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Mar 04, 2023 • 4 min read
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Some people dance in the rain, while others just get wet. Is it because some have a rain jacket on and others do not? Certainly not. Two people can be in the same situation yet have a different experience. It is not only the situation that affects our experience but 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.
Rupert has learned to dance in the rain.

The constant interaction between our thoughts and feelings can become a lever that we 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 you 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.

Reframing feelings

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.

Difficult people

We tend to refer to people who have said or done something hurtful with 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 a person's unacceptable behavior. 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 is best applied a few times until the feeling loses intensity. Good things take time, and so does forgiving difficult people. Undoubtedly, some people can be difficult to love. If feeling love for them feels uncomfortable, reframe your feelings to compassion.

Can I change my feelings from X to compassion?
Can Rupert change his feelings to love?

If you still struggle to reframe your feelings toward a particularly difficult person, you can use 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 toward the difficult person by swapping your mental image. The point is not whether that person deserves your love. You deserve to let go.

Challenging situations

Have you ever tried to calm down when you were feeling anxious? Has someone ever suggested relaxing before taking a difficult exam? It likely 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. For example, the emotional cousin of anxiety is excitement—they carry a similar emotional charge. Hence, reframing from anxiety to excitement is much easier than reframing from anxiety to calmness.

Examples of emotional cousins include:

  • Anger and euphoria
  • Hate and love
  • Anxiety and excitement
  • Fear and thrill
  • Sadness and acceptance
  • Boredom and 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.

Rupert is trying to reframe his anxiety as excitement.

Reframing thoughts

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, or irrational thoughts, although they do not reflect reality. Three common irrational thought patterns exist:

  1. Magnifying is when we exaggerate our evaluation of an event, such as, "I have ruined the whole party!" because we burned the cake.
  2. 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.
  3. Making up is when we fabricate an absolute reality, such as proclaiming, "I am a terrible cook!" just because someone brings 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?
Rupert is magnifying the spider. Reality check?

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 going from threatening to challenging?

How we reframe feelings or thoughts depends on the situation. We may also combine them to increase their impact. Experiment to find out what works best for you.

Thoughts become perceptions, perceptions become reality. Alter your thoughts, alter your reality.

— William James

Now or never

For the next two weeks, reframe your feelings from negative to positive, such as love or compassion, for each difficult person that comes to your mind. Create a daily reminder.