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Identity and meaning are fundamental to human experience and are particularly pertinent during adolescence and times of adversity. While identity development and meaning making can be different for vulnerable young people, who experience multiple adverse life events, there is currently little evidence of how these young people construct identity and make meaning from their experiences. This article reports on a phenomenological study, which allowed young people to start from their own understandings of identity and meaning and explore the ways they constructed their sense of self and place in the world. Interviews were conducted with 24 young people from Canberra, Australia. The study found identity constructions were profoundly influenced by an entrenched sense of autonomy, a longing to be the opposite of what they had experienced, and the expectation of living up to their own constructions of an ideal self. The findings strengthen our understanding of identity construction for this group, highlight the value of adopting narrative approaches to identity exploration, and demonstrate the value of incorporating knowledge from the field of loss and grief. Strategies to support vulnerable young people to develop positive, coherent, and achievable identity and meaning constructions are provided.


School of Allied Health

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Journal Article

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