A note from the Editor: Podium Sports Journal has been known for its articles and features serving athletes, coaches, sports medicine professionals and parents. Its submissions are indeed thought provoking, and, many of them make us better at what we do. Not many of our submissions are as poetic as they are meaningful, but this piece is beyond powerful. It warrants multiple reads and a good deal of thought. Dominique and her husband’s challenges offer us a compelling reminder that we are all people first – vulnerable, fallible and in large part, defined by our humanity. Her contribution here says a lot about who she is. Her gift as a writer is ours to appreciate. We at Podium offer up our prayers and support and thanks for her persuasive explanation of such an effective instrument for turning a negative into a positive. Just as Lance Armstrong helped us understand in “It’s Not About the Bike” – Dominique reminds us of the powerful gift we receive in every day. Thanks so much. – Stephen Walker
Reframing: A tool for difficult times
“Take that which you no longer need, bless it for what it has done for you, and then set it free”. –Virginia Satir
I have always perceived cancer as an unwelcome houseguest. This unwelcome guest found its way in my family in 1969 and brought much chaos. I was 8 years old. Ironically, a similar kind of chaos was found illustrated in my book ‘The Cat in the Hat’ by Dr Seuss. Like the goldfish, I did not find any humor in the way cancer was creating havoc in my heart and in my home. The story did not offer me much hope because I knew intuitively that my mother was not returning home. Fortunately, the universe works in mysterious ways and my mother was able to work her Dr Seuss’s magic from her hospital bed by making sure there would be after all a ‘crazy cat’ to take care of the mess before her return home in spirit form. This ‘crazy cat’ is now my beloved stepmother.
I learned to reframe at a very young age as a coping mechanism to deal with all the pain and the grief I was suffering adjusting to my life without my mother. Today, as the primary caregiver in my husband’s cancer journey, I turn to this technique often to help me gain control of my emotional roller-coaster ride so that I can assist him with more focus, calm and courage.
So, what is reframing? Basically, reframing is a behavioral process used to change one’s perspective or personal meaning associated to something. We are all aware of how an unattractive frame can make any painting look bad, just like a beautiful frame can make any mediocre painting look good. “Therefore, the central idea of reframing is that there is no good or bad in life. There is only your perception of it”1.
“If we perceive something as a liability, that’s the message we deliver to our brain. Then the brain produces states that make it a reality. If we change our frame of reference by looking at the same situation from a different point of view, we can change the way we respond in life. We can change our representation or perception about anything and in a moment change our states and behaviors. This is what reframing is all about”2.
This points out how two different people may experience the same event, and how they “frame” that event is what really determines the eventual outcome they will have.
There are two types of reframing. One is referred to as ‘context reframing’, which refers to the ability of taking a negative situation, and make it a positive one in another context. For example, the other reindeer made fun of Rudolph’s bright, red nose; but that funny nose made Rudolph the hero on a dark night.3
The second type of reframing is referred to ‘content reframing’, which involves changing what a situation means to you. For example, death is a life event that has different meaning in different cultures. We all deal with death in different ways. Some forever grieve the loss of a loved one, whereas others find immense peace at the everlasting presence of the person’s spirit or the knowing that this person is free of suffering.
Reframing does require a certain amount of practice, self-awareness and self-discipline and you might benefit from the help of a counselor to help you transform the negative situations into constructive opportunities.
Without a doubt, any cancer diagnosis is challenging to reframe but reframing can be incredibly helpful and useful for the family and loved ones journeying the path alongside.
Reframing requires more mental energy and creativity than positive thinking because it calls for you to ‘see’ your negative situation in the form of an image, a story or a symbol and ask you to either change the frame, write a new story or find new symbolic meaning to the negative event. Doing so will offer you a renewed sense of hope, courage and clarity on the path.
For example, every time I would apply gentian violet tincture to my husband’s radiation burn, I would say to him that I was applying ‘gentle’ violet tincture and reinforce the calm and soothing effect its application would have on his burn, thus reducing his anxiety of it worsening. I used to refer to his Xeloda pills as his pink warrior goddesses since the X in Xeloda reminded me of Zena the warrior princess. I would ask him how many lucky men get to have daily visitation from Goddess Xeloda. Reframing with humor can be a great tool to diffuse bad situations since humor is a great mood changer and triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers which brings a new sense of well being.
In my practice, I have witnessed how a difficult life challenge can be an invitation to experience life in a new dimension. Reframing are the oars necessary to row the boat of life on turbulent waters and remind us that this too shall pass.
2Anthony Robbins, Unlimited Power (New York: Ballantine, 1987)
3 Sandidge R.L. & Ward A.C., Quality Performance in Human Services (Baltimore: Brookes Publishing, 1999)
Dominique Larocque is a Gestalt therapist and owner/director of LaRoccaXC Mountain Bike School. With the support of her husband, she is developing a wellness centre in Val-des-Monts, 35 minutes from downtown Ottawa. You can learn more about her vision by visiting www.creativewheel.ca