Relationships are sometimes difficult. We don’t get what we want, and we get a lot of what we don’t want. We can start to slip into a mindset, of “Relationships shouldn’t have to be this hard, or “I’ve gotten involved with the wrong person.” These kinds of thoughts may or may not be true. If we continue to play these same thoughts over and over in our minds, they become more believable. By the same token, we can replace the dismal, energy stealing thoughts with more responsible thoughts like, “I wonder if I have something to do with these breakdowns that we keep having?” or “I think there must be something important for me to learn here.” These are examples of reframing problems as challenges and taking them on as such.
Changing our point of view
One of the skills to develop as mature individuals and good communicators is that of reframing. To reframe is to change the point of view of any given situation. The facts of the situation remain the same, but a deliberate shift is made in viewing that situation. There is a shift in emotional tone and the meaning that we give those facts. We can choose to move our experience from a negative frame to a more hopeful one, filled with opportunities. This process allows us an expanded view of our reality. One example of reframing is redefining a problem as a challenge. Such a redefinition activates a different way of being. The word problem has a heavy quality to it, while the word challenge is enlivening. By a simple change of word, our energy is affected.
Another example and an extremely important opportunity for reframing, occurs during an angry interchange. When our anger is inflamed, we are more likely to close our heart and deteriorate into judgmental, critical thoughts such as “she is such an angry bitch,” or “he is such a selfish bully.” When we are flooded with feelings, we are rendered temporarily helpless, and in that moment put the other out of our heart, thereby making them the enemy.
Taking time to pause and reflect, we can view the situation from another vantage point.
With a committed effort to pause and reflect, we can remember that underneath the anger, both our own and that of others, is fear and pain. In that crucial moment of reframing, we can dare to speak more vulnerably about our own fear and pain, which so frequently invites the other person to disarm themselves to speak vulnerably with us as well. To regularly practice reframing takes a concerted effort, but one that allows for tremendous rewards.
A much more dramatic example comes from Victor Frankl in his book, From Death Camp to Existentialism, he speaks of being in a concentration camp. For three years, he lived through starvation and torture in four camps. He lost his beloved wife and all of his family and observed most of his fellow inmates die. Frankel kept his mind active, planning the lectures he would give after his release, using the material from the death camps to illustrate points he wanted to teach. As a devoted teacher, the careful, deliberate planning of his future lectures kept his spirit and body alive in deadening conditions. He survived the death camps for years and did go on to realize his vision of using his experiences as a great healer.
This process was a giant reframe of a hideous situation being transformed in his mind to be used for a worthy purpose. He was determinedly preparing to use his suffering to help others find hope in their particular horrible physical or mental situations. Most of us will never have to endure the hell that Frankl’s life was composed of in the concentration camps, but we can use his guideline to keep our attitude strong and hopeful, even in dire circumstances.
Those who engage their pain by reframing, learn to trust that good results can come.
They do not close their heart in bitterness, because they appreciate the transformative power of suffering. The deeper the channels of pain carve into us, the deeper the capacity for joy. They have figured out that present-day pain unleashes past pain, hurt, shame, doubt, and feelings of inadequacy. It is in the opening to the pain that is a healthy response to a successful life process. We are forced to loosen our grip on the illusion of control. And then we begin to ask the right questions. We find resources we didn’t know we had and continue our movement toward our own wholeness.