I accept that many researchers believe that the main purpose of research is to inform policy and professional practice, but I subscribe to a different view as held by others such as Mason (2002), who states the most significant products are the transformations in the being of the researchers and secondly stimuli to other researchers to test out conjectures for themselves. Aristotle’s quote “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” resonates with me in that as human beings, whatever vocation we choose to pursue or the fact of ‘just being’, it is important for us to reflect on our own identities—for we cannot hope to understand others, or undertake research on others, if we have not first reflected on who we are.