What is reframing in psychology?


In this article, we’ll discuss reframing in psychology, a very useful mental tool that you can use to feel better in difficult situations.

One of the very important concepts to understand about life is that everything that happens in nature is absolute. It’s neither good nor bad unless we give it meaning unless we put a frame around it.

The same situation can be good for one person and bad for another person, but stripped of all meaning and boiled down to itself, it’s just a situation.

Take killing for instance. You might argue that killing someone is inherently bad but I can give you many examples where it can be considered a good or even a ‘brave’ act. A soldier killing enemies while defending his country, a cop shooting down a criminal, and so on.

The family of the criminal will definitely see the shooting as bad, tragic and doleful but for the cop, this killing was a good act in the service of society and he might even believe that he deserves a medal.

The personal frame of reference we put around life situations determines to a great extent our interpretations of these situations and hence our emotional states. 

Something happens, we observe it, based on what we know we give meaning to it and then we either feel good or bad about it. How good we feel about it depends entirely on whether or not we see any benefit in it. If we see a benefit, we feel good and if we don’t or if see harm, we feel bad.

The concept of reframing in psychology

Now that we know it is the frame and not the situation that usually results in our emotions, can we change our frame thereby causing a change in our emotions? Absolutely. This is the whole idea behind reframing.

The goal of reframing is to view a seemingly negative situation in such a way that it becomes positive. It involves changing your perception of an event so that you can focus on the opportunity that it provides you with, instead of the difficulty that it mires you in. This inevitably leads to a change in your emotions from negative to positive.

Examples of reframing

If you’re facing tough work conditions then instead of cursing your job you can see it as an opportunity to enhance your skills and problem-solving abilities. You could also see it as an opportunity to develop resilience.

If you failed in a test then instead of calling yourself a failure you can see it as an opportunity to do better next time.

If you are stuck in a terrible traffic jam then instead of getting worked up you can view it as a great opportunity to listen to an audio-book that you’ve been wanting to hear for quite a while.

If you’ve lost touch with your old friends and feel bad about it, then maybe it’s life clearing up space for new people to enter into your life.

The whole ‘positive thinking’ phenomenon is nothing but reframing. You teach yourself to see things in a positive way so that you can get rid of unwanted emotions. 

But there’s a downside to positive thinking too which can prove to be dangerous if not kept in check…

There’s a fine line between reframing and self-deception

Reframing is good as long as it is done within reason. But outside of reason, it can (and often does) lead to self-deception. Many people are desperate to think ‘positively’ and so they create a fantasy world of positive thinking and escape to it whenever life gives them a hard time. But when reality hits, it hits hard.

The human mind cannot accept reframing that is not backed by reason for long. Sooner or later it makes you realize that you’ve been deceiving yourself. At this point, you can either get depressed or you can get motivated to take action.

What happened to the fox?

We’ve all heard that story of the fox who famously declared that the ‘grapes are sour’. Yes, he did reframe his predicament and he did restore his psychological stability. But we’re never told what happened next.

So I’ll tell you the rest of the story and I hope it’ll inspire you to use NLP reframing wisely.

reframing in psychology

After declaring that the grapes were sour, the fox headed back home and tried to rationally analyze what had happened to him. He wondered why he tried so hard to reach the grapes in the first place if they were sour after all.

“The idea of the grapes being sour only came to me when I failed to reach the grapes”, he thought. “I bought into a rationalization in order not to try harder because I didn’t want to look like a fool for not being able to reach the grapes. I’ve been deceiving myself.”

Next day he brought a ladder with him, reached the grapes and relished them- they weren’t sour!