Reframing is looking at a story or a set of events with fresh eyes. It changes the way a story is told. By itself, the passage of time can bring new perspective because with it comes greater maturity and distance from the event. Learning new information can also provide a new understanding and cause the story to be revised in new language. A reframed story is always told in a compassionate voice.
Reframing does not mean simply putting a positive spin on a story, although a reframed story is indeed a more accepting and inclusive look at a set of events. Reframing can help us feel better about a story within our own life narrative, but it involves more than trying to adopt an optimistic outlook.
Picture the little girl whose mother has turned away from her while holding the girl’s baby brother. The girl feels the pain of separation and rejection, and that moment in time defines a large part of her relationship with her mother for years. Later she learns more about her mother’s life and realizes that the scene occurred when her father was off to war. Her mother was feeling lonely and scared. She turned her back because she didn’t want the little girl to be burdened with her tears.
When the girl viewed this story as a child, she was small. From that vantage point, she could only see her mother’s back. But, as a grown woman, when she heard the family’s stories, she could understand how difficult it must have been to be the mother of a newborn and a toddler, and having to go to work to pay the bills without being able to draw on the support of a husband.
Years after the event and as an adult with children of her own, she could consider a broader view of what was happening in the world, in her community, and in her family when she was a little girl. She could now regard the scene with the perspective of time, history, her own maturity, and new information. She no longer saw herself as rejected. Rather, she saw herself as protected by a mother who wanted to shield her daughter from her pain and her tears.
A reframed story is neutral and compassionate. It helps us adopt a more accepting and inclusive look at a set of events. Without ignoring the basic facts, effective reframing includes the elements of empathy, compassion, and expanded possibility.