Blog entry by Alan Chapman
Reframing and Change
This explains change using positive reframing, for yourself or others, wanting/needing difficult changes of some sort.
Reframing is the enabling of a new meaning of a situation, or a person, so that change becomes more:
- wanted (by the person who is changing),
- and committed to action.
- comes from kindness and empathy,
- plants seeds and opens doors, for self-owned change,
- and offers gain and benefit; accentuates the positive.
Reframing should not:
- manipulate or control,
- dictate how to change,
- or use threat or penalty for failure.
Reframing is like a switch. A switch of mindset. A new meaning. A new light, or awakening, or realisation, or a 'light-bulb moment'. So a 'switch' is very descriptive.
Reframing, (or re-framing), is when we give a situation a very different meaning, compared with its usual or assumed meaning.
A simple example of reframing is:
if a child says to a grandparent, who smokes 40 cigarettes a day, "Grandpa, if you stop smoking, you'll live to see me marry and have children."
This makes an entirely different meaning, and positive reason, for rethinking smoking cigarettes, rather than the usual negative meaning and reason to change. Typically, "If you keep smoking you'll kill yourself."
Significantly, reframing is especially powerful when it comes from a position of kindness, instead of authority.
Most people do not respond cooperatively when told or advised to do something that involves challenging change.
So children often enable reframing for adults, especially parents and grandparents.
Reframing opens doors and plants seeds, offers a guiding light, and maybe holds a hand. Reframing does not instruct or prescribe a process. Because we are all different. And we must each 'own' our change, and how we grow.
One of the oldest examples of reframing is when a person starts to believe in heaven or an afterlife, which reframes the fear of dying, into a faith that death will be better than life. (Of course not all religious/spiritual notions of the 'afterlife', are wholly pleasant, especially where hell or equivalents feature. Anyway, hopefully you see my point.)
This article also (further below), offers a way to reframe suicidal disintegration, and suicidal ideation, which are among the biggest challenges.
As you will see, there is a way to reframe suicide, this most extreme desperation, so that the suicidal person sees themselves and their situation entirely differently and positively, instead of hopelessly and negatively.
As with any positive reframing, this is the basis for determinedly committing to the change.
Change is challenging
Change is challenging, except when it's very gradual. Very gradual change happens all through our lives, which is easy, because we don't realise it's happening.
Change that's more conscious, self-aware, and pro-active (decided and determined), is quite different.
This sort of change in ourselves, or helping others to change like this, for any reason, is usually quite difficult, and so often the change fails to happen.
Obvious examples are:
- ending a destructive relationship,
- stopping smoking or drinking,
- losing weight,
- becoming fitter and exercising more,
- changing a job,
- dealing with traumas and big life-events,
- and various life-stage transitions,
- such as child to teenager,
- teenager to adult,
- adult to parent,
- parent to children as they go through their own life stages,
- mid-life and ageing,
- illness and grief,
- accepting our own mortality and dying.
Typically the longer someone waits to make a change, the more difficult it is.
Humans tend to build a resistance to change that can become denialism, because we fear both the difficulty of the change, and we fear the difficulty of accepting that our own position, especially if held for many years, is not correct.
Because we have built a big position, to justify why we continue 'stuck', and then it's difficult for us to 'climb down'.
So for example, ending a relationship, or quitting a job, or smoking or drinking too much alcohol, is easier after a year, than after ten years.
This is why so many people, stay in bad relationships and marriages, and bad jobs, and stay smoking and drinking too much, and any other unhelpful 'stuck' situations, and dependencies/addictions, for all of their lives.
So how do we change, and help others to change, especially when habits have become 'stuck', and there is a strong resistance to the pain and effort of transition?
A solution contains two important elements:
- a new exciting positive incentive for making the change,
- that 'reframes' or 're-frames' the situation, and thereby the purpose of the change.
Reframing means that the situation is explained differently, so that the change means something very different, compared to current thinking and feelings.
Especially, reframing comes from kindness, rather than from authority and instruction.
Positive reframing is more effective than negative reframing.
This means that there's a positive reason (benefit, outcome, advantage) for making the change, rather than a negative penalty or consequence, for failing to make the change.
We all seem to focus on any proposition, so that a negative 'threat' reinforces the feeling of failure, and creates a target of failing, rather than succeeding.
Humans tend to act towards a suggested aim, even if the suggestion is negative.
'Accentuate the positive,' is a very old and effective maxim.
'You can succeed,' is much more like to inspire success, than 'You must not fail'.
An example is that drivers of cars and motorbikes, while cornering too fast, tend to come off the road and maybe into a wall, if they look off the road, which becomes their aim instead of looking at the road ahead, and a safe exit from the corner.
There is another famous story, of a mother who left her small child, for a few minutes alone in the kitchen, and said, on leaving the room, "There are beans cooking on the stove, so don't go putting them up your nose...".
And this negative instruction then became the child's aim.
In life we tend to resist change, because it requires emotional effort.
We do not resist gradual change, especially when it's made easy, such as the addictions to fat, salt, sugar, alcohol, and laziness - an easy life.
Nudge Theory is a semi-scientific way, of 'nudging' people towards change, that they would not ordinarily choose, by achieving the change via a different, related, positive incentive.
For example, the offer of a loft clearance service, so that the loft can then be insulated. People want loft clearance help, because it's a challenging change, and also an obstacle to loft insulation. So by offering free or low-cost loft clearance, the opportunity/condition of loft insulation can be achieved.
This is a type of reframing.
Focusing on the deaths and traumas arising from a disease, rather than the recoveries and growth, reframes the disease much more fearfully.
Focusing on dog attacks, rather than the pleasures of dog ownership, reframes dog ownership, or a dog breed, into a fearful negative concept, instead of a good positive concept.
Reframing is easy and simple. Anyone can do it. Reframing simply requires a little creativity, to see a situation differently.
Interestingly, many of us can use our 'inner child', to help us reframe how we see ourselves because our inner child is kind and loving.
And this is a way to reframe how we think about ourselves, to love ourselves more.
While suicide is a separate subject, it's a fabulous example of using the power of reframing.
Suicidal disintegration and suicidal ideation are among the greatest challenges for humanity, personally, locally and very widely.
Suicide kills more than 800,000 people globally every year, and for every 'completed suicide', there are about 20 attempts.
It's likely that due to taboo and under-reporting, suicide kills about a million people worldwide every year.
Do the math.
That's about 20 million people attempting suicide every year. And maybe 20, 30, 50 times this number contemplating suicide, which is being 'suicidally ideated'. This is the tip of the iceberg, of human mental and physical illness, of our modern world.
So finding ways to transform how we think about suicidal disintegration, and suicidal ideation, and what to do about it, offers enormous potential to improve life for us all.
Because suicide can happen to anyone.
And suicide is everyone's business.
Suicide kills more people than wars and murders, and all other acts of violence combined.
So how can we reframe suicidal disintegration and suicidal ideation?
The answer is to reframe these conditions, as fearlessness, because that's actually what they are.
Think about it: When a person disintegrates to be suicidal, he or she wants to die. The mental torment is so great that death is preferable.
This is fearlessness.
Because the greatest fear of humans, ultimately is death.
And so being suicidal transcends this fear.
Why is reframing suicidal disintegration important and necessary?
Because suicidal people are defined, and regarded and treated, as if they are somehow weak, which then becomes the meaning, of suicidal, especially when this meaning is reinforced by experts and health authorities and doctors and drugs companies.
The reality of suicide
The reality of suicide - and suicidal disintegration, suicidal ideation - is that: we are only truly grown as humans when we confront and accept our own death. That we will die. Normally this happens very late in life, for those able to do so. Fearlessness is ultimately acceptance of one's own dying one day. And then life is free and wonderful; miraculous. (Talk to anyone who has come to terms with a life-ending diagnosis, or who's survived a truly near-death experience.)
When this intimate realisation, or longing, for death, happens earlier, typically via suicidal disintegration, the person becomes grown, fearless, free, grateful, accepting, and loving, and with a full life ahead of them.
So this is the reframing of suicidal disintegration and suicidal ideation, and also for survivors of suicide attempts: That you are now fearless, and free to do what fearless people do, especially follow your heart, and live and love every moment.
This is not overnight healing, although can be for some. It's a reframing so that change and growth become real.
So that there is now a purpose and point to the pain.
And that changes everything.
And this is reframing.
I call this suicidal reframing 'the switch'.
It enables the struggler to become the healer and teacher, very quickly, which is immensely powerful obviously.
Besides lots of lived suicidal experience, working with suicidal people and suicidally bereaved, and study of suicide and health, I reference especially Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration, which reframes suicide beautifully, and in huge depth.