Some people dance in the rain, while others get wet. Is it because some have a rain jacket on and others do not? Certainly not. Two people could be in the same situation yet have a different experience. It is not only the situation that affects our experience but mostly how we think and feel about it. Our emotions result from our thoughts and feelings, which influence each other: We think based on how we feel and feel based on how we think.
There is no objective reality, only our subjective perception.
The constant interaction between our thoughts and feelings can become a lever that we can use to improve our emotional response. We can reframe thoughts or feelings depending on what is more straightforward for us in a particular situation.
Reframing helps us to see a painful situation from a better perspective.
This lesson does not follow the traditional three-action-step structure. Instead, we will learn various reframing techniques for bringing about emotional change—directly, by reframing our feelings, and indirectly, by reframing our thoughts. Let us start with the first.
We can reframe our feelings. The trick is not to delude ourselves by saying, "Do not be so stressed" while we are on edge. Instead, we should use the emotional charge associated with our feelings to propel a good outcome. To reframe your feelings, bring the following question to your awareness:
Can I change my feelings from X to Y?
For example, "Can I change my feelings from desperation to hope?"
Surprisingly, this question does not have to be answered. Our subconscious mind knows what to do without thinking. We can apply this technique to difficult people or challenging situations.
We tend to call people who have said or done something hurtful by unflattering labels. For the sake of this lesson, let us settle on the word "difficult" because they are difficult to forgive. Remember that forgiveness has nothing to do with approving other people's behavior when it is unacceptable. Being able to forgive can contribute positively to our physical and mental health. You can forgive difficult people by reframing your feelings about them:
Can I change my feelings from X to love?
This exercise works best when applied a few times until the feeling loses intensity. Good things take time, and so does forgiving difficult people. There is no doubt that some people can be difficult to love. If feeling love for them feels uncomfortable, reframe your feelings to compassion instead:
Can I change my feelings from X to compassion?
If you still find it hard to reframe your feelings towards a particularly difficult person, you can use so-called emotional pasting or better emotional copy-pasting. This technique is similar to copying and pasting content on a computer. Start with someone easier to love and redirect this feeling towards the difficult person by swapping your mental image. The point is not whether that person deserves your love. The point is you deserve to let go.
Have you ever tried to calm down when you were feeling anxious? Has someone ever suggested relaxing before taking a difficult exam? The chances are that it did not work, or it even backfired, increasing your anxiety. We can reframe feelings in challenging situations, but there is a rule to follow. Feelings can only be reframed to those with a similar emotional charge. Let us call them emotional cousins. An emotional cousin of anxiety is excitement; for example—they carry a similar emotional charge. Hence, reframing from anxiety to excitement is much easier than reframing from anxiety to calmness while we are on edge.
Here are some examples of emotional cousins:
Anger - Euphoria
Hate - Love
Anxiety - Excitement
Fear - Thrill
Sadness - Acceptance
Boredom - Serenity
Have you noticed that hate and love are emotional cousins? What an "aha moment" for many! Surprisingly, these feelings carry a similar emotional charge.
We can reframe our thoughts by asking ourselves whether our emotional response is appropriate for the situation. These questions can reveal distorted thoughts we believe, although they do not reflect the objective reality. They are often referred to as irrational thoughts. Three common irrational thought patterns are:
Magnifying is when we exaggerate our evaluation of an event, such as, "I have ruined the whole party!" because our cake got burnt.
Minimizing is when we have tunnel vision and focus only on a tiny thing that is not going well, such as "My appetizer must have been disgusting!" because one of our friends did not like it.
Making up is when we fabricate an absolute reality, such as proclaiming, "I am a terrible cook!" just because someone brought pizzas the next time.
Try to recognize these patterns whenever they occur and do a quick reality check:
Would a friend of mine agree with what I see?
You can ask yourself the following questions to identify irrational thoughts associated with difficult people and challenging situations:
Can I forgive by seeing the hurt beneath people's behavior?
Can I see this event as going from threatening to challenging?
Whether we reframe feelings or thoughts depends on the situation. We may also combine them to increase their impact. Experiment with them to find out what works best for you.
Thoughts become perceptions, perceptions become reality. Alter your thoughts, alter your reality.
— William James
Change your feelings from X to love for each difficult person that comes to your mind for the next two weeks. Create a reminder now.