This article first appeared in the Chronic Pain Ireland Newsletter Vol: 23 Issue 4/ December 2015


Deliberately changing the way that you choose to think about things is generally known as ‘Reframing’. It’s the equivalent of replacing a cheap frame around a picture with a nicer one. A posh frame means that we might at least consider that the picture is good or just expensive and value it more. Sometimes the right frame brings out things in the picture that you never noticed before

Reframing is not new. We often talk about ‘seeing the world through rose tinted glasses’ when some is being unrealistically positive. We also commonly say: Worse things happen at sea, every cloud has a silver lining and ‘always look on the bright side of life’.

Reframing is the deliberate use of a positive point of view. It is important in enabling us to cope with difficulties and put aside feelings that might otherwise make a difficult situation worse. It is a simple way of focusing on the positive rather than the negative aspects of a situation; it is therefore vital in pain management.

In my experience there are two extremely powerful examples of reframing that are central to improving coping:

What don’t I have? Gets reframed in to: What do I have?

What can’t I do? Gets reframed in to: What can I do?

Try thinking in these terms when you’re feeling anxious, or overwhelmed by a situation. Simply changing the way you talk to yourself at least forces you to consider the possibility that there are positive as well as negative ways of seeing the same situation. Seeing things in a negative context seems easier than seeing them in a positive context.
It’s important to know that changing the frame takes effort.

Some further examples that you might try: I only did half the job?
I’ve got the job half done

I’m a failure?
Things have changed

I can’t do it like I used to?
I‘ve found a new way to do it

What if the worst happens?
What if the best happens?

The glass is half empty
The glass is half full

Uses and abuses

We have a deep-rooted cultural suspicion of using positive rather than negative language. In this culture it’s easier to fall in to negative rather positive thinking. What’s wrong will usually overwhelm what’s right. Complaining is more common than praising.

There are plenty examples of ‘reframing’ being used to deceive us like Estate Agents describing a house with no walls as being ‘well ventilated’ , or a politician avoiding the question by focusing on what he’s done rather than what he has failed to do. We can see through these as cynical attempts to distort things for their advantage. This is reframing in negative hands.

In your hands, reframing could help you to at least consider an alternative version of events – that there is good even when you may think everything is overwhelmingly bad. You will also have the discernment to know if you’re conning yourself.

. . .

What’s your frame?

The moment anyone considers anything, they start imposing their ‘frame’ on it. Try it, try doing anything without interpreting, thinking about whether it’s good or not, predicting what might go wrong or right etc. So it is always hard to see things for what they are rather than what we think they are. There are as many versions of an event as there are people experiencing it. There’s no
need to worry if your version of events doesn’t cause problems for you, but if it does then it’s important to reflect on the ‘frame’ that you’re using. Even if you can’t be positive, maybe try being less negative, even a bit. That ‘bit’ might be sufficient to free you from unhelpful moods and behaviours that could be perpetuating a difficult situation.
. . .


It’s odd but also liberating to think that we don’t have to think what we’ve always
thought, that we might be wrong and that there might be an alternative version of
events. In short we have a choice in the way we think. We don’t have to think the way that we do, we might have just got into the habit over years of practice.
Virtually everyone gets in to the habit of interpreting the world in a certain way – this can be so strong that contemplating an alternative will seem impossible and irrational, when in fact it may just be unfamiliar.
. . .

Overcoming reluctance

As a motivation to overcome reluctance to try reframing, it is worth considering that negative framing is just as prejudiced and ‘inaccurate’ as positive framing. So you might as well be ‘wrong’ and happy as ‘wrong’ and miserable.

Reframing properly applied is a way of helping you to escape from a thinking trap ‘frame’, which might have made a difficult situation harder for a long time. It’s therefore worth making a major effort to overcome your reservations and give it a try. It might change things a bit or a lot, but it can only improve things. To reframe this one try entertaining the idea that ‘it might work’ rather than ‘it won’t work’.

Breaking the habits of old thinking and trying out a different version of things (alternative frame), allows you to try out a new construction of the world. At first it will seem odd and uncomfortable, but with time it will bring benefits and you might even surprise yourself.

. . .

How to do it

Use reframing in a way that works for you. Most people simply say something to themselves, usually silently but also out loud if no one else can hear. Others write a key phrase on a bit of paper. Others might get friends or family involved in reminding them to reframe when things are getting difficult. Physical reminders (objects, jewelry, knotted handkerchief) can be helpful and these can be part of a useful habit e.g. look at your watch to remind you to think positively. Reframing works best if you keep trying. At first you might feel awkward and resist what you’re saying to yourself. But keep trying, adjust your message to suit you and eventually you could end up just thinking more positive
. . .

When to do it

Try reframing in different situations: 

  • When you’re getting anxious about something
  • When you’re getting wound up during an event
  • After the event when you might be turning things over and over in your head
  • Any time at all when you catch yourself out feeling low, angry, frustrated or anxious
. . .


It’s also a good exercise for everyone to do from time to time, to ask yourself ‘how am I seeing the world at the moment? What’s on my mind? What is colouring my thinking? Is it realistic? Am I thinking too much? Am I too sensitive about a particular issue? It may be useful to ask others if they can comment on how they think you might be seeing the world.
. . .

Others – it’s infectious

It is worth mentioning that if you are trying to be more positive, it is something that other people warm to. This is not saying laugh when you want to cry, but rather making an effort to be positive will often improve relationships with family and friends. This situation in turn may help you stay more positive in the first place.
. . .


 difficult to be positive and easy to be negative, especially when things have changed and life is harder than it used to be. Reframing gives a simple but effective way to begin to move forward. It won’t solve everything, but with practice it will start to sink in and could help create an important improvement. It’s not a magic trick, but making an effort to see things in a different context is important if you’re not doing it.

© No part of this article may be reproduced or used in any manner without written permission of the copyright owner.


Previous Next
Test Caption
Test Description goes like this
Skip to content