Who Framed You?

Framing is a psychology term describing how context influences the perception of an issue, question, problem, or... person. For instance, in a trial, the prosecutor will describe a degenerate, low-life gambler who took to stealing food instead of getting a job and contributing to society. The defense attorney will re-frame the accused as a laid-off worker, down on his luck, stealing food to feed his children when not volunteering at his church. Guilt or innocence will usually be determined by which frame the jury prefers to see the man (aka bias).

In our personal lives, we have been similarly framed. Our churches tend to frame us unwitting accomplices to original sin, but no less guilty and therefore sinners. Our schools tend to frame us a smart or dumb, obedient or unruly. Our families frame us a golden, wild, unwanted, burdensome, blessed, or other classification. Some of our employers frame us as labor expenses, while others frame us as workhorses. Our spouses frame us as trophies, breadwinners, man-child, sex kitten, and so on. Our friends frame us a clingy, fashionable, braggadocious, warm, affable, or any number of other monikers. These frames all cast us in a particular light, pleasing from some perspectives and repugnant from others.

Only one frame matters: the frame in which we view ourselves.

We are cautioned not to let our mistakes define us, but what does this mean? If we experienced problems with addiction, are we not (at least formerly) addicts? If we experienced trouble holding a job, are we not unemployed? If we experienced divorce, are we not used or damaged goods? If we have children, do we not have baggage?

Another psychological term is projection. Projection is a method whereby we externalize something we dislike about ourselves onto someone else. This technique is often easier than dealing with self-loathing internally, especially when these characteristics conflict with our self-image. For instance, projection and framing are why you often see ardent anti-gay crusaders eventually caught in homosexual affairs. These people framed themselves in such a way that their homosexuality did not fit within the picture. They externalize the conflict between their nature and self-image, rejecting a perceived negative part of themselves by casting it onto someone else.

My frame is that I think of myself as a pretty smart guy. In actuality, I have been learning and growing my entire life. I was reminded of this recently when I was thinking of a particular ex-girlfriend. I held resentment for some of the lies she told me and framed her as a bad person. After all, I have cultural support for defining liars as bad people. In truth, I was not mad at her; I was angry at myself. I was disappointed that I had fallen for her lies. In my defense, they were excellent lies, and I sincerely wanted them to be true.

The problem ultimately is in how I frame myself. It turns out that while I may be somewhat intelligent, I am also learning more every day. It turns out that having some knowledge and experience does not mean that I am a finished product. More importantly, it does not mean that I cannot be fooled by someone willing to tell me what I hope to hear. In the end, I am better for the relationship, having learned both that not everything that glitters is gold and that I remain a work in progress. Once I changed my frame, my perception of this ex-girlfriend also changed. She helped make me wiser, but also kinder and more honest. She was a lesson on my path. I was able to integrate my previous projection away from her and into my frame.

Today, I urge you to release the frames given to you in childhood that you carry with you still. Instead of relying on your friends, family, neighbors, church, employer, or anyone else to frame you, I hope you will frame yourself. Frame yourself not only as you are but as you wish to be. Frame yourself as a work in progress, an unfinished masterpiece. Mistakes you made will be painted over when your skill as an artist improves. View the ones who harmed you as the ones who taught you the most. After all, the most painful lessons are the ones we learn the best. Release the resentments you hold for others by recognizing them as projections of yourself to be incorporated into your new frame.

In response to "Who framed you?" the answer must be only one person: You. Like me, you are an unfinished masterpiece. Some corners remain blank and filled with possibility. Others are saturated but require a touch-up. Some are perfect in their chaotic, ordered colorfulness and should be left precisely as they are. The critics of your frame are merely projecting their self-loathing for what lies within their own frames. The only critic that matters to "Masterpiece You" is the painter.

Go boldly, then, and decorate the canvas of your life!