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Potential maximisation: Attributes of reframing

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The world can be unforgiving towards people who are deaf. The threat of social exclusion is always present. You cannot control how others think or behave, but you can control how you think. This article contains proactive thinking strategies.

In the last edition, you were asked about a particularly unpleasant incident related to your child’s deafness. This was designed to make you think about Reframing. How did you feel? Humiliated? Angry?

Reframing is a cognitive skill that significantly influences a person’s psychic makeup. The key idea is “It’s not what happens to you, but how you view it.” This determines how they perceive the world and, more importantly, how they behave.

Studies have shown that people who reframe negative experiences are better able to create positive outcomes for others and themselves. How you are feeling in any given event significantly decides your behavior. Below is a thought map of how people commonly react to circumstances. It shows how Reframing works. Known as the ABC schema, it was defined by the psychologist Martin Seligman.

Adversity and Consequences

A → C

“A” means Adversity and “C” means the emotional Consequence(s). Adversity is experiencing a negative incident. Examples are hurtful criticism, the discovery of a child’s deafness, or a relationship breakdown. Yet, on a base level, actual events have nothing to do with emotional Consequence(s). That’s not to blissfully ignore traumatic experiences, but to say that we are not passive pawns to happenstance.

Reframing unpleasant or threatening circumstances requires critical thinking. The cognitive skill of Reframing, essentially, occurs in the Belief system. In between “A” and “C” is “B” – the Belief system. As such, the interpretation of the Adversity (A) by the Belief system (B) determines the Consequence(s) (C).

Adversity, Belief System, and Consequences

A → B → C

Following the A-B-C sequence, the Belief system (B) determines emotions, which cause the Consequences (C). A does not cause C: B causes C.

Irrational thoughts create negative emotions, which therefore cause negative behavioural outcomes. Reframing these beliefs increases the likelihood of favourable consequences. Rational thoughts create positive emotions, which therefore cause proactive behavioural outcomes. In conversation, Reframing requires a presence of mind and the ability to watch, observe, and then to respond.

Reactive thinking views Adversity (A) as directly causing the emotional consequence (C). By contrast, the proactive mindset continually reframes Adversity in a positive manner. Threats are recognised but the instinct is to reframe, and then to find and pursue opportunities. The Belief system (B) reframes the Adversity (A) to create positive Consequences (C).

The following thought processes were adopted from The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis, Matthew McKay and Elizabeth Eshelman (1982). Placed in a deafness context are an irrational Belief and the corresponding rational Belief for the same issue.

  1. Irrational: I must be loved, appreciated or approved by each significant person I meet. My deafness is a disability and people should accept this.
    Rational: Some people will love, appreciate and approve of me. Not everyone understands that my deafness can sometimes be limiting.
  2. Irrational: I should be completely competent, perfect and achieve with every opportunity. Otherwise, I am worthless. 
    Rational: My strengths make me a worthy person. My weaknesses make me human. 
  3. Irrational: People are discriminatory towards people who are deaf. This is unjust.
    Rational: Some people are discriminatory towards people who are deaf. That’s life.
  4. Irrational: I am sick of being different. I am hopeless because I am deaf. 
    Rational: Some people do/will appreciate my difference. Not all my weaknesses are related to deafness. 
  5. Irrational: Society is to blame for my unhappiness, not me.
    Rational: There will be periods when I am unhappy. The world can sometimes be tough but I am responsible for my own happiness.
  6. Irrational: My deafness exposes me to dangerous, unpleasant and frightening experiences. Life is easier for hearing people.
    Rational: This is the best age in which a person with deafness can live, despite some difficulties. Many hearing people have worse lives than mine.
  7. Irrational: Strangers should make an effort to accommodate my deafness. I can ignore difficult or unpleasant tasks/problems.
    Rational: It’s nice when strangers make an effort to accommodate my deafness, but I don’t expect it. Confronting tasks/problems create proactive outcomes.
  8. Irrational: Having a partner makes me feel normal and not “deaf.” Otherwise I am not a complete person.
    Rational: What is “normal”? Personal development is a life-long process.
  9. Irrational: I can’t do anything right because of my deafness. This is the reason for my problem(s) now.
    Rational: I can address my deafness-related problems when they arise. Many of my problems may not be related to deafness.
  10. Irrational: I must ease the suffering of other people who are deaf. I am betraying my deafness if I don’t.
    Rational: I can help other people who are deaf if required. Others are ultimately responsible for themselves.

Reframing is purposefully shifting from Irrational to Rational beliefs. People without a disability are also prone to irrational thinking. The Belief system, therefore, has nothing to do with deafness. Your thoughts, not deafness, determine your reality. It is not what happens to us, but how we view the circumstances we are dealing with.

Irrational Beliefs can place unnecessary pressure on others and yourself. They can also lead to misinterpretations of reality and self-defeating thoughts. Misinterpretations of reality majorly cause of anger and irritation. For example, the thought “Society is to blame for my unhappiness” will likely put people off or, worse, make them pity your deafness and unhappiness. Also, thinking “Strangers should make an effort to accommodate my deafness” will lead to trouble when nobody helps you.

Rational Beliefs, or proactive self-talk, acknowledge the issue and take on personal accountability. Rational Beliefs reframe thinking in a realistic, flexible or proactive manner. Rational Beliefs are crucial for conflict resolution. For example, asking someone to face you to assist speech-reading.

Reframing is a skill that takes practice to master. It requires a presence of mind and the ability to watch, observe and then respond.

Reframing is the fifth of eight themes that create Potential Maximisation. The exercise discussed is your practical application of Reframing.


List five recent negative life experiences. Draw two columns. Write irrational/reactive beliefs in one column, reframe, then write rational/proactive beliefs in the other. Use this article as a guide.

The following question prepares you for the next column’s theme of Persistence.

Question: How many single words can you list about Darwin, Australia? Write as many as possible (e.g., crocodiles, Northern territory, etc.), however reasonable or far-fetched.

“We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.” – The Talmud

Next: Tactics of Persistence


  • Davis, M., Eshelman, E. R & McKay, M. (1982). T he Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook 2nd Ed.Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
  • Seligman, M. E. P. (1995). The Optimistic Child: A revolutionary approach to raising resilient children. Milsons Point, N.S.W.: Random House Australia Pty Ltd.
  • Seligman, M. E. P. (2000). Learned Optimism. Milsons Point, N.S.W.: Random House Australia Pty Ltd.


The contents of these columns are copyright of Dr. Paul Jacobs (PhD). All rights reserved. Reproduction of all or any substantial part of the contents in any form is prohibited. No part of Dr Paul Jacobs’ material on Potential Maximisation may be distributed or copied for any commercial purpose without expressed approval by the author.




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