I’m prone to ruminating on thoughts that can make me and my loved ones feel like shit for weeks on end. It’s a habit that has decreased since I started therapy at the age of fifteen. In my earlier years, much of my negative thoughts focused on romantic relationships that ran its course. Now much of my maladaptive thoughts focus on my complicated relationship with my mother and my fear of not accomplishing anything in my lifetime.
One of the therapy techniques that I use to ward off my antagonism is cognitive reframing. This method resides in identifying uncomfortable thoughts and disrupting them by looking at them in a positive light. This practice has helped me get out of self-pity after I “accidently” looked at an ex’s social media profile or compared myself to a high school classmate. Reframing has made me realize that individuals have their paths and that glancing at a few pictures doesn’t mean their life is perfect. It also forced me to look inward and question why I compare myself and what I want out of life.
Cognitive reframing has been seen in literature. Take for instance the white-washing scene in Tom Sawyer:
Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:
“What do you call work?”
“Why, ain’t that work?”
Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered carelessly:
“Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.”
In this scene, Sawyer reframed the responsibility he had to do, white-washing the fence, into something fun rather than tedious. The outlook change helped him trick the local boys into finishing the responsibility for him since they too started to see it as enjoyable.
Byron Katie, an American speaker and author, uses cognitive reframing in her self-inquiry method called “The Work,” “The Work” consists of four questions and a turnaround.
The four questions are:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe those thoughts?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
The turnaround uses a form of cognitive reframing. It suggests reversing the idea by changing the subject and object, changing yes and no, and changing it to one’s self. The reframing helps individuals experience a different emotion towards a traumatic memory.
Cognitive reframing is one of many tools that people with anxiety, depression, and OCD can use to deal with their symptoms. It has helped me see the big picture of troubling memories rather than focus on the details.
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