Launch Your True Self: Guide to Reframing Challenging Life Events

By Nathaniel J. Williams, Ed.D., MHS, MPA, MBA

Every person faces countless challenges in his life. There is no way to escape these challenges, and we cannot consciously control many of them. Though they can come in many forms–divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, health issues, a particularly embarrassing moment, challenge to our spiritual beliefs or a difficult childhood, for example- all challenging life events have commonalities: they are life-altering and can keep us trapped in the moment for years, consciously or not.

When I examined my own life, I realized that I had been standing at the foot of my mother’s casket for 35 years, grieving her loss in so many ways in my daily life. I realized that in order to let go of it, put it into perspective, and place it in its rightful place in my life, I had to ‘reframe’ it: turn this challenging life event into a positive opportunity for empowerment and enlightenment.

First step for any person is to identify the challenging life event and explore where it may have influenced our life—not easy to do since we are generally blind to this past event’s existence in our present life. For example, you may have experienced a challenging life event that would fall under the theme of ‘protection’ (in which case you did not feel protected) and today, have an aversion to banks, require numerous medical opinions, or are hypersensitive to criticism. You can see how that challenging life event shows up in ways not immediately recognized.

Recall a past event that had a profound effect on you at the time. Write down your thoughts and feelings as a result of that event, immediately following it or years after. Consider how it may have impacted other areas of your life such as spirituality, family and friends, and financial, as listed on the chart.    

Failure to appreciate the significance of these challenging life events prevents us from reaching our full potential and can exert a lasting impression on others and ourselves. Reframing the event allows us to truly understand it and use it to launch ourselves forward, rather than allowing it to hold us back. For example: a person who was a victim of childhood abuse might turn the hurt, pain, embarrassment and loss of power and control he suffered as a child into an opportunity to share what he learned and work towards prevention and empowerment of himself and others.

In the case of my mother’s death, I reframed my feelings of abandonment and isolation into the understanding that she had stayed with me as long as she could and didn’t leave before giving me the blueprint to be all I could be. Today, I view my life as a train ride upon which my mother is with me. I imagine that I am taking her to places that surprise her and places she envisioned her children would go. Write down the “old framed” view and associated feelings and thoughts (in my case, feelings of abandonment/isolation) and next to them, the “reframed” feelings and thoughts (my mother already gave me all that I need.)

The most important aspect of reframing is recognizing that whatever person, place, thing, words, metaphor, character, etc. we use to replace the challenging life event, we must avoid reframed concepts that point fingers, assign blame, refer to our own or others shortcomings, or elicit any other negative connotation. Positioned on a positive and empowering foundation, a truly reframed event is one upon which a person can build and from which we can launch our true selves.