Reframing – feeling powerless.


The art of reframing can be a powerful tool to see things in a more helpful and positive light. I first heard of it in this context many years ago at an NLP conference where the facilitator was explaining how it works and how to put it into action. She shared a personal story of coming home late from work one night to her husband and teenagers who essentially were being lazy, bins were still outside, nothing had been done and they were wondering what was for dinner. She said that rather than getting angry about the situation, she reframed it to “I am grateful I have a home and a family to come home to after a long day at work”. If it were me, I might not have been quite so generous in my thinking and I think teaching kids personal responsibility and household chores goes a long way and I’m proud to say my boys have grown up to be independent and capable men around the house, however I digress. This example demonstrated immediately the power of reframing and how helpful it can be in changing our mental states.

The fact is that sometimes reframing is the only option we have in an otherwise challenging situation and I’ve used it often since that course many moons ago. I’m not unrealistic or a person that believes that an affirmation or sunshine and unicorns fixes everything, but sometimes reframing is all we have available to us.


Let me share a very recent example. I returned home from a wonderful trip on Friday evening and unfortunately I was subjected to a rather unpleasant interrogation by our immigration staff upon my return. In addition to this, my husband had been subjected to a far more unpleasant experience in my absence. Both are being dealt with by the appropriate authorities, so they are in hand, and the details are not relevant for this context.

Since Friday evening I’ve been quite upset, I have been waking up after about 3 hours sleep most nights, rehashing and going over the interrogation I was subjected to and unable to sleep again. I am probably bordering on hysterical with sleep deprivation and I hope that tonight it will be deep and uninterrupted. I’ve wondered why it has affected me so deeply, but the reality is that it has and I have had to accept it. The constant replays in my head, the “why didn’t I say this?” questions, the “if only” moments in addition to the rather unpleasant situation itself have left me feeling upset and angry. At 3am, they become far worse.


I realised why I felt strongly about this today. It’s not that they weren’t doing their job, well one was, the other was something else. It was that for the hour or more I was interrogated, questioned and scrutinised, my privacy invaded, my personal life on show, probed and prodded, I felt completely and totally powerless. It’s not a feeling I’m used to or have experienced, so it’s a very uncomfortable place for me to have found myself.

So how to reframe this? I was talking with a wise friend today who gave me the best way to look at it. For the first time in my life I can truly empathise with what it might feel like to be powerless, to be controlled, to be the scrutinised minority. I thought I had a sense, after all I have lived in Africa, but I never had the feeling of what being completely and totally powerless felt like. Now I can get a sense of that. Sure mine was only for an hour or so, it has however left me reeling, I am a sensitive soul and an amazing over thinker and expert rehasher. My experience can only give me a small sense, a taste, a feeling, just a hint, but I can now truly feel a deep sense of empathy for the powerless. Thank you Michelle for helping me see this so clearly.

I have long valued my freedom as a Western woman, and have always felt blessed to have been born in this rich beautiful land and I have written about this many times. Now I appreciate it even more, even though the situation I faced was at the hands of my own people. I ultimately still have control over my fate, my options, decisions and choices and the way I live my life.

Billions of others don’t.

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