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The Danger of Reframing

Reframing is a staple of psychological, emotional and spiritual work. Why? Because reframing is when we identify the way we view a thought, an emotion, a belief, an event, an experience or a situation etc. And from there, we change the way we view that thing. A person’s reality is the relationship between themselves and the world. It’s the way they view and relate to the world. If we change how we view and relate to the world, that changes our reality. Because of this, reframing quite literally changes our reality. I don’t need to sell you on the merits of reframing. Why? Because every single one of you watching this has had a personal experience where something or someone changed the way to viewed a situation for the better, and as a result, your life experience improved. But as with everything, there is a shadow side to reframing. Let’s look at this shadow side, so you can prevent the potential damage that can be caused by reframing. 

  1. So many things that are good for us, can be used as a coping mechanism. This is also the case with re-framing. A coping mechanism is a specific procedure, process or technique, which manages stress or creates adaptation to stress. A coping mechanism is the opposite of change. Rather than creating a change to ourselves or our lives that makes it so we are not under the weight of a specific stressor, we adapt to the stressor, so that we can stay in it and around it. Doing this, puts us at risk for keeping ourselves stuck, but feeling better about being stuck. The danger of re-framing is the danger of immediately indulging in our reframing in order to make the situation we are in, ok. Instead of actually making necessary positive changes to our life. To give you an example, let’s look at Melanie. Melanie does not feel capable of leaving her miserable job. She feels she cannot face the idea of financial instability. So, she takes to re-framing to feel better about staying in the situation, rather than rocking the boat. When she feels rage towards her coworkers and boss, she looks at a zodiac chart which says that she needs to learn constructive ways of dealing with her anger. And she reframes the situation to “I think this job is here to teach me how to stop relying on everything outside of me to make me feel good. Because of this job, I am going to master my own anger, so I can feel good no matter what situation I am in and no matter what other people do or don’t do.” 
    To give you another example, Zoey had a therapist who was big on re-framing.  Zoey’s therapist encouraged her for years to “reframe” the pain of the deep neglect and verbal and emotional abuse she was subjecting herself to with her primary partner. Zoey’s therapist especially hated the idea of victim mentality. Her therapist would say “if you stop thinking of yourself as a victim, what would you be instead?” For example, instead of complaining that her partner was stonewalling and withdrawing during conversations, her therapist encouraged her to see her partner as the person who was training her to learn the art of self-care, rather than dependence on others. When Zoey’s partner started up a romantic fling with one of Zoey’s other friends, her therapist said “The fact that jealousy is coming up now, is a beautiful opportunity. You get to work through all of your insecurities.” And “This is an opportunity to test the strength of your friendship with your friend. You could see your partner as a welcome test to the strength of the relationship.” What she was actually doing for years was encouraging Zoey to enable the abuse in her partnership while making herself responsible for 100 percent of the relationship. The real way to help Zoey with self-care was to encourage her to stand up for herself and say NO to how terribly she was being treated. The result of Zoey’s therapist teaching Zoey to re-frame everything, was that she stayed in a relationship that was actively destroying who she was, destroying her hope for the future, and her ambition to create the life she wanted for herself. To learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: How to Let Go of a Comping Mechanism.    
  2. Re-framing can be a form of denial. Denial is refusing to accept or admit to the truth of the reality of something unpleasant. And denial is in fact a detrimental form of reframing. You might think that denial is a good tool. After all, if someone can ignore proof in a universe managed by the law of mirroring, and focus on what they want to have be true, they will manifest that into reality instead right? Wrong. Denial is a state of avoidance, resistance and suppression. It is a pushing against what is unwanted. It is a refusal to accept something. It is a war with what is. And resistance to a thing brings about an escalation of that thing. Denial does not work because unless you know where you actually are, you cannot know where you want to be and you can’t take the appropriate step between here and there. For the sake of understanding the difference between denial/suppression and genuine improvement, imagine getting in an airplane and flying out across the ocean. Imagine that a low oil pressure warning light comes on in your cockpit. Now imagine that instead of actually addressing it, you take a piece of duct tape and put it over the light so you don’t see it anymore. Can you see how that coping mechanism would get you into a whole lot of trouble? 
    Denial is not just about denying that there is a problem, some people see there is a problem but their denial based reframing comes in the form of invalidation of the experience, dismissing it, minimizing the impact it has on our lives, excusing it, or rationalizing it. To learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: How To Call Bullshit on Denial.     
  3. Reframing can put you in an overlay. To understand overlays, I want you to imagine that a person is in a prison cell. They think there is no way of getting out of that prison cell. They cannot cope with the reality of the prison cell and so they begin to escape from it with their mind. They start to play a game of pretend where the prison is a palace instead. To them, the person who brings food to the cell every day is a servant. The walls are not the stone of a prison; they are the stone of a medieval castle. The bars are pillars. The mind has the capacity to play pretend to such a degree that every element of reality can be seen as a different element in our game of pretend. But this game is not really a game because your mental and emotional ok-ness depends on it. This pretend reality sits over actual reality like an overlay. When we are in an overlay, we lose touch with reality and we start to feel the overlay is more real than the reality we don’t want to admit to underneath it. An overlay is a very dangerous thing because it makes it so we do not even see reality in the first place. We could be headed towards a cliff but because we are not looking at reality, we are looking at our overlay; we are convinced it is a beautiful horizon line. An overlay is a form of detrimental reframing. Reframing with the use of an overlay can get you in serious trouble in any situation you find yourself in. And it is especially a problem when it comes to relationships, because it prevents you from having a real relationship full stop. To understand more about this, you can watch my video titled: Overlay (What Prevents You from Having a Real Relationship).
  4. Reframing can really, really hurt the people around you. If you are too threatened by the reality of someone else (such as a situation they are going through, how they feel or thoughts they are thinking), reframing can be a way to make yourself (or even potentially them) feel better about what is going on with them. But in doing so, you run the risk of failing to see their reality. And therefore, failing to respond correctly. It can cause you to say and do the wrong thing for them, as well as cause them to feel more alone in their pain, thereby making matters worse. Reframing can cause you to become stuck in your own reality about the other person, making it so that you and them are essentially in two different realities and acting according to two different realities, condemning them to be alone and in pain. To give you an example of this, let’s look at Brianna. Brianna has a really bad relationship with her mother. Her mother spent her mothering years invalidating everything there was to invalidate about Brianna, competing with her, putting her down and making excuses for an abusive step father she brought onto the scene. Recently, Brianna’s mother sent her a passive aggressive meme that said “Forgive your parents for not being perfect, they did the best they could”. This threw off Brianna’s entire day. Why? Because instead of actually changing the painful behaviors that Brianna has begged her to change, and instead of apologizing or making amends, she made Brianna’s lack of forgiveness the problem. She put the pressure on Brianna, rather than herself and insinuated that the problem was not her, it was an unrealistic expectation that Brianna holds for her to be perfect. Brianna went to a coffee shop to talk to her friend Avery. Avery is a very spiritual person. In fact, she just got back from a trip to Peru, where she was doing San Pedro medicine. Avery also comes from a dysfunctional family. In Peru, Avery went through a huge forgiveness experience that involved her whole family. And ever since, Avery has been feeling transcendent. Talking to Brianna about her mother feels really “dense” to her. She does not like the feeling of being pulled back into the feeling of family drama. She doesn’t want Brianna to be stuck there either. So, Avery offers thoughts that qualify as a re-frame to Brianna. Avery tells her “Your mother really doesn’t know any better. You came down as her daughter to show her how to love. And the first step, is to forgive. Believe me, that is a decision that you just have to make whenever you are ready.” To Avery, this is an empowering idea. But this re-frame, does nothing whatsoever for Brianna, other than to make things worse. It further invalidates the pain she experienced with her mother. It is experienced as siding with the mother in favor of Brianna yet again taking all the pressure and responsibility in the relationship by being the one who has to do all the work. And it further wounded Brianna because the reframe insinuates that indeed, Brianna is the problem in the situation, because her mother doesn’t know any better. It excuses emotionally abusive behavior. This causes Brianna to feel even worse. And to learn to never, ever tell Avery about the painful things going on with her. Aside from this, Brianna feels like crap around Avery’s air of spiritually transcendent superiority. Avery is committed to her drama free reality caused by her own spiritually re-framed thoughts. Their friendship is damaged by the lack of attunement that re-framing has caused. To understand more about this, you can watch two of my videos. The first titled: The Most Dangerous Parallel Reality. And the second titled: Attunement (The Key to a Good Relationship)  
  5. Reframing can be a form of toxic positivity. Toxic positivity rejects all difficult thoughts and emotions in favor of a cheerful and usually falsely-positive façade. This is a recipe for future melt down because you cannot do this long term. You cannot do this and act according to your actual personal truth. Therefore, you cannot do this and live an authentic life or create a life that actually works for you. Nor can you address your actual needs. The reality is, life isn’t always positive. This “good vibes only” approach to life is a form of avoidance and suppression. Toxic positivity prevents you from seeing the full reality of any situation, person, place or thing. It also damages every relationship in your life and prevents your own personal growth. 
  6. Reframing can be a form of bypassing. Bypassing (or whitewashing) is the act of using thoughts to avoid facing or healing one’s painful feelings, unresolved wounds and unmet needs. It is a sidestep. It is a state of avoidance. Because it is a state of avoidance, it is a state of resistance. Bypassing enables us to avoid our feelings by detouring into the land of changing our ideas and beliefs. And bypassing operates under the false assumption that every trauma and emotion can be fixed mentally and can be fixed by changing the thoughts you are thinking. Because of this, bypassing actually prevents true healing. Bypassing is ESPECIALLY prevalent in spiritual circles. To learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: Spiritual Bypassing.   
  7. Reframing can be a form of gaslighting. And you can use it to gaslight yourself and to gaslight others. To gaslight someone is to sow seeds of doubt in their mind that makes them question their own sense of personal truth and reality (things like memory, judgement, perception, feelings etc). It is to try to convince someone that what they see, they didn’t see, what they hear they didn’t hear and what they feel they have no reason to feel. Gaslighting can be consciously done. We could consider this conscious gaslighting. Conscious in the sense that a person is aware they are doing it and choosing to do it. But by far, the most common type of gaslighting is unconscious. Meaning that a person is not aware of what they are doing and therefore are not doing it deliberately but are doing it none the less. It is critical to practice profound compassion and radical acceptance for your own inner experiences and then to work on seeing things from a different angle. Re-framing can very easily be a tool for the negation of one’s personal truth and reality. Questioning your perception is about questioning whether and where your perception is limited, not invalid. To understand more about this, you can watch my video titled: Gaslighting (What is Gaslighting and How to Deal With it). 
  8. Reframing can cause you to oversimplify complex things and complex situations. In this same vein, it can really serve black and white, either or thinking. Many situations in life are not simple. They are full of nuance and contradictory truths. Re-framing often seeks to eradicate cognitive dissonance and the discomfort of complexity, but by doing so, the actual full truth of a situation is lost. 

The reality is, it would take the length of a book to write a comprehensive list of all of the potential shadows of reframing. We need to first deeply experience our initial perspective. Another way of saying this is, we need to deeply acknowledge, feel, see, hear and understand the frame which we are currently or initially experiencing. The opposite of avoidance of what is. We do this with the awareness that we can never know whether we are perceiving the full truth. Our perspective may be limited in ways that do not benefit us. There may be a different or more objective perspective that is more beneficial to us. We then need to ask ourselves why we want to re-frame the experience. What is the intention. And we need to check in with ourselves regarding whether we are actually in alignment with the answer we give to that question. Or, if we are indeed using re-framing as a coping mechanism or as an avoidance tactic. If we are in alignment with the answer we give to the motivation for re-framing, we can begin to consciously seek out different frames to view the situation through. We can begin to look for different perspectives. But, when we do this, with each re-frame, we need to ask ourselves: How might this re-frame benefit me/someone in my position? How might this re-frame not benefit me/someone in my position? This allows us to be aware of the potential shadows we are at risk of falling into. 

The thoughts and perceptions we operate with, should be helpful. It is beneficial to change thoughts and perceptions into ones that are helpful. But you will find that over the course of your path of healing and expanding, there are plenty of helpful thoughts and perceptions that don’t exactly feel good.       


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