A simple definition of reframing is to look at something (an incident, someone’s behavior or actions) in a different way—from another point of view. You can also review situations after obtaining additional information (after becoming more informed), when you can see the whole picture! This is not always easy to do, especially when your emotions are involved. Part I discusses identifying some of the thoughts needing reframing and why.
Our thoughts, beliefs and habits influence the meaning of our experiences and what emotions are involved. In turn, the emotions we feel (good and bad) are responsible for the chemicals that our body’s organs release into our blood streams. Dr. Candace Pert (biophysicist and author of Molecules of Emotion, Simon & Schuster Publishers) and her team of scientists hired professional method actors. The actors’ blood was tested after acting out scenes expressing different emotions. Dr. Pert found that each emotion resulted in a different chemical (ie. hormones, enzymes, etc.) being released into the actors’ blood.
As discussed in Memory vs. Forgetting, it is those negative thoughts and emotions that harm the body. Suppressing these emotions (keeping them in the subconscious mind and out of our everyday thoughts) uses up some of our energy, keep us from being as healthy as we’d like to be. Sometimes we are given clues that we are burying negative thoughts and experiences. Examples that negative emotions being held in our subconscious mind are recurring nightmares, dysfunctional habits (habits that do not serve a good purpose for us), persistent negative thoughts/beliefs that cause unwanted consequences in our lives (i.e. the need to be perfect all the time; the need to cling to some people in your life; too often having feelings of anxiety and fear without sufficient reasons; and/or the need to be right and blame others for being wrong if they don’t agree with you.)
More times than not, deeply buried emotional events originate in our childhood years. The first step is to identify the suppressed emotion(s) and the situation(s) that caused it (or them). However, for some people, this can be both tricky and possibly dangerous. For those people who have very fragile emotions or are in a very sensitive or fragile state of mind, I would strongly suggest only attempting reframing with the assistance of a counselor. Sometimes digging up old and buried emotional experiences is more than a person can handle. That is one reason why the memory of the event was buried in the subconscious in the first place—to protect the person from hurt/emotional pain that he/she cannot deal with either alone or at this time.
If possible, talk with those who knew you as a child about any incidents that upset you (for example: a period of your being sad, food issues, accidents, someone always yelling at you or mistreating you—sometimes the simplest things mean a lot to a child). Some incidents you would now, as an adult, consider to be small may have seemed large from a child’s point of view. However, the memory from your childhood point of view is still buried in your subconscious mind! Fortunately, from time to time, we reframe issues without realizing that is what we are doing. This is especially true when we get additional information after the fact. One thing people often say when in the process of reframing is: “Oh! I didn’t know that!” Or, “Oh! I didn’t realize that!” The additional information helps you to look at a particular situation differently, in a way that either no longer hurts you (or doesn’t hurt as much)!
Let me give you a couple of examples from my life. I used to buy cases of food (canned goods) when I had my very first apartment. There was no reason, as I lived alone. After filling my kitchen cabinets, I stocked canned goods under the couch in my living room, under my bed, and in my bedroom closet! I could not stop myself! One day I was talking with a relative who told me about an incident I had as a child. The family had just returned from visiting the zoo. I said I was hungry the minute I entered the house. My mother told me that I had to wait to eat, because she had to feed my brother first. Thinking back, this must have happened several times – my having to wait. My mother was not going to explain to a five-year-old child about the need to nurse my brother on demand! As an adult, especially having experienced nursing my own children, I understood that when a mother has to nurse, she has to nurse—immediately! Without realizing it, I’d reframed these episodes in my young life and given them new meaning. After understanding my subconscious motivation to always have so much food available, I no longer have the urge to hoard cases of food!
Growing up throughout childhood I used to have a recurring nightmare. My mother was kidnapped by a witch, and driven away down a long cement road. I saw myself crying, yelling “Mommy don’t leave me!” over and over again. I would always wake up crying, and not understanding why I had such a crazy dream. My mother was in the next room! One day my mother came to wake me and saw that I was crying in my sleep. When I explained the recurring nightmare to her she understood. She explained to me that when we moved to New York when I was three years old, there was no one to care for my sister and me. She put us in someone’s home many miles away until she obtained a job and the means to care for us. She was living with friends at that time. She didn’t know that the woman who was caring for us was abusive. In my young mind, the woman was a witch. The witch drove her down a long driveway in front of the house, to and from the train station for my mother’s weekly visits. After being told that explanation, I no longer had that nightmare!
In her book Minding the Body, Mending the Mind (Bantam Books), Joan Borysenko tells of another example. She’d read of a woman who suffered with perfectionism. She was so obsessed about neatness that she would become upset when anyone walked on her frequently vacuumed carpets—constantly upsetting her family! The woman’s therapist had her imagine what it would be like to have no one around to walk on her carpets—no husband, children, or friends. It would be just she and her clean carpets. She began to realize that the life her actions would create was not the kind of life that would result in her being happy. She was able to reframe her thinking. Instead of becoming annoyed, she was pleased to welcome those she cared about as they came home and walked across her freshly vacuumed carpet to return to her.
One of the benefits of reframing childhood memories when one is an adult is that we are able to see the same situations with a mature mind. As a child things are either black or white (Either you love me or you don’t. Either you will buy that for me or you won’t. If you loved me you wouldn’t leave me. Either you will let me spend the night at my friend’s house or you won’t.) Young children don’t have the ability to reason. Before a child’s brain is developed enough to do complex reasoning, he/she is almost a teenager!
What we feel physically directly influences how we feel emotionally. So you see, it’s a cycle that can go in both directions: physical feelings and functions of the body vs. emotional feelings and thoughts in our minds. How we see or interpret events and people in our lives directly affects how we feel about them. How we feel then determines what chemicals are released by our body’s organs into our blood streams.
It gives new meaning to what goes around comes around!
Some tips about how to reframe is scheduled tor Reframing—Part II