Stuck between a rock and a hard place?


A big challenge we have to face when it comes to our mental wellbeing is that we can feel stuck under the weight of our moods and attitudes. We feel that we are stuck but are we really? A consequence is that we respond to challenging situations feeling disempowered, defensive, and perhaps despondent because we cannot change the way things are, but we can change the frame from which we view it. Psychological Reframing is a skill that we can learn to examine our thoughts and challenge them, so that we might approach our everyday life situations in a way that is supportive and constructive, rather than infuriating or deflating. It takes practise to recognise our thoughts as separate from our beingness but once we do it becomes clear that they are imposed upon us as if from an independent entity and that we have the power to question their validity.  


“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
- Seneca, Stoic Philosopher of ancient Rome


The purpose of reframing is not to undermine our fundamental personality, identity or worldview, although it can if that is helpful, the purpose is to increase our agency and decrease our suffering. Have you noticed that you feel most depressed when you feel stuck between a rock and a hard place? In other words, it is when we feel a sense of powerlessness that we suffer the greatest because we feel absolutely resigned to whatever situation we find ourselves in. We give up and give in, and in doing so we lose a little bit of our self-worth and self-confidence, we also lose a little bit of hope. When we find ourselves in situations that we did not want and cannot control our only option is to reframe the way we think about it. And in doing so we discover agency and freedom where we couldn’t see it before.


 “It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.”
- Epictetus, Greek Stoic Philosopher


All of this is not to say that there aren’t atrocious situations and events that we should just accept by reframing our way out of seeing it for what it is, this is a kind of ignorance that we would call Spiritual Bypassing. Things do disturb us and we should respond in any way possible to make change where change is needed, these are not the issues that reframing addresses. Reframing addresses our assumptions about the rightness or wrongness of everyday situations, assessing our judgments to see if they are really true or whether we are just replaying our learned behaviours and beliefs. For example, you may have an ongoing tension with a loved one or a colleague, perhaps they do or say certain things that rub you the wrong way and when they do it ruins your day. Here you have a choice, you can let someone else’s way of being disturb you or you can reframe the whole situation. Try it.


“Everything can be taken from a man but…the last of the human freedoms– to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
- Viktor Frankl


Choose a person or situation that grinds your gears on a fairly regular basis, imagine it and notice the response in your body, your gut, your chest, your neck and shoulders, your jaw, and your brow. Notice the thoughts that you are repeating in your mind about this, what judgments do you have about this person or situation? Perhaps it is yourself that you are at war with in your mind. Just notice all of the swirling thoughts, pick one or two that have a particular sting and write them down. For example: “I am such an idiot, why do I keep doing that?” - “She is such a %*#!, why does she keep doing that?” - “F#!k this sh*t, why does this always happen to me?” Sound familiar? Now have a go at reframing these thoughts in a way that releases your mental grip and physical tension. Curiosity is the key.


“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
- Eleanor Roosevelt


It is important to remember that you have a choice and you can choose to challenge the way your think, and in doing so changing your whole experience. No-one can make you feel angry/irritated/powerless/depressed without your consent. Some examples of reframing might be: “Oh, interesting, it’s this thought again. Noted” – And then it becomes apparent how many times a day you think a disempowering thought. Another example might be: “Do I really think that badly about this person/myself or am I just over-worked/tired/stressed/hungry?” – And then make a plan to lessen your workload/get more sleep/move your body/eat regularly. Another example might be: “F#!k this sh*t, this keeps happening to me. What am I going to do about it?” – And you seek external guidance to support you to make the necessary changes.


“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind.”     
- William James


There is great difference between accepting and surrendering to a situation that is out of your control, and staying in a disempowering situation when you need to leave. But you can only find that out by first becoming aware. Reframing is the next step after awareness, you see the thoughts and you are no longer a slave to them because you have the mental space to challenge them. Reframing has an enlivening and empowering effect because it gives us greater agency to choose how we respond to life. It could be as simple altering your response to seeing the dirty dishes on the bench – you see the dirty dishes, you watch your mind reel off a bunch of curses, then you might have a giggle at your absurd seriousness, unharmed by the dirty dishes or the culprit who made them, and go about your day with a renewed sense of freedom.


“Intelligence is behavioural flexibility.”

- Neuroscientist, Suzana Herculano-Houzel


We are capable of changing our perception and therefore our behaviour with the tool of reframing, this allows us to live more intelligently, and I would say more elegantly when facing hard situations. Reframing can support us to bend and not break under the weight of stressors, to soften when we are stuck, and to choose a new perspective that liberates our mind instead of getting caught in our emotional reactions. Listen to our latest meditation to REFRAME your thoughts, cultivating a lightness and freedom in challenging situations. 


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