The Words We Choose Create Our Frame

Sometimes reframing begins with redefining. For example, one of the first choices we make when responding to adversity lies in the words we use to tell our story. They become the frame for our thoughts and actions. We can frame the situation from the viewpoint of a victim, or we can choose to present it in a way that says we’re open to the possibility of new opportunities.

A perfect illustration of this kind of choice comes from Aimee Mullins, a woman who was born with a medical condition that required the amputation of both of her legs below the knee. Today she is well known for being a competitive runner “who happens to be a double amputee.” She is also an actress, a fashion model, and an advocate for those born differently abled. Challenging the dictionary definition of the word disabled—a word that brands her as a cripple—Mullins prefers instead to speak about empowerment. She openly acknowledges the importance of language in expressing our beliefs. Each word has a value it communicates.

In my case, I had to redefine what it meant to be creative. I had always thought that being creative meant doing needlework or crafts. When I expanded my definition of creativity beyond fine-motor skills, I discovered that I was creative in numerous ways in my life. Everyday activities like cooking, designing rooms, arranging flowers, and planning schedules, all involved aspects of creativity, and I began to see myself as a creative person.

Hindsight gives us a valuable opportunity to reframe old stories and outdated attitudes. When my mother, Norma, was taking care of children in our 800-square- foot home, the living room served as a rec room. Our house was not like the other houses on the block. It was a children’s play space, often messy with projects and toys, balls, and hula hoops. Sometimes I would come home to find the entire room converted into a fort made of blankets secured by books. The only way I could get to my bedroom was by crawling under it on my hands and knees. As a middle school student, I this felt beneath my dignity.

When I look back at this situation now, I see how much my mother allowed all of us to live creatively. Mess was okay if children were happy. Our house was a wonderful “play” house. Children loved to be there. It was a great place to grow up. I no longer think of it as an annoyance. Through reframing I now view it with admiration.

Reframing is taking the facts, looking at them in a new way, and choosing different words to describe them. What words do you use when you tell your story?

Reframing Evokes Compassion . . .