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Personal Narrative Voice: Growth Mindset Reframes

Posted on June 3, 2016

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been exploring the Fixed and Growth Mindsets. For some, shifting from Fixed and Growth is as simple as catching our Fixed language and reframing our self-talk. Over a short period of time, this reframe can fundamentally change how we view ourselves and our accomplishments and setbacks.

Unfortunately, clients struggling with poverty, homelessness, addiction, and other intense issues live under the pressure of stigma, labels, and judgement. Living with these challenges can reinforce that there is something wrong with the person, solidifying a Fixed Mindset and keeping clients in patterns of depression and frustration. In this post, we’ll examine ways to help clients make the shift from Fixed to Growth Mindset thinking, which can be a key part of the post-traumatic growth journey.

The great thing about going from a Fixed to a Growth Mindset is that the brain can be rewired with repetition and practice. The first step is for a client to learn to hear their Fixed Mindset “voice.” Sometimes they’ll recognize it in hindsight, and that’s okay. The next step is for the client to recognize that they have a choice. The key here is that the client sees that they have a real choice to develop a skill or not; to put forth the effort or put their energy somewhere else.

The third step is for the client to talk back to their Fixed Mindset with a Growth Mindset voice. If something is important, then the client needs to take time to listen to their self-talk and see what messages they’re sending to themselves. The final step is critical. Once a client shifts their thinking from a Fixed to a Growth Mindset, it’s usually a call to action. The Growth Mindset’s power comes when it focuses motivation on what is truly important to the client.

In order to help clients make this shift, we can integrate positive reframing into our communication. Positive reframing is when we help the client find the positives and the hope in a situation, no matter how small, and is a great way to reinforce a Growth Mindset. Positive reframing has several key goals.

The first goal is to help clients find hope for success and a positive future. Some clients will struggle to identify any hope or find confidence for success, so it is up to us to “hold the hope” for the client. Holding the hope means that, to start, we as helpers are the ones that identify and bring the positive to the client’s attention, with the goal of the client eventually being able to do this on their own.

The second goal is to counterbalance a world full of negativity. Trauma steals the positive from the client’s perspective, but that does not mean that all positive aspects of the client’s life are gone. If they struggle to see this, we can help search and identify these positive things. Holding hope allows the client to begin to see the positives in the world.

The next goal is to find positives even in difficult situations. Pointing out the positive might meet resistance at first, as the client may have lost the ability to feel good about themselves. The more the we assist them in finding the positive in their situation, the more it reinforces new neuropathways that can let the client see the world in a new and better light.

Finally, the overarching goal is that working to help clients recover from tough situations and find the positive in themselves will lead to improved outcomes over time. Reframing can change the client’s perspective of the world. One of the most critical parts of trauma specific treatment is when a client realizes that surviving trauma can actually make them a stronger person in the future. This isn’t a quick or easy realization to come to, but practice with smaller life events and situations can help to set the stage for the reframing of larger traumatic experiences. Reframing can help create and strengthen positive neuropathways.

Here are some specific positive reframing strategies that can be easily incorporated into our work.

The first type of reframing is positive reinterpreting. This is the ability to realize that a threat is no longer a threat. Positive reinterpreting is a key coping skill for emotional regulation. Untreated trauma leaves the client with a feeling of constant threat that may seem ever-present in their lives. The threat and memories of the event keep them in a survival or fixed mindset. Positive reinterpreting helps the client get back on the high/long road. Don’t spend time discussing the traumatic emotions or memories, but focus on the fact that the danger has passed and that the client has the power to move beyond their past towards a better future.

The next type of reframing is normalizing. People tend to think that their experience is unlike anything anyone else has had to go through. This can reinforce the victim mindset. When clients understand that other people have gone through similar pain and hardships, and have become stronger because of the experience, it can take the client out of the victim mindset and increase motivation to action. Find opportunities to talk about how other clients in similar situations have succeeded. Better yet, connect the client with those people if it’s within the program’s structure, or find support groups for people who have been through similar trauma.

The third type of reframing is positive repositioning. This is where recovery can begin, as it introduces hope into the client’s worldview and sense of self. Positive repositioning means helping a client to change the context through which they view a situation. Trauma closes the door of hope for a fulfilling future. This door stays closed as the client finds themselves in a cycle of reliving traumatic memories, which often leads to destructive behaviors, moving the client even further away from a better life. Positive repositioning introduces hope back into the client’s reality.

At first, we may be the one holding all the hope, but hope, like all emotions, is contagious. If we are patient and keeps showing the client a path to a better future, the door that the trauma closed might start to open. This will not happen overnight, but the very fact that we believe the client can live a better life can be the start to healing and growth.

Reframing is a skill to be practiced for both the us and the client. They will need our persistence at first, but over time, many clients will start reframing on their own as their neuropathways develop. Remember, we are assisting clients to change their brains, and this takes patience and repetition.

My question this week is whether you have had any success with positive reframing in the past or see any opportunities to integrate these approaches into your work? Share in the comments.

4 responses to “Personal Narrative Voice: Growth Mindset Reframes”

  1. Randy Hylton says:

    As always, deeply insightful stuff Matt. The portion that captures me the most is the idea of normalizing. The perception that your suffering is unique creates such inner turmoil, as it must mean that there are no therapeutic approaches that will bring real change or healing because no one has developed a mechanism to engage something so rare (it can feel like your mind is the victim of some strange autoimmune disease, for which there is no cure). This intensifies one’s suffering and isolation. To bring one to a sense of normality is to set one free. A quick personal anecdote: a book club I’m part of recently took on some heavy study in one of Chogyam Trungpa’s volumes on the Tibetan Buddhism approach to neuroticism. Going in, I held the belief that my own neurotic tendencies were so uncommon that there was likely little Trungpa could say that would be equipping. I was stunned to find that within the oral and written traditions passed down across centuries, my own brand of disturbing thought patterns were on complete display. I found myself reacting with wonder that teachers from one of the most isolated areas on the earth had identified my experience as part of the human condition long ago. This has proven to be deeply meaningful and freeing – it’s created a step toward normalizing. Thanks for another inspiring and thoughtful blog.

  2. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    A nonwhite person in the United States would not have the luxury of a complete reach for “normalizing.” With cultural competency in mind, recall that white supremacy is relentless in introducing trauma in the lives of its targets and those who collaborate with its targets. Slights to violent aggression have been the modus operandi for centuries. Suffering and hope are the vicissitudes of the life of blacks, for instance. These are the incubators of the blues, as a music genre. Two metaphors are helpful to me: the running back’s efforts in pro football, and the image of rain on a moving car. In the first, the running back confronts the opposition with head fakes, shoulder fakes, hip fakes, direction feints, speed, power and more. He may meet the defender head on, or try to slip away. He will bounce off a tackle or use a spin move to get free. I was impressed when I saw one back just stop in his tracks–just to let a defensive lineman pass him by–before resuming his run for more yardage. (He gained four on that play, when he could have been stopped behind the line of scrimmage.) Rain on a car in motion is relentless in the wind. The raindrops slip off the moving vehicle, and the car carries on. These images help me move in the direction of hope, in a life of incessant action by white supremacy to impede the human energy of individuals with darker skin. Perseverance (for good) to match the activity of evil is helpful. A full array of choices, freedom and self-fulfillment will come with the realization of the ideals of American democracy. The enemies of democracy and freedom always seek to reduce choice. Slavery is the elimination of choice. Finally, empathy and an effort to see another’s perspective may widen one’s own reaction to pain to view a given situation and respond differently–more positively.

  3. Matt Bennett says:

    Such an important point my friend. Thanks again for being my teacher and great to see you last week!

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