We all have to do things that we dislike. It may be entertaining out-of-state in-laws, cleaning up after a family pet or sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
During those moments, we have two distinct psychological options. One is to wallow in our misery, repeatedly telling ourselves that life is unfair. The other is to view the event from a different perspective, focusing on facets that are less painful, perhaps even pleasant.
This act is known as reframing, intentionally replacing negative or self-defeating thought patterns with more positive, constructive ones. For example, if you’re up all night rocking a fussy, crying baby, you can tell yourself how much you love her and that her teething pain is only temporary.
Reframing is similar to other well-known techniques such as optimism or looking for the silver lining. But rather than simply describing a cheery attitude, reframing encourages us to put a new spin on the same data and turn a fiasco into a success.
Reframing has been with us forever. Fairy tales, such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Ugly Duckling,” redefine physical beauty. Ebenezer Scrooge alters his view of humanity following a chilling evening with three ghosts. Dorothy finds a new appreciation for her family after her adventures in Oz.
Today, politicians turn reframing into an art form, forever spinning events in their favor.
Reframing is accompanied by a host of physical and emotional benefits. Positive thought patterns make us happier. We feel more in control of our lives. We have less stress and lower incidence of depression.
According to the Mayo Clinic, people who are optimistic experience fewer colds, have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and have increased life spans.
Of course, there are times when reframing isn’t the best plan of attack. If you or your loved ones are in danger from another’s actions, you should not put a positive spin on the situation. Rather you should do all you can to ensure your safety and leave ASAP.
In addition, reframing may also be accompanied by problem-solving to make a situation run as smoothly as possible. If, for instance, you are concerned about your husband’s weight gain, you can tell yourself, “I can’t control what he eats. I will love him regardless of his waistline.” Then avoid buying junk food, serve nutritious meals and encourage him to join you on evening walks.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.
How to reframe negative thoughts:
- Identify negative thought patterns. Tune in to the situations that get you most riled up. Then listen to the specific messages you tell yourself. You’re probably unaware of their existence.
- Relax and sit quietly with your negative thoughts. Take some deep breaths. Calm your heartbeat. It’s amazing how perspective changes when you’re relaxed.
- Realize that your negative opinion is only one possibility. There are countless ways to view your situation.
- Infuse humor into your perspective. Find ways to chuckle at yourself or your predicament. A good belly laugh always breaks the tension.
- Brainstorm other, more constructive, messages. Try assorted mantras, such as “This won’t last forever,” “I have lots to be grateful for,” or “I feel so loved.” Embrace the one that feels most soothing.