Life is full of challenges. Some challenges will be fairly straightforward while others will require major adjustment and reframing to meet the demands within them.
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Years ago, when I was helping design and write a class on Chronic Illness, we reviewed a book by Arnold Beisser titled, Flying without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing. Arnold was a young man ready to conquer the world. He was an athlete and tennis champion and had just completed medical school when polio struck. He found himself in an iron lung instead of in an office taking on new clients.
As he lay there unable to move, paralyzed from head to foot, he asked himself, Now what? His life seemed over. But he decided to take it back and gradually began to reframe his situation.
What can I engage in while I lay here?
He wanted to be more than just a helpless victim – he wanted to take charge of his life and have a part in determining what happened moving forward.
He began to use his imagination to creatively look at things in a new way. He writes in his book, that he began to experience “moments of great pleasure and satisfaction” when he became “absorbed” in whatever was going on around him. He became an “active observer, rather than a passive one.” He noticed small details of whatever he could see and how they would change.
Over time, with the help of physical therapy, he was able to get out of the iron lung and into a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. He did not allow his tragedy to disable him. He went on to become a psychiatrist, an administrator, an author and fell in love and married a woman he met while still in the hospital.
Arnold reframed his circumstances – he took what was given to him and began to look at it differently.
He expanded his interpretation and vision and then began taking those tiny steps to reclaim his life.
Whether you are going through a marriage that is crumbling, knowing your job is being outsourced, coming to grips with health problems or ending up missing some limbs, reframing is seeing alternatives when you didn’t think there were any – options that were hidden in the background beyond your field of vision.
If our frames of reference are small, our lives will be restrictive, limiting, negative and inflexible.
If we enlarge our frames of reference, we see a bigger picture, learn to roll with the punches and develop an inner strength and resiliency.
How Reframing Begins
Reframing is a skill we can apply every day to every situation. It begins with changing our attitude and mindset. It is stepping back from the problem and gathering more information. When our nose is pressed against the trunk of a tree, we only see tree bark. But when we step away from it, we are able to see the rest of the forest around it.
Reframing allows us to step back from the impossibility of the situation and look for possibilities. It not only allows us to transcend difficult or traumatic life situations, but we can discover humor and gratitude in the process.
Advantages of Reframing
When faced with difficult or traumatic events, our perceptions of what we believe the world should or ought to be are challenged. Reframing allows us to review and evaluate our expectations and assumptions and accommodate for change.
If you have been out of work for a while and can’t find a job within your field, reframing allows you to look at alternatives; temporary jobs or ways to survive within this time period. When my husband and I were first married, major transitions and loss of income resulted in the need to live with parents until we could get back on our feet.
Reframing challenges a rigid and inflexible mindset that wants to see things only one way and gives us the opportunity to actively look for creative ways to resolve problems. It expands our perception of life to see how any downturn or setback can be an opportunity to grow and become so much more. We can create new meaning and purpose for life. There are blessings and things to be grateful for. And life can be meaningful and rewarding if we are willing to change our focus from what we can’t do to what we can.
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