3 Questions To Help Reframe a Negative Situation into a Positive One
In my last blog post, I explained the principle of reframing and was asked if I could elaborate on it some more.
Reframing is about stepping back from what's being said or done and consider looking at the situation from an alternative lens by effectively stating, "Let's look at it another way." This is about challenging one's belief systems around the situation.
I was at a writer's conference in California during the month that Baltimore was in chaos. Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American resident of Baltimore, Maryland, sustained injuries following his arrest by policemen. Gray died on April 19, 2015, after going into a coma.
At this conference, I was sharing a hotel room with another conference participant that I had only met on Facebook; I'll call her Mary. Mary is an African-American. From the time she arrived, her eyes were glued to the CNN channel, and during that time, CNN kept showing the riots in Baltimore.
As she watched the news, she got more depressed and angry and wished she hadn't come to the conference. I finally asked her why she felt that way, and she told me how she had lost both her young adult sons in one day, and that these riots were bringing back memories.
She went on to explain that fateful day to me where one son died of natural health causes in the morning and the other son was shot in the back by a police officer that afternoon. I couldn't imagine what she had to go through to mourn not one but two children dying from different circumstances. She had braced herself for the son she knew would not survive because of his health condition, but nothing had prepared her for the more immediate loss of the second boy.
Mary sought justice for wrongful arrest and the death of her son, and she won. She became a celebrity in her own town, and she was featured on the news. As she showed me the news clip of her being interviewed after she had won the case, I saw a woman who was strong, standing tall, at peace, and who believed in her cause.
"Mary," I said, "when I see that clip, I see someone who has been able to hold herself with integrity even after losing two sons on the same day. You fought for justice, and you got it. The Mary I see here today feels like she has lost again and she's angry."
She answered, "A part of me thinks, what if I had been there and was able to stop my son from getting shot, but I know if I had not been at the hospital either, I'd not have spent the last moments with my sick son. A part of me gets angry that I didn't really get a chance to mourn as I fought for justice."
I wanted Mary to enjoy this conference and snap out of her negative emotions so I reframed the situation by asking her this first question:
"What do you appreciate about your sons and this whole experience you had?" I asked.
"I was told that my sick son would not live past his seventh birthday, but he lived into his early twenties and also became a father himself. I'm glad he got to live his life into adulthood. I'm glad that the justice system was on my side, and my other son's reputation remained intact."
I reframed again with my second question:
"What's the worst thing that could have happened but didn't?"
"My sick son could have died when he was a child, but he didn't. In fact, he left me a gift - my grandson!"
I reframed with my final question:
"How did this situation cause positive things later in your life?" I asked.
"I realized I'm a stronger person and can fight for my rights. I had other women who were in the same position seek me out asking for my advice. That is why I'm at this conference. I want to share my story through a book," she answered.
"Mary, instead of getting angry and feeling negative when you turn to the news channel, appreciate what you had and what that experience has taught and given you. You're not going to get your sons back, but your experience can help other mothers and their sons. Take your mess and turn into a message for others."
Mary enjoyed the rest of the conference and gave me lots of hugs when we departed. These questions don't have to be in any order, but just asking one or two can help someone look at a problem as an opportunity, or a weakness as a strength.
Try them out on yourself or someone you know and share your experience with me.