How to Improve Your Relationships in the Present by Talking about the Past. Part 2:


Reframing is taking an same event (or circumstance) and giving it a new and different meaning. That is, looking at old stuff in a new way.

I worked with a man in his 30’s who had come for help with work issues. During the work it became clear that he did not feel good about himself. He recalled a vivid memory of an event that happened when he was 19. He was sitting in a diner with friends enjoying a hamburger and fries when his distressed father came into the restaurant and told him that one of his younger sisters had been hit by a bus and killed. He said he did not feel bad when he heard the news. All he thought about was how good the fries and ketchup tasted.

Soon after he felt very guilty about thinking about the taste of food when something so tragic had happened. He concluded that he must not care about his sister. He judged himself harshly – that he was a bad brother and a bad person. I told him that if that were true, he would not be bothered about his reaction to this event and probably would not even have remembered it. But this statement had no impact on him.

Then reframed the situation and circumstances. I told him I saw it in a different way. How I saw it was that he was shocked by the terrible news and went numb. Then he focused on the taste of the fries because the moment before he heard the terrible news, life was very good. A part of him went into denial and just wanted life to be as it had been just moments before he heard the news. He focused on the taste because he did not want the news to be true.

The client resonated with my reframing of the circumstances. Immediately, he felt tremendous relief. The meaning I gave for his behavior matched his experience. (If it had not matched his experience he would not have had this response.)

He could now let go of the guilt he’d felt for years. His old conclusion dissolved because it was now obvious to him how deeply he cared about his sister. He came to a new conclusion that made him feel good about himself, increasing his self-esteem. The increase in his self-esteem translated into the work issues that he had originally come to counseling for.

Taking the same event from the past and looking at it with new eyes is another way to change the present.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

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