The Story of

The Twisted Arrow:

A Metaphor of Personal Empowerment


by William V. Giddings, Ed.D.


At a very young age, probably around 2-3 years old, when children first begin to question and challenge and interpret their lives, all children experience a few moments when the Force in their lives seems to have pushed a "Pause" button and everything goes still and frozen except the child and the Force. And during that brief time the child is given three pieces of basic equipment to use the rest of his/her life.

The first item is a large bow. Not the kind you put in your hair, but the kind you shoot arrows with. This particular bow shoots a special kind of arrow called a "stress arrow."

The second item is a long cone-shaped tube closed up at the smaller end. It's called a quiver, and it can hold a lot of stress arrows.

The third item isn't equipment at all, it's a Coupon...

It has the child's name on it, and it reads,

"Good for an unlimited supply of stress arrows. Love, The Force"

And with that, the Force pushes the Pause button again and the child's world comes alive.

But this time the little kid notices some things she hadn't seen before. Mom, Dad, big sister, Uncle George, Grandma, all have bows and quivers with lots of arrows sticking out.

"What in the world are these things for??" asks the little kid to herself.

And then as she hears Mom and Sis start to argue she suddenly notices Sis pull out one of those stress arrows and shoot Mom with it as she yells, "You never let me do anything!"

And just as suddenly she sees Mom shoot an arrow at Sis as Mom says, "I'm sick and tired of you being so lazy and not helping out around here!"

"Hmmmm, interesting," says the kid. "That's what they're for!" As she continues to watch her world she soon realizes that all the bigger people have this equipment and shoot each other with stress arrows when they are mad or hurt or upset.

And the next time the kid hears her mother sharply say, "Didn't I tell you not to touch that?!" she feels some pain and glances down at her chest and sees that she has an arrow sticking out of her. After which,the kid promptly touches the forbidden object again and in the process shoots her first arrow… at Mom.

And so it becomes evident that all stresses are like shots from arrows into our chests. Every time we create stress for somebody, we "shoot" them; and every time we are stressed, we have been "shot." It should be noted here that not all shots are directly from people. Some of the toughest arrows come from events or information (such as, that we have a serious illness or disease). Initially a doctor's words may be the shot, but after that, the disease itself shoots us by its very existence.

But the surprising thing is that it is not the shooting or even the shooter that is important in terms of our feelings...

What's important is what we do with the arrow AFTER we've been shot!

The Pulled-Out Arrow

Whenever we've been shot (by a put-down, or rejection, or criticism, or unfairness, or someone who yells at us, or by a bad grade, or by a train that blocks our way when we're in a hurry, or by learning/knowing that we have a serious illness or disease, etc.) we reach down and take hold of the arrow sticking out of us, and have a little conversation with our self (i.e., "Self-Talk") about the shooter, ourselves, and the arrow.

If the self-talk is reasonable and pretty accurate (even though we're still feeling hurt or mad), the effect of that self-talk is to pull out the arrow.


"Ow, that criticism hurt! I didn't deserve that! I suppose he was so blunt because he's been uptight about his money problems lately, but still, it was a low blow and hurt. Guess I'd better be kinda cautious around him until he feels better and lightens up."

When we talk to ourselves in this way, which pulls out an arrow we've been shot with, we are still wounded and we still have some healing to do. But what we know from the physical world is that when a traditionally shaped arrowhead has been shot into flesh, if you pull it straight out it leaves a fairly straight cut. Such cuts (similar to a paper cut) sting a lot, but they are the fastest to heal. The same is true when we are emotionally "cut" by an arrow and pull it straight out... it still stings, but we "heal" (feel better) relatively quickly.

The Twisted Arrow

On the other hand, if after being shot our self-talk is irrational, awfulized or way out of proportion to the pain of that shot, the effect is to twist the arrow! Now we are more than just hurt or mad, we are likely to be devastated or enraged.

Example: "Ow, that criticism hurt! I didn't deserve that! He had no right to say that to me! What a totally mean, insensitive SOB! Wait 'til the next time he wants something from me! I'll get even with him!!"

Again, what we know from the physical world is that if an arrow is twisted in a wound the arrowhead tears the tissue and makes the wound bigger than the arrow made when it went in!! And a large, torn or ragged wound is very painful, and takes a long time to heal. The same is true when we are emotionally wounded and we twist and twist via the anger and hurt in our self-talk. The arrow hurts when it hits us, for sure, but we tear ourselves up and hurt even more when we twist that arrow via our self-talk.

Let's repeat part of the first sentence in the last paragraph:

"...the twisting makes the wound bigger than the arrow made when it went in!"

And who twists the arrow?

The person shot, not the Shooter!

The Broken Arrow

If instead of pulling out an arrow, or twisting it, we ignore or deny or rationalize having been shot, it is like breaking off the arrow.

"What arrow? I don't see any arrow. I didn't feel a thing when he criticized me!"

Well, when the arrow is broken off like that it may not show, but the arrowhead is still in there ... and so is the pain.

As life goes on the buried arrowhead will keep on injuring us on the inside, and may even get infected by our twists of other arrows we've been shot with. So, sooner or later you will likely need some surgery (ie., counseling) to get that arrowhead out.

Some Key Things to Know and Remember:

(And first off, remember that when I speak of "the Shooters" I include both people and events/information that shoot us with arrows.)

1 - The Shooter IS responsible for shooting you. It is true that sometimes we provoke someone to shoot us and in those cases we are at least partly to blame, but generally, the shooter is responsible and if he cares about you or your relationship it is his job to perhaps apologize or change his behavior, or at least to try hard not to shoot that arrow at you again.

2 - The Shooter cannot twist an arrow once it leaves his/her bow, even if he might want to. He can, of course, shoot other arrows at you, but the Shooter can't twist any of them.

Only YOU, the person shot, can do the twisting.

3 - You and I can handle the pain that comes from the arrows we are shot with and that we pull out. It's not easy and we wish we didn't have to, but we can handle that pain, i.e., we CAN handle stress.

It's the severe, long-lasting pain from twisted arrows that we usually don't handle well. Because when the arrow gets twisted we are no longer in stress, we are in DISTRESS ...and most people don't handle THAT well!

4 - The Shooter cannot pull out an arrow once it has been shot.

He might apologize or try to make up for shooting you, but still it is YOU, the person with the arrow sticking out of them, who will either accept the apology and thereby pull the arrow out, or twist it some more by saying something like, "He probably didn't really mean that apology!"

5 - The Shooter is NOT responsible for your AMOUNT of pain or anger. As #1 above indicated, the Shooter is reponsible for shooting and therefore for the pain caused by his arrow. But since he cannot twist his arrows once they hit you, any additional pain you feel is created by what you say to yourself about the arrow, the Shooter, yourself, or the situation.

So the bottom line is, though you often can't control the Shooters or whether they take shots at you, you can control what you do with their arrows and the amount of pain or anger (or other feelings) you experience.

"Now hold on!" you say. "Are you saying it's MY fault when I get shot?!"

NO! Generally, the shooter is at fault for shooting you, and therefore is also at fault for the initial pain you feel.

What's being said here is that after the shot and the initial pain, YOU are the one who is mostly in charge of the rest of your feelings and the level or amount of those feelings by way of what you say to yourself inside your head... in your SELF-TALK.

"Self-talk? You mentioned that earlier. What exactly do you mean by that?"

Perhaps you haven't ever really thought of it this way, but all of us have an ongoing inner conversation with ourselves about us, our world, our relations ... everything.

That's our self-talk, and it's going on 24 hours a day whether or not we are aware of it.

Well, since it's our self-talk that does the twisting and pulling-out and breaking-off of arrows, and since our self-talk can largely be within our control, that means we can have considerable control over our feelings, despite the fact that we don't have a lot of control over the events in our worlds (i.e., the Shooters and their shots).

Control how? By really looking at what we're saying to ourselves in our self-talk we can check it out in terms of how realistic, accurate, reasonable, cool, or level-headed we are talking to ourselves about the various arrows sticking out of us.

"Does this mean I have more power over my feelings than I thought I did?" Absolutely!!

"Is this easy to learn to do?" No.

"Is it real hard?" No,... just hard. And you can probably handle that if you want to.

Let me give you some examples of the differences between the feelings that come from pulled-out arrows and those that come from the twisting of arrows.

When shot with:

...a blame arrow.
If we pull the arrow out we are likely to feel regret, or remorse.
But if we twist that same arrow we are likely to feel guilty and awful.

...a rejection arrow.

Pull it out and you'll feel hurt, sad, lonely, blue, down, or p.o.'d.
Twist it and you'll feel devastated, depressed, or maybe furious.

...a calledoninclasswhenyoudon'tknowtheanswer arrow.

Pull it out and you'll likely feel embarrassed.
Twist it, and you're likely to feel humiliated.

...a nastyputdown arrow.

Pull it out and probably feel hurt and mad.
Twist it, and feel terribly hurt, furious or enraged, and/or vengeful.

...a badnewsfromthedoctor arrow.

Pull it out and you'll feel concerned, uneasy, scared, and very careful.
Twist it, and you'll spin your wheels being worried, terrified, and obsessive or paranoid. (I say "spin your wheels" because none of these latter feelings will lead one to feeling better ... quite the contrary!)

...a longlineinthegrocerystore arrow.

Pull it out and you'll feel disgusted and annoyed.
Twist it, and you'll feel frustrated, angry, impatient, and upset.

Notice in all these examples that the feelings in bold print, which in each case are the ones that come from twisted arrows, are rougher, "awfuler," and longer lasting than the feelings associated with pulling arrows out.

Remember back earlier in the story where stress arrows were compared with the physical world of arrows puncturing tissue? Arrows that aren't twisted and are pulled out leave a fairly straight cut and heal pretty quickly ... and in the emotional world so do feelings like regret, sadness, or being down, po'd, embarrassed, mad, scared, concerned, disgusted, and annoyed.

Conversely, in the physical world when arrows are twisted, bigger, rougher, nastier wounds are created that hurt more and can take quite a long time to heal. And in the emotional world so do the feelings of fury, rage, worry, paranoia, depression, guilt, and humiliation. Some of these can take a lifetime to heal if we don't pull them out sooner or later and let the healing begin!

So now that you've heard this story, and have gotten a feel for the different thinking and feeling (and, therefore, behaving) that goes with pulling them out versus twisting them, do you have some arrows sticking out of you?

Of course you do, everybody does since, like it or not, life is pretty darned stressful even when things are going well.

The important question is not whether you've been shot or how many arrows you have been shot with.

The really important question is ...

How are you handling your arrows?!
Which ones are you pulling out pretty well?
And which ones are you Twisting?!

So often when we're real down or angry or hurt people tell us, "You think too much. Just let go of it!" So we try, and it just gets worse because "thinking too much" isn't what the problem is. We're all thinkers. Couldn't stop if we wanted to. We need to go right on thinking. Twisting and Pulling-Out are both thinking (self-talk), but I believe you can now see that the latter helps because we are THINKING DIFFERENTLY than the times when we twist the arrow. Let me repeat that:Thinking differently...that is the key to feeling better and feeling like we have more control of our lives ... at least our emotional lives.

You or an event or a disease or whatever can shoot me and hurt me, that's true. Boy, can you hurt me! But you can't devastate me or depress me or humiliate me or enrage me or make me feel guilty. There are lots of feelings I don't like, but I can handle them one way or another. It's the feelings from the Twisted Arrows that are the real rough, scary, debilitating ones, and I am their creator, not you, not my father, not my boss, not my ex-spouse, not the doctor, not the IRS man, not the obnoxious customer or student, and not my disease...ME!

It's so great to know that the troll under my bridge is just me!


My best to all of you!


p.s. If you would like some practice or help in applying this metaphor to your own situation, I've created two worksheets that you might find useful. Look at both of them, and then choose the one that seems easiest to for you to use.

Twisted Arrow Worksheet #1                      Twisted Arrow Worksheet #2

p.s. #2 I'd love to hear your comments, questions, and any other feedback about The Twisted Arrow. Please email them to me.

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