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Reframe and Make the Changes Needed

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 4 in my series, “Focus on Your Responses to Life.”
Part 1: Is Your First Response to Problems Reactive or Proactive?
Part 2: 5 Constructive Ways to Respond When Your Anger is Triggered
Part 3: Acknowledge and Affirm Your Positive and Negative Sides


Life is full of challenges. Some are straightforward while others require major adjustment and “reframing” to meet the demands within them.

“Reframing” is expanding our scope of understanding of what we have to work with.

Flying Without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing, by Arnold BeisserYears ago, when I was helping design and write a class on chronic illness, we reviewed a book by Arnold Beisser titled, Flying without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing

Arnold was a young man ready to conquer the world. An athlete and tennis champion, he had just completed medical school when polio struck. He found himself in an iron lung, paralyzed from head to foot.

As he lay there unable to move, he asked himself, “Now what?”

It seemed his life was over. But at some point, he decided to take his life back and began to reframe his situation.

He asked himself, “What can I do while I lay here?”

He didn’t want to be a helpless victim; he wanted to take charge of his life.

He began to use his imagination to creatively look at things in a new way. He wrote that he began to experience “moments of great pleasure and satisfaction” when he became “absorbed” in whatever was going on around him, noticing small details and how they might change during the day. He became an “active observer, rather than a passive one.”

Over time, with the help of physical therapy, he was able to get out of the iron lung and into a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. But he did not stop there. He refused to let his tragedy disable him. He went on to become a psychiatrist, administrator, and author. He fell in love and married a woman he met while still in the hospital.

Arnold reframed his circumstances – he took what was given to him and began to look at it differently. He expanded his interpretation and vision and began taking those steps to reclaim his life.

Reframing: Seeing Alternatives

Whether your marriage is crumbling, your job is being outsourced, you’re coming to grips with health problems or are overwhelmed with what seems like never-ending challenges, reframing is seeing alternatives when you didn’t think there were any.

If our frames of reference are small, our lives will be restrictive, limiting, negative and inflexible.

If we enlarge our frames of reference, we see a bigger picture. We can meet the challenges, roll with the punches, and develop inner strength and resiliency.

Reframing is a skill we can apply to any situation.

In a continuing education workshop for therapists who work with aging populations, the psychologist leading the group told us a personal story about how he was able to engage a person with severe limitations.

At a nursing home he visited regularly, he met a woman who had a deteriorating condition that left her unable to move. But she still had a sharp mind. She would blink her eyes to indicate yes or no. Her spirits were as low as they could get. How could he help her find something of value and purpose for her life?

He asked her if she believed in prayer. She blinked her answer, “Yes.”

Then he asked if she would be willing to help him by praying for individuals who needed prayer. Again, she blinked “Yes.”

So, he gave her some people to pray for.

The following week, he noticed she had a sparkle in her eyes. When he asked her how she felt on a scale from 1 to 10, she indicated a 9. He was amazed at the difference in her outlook from the previous week.

By reframing her situation from one of total helplessness to one of, “There is something of importance I can do,” she once again felt worthwhile.

Over the next weeks, the psychologist continued to give the woman names and updates to the answers to prayers.

Reframing challenges a rigid and inflexible mindset.

Instead of seeing impossible roadblocks or stone walls, reframing expands our perceptions to help us see opportunities.

Reframing helps us transcend difficult or traumatic situations. As we show a willingness to change our focus from what we can’t do to what we can, we create new meaning and purpose for our lives.

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