You might think putting a positive spin on a friend's problem(s) would help them cheer up. But reframing setbacks—like totally bungling a job interview or being broken up with—as great opportunities—“Don’t worry! You’re so great, you’ll find something better!”—may make some people feel invalidated, unheard, and misunderstood, says Denise Marigold, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Renison University College.
Reframing setbacks as great opportunities may make some people feel invalidated.
The people least likely to be enjoy peering through others’ rose-colored lenses are those with low self-esteem, Marigold adds. They interpret so-called positive reframing as feedback that their reactions aren’t acceptable or that it’s not OK to feel negatively.
“All of us have a bias toward wanting others to see us as we see ourselves,” Marigold explains, tipping her hat to what psychologists call self-verification theory. “Because people low in self-esteem tend to hold a more pessimistic view of potential outcomes and take failures more personally, hearing a friend say ‘No, it’s fine; you’ll do better next time!’ makes them feel that friend doesn’t get them.”
Do this instead:Rather than pointing out silver linings or urging our buds to keep their chins up, Marigold advises to engage our listening skills, pay attention to the emotional content of what our friends are saying, and validate what they're feeling. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them—especially not if they’re telling you how worthless, stupid, or otherwise defective they are as people. But, she says, a genuine attempt to convey that their frustration is perfectly reasonable and appropriate—à la “That sounds so disappointing. You were really let down, weren’t you?”—can at least make them feel heard and connected to someone who cares.
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