What is your frame of reference?

April 08th 2022

We understand the difference between extroverts and introverts, and the frame of reference is another one of those things that help define how we behave.  And by knowing your frame, you can use it to reduce stress


And it is not about looking through rose tinted glasses that changes how we see things.  But glasses themselves do change how our mind sees things – making the message that comes in through our eyes clearer.  However, that is just the start of it!

Let me tell you about the frame of reference!

What is the frame of reference?

Let me give you an example…

A lady comes out of the dressing room in a new dress.  All her friends says she looks amazing but she just does not feel good it in.

If the lady has an external frame of reference, she will buy the dress based on her friend’s all saying it is amazing, even if she is not too comfy in it herself.

If the lady walks out of the shop without buying it despite what her friends said, she has a strong internal frame of reference – how she felt was more important.

So in a nutshell, the frame of reference can determine whose judgement is more important – that of others or your own.

However, just as with extroverts and introverts, it is not just one or other, there are shades of grey in between.  Some people will need the feedback from others to back up their own judgements.

So what has this to do with anxiety?

People with a strong external frame of reference will typically be more prone to anxiety as they are more reliant on the judgement and feedback of others.  If this is not available, it makes it harder for them to make their own decisions – they cannot rely on their internal references.  It also means that if someone’s judgement is harsh, it can impact them greatly.

People with high external frames of reference can often feel vulnerable as their reference points are outside of their control.

And the greater the vulnerability, the higher the anxiety.

However, it is not plain sailing for those with internal frames of reference either!  These people can often procrastinate.  They will often experience the internal dialogue between the ‘head’ and the ‘heart’ which can be very stressful.  This can make them anxious because they don’t know which one to listen to and they just go around in circles.

How to use the frame of reference to reduce anxiety

1.  Work out what your frame of reference is.

How do you know you have done a good job?  How do you know you look good?

And now reflect on your answer to these questions.  If your answer was based around ‘I’, as in I know I look good because I feel good.  Or I know I have done a good job because I can see the results – then you have a strong internal frame of reference.

If your answer is around others – ie I know I look good because people compliment me, or I know I have done a good job because people tell me so – then you have an external frame of reference.

Or you may be in the middle somewhere – I feel good and I have received compliments.

2.  If you have a strong internal frame of reference, learn to trust your instinct.  Engage with how you feel about something and then take action based on the feeling more than the logic.

If you have a strong external frame of reference, narrow your reference down to the opinion and judgement of those people you trust, those who matter to you.  Everyone outside these circle should also be outside your frame of references.

And then take a step in towards the nearest shade of grey!  If you are a strong internal reference person, ask the opinion of one or two very close trusted people and listen.  You may still go with your decision/opinion, but it has been tested against others and this can increase your confidence that the decision is the right one.

If you are strongly external, then start to engage with how YOU feel.  By trusting your own instinct, you will start to reduce your anxieties.

3.  You can also use this to reduce stress around interaction with others.  Start to notice the frames of reference of the people who are key in your life.  If you notice they are strong internal reference people and they ask your opinion, by all means give it but then ask, “What are your feelings telling you?”  That will help them to use their own internal reference well.

If you notice someone has a strong external frame of reference, this will mean that things you say can be taken to heart by them very easily!  It will also mean that they will need more feedback and input from you when making decisions.


We have many such filters that our mind uses to determine behaviour and feelings.  The frame of reference is a big contributor to anxiety however just by knowing how that part of your mind works, it puts you back in a place of control to use it in a way that benefits you.  And where there is control, there is less space for anxiety!

For more information on filters, jump over to the resources page where there is a free download called Filters that will take you through some others that are lots of fun to know about.

Caroline Cavanagh is an anxiety specialist  and hypnotherapist in Salisbury, Wiltshire.  She is an author and public speaker and would love to talk to you if you would like to know more about her work

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