How Reframing a Difficult Situation Makes it Better

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In a previous blog, we discussed different methods of coping. Some methods are not very effective (such as emotion- or avoidance-oriented coping methods). Some are more effective, and we call these task-oriented methods.

Task-oriented coping activities aim to solve a problem. If you can’t solve it, these aim to change the way that you think about it.

Changing the way you think can be challenging at first. In order to change your thoughts, you have to:

  1. Pay attention to your thoughts 
  2. If you don’t like where your thoughts are going, stop them
  3. Redirect your thoughts in the direction you want them to go

When you think about something over and over, it establishes a well-worn path in the brain, kind of like a dirt path that gets deeper when someone walks it day after day. You may find yourself thinking unwanted thoughts without even meaning to. Don’t get discouraged by this. If you keep working at it, your new thoughts will “wear in” new paths in your brain eventually.

One way to change the way you think about something is to look at it in a different way. Reframe the problem as an opportunity. Reframe something “bad” as something “good.” Here are some examples:

 

Example #1

You have a very difficult boss at work. They are very critical and the constant criticism borders on attack. Every time you are around them, you are totally stressed out, because you don’t know what they are going to say next.

What if you reframed this to: My manager sees my potential and wants to help me become a better person. They have high expectations, which is why they point out my mistakes. They are going to help me learn and grow and become better at what I do.

Choosing to view their criticism as constructive and valuable feedback for your growth and development can change the way you feel about the situation.

 

Example #2 

One of your friends has been distant and remote. They don’t respond to your texts quickly and sometimes not at all. You are frustrated with them and think that they don’t really want to be your friend, but you don’t want to confront them and make things tense or awkward, in case you are wrong.

What if you reframed this and asked yourself: What if my friend is going through something tough right now? I should reach out and ask if there is anything that I can do to help. And if they don’t respond, at least they know that I’m here for them if they ever need me.

Reframing the situation helps you realize that they may be dealing with something totally unrelated to you. It makes the situation less personal and increases your empathy.

 

Example #3

You are upset because you didn't get a promotion. You think it’s unfair and that you were judged wrongly. Maybe the person who got the promotion didn’t deserve it.

What if you reframed this and asked yourself: What positive things could come from not getting the promotion? Maybe you’ll have more time for family or to improve your skills. Maybe you’ll be able to finally do some other things that you’ve been wanting to do.


Reframing a situation doesn’t make it go away, but it can help to consider other perspectives, build empathy, and look for opportunities that you might have otherwise missed.

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October 26, 2020