The Second Arrow Effect: Managing distress and discomfort.


Practicing kindness to yourself can often be challenging. We each have a habit of being a harsh critic when we fall short of goals, make mistakes, or perform below our own expectations.

Let’s explore a way to frame inner pain, distress, or turmoil in a way that limits your pain. This concept is known as “the second arrow” effect.

The second arrow effect

Stressful events cause negative feelings. This is a reality. The triggering event, or the reason you feel mad or upset, is known as an arrow. We often have a tendency to seek answers about why an event happened which causes feelings of guilt, shame, and failure. This reaction of turning blame inward is known as the second arrow.

Think about it this way – you’ve already been hit once and it hurts. Now you’re hitting yourself a second time. Doesn’t that hurt even more? Instead of waging a war on yourself, focus on the first arrow. It hurts, it’s uncomfortable, but it doesn’t need to attract additional wounds. Whenever you notice that you’re being hard on yourself over a difficult event, remind yourself that “one arrow is enough pain.”

Eliminating the second arrow reduces the measure of discomfort surrounding a difficult event and can help make stress more manageable.

When to use this technique:

When building new habits, it’s normal to struggle a bit and feel like you’re falling short. Practicing self-love and kindness as you attempt to make changes will make you more successful in your goals. Any time you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk, calling yourself names, or judging your own progress harshly, make space for being gentle and forgiving as you pursue positive changes in your life.

Other helpful techniques:

When dealing with inner turmoil or stress, it’s important to have a plethora of techniques in your back pocket to help you. Check out our masterlist of relaxation techniques.

Bottom Line: When you find that you're beating yourself up, feeling distress, or engaging in negative self-talk, try asking yourself "isn't one arrow enough?"


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