Reframing Bad Behavior

I’ve learned many useful things over the years through my hypnosis training, but one thing that has stood out for me has been the idea of “reframing.” This is an NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) technique that can be a very powerful tool to move you from stuck to unstuck, and to give you more energy to deal with things that frustrate you.

Because, let’s face it, as much as we may understand about others and about our own reactions to people, there will always be people that bug us. I’m often asked if learning about this work means no more difficult people, and the answer is “of course not!” As many times as I step outside to observe and refrain from reacting, there are just as many times that I let my emotions and labels get the better of me, and I find myself running away with my frustration toward someone.

The process of reframing is a great tool when you find yourself unable to “stop!” and instead getting drawn into your negative feelings and reactions toward someone. Reframing goes like this: When I see a situation that is bothersome to me, I somehow frame or label that situation in a certain way – for example, this weekend I was at a waterpark with my children. There was a man sitting at the only available picnic table. This table could have held about five people, and this one man was holding it – presumably for his family to show up at some point. There was a woman with four children, all holding hot food and eyeing his table. She said, “Couldn’t we just sit there until your party comes?” and he answered, quite gruffly, “No – I got here first!” Her children then had to sit on the concrete floor to eat their lunch. I was sitting at a bar table nearby alone watching this – my family was all in the water having fun at the time. The woman next to me saw me watching and said, “What a jerk, huh? Nothing like being mean to a bunch of little kids! If I were that woman I would’ve given him a piece of my mind!”

As I sat there, I could feel myself beginning to agree with this woman that this man was a jerk. But then I considered the opportunity to reframe. What if this guy had problems of his own? What if he had a handicapped child coming? What if he was just a fearful, protective person who had experienced some bad things in life and was reacting as a result? What if he had some other considerations or issues that we knew absolutely nothing about? The truth is that there were many tables in this park with other people sitting at them; he just happened to have the one that was seemingly empty. But, in reframing, I tried to put a frame around him and be compassionate toward him as a troubled person instead of the “jerk” that my seatmate was making him out to be. The truth is that I don’t know that man’s story and I never will. However, the process of having to practice reframing was helpful to me. How much do we really ever know about another person before we slap on a label and judge them?

The first time I was in a store, after having been laid up for several months from a car accident that almost killed me, I was very wobbly on my feet. The sheer process of walking through the aisles was overwhelming to me, and I found myself needing to stop and pause every few steps. As I was trying to read the signs overhead, a couple came around the corner of the aisle. “Look at this witch,” the woman said, “she could care less about anyone else – just standing here blocking the aisle!” It took me a few minutes to figure out she was talking about me, and when I realized it, I moved to the side. I wasn’t intending to be rude, I was just having a hard time getting my bearings. A few aisles further over, I stopped again and lo and behold, the same couple comes around the corner. “Good Lord! If you could get arrested for rude, this woman would be taken away,” she said about me. But was I really being “rude”? In her eyes, yes, but the reframe is that I was trying hard to do a normal life activity that was causing me great difficulty. I learned right there that things aren’t always as they seem, and it can behoove us to stop and remember that. Reframing someone’s bad behavior with a positive possibility can give us freedom to deal more effectively with that person. It might even teach us something about ourselves and someone else.

This week, find some occasion to reframe. As you catch yourself ruminating over someone’s bad behavior, insist that you “STOP!” and regroup. Imagine some other scenarios that might also fit the circumstances. A colleague of mine, Janet Britcher, says, “If you are going to make something up about someone else, you may as well make up something positive!” So this week, try it and see what happens!