A friend wanted to know what I thought about the concept of “reframing.” I asked her what she meant. She replied that, in trying to come to terms with some of the more painful experiences in her life, her therapist asked her to “reframe” those experiences, to see whether anything positive might be extracted from them. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that reimagining these experiences in this way felt inauthentic, that the meanings of those experiences were inextricably tied to their original “framework.”
Now I can see why being told to “reframe” an experience seems somewhat false, fake, maybe even dishonest. But many people may think the opposite – for them, “going with the best truth” or “looking on the bright side” seems false, contrived, even naïve. “Reframing” may seem false because it lacks content – it only tries to “reassemble” the event or issue. By contrast, “looking on the bright side” may seem more authentic because it brings out content – albeit in a “predetermined” way.
The difference between “looking on the bright side” and “reframing the issue” concerns whether meaning (content, reality, truth – it goes by a bunch of different [yet similar] names) is a matter of definition (“reframing”) or of intuition (“looking on the bright side”). If “reframing” seems false compared with “going with the best truth,” then meaning is a matter of intuition; if “reframing” seems more true than “going with the best truth,” then meaning is a matter of definition.
But this isn’t an “either/or” matter – meaning requires both intuition and definition. A famous line from the history of philosophy captures the idea quite well: “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” In other words, if all you have is definition (and no intuition), you don’t really have anything worth having (“empty”), and if all you have is an intuition (and no definition), you have content but without any direction (“blind”).
Long story short: “reframing” is bogus if it only reshuffles the pieces of the experience puzzle. But, if reframing reveals some new meaning or content or information ABOUT the experience not previously realized, then the concept will have some practical value.