Jennifer Seip, MA Individual, Couples & Sex Therapy

Love, Sex & Life Blog



Imagine yourself waking up in the morning after a bad nights’ sleep. You have to go to work and deal with a problem that occurred the day before. At 6pm, you get home and realize that the food you had been looking forward to eating all day, was eaten by someone else. Now you’re forced to eat those leftovers which have been sitting in the fridge for days. You think to yourself, “Can this day get any worse?”

Now imagine waking up in the morning and you’re still a bit tired but feeling alright. You get to work and luckily the problem that had occurred yesterday, only took you an hour to solve. You get home and discover that someone else had the food that you were looking forward to eating. Good thing you still have something to eat in the fridge. You say to yourself, “Today went pretty well.”

Which scenario is true? Actually, both are true.

There are many ways we can see and interpret our experiences. According to McKay & Dinkmeyer, humans are the only creatures who have the capability of reason and emotional choice (2002). By choosing our emotions and reframing our thoughts we have the ability to turn a negative into a positive.

Learning how to reframe can be as simple as recognizing when a thought is negative, stopping that thought, and switching it out for something more positive.

Let’s say for example, that I am running late for a doctor’s appointment. I realize that my partner misplaced our car keys and I think to myself, “they’re so disrespectful, they knew I had an appointment today.” Instead of telling myself that this was intentional, I can recognize the negative thought, “they’re so disrespectful,” and replace it with something positive, “It’s okay, they were probably in a rush yesterday and forgot to put the keys in our normal spot.” By allowing myself to react in a calmer manner, I am making room to process this experience and think of an appropriate solution. Maybe I call the doctor to let them know that I will be five minutes late. Or, maybe I can call my partner and ask if they remember where the keys are. Either way, I am happier because I know that this can happen to anyone.

Another way to reframe our thoughts is by writing down the negative, the discrepancies, and then the reality (Burns, 1999). Writing is helpful because it allows us to process our thoughts from our emotional brain to our rational brain.

Take the example from above with the keys. Recognize the negative thought and write it down, “they’re so disrespectful.” The discrepancy would be that their misplacing of keys doesn’t mean that they tried to purposefully make me late for the appointment. Then I would switch it for a positive, “lots of people put their keys down in a hurry, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Although reframing doesn’t necessarily change what we are responding to, it can help us to react to situations in a healthier way.