It takes practice, but 'reframing' a situation can work

By Susan Anderson-Khleif

Reframing is about looking at a problem or situation from a different and more positive perspective. It's a technique or method often used in family counseling.

This technique is also used in the counseling one may receive for all the problems we face after the death of a dear one.

Actually, there are certain sayings in folk wisdom that reflect this idea. We've all heard them:

• "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

• "Turn a failure into an opportunity."

And my dear Baheej used to rely on an old Nazareth folk saying when a problem arose: "Don't hate it; it might turn out for the best."

Basically, it is the idea that a problem also contains the opportunity for something better.

Obviously, how we respond to adversity has a lot to do with shaping the outcome. I've experienced this in my own life. I think such situations confront most people during their careers or family life - or when they face emotional situations.

This all came to my attention during a recent conversation with my sister, Mary. We were, for some reason, commiserating about our various health problems. Not a good idea, but we were doing it anyway. And I said, "Well, at least we are comfortable in our nice homes with our sweet pets."

She responded that Asher would say "Good reframe." Asher is her son who is a family counselor.

This exchange got me interested in the concept of reframing and how healthy it can be for our spiritual health.

So I looked it up and indeed it means redefining a problem from a different point of view, from a different and more positive perspective. It's probably used in counseling because sometimes we need an outsider or friend to help us change perspective. However, sometimes we can do this ourselves - change perspective.

There is a sociological concept/dynamic called "the definition of the situation." It means that how we see and interpret a situation affects our behavior and causes it to become true, and happen (W.I. Thomas). It's one of the key ideas in a branch of sociology called Symbolic Interaction.

Thomas, one of the early socialists, wrote in 1928: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences."

A situation is a social context in which one finds oneself. A job, a party, a new community, a new school, a widow - just examples. The definition causes action or feelings and is affected by the subjective perception of the situation. It's a fusing of psychological and sociological underpinnings.

Asher, my nephew, points out that any situation has many aspects, and reframing part of it helps give a more wholistic perspective. So true.

It seems to me that "reframing" is the need for a new "definition of the situation." So in many ways it's in our own hands.

The point is: Reframing can be another tool in our array of coping mechanisms. It's not just a matter of positive thinking - although that certainly is part of it. It means truly getting or adopting a different viewpoint or perspective on the problem.

It takes a little practice yet, in my experience, it works.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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