The best example of cognitive reframing

I might add that it’s also comment of the year for 2021 so far. As many of you know and some who don’t, I get a lot of comments through YouTube from people, (young people mostly) who are searching for a way to end their life. I don’t advertise the video and it’s only found through search, the goal of which is to encourage this person to think of it from another point of view. The video does not offer the instructions they seek but competes with videos that do. Some of the young people who post on the video simply want someone to answer. And when they see that someone does, they comment.

I have to offer a trigger warning for all of you as the title can be triggering to vulnerable individuals. However, in what seems a vast and isolating world, someone gets an answer from a human who cares when they are in pain. This is the link to the video.

In the case of Joey, he reached out because someone he had pined for three years, a long time for a teenager, “friendzoned” him. Translation for those who don’t know, friendzoning is the act of letting someone know that you don’t think of another person in romantic terms but you are willing to be friends.

It’s often a dreaded response to a declaration of love. To a teen, this can be devastating. Joey and I exchanged comments back and forth for a bit and I just let him express his pain and his frustration that all his family and friends were going with the “you’ll find someone else theme,” which is so invalidating to the person suffering. We all want to fix or frame it as a rosier picture, not giving people time to vent and process the loss. Because that’s what it is. A loss.

So in the case above, Joey was heartbroken over being figuratively dumped as a potential romantic partner. But then after a few days of commenting back and forth, he decided that if he killed himself over it, then there would be no chance. And who’s to say that some date in the future after this young lady is treated like dirt that she wouldn’t change her mind? In that period, many things could change but his looking at it this way at this point in time helped him find a reason to live.

Joey did something called reframing, an exercise that has proven to be a key coping tool for me. After Charles’s memorial service, few were contacting me. I thought it was because they didn’t want to talk to me. Maybe they didn’t want to interrupt their beautiful life with my tragedy? And then I went down this whole “oh woes me” rabbit hole creating more “poor, pitiful me” scenarios that weren’t helpful or healing.

I woke up one day and told myself to shed that bitterness and try to look at it another way.

Did I know how to react to a parent who had lost a child prior to my losing one? Had I always said or done the “right” thing? What might my friends be feeling in terms of what to do? Was it personal? Had I sat down with any of them and told them what it was that I did want?

I had to reframe and reflect on all that before coming to the conclusion that my friends loved me but didn’t know what to do because I had not told them. I thought since they’d been my friends so long they’d naturally know what to do. A couple of them did. Once I reframed all my bitter-ish thoughts and figured out how I might communicate that I still needed to hear from them, things changed.

Cognitive framing is a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning.1 The thought behind reframing is that the perspective from which a person views a situation determines their point-of-view and tends to make us stuck in a way of thinking about it. When we alter the frame, the perspective and understanding often change with it.

I’ve had many teens reach out because a parent is bugging the crap out of them about their grades and insisting that any activity not directly involved in boosting a grade point average is time wasted. These parents are not bad people. Misguided maybe, but it’s often because they want their child to have opportunities they never had. While this doesn’t “fix” the issue of all grades and no fun, it does help the teen see it from another point of view–to understand that it comes from a place of love and not that the parent doesn’t care anything about them or their feelings.

I know my friend Dr. Lisa Horowitz at NIMH tells a story of a job for which she thought she was a shoo-in many years ago went to someone with more experience. She was crushed and didn’t know what way to turn. But once she reframed it as an opportunity to take another route, she found her real passion, preventing suicide and creating the validated tools necessary to do so.

The term, “Never waste a good crisis,” comes from the ability to reframe a situation.

Cognitive Distortions You Can Reframe2

There are a number of cognitive distortions that can contribute to problems such as anxiety and depression. Some common distortions that can cause negative thought patterns to include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing situations in absolute terms
  • Blaming: Attributing complex problems to a single cause
  • Catastrophizing: Always imaging the worst thing that can happen in any situation
  • Discounting the positive: Ignoring or discounting the good things that happen to you
  • Mental filters: Focusing only on the negatives and never on the positives
  • “Should” statements: Always feeling like you’ve failed to live up to expectations of what you “should” do in a situation

Perhaps you are angry, bitter, scared, and challenged about losing your job during COVID-19? Maybe this is the hardship that will build your resilience and help you find your new path? Or maybe the last economic downturn you were lucky and kept your job while millions of others lost theirs. And this time you weren’t as lucky. You can allow yourself to feel sad and even cuss the world for being unfair. But to move forward with purpose, reframing helps you get back into a wise state of mind.

How to boost yourself out of the negative mindset?

  • Write about it. It will often allow you to vent and see things from another perspective especially if you allow it to marinate for a day or so.
  • Reflect on it. Try to think of it from someone else’s point of view.
  • Check the facts and observe without judgment. How many circumstances were never what you perceived them to be?
  • Use your Alter Ego. That is the inner voice that cheers you on and doesn’t tear you down.

Reframing can help you find empathy and compassion. What’s more, it’s a place where you can learn and grow by stepping into the shoes of another and looking at things from other points of view which is a valuable skill to develop at any age.

Thanks to a teenager who found a reason to live for inspiring this adult to write on this topic.


Citations:

1 Clark DA. Cognitive restructuring. In: Hofmann SG, Dozois D, eds., The Wiley Handbook for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, First Edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2014. doi:10.1002/9781118528563.wbcbt02  

2 Very Well Mind: Using Cognitive Reframing for Mental Health

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked TEDx speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my youngest son, Charles to substance use disorder and suicide June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Professional Speaker Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

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