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Improve your relationships

Reframe your picture of conflict

Is there a person in your life that makes you angry, frustrated or just plain miserable? Well, it could be you.

“When we are in conflict with someone, it’s usually because of an assumption we have made about the person, their motivation or intention toward us,” says Sharon Shenker, therapeutic Family and Relationship Coach. “That can trigger us into an automatic negative response toward and about them. Yet the conflict may simply be a matter of someone having characteristics that are psychologically opposed to our own. And these opposing characteristics can cause us to have an emotional response to the person rather than to their actions.”

This negative response from us could be anger, frustration, mistrust, avoidance or even disgust or hostility.

“To resolve these conflicts, look within yourself before you blame the other person,” advises Sharon. “And that’s where an exercise called reframing can help.”

Reframing: looking at yourself and your assumptions

Reframing will help you see a person from a different perspective so that you see their actions, comments and intentions in a different light. Taking a step back to view the person objectively and then defining or describing their characteristics will help bring about a different emotional response in you. And this new response will give you a different choice of action to take — or not take.

Try Sharon’s reframing exercise and see how it can change your perspective:

  1. Print out a copy of the reframing table shown below.

    5 Personal Characteristics

    Psychological Opposites

    Your reframed perspective

    1.

       

    2.

       

    3.

       

    4.

       

    5.

       
  2. List five of your own personal characteristics in the first column. For example, you may be calm and helpful.

  3. For each, fill out what your psychological opposites could be in the middle column.For calm and helpful, the opposite characteristics may be uptight and self-centred. Once, you have completed this step, take a look at the psychological opposites column. Do the words describe anyone in your life? Chances are, they will describe a person who instills anger or frustration in you. Most people see their soon-to-be ex partner!

  4. Now, take a second look at the words you listed in the “psychological opposites” column and ask yourself why a person would be that way. List those words in the reframed perspective column on the right.

    As an example, your exercise may look like this:

    5 Personal Characteristics

    Psychological Opposites

    Your reframed perspective

    1. Calm

    Uptight

    Overwhelmed or stressed

     

    2. Helpful

    Self-centred

     

    Burdened

    3. Curious

    Rigid

    Scared

    4. Intelligent

    Ignorant or stupid

    Uneducated

    5. Positive

    Negative

    Depressed

    In this case, a person you describe as uptight and rigid can now be seen as overwhelmed or stressed and scared. That realization will help you see the person or your conflict with them in a different light.

    Once you have a reframed view of the person, you can choose a different response to them. That way, you can live consciously with appropriate responses rather than reacting emotionally.

Re-life reframing

Sharon Shenker has used reframing to improve her own relationships. As a young, single mother, she was determined to get ahead in life on her own instead of having to rely on child support and alimony as her sole financial means. That made her interested in higher education and ambitious to have an established career. When a friend decided to forgo university for a job paying minimum wage, Sharon thought her friend was being lazy, indifferent and apathetic about her own advancement in life. Of course, speaking or interacting with a friend with such seemingly opposing viewpoints would likely lead to tension and, potentially, a conflict.

Here’s what Sharon’s reframing exercise looked like:

Sharon’s personal characteristics

Psychological opposites of Sharon’s characteristics

Sharon’s reframed perspective

Go-getter (motivated)

Passive (lazy)

Scared

 

Ambitious

Apathetic

 

Insecure

Determined

Indifferent

Unassertive

Once you have this new and reframed perspective about the person, it’s up to you to change the dynamics of the relationship. A better understanding of yourself and the conflict could lead to a healthy resolution for both of you, whether with a friend or a former partner.

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