And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.
~As You Like It
There is a frequently used concept in counseling called reframing. Simplistically put, the idea of reframing is that a person works to change their perspective on a particular situation or set of circumstances in order to help alleviate whatever negative symptoms they are experiencing. Notice that the effort is put into changing perspectives rather than changing situations.
For many people, particularly children and teenagers, situations are immutable things—a child being placed in foster care, an individual diagnosed with a chronic illness, a death in the family—things outside of a single person’s control. And the fact that those situations exist is one of the hardest to swallow especially in our society that tells us that we can be masters of our own fate. We are bombarded on a daily basis with messages to step up and take control and move forward in a direction of our own choosing. But no one tells us how.
Too often, people become fixated on solutions that require a change in circumstances over which they have no power. They think that if someone or something else would change, everything would be better. So when circumstances don’t change, when people don’t act differently, it tends to lead to feelings of anger and frustration and hopelessness.
And that is where reframing comes in.
Once we acknowledge that there are things outside of our control it becomes easier to identify the things that are within it. We may not be able to control the weather but we can choose to bring an umbrella. And once we make that choice we can look beyond it and find why rain may be a good thing. Instead of being miserable and complaining about being cold and wet, we can anticipate that the flowers will be pretty in the morning and that our garden will grow.
Some people might argue that there are circumstances wherein no good can be found. Those people would argue that violence against another person cannot be seen in any positive light—and those people would be right. There are certain things that can never be viewed as beneficial. However, the process of reframing is not about viewing offensive and harmful circumstances as “good”. Reframing is about looking beyond the simple facts of a situation and finding how a person can grow, how they can keep that negativity from becoming the defining moments in their life.
It’s not easy and it certainly isn’t always pleasant to try and look beyond the moment to find something positive and sometimes we need help to do just that. There are some important questions that we can ask ourselves when trying to find something positive in our circumstances. These questions can help us examine, in depth, what we are experiencing and how we might learn and grow from them.
1. What is this doing to me? We often dismiss the impact that circumstances are having on us, be they physical, emotional, or psychological. We need to be honest with ourselves about what we need in order to move forward in a healthy manner.
2. What can I learn? By looking closer and examining the situations we find ourselves in we can ask ourselves whether or not we could have done anything differently. Sometimes that answer is “no”. Sometimes we experience things as a result of our own choices, another person’s choices, and sometimes we experience things for no reason at all. When we find ourselves in negative situations it is important to look at how we got there and, if possible, how we might avoid future pitfalls. Those pitfalls may include choices before, during, and after stressful situations.
3. What do I want from this? When we have an end goal in mind it then becomes easier to find possible courses of action. Having realistic and attainable goals can help provide motivation and propel us out of our current conditions and into ones we can more easily manage.