Meaning Reframing: Subtly Slipping in Change
Want to learn to change the meaning of a situation and protect yourself with a technique known as Meaning Reframing?
Meaning Reframing gives you a very simple and subtle way to create change for yourself and in others. And realizing when someone is ‘doing it to you’ can protect you from manipulation, whether in the personal sphere or in the public. For instance, the notion of ‘framing’ is gaining a lot of prominence today in media discussions of its use by politicians to ‘frame’ issues to limit and define discussions and policy.
Reframing is a way to deal with those impositions, and is one of the most significant models in NLP development. Meaning Reframing is one of the fundamental forms or elements of this model. The following article will introduce and begin to deepen your understanding of framing and re-framing, so you will both be able to use it to make changes you want, and notice when someone else is attempting to limit or manipulate you.
One of the simplest and most subtle is through reframing the meaning of a statement, experience, or belief. It’s a simple means of doing conversational belief changes. Here is a fundamental explanation, example, and exercise you can have some fun with now!
Here is a thorough description and some sample exercises you can practice. It’s excerpted from our “Practitioner Trainer’s Manual“
A bunch of his Navy buddies decided to take a very inexperienced young man to see a burlesque show. They all sat down together and started to watch the show. When the woman had taken off most of her clothes, the young man suddenly got a terrified expression on his face, jumped up, and ran out into the street. His buddies ran after him, and found him still white-faced and shaking. When they asked him what was the matter, he said, “My mother always told me that if I looked at a naked woman I’d turn to stone, and it’s starting to happen!”
Meaning reframing is changing the meaning of a stimulus or event. You re-label or re-define–you use a different word or set of words so that the same behavior, event, feeling, etc. means something else. You are changing a complex equivalence. The connotations (verbal or nonverbal) of words can be used to elicit the appropriate response (even when the logical consequences don’t warrant it). Example: Leslie and woman upset about footprints on the carpet in the book Reframing. (pp. 5-7)
Example: “I’m gullible.” “It’s not that you’re gullible, you’re open to taking in ideas from others, which will keep you from getting stuck in old ways.”
Reframes don’t have to be positive! Sometimes you will want to “negatively” reframe a behavior that the person thinks is fine but is hurting self or others. Example: Unwarranted confidence can be reframed as overconfidence or delusion. Example: Woman who leaves things around the house. “That’s like a dog marking out his territory.”
Example: CR’s client who was dissatisfied with her sex life. She didn’t tell her boyfriend what she wanted sexually because she didn’t want to limit him. She didn’t want to force him to do anything. CR: “Have you ever given someone a gift just for the pleasure of doing something nice for them? (Yes) Did you realize that by not telling your boyfriend what makes you feel really good, you are limiting him, and keeping him from being able to please you? You’re forcing him to operate blindly, taking away the choice of giving you pleasure when he wants to.”
This switches the meaning of her behavior to be exactly what she doesn’t want to be doing. It reverses the presupposition that she starts with: “Telling = limiting,” changes to “Not telling = limiting.”
The purpose of reframing is to elicit a useful response, not to find “truth.” The assumption behind reframing is that no behavior in and of itself has a “correct” or “true” meaning. It’s your job to elicit more useful meanings for your clients.
Example: Boys in a coed class were being disruptive: Teacher said, “You know, I’ve noticed that if a class is all boys, they’re usually very well-behaved. But when they’re in a class with girls, they show off to be noticed.” Since the boys don’t want to admit they’re showing off, they’ll be quiet. Parallel Example: If teenagers (cross-sex) are hassling each other, say “He wouldn’t bother to give you such a bad time if he didn’t care about you.” Also: Giggling girls: “Let’s explore what the signs of insecurity are–giggling, etc.”
To get group participation, label silence as stupidity: “He who asks a question is a fool for 5 seconds; he who does not, is a fool forever.”
Meaning reframing is usually appropriate when someone uses a pejorative word–one “loaded” with negative evaluation, such as “lazy,” or “wishy-washy.” EXAMPLE: Virginia Satir and parts parties. “I’m really wishy washy. I just go along with what others want.” “You must pace really well.” “Stubborn” becomes “ability to stand up for yourself,” etc.
Example: Carl Whitaker reframe with separated mother who was over-involved with her teenage son. “So your second marriage (gesturing to son) worked out much better than your first one (gesturing to father).” Whitaker says, “People can agree with me, or they can disagree, but they can’t ignore me.”
Meaning Reframing: Explicit Strategy for doing this with others. Do this with any complaint in the form “Whenever X, I respond Y.” (Cause-effect) or, “X means Y.” (Complex equivalence)
Example: “Whenever someone criticizes me, I feel terrible.” (If someone criticizes me, that means I’m a bad person.)
1. Gather information: only enough to accurately represent the person’s response (Y) to the experience (X). What “meaning” does the person give to this experience?
2. Think of a Reframe: Ask yourself, “What else could this behavior/experience (X) mean?” Or, internally think of a larger or different frame, or an opposite frame that reverses the major presupposition, which would create a different meaning, and bring a different response. What is something about that event (X) (in that same context) that the person hasn’t noticed, and that might change his response?
3. Delivery: Pace and lead, use tonal anchors, personal expressiveness, etc.
MEANING REFRAMING EXERCISE:
(trios, 5 minutes in each position.)
1. A makes a complaint in the form of a cause-effect, “Whenever X, I respond Y,” or a complex equivalence, “X means Y.”
2. B and C each think of a meaning reframe independently.
3. When B is ready, A repeats the complaint, and B responds with her reframe. B and C observe A’s response (all systems) to determine whether the reframe worked or not, and what observable nonverbal responses occur when a reframe works. Then A repeats the complaint again, and C delivers his reframe while B plays the role of observer.
4. Briefly share observations and responses. Don’t discuss them forever; quickly go on to try another complaint and reframe.
Make sure they don’t spend much time gathering information about the meaning of the complaint. This exercise is to practice meaning reframes, so it’s preferable that they “wing it,” or “shoot from the hip.”
Complaint: “My boss always rejects my suggestions because he has preconceived ideas.” “Well, which is it? Does he have preconceived ideas, or does he reject you?”
Some reframes that don’t seem to work at the time, may plant seeds that grow and have an impact later. Example: Air Force psychiatrist. “Well, I pay an awful price for this job–but there’s the money and security, etc.” Steve said, “Well, I guess we each have our price.” The psychiatrist’s response was to closely examine his price, decide it was too high, and quit.
Reframes can also work against us.
Example: An aide was feeling really good one day, and a psychiatrist came along and said, “Well, often when people are feeling really good, that’s a sign that they’re avoiding a deep depression.”
Example: Connirae’s client who was worried about being a homosexual (he considered this a terrible thing). His psychiatrist had convinced him that since he had more male friends than female friends, he was gay. CR’s re-reframe: “Most men are concerned about being gay at some time in their lives, and that’s a sure sign that they’re normal.”
– Excerpted from the NLP Comprehensive “24 Day NLP Practitioner Training Manual, Trainer’s Edition” (c)