Recently, I attended a class on Compassionate Communication. We were asked to guide each other in a self-empathy exercise. One of the participants shared that a friend criticized her because she worried too much. We were all invited to share any possible suggestions for ways in which this participant could offer empathy to herself. My reaction, which admittedly didn't have a lot of insight behind it at the time, seemed to strike a chord with at least a couple of participants. My suggestion was to reframe what was said into some positive truth, even if she only said it to herself.
In this case, the woman grew up greatly sheltered and fearful, so her worry reactions seemed understandable. Not only were they easily explained by knowing her past, but they were also a part of her very thoughtful and careful personality. She had overcome so much fear by her loving action in the world. Her reframing response would be to tell herself, “I am not a 'worrier'; I am a very careful person who puts a lot of thought into the details of situations. This has served me and others well in the past and it is a part of who I am.”
It occurred to me that I can do this reframing in my maternal attitude, especially with my son. One characteristic of his (that really pushes my buttons) is that he’s prone to peer pressure. He is a follower of whatever the “cool” kids are doing. He wants to show that he’s edgy too and knows what (bad) things mean. This has led him to inappropriate behavior and conversation at school on a number of occasions. He will not wear items of clothing he previously liked if a cool kid says something negative about it nor will he use his cell phone because it doesn't have the bells and whistles other kids' phones have. He listens to the popular opinions and does not stand up for his own, flies under the radar in school, and hides how smart he is as to not stand out. As a 12-year-old, part of this seems normal to me; however, I’ve also noticed these tendencies since he was a small boy.
It saddens me to not see him hold and express his own thoughts and values. I fear that he will be led astray in the teenage years ahead. Although my feelings on this are valid, they aren’t helping my relationship with my son. I find myself not giving him the benefit of the doubt, and not accepting and supporting him where he is.
After taking this class, I thought I’d try to reframe this particular relationship. My son lived in three different and horrible situations before he was ever my son. He spent almost two years in a dysfunctional home in Russia with an alcoholic mother where he was neglected, malnourished, and suffered from a bad case of rickets. He was suddenly removed from his mother and spent the next eight months in a hospital crib, at an age when he should have been safely exploring and having fun learning about the world around him. Finally, he lived in an orphanage for six months before I brought him home to a different country, culture, language and family.
Instead of thinking to myself that he is being a follower, I can reframe that by saying to myself that my son had to learn very early that he couldn't trust anyone but himself and his own gut on how to get by. He didn't have a mother at the most vulnerable time of his life. Instead of seeing “going with the flow” as a negative, I now see it as resilience.
Obviously, I still need to guide him into making good decisions, developing personal integrity, and trusting family. But by reframing, I can do it from a place of love, understanding, and respect for who he is and what his personal journey has been. I think this will be much more effective in guiding him than the place I held before-fear.
I’ve also applied “reframing” to my other children. My eldest’s introverted personality has given her a strength and courage to do things that I never could have. Instead of being thought of as a “loner”, I think of her more as a “strong and silent type”. Instead of labeling my middle daughter “intense and sensitive”, I view her as high-achieving and creative. And my baby, instead of difficult, is the very definition of spirited.
Reframing seems to have helped me hold the key to the right relationship with myself and others. I'm going to make more of an effort to do it, especially as a mother.