Bert’s tricks: Reframing


(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at left, surrendering a little.

Bert speaking:)

Had breakfast this morning with my friend Richard.

“I liked that last post,’ he said, “about the alternatives to control.  Very helpful.”

“Thanks,” I said.  “I’m not looking forward to writing the next one.”

“Why not?”

“The last one was theoretical.  Now I have to write about how hard the alternatives are to practice.  And I have to admit that, even though I’m the so-called expert, I’m not very good at any of this stuff.”

He smiled.  “Maybe that’s what people need to hear.”

Oh.  Okay.     

I’m not very good at any of this stuff.

Then again, I’m better than I was.

And one of the things I’ve learned in recovery is that sometimes better is good enough.

See what I did there?

That’s called a reframe.

It’s is a sort of trick I play on myself.  The cognitive equivalent of taking a giant step to one side and looking at something from a new point of view.

“Reframing is simply changing the meaning of an event or experience, in the way that placing a picture in a different picture frame somehow changes the look of it,” writes Jan Brause.  “Human beings are meaning making machines and we learn the meaning of things from an early age from our individual culture and the significant others in our lives. The meaning or ‘frame’ that we place on something has a significant impact on how we respond to it.”

In other words: Change the frame you place around what you see, and you change what you feel when you see it.

And it works. 

A classic example:

I cried because I had no shoes,

until I met a man who had no feet. 

Now, I’m a control addict, which means my initial reaction to any pain,  problem or stressor — in short, any reality that displeases me —  is to look for some way to control it.  And when I can’t find one I feel angry and entitled to complain.  

This reaction comes from the unconscious assumption that control is always, always a good and necessary thing.  Reframing means challenging that assumption.

For example:

The other night in the library parking lot I slammed my car door on the buckle to my seat belt, which bent some thingy in the door and made it impossible to close.  So I rolled down the window and put my arm through it and drove home that way, hugging the door shut. 

It was a cold night.  My fingerstips felt blue.  My shoulder began to ache from hugging.  I spent the first half of the drive home cursing my bad luck. 

Then, two miles from home, I passed a woman walking on the street.  She was overweight, had an Ace bandage on her knee, grocery bags in both hands, and she was limping.

Hello, reframe.

Note:  This there-but-for-the-grace-of-God, attitude-of-gratitude stuff is just one sort of reframing.  There are plenty of others, which I’ll describe in future posts.  But I thought this was a good place to start, given the season and all.      

In closing, a holiday gift for all you other control addicts. 

It’s a Zen story.* 

Read it next time some reality displeases you.

It’s about how life teaches us reframing, if we let it. 

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years.  One day his horse ran away.  Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.  “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.  “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg.  The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army.  Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.  The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Happy reframing.

*(From The 10 Very Best Zen Stories at 

* * *

Want more?

Students used a variety of coping strategies including emotional or instrumental support; self-distraction; denial; religion; venting; substance use; self-blame; and behavioral disengagement.

Of these, using social support (both emotional and instrumental), denial, venting, behavioral disengagement, and self-blame coping had negative effects on satisfaction at the end of the day.

That is, the more students used these coping strategies in dealing with the day’s most bothersome failure, the less satisfied they felt at the end of the day.

In contrast, positive reframing (i.e., trying to see things in a more positive light, looking for something good in what happened), acceptance and humor coping had positive effects on satisfaction.

From Using humor to cope with setbacks at



8 responses to “Bert’s tricks: Reframing

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