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The Evolution of Narratives

A Personal Perspective: The stories we tell are bringing us full circle.

Key points

  • We are the storytelling species; narrative psychology can help us understand our storied nature.
  • Good narratives are told in a recognizable, meaning-making pattern.
  • The hidden pattern of narratives facilitates a process of transformation; the narratives we use to define us can be unifying.

Narrative psychology came into being for a few reasons. One is that, at our essence, we are the storytelling species. We think in story form, speak in story form, and bring meaning to our lives through story. Another is that we need a way to understand this “storied nature of human conduct,” as Theodore Sarbin put it.

Narrative can be synonymous with story, as both are a natural process we use to make sense of the world and our experiences in it. Narrative also refers specifically to the form, structure, or pattern an ongoing story is told.

The Story Pattern

A ubiquitous pattern is evident from an early age in the first stories we hear. Fairy tales, myths, legends, and sacred stories of all cultures carry a built-in pattern of beginning, middle, and end.

But there is a deeper level to that pattern. Hidden within the structure of story is a formula for transformation. All good stories follow the pattern of beginning, muddle, and resolution. This pattern is to better clarify and emphasize the meaning in the story as well as facilitate a process of transformation that keeps us moving along a trajectory intended to guide us from separation to union, or wholeness. The muddles, or challenges, we face represent the core of the pattern that brings the process of transformation to its completion, or resolution.

From Unifying Narratives to Divisive Narratives and Back

By Robert Atkinson
Source: By Robert Atkinson

A storyteller’s short history of the world reveals not only this formula for transformation but also where we are right now in the evolution of narratives.

There was a time when people gathered to share stories that embodied the values and principles they lived by. These stories held the community together and gave them a shared purpose. They were unitive narratives, essential to their individual and collective well-being.

Then there came a time when communities expanded, spread out, became more diverse, and experienced conflict and disorder. Out of this discord emerged divisive narratives that maintained separation.

Today, as we approach a consciousness of global integration, a new story of our wholeness is needed to frame this interconnectedness. It is time to come together again through unifying narratives, to share our own stories of living in wholeness.

This concise history of the world, of how stories evolved over the millennia, illustrates that nothing may be more vital right now than a healing vision that guides us toward wholeness.

We can observe in this multi-millennia-long process of the evolution of narratives that the formula itself of good narratives was truncated into the beginning followed by the muddle. That incomplete version of meaningful stories left things separate and unresolved.

We can also observe that humanity started out with unitive narratives, those which resulted in a resolution to a muddle and at the same time completed the intended process of transformation.

The Language of Unity

When divisive narratives were introduced, humanity became separated and has remained so. It is critical to remember that the language we use can be a catalyst for the evolution of our consciousness, just as the narratives we use to define us can be unifying. Consciously choosing language that comes from and speaks to the heart carries a power to heal the wounds of the centuries.

We are entering the unifying age when a vision of reality as one will become commonplace. Only narratives guiding us toward wholeness serve this evolutionary impulse.

Unifying narratives, those that organically complete the process of transformation by helping us unite the opposites around us, address the needs of our time. Unity is the primary characteristic of the wholeness of all things. Unifying narratives are essential now to bring the human family back together, one story at a time.


Adapted from Atkinson, R. (2022) A New Story of Wholeness: An Experiential Guide for Connecting the Human Family. NY: Light on Light Press.

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