The Storyof TheTwisted Arrow

a metaphor of personal empowerment 

by WilliamV. Giddings, Ed.D.

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

The first item is alarge bow.

Not the kind you put inyour hair, but the kind you shoot arrows with. This particular bowshoots a special kind of arrow called a "stress arrow."

Thesecond 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 stressarrows.

The third item isn'tequipment at all, it's a Coupon...! Ithas the child's name on it, and it reads, "Good for an unlimitedsupply of stress arrows. Love, The Force"


And with that, theForce pushes the Pause button again and the child's world comesalive.

But this time thelittle kid notices some things she hadn't seen before. Mom, Dad, bigsister, Uncle George, Grandma, all have bows and quivers with lots ofarrows sticking out.

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

And then as she hearsMom and Sis start to argue she suddenly notices Sis pull out one ofthose stress arrows and shoot Mom with it as she yells, "You neverlet me do anything!"

And just as suddenlyshe sees Mom shoot an arrow at Sis as Mom says, "I'm sick and tiredof 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 watchher world she soon realizes that all the bigger people have thisequipment and shoot each other with stress arrows when they are mador hurt or upset.

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

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

But the surprisingthing is that it is not the shooting or even the shooter that isimportant in terms of our feelings...

What's important iswhat we do with the arrow after we've been shot!


The Pulled-OutArrow

Whenever we've been shot (by aput-down, or rejection, or criticism, or unfairness, or someone whoyells at us, or by a bad grade, or by a train that blocks our waywhen we're in a hurry, or by learning/knowing that we have a seriousillness or disease, etc.) we reach down and take hold of the arrowsticking out of us, and have a little conversation with our self(i.e., "Self-Talk") about the shooter, ourselves, and thearrow.

If the self-talk is reasonable andpretty accurate (even though we're still feeling hurt or mad), theeffect 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 woundedand we still have some healing to do. But what we know from thephysical world is that when a traditionally shaped arrowhead has beenshot into flesh, if you pull it straight out it leaves a fairlystraight cut. Such cuts (similar to a paper cut) sting a lot, butthey are the fastest to heal. The same is true when we areemotionally "cut" by an arrow and pull it straight out... it stillstings, but we "heal" (feel better) relatively quickly.


The TwistedArrow

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

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

Again, what we know from the physicalworld is that if an arrow is twisted in a wound the arrowhead tearsthe tissue and makes the wound bigger than the arrow made when itwent in!! And a large, torn or ragged wound is very painful, andtakes a long time to heal. The same is true when we are emotionallywounded and we twist and twist via the anger and hurt in ourself-talk. The arrow hurts when it hits us, for sure, but we tearourselves up and hurt even more when we twist that arrow via ourself-talk.

Let's repeat part of the first sentencein the last paragraph:

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

And who twists the arrow?

The person shot, not theShooter!


The BrokenArrow

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

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

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

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


Some Key Things to Knowand Remember:

(And first off, remember that when Ispeak of "the Shooters" I include both people and events/informationthat 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 anarrow 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 anyof them.

Only YOU, the person shot, cando the twisting.

3 - You and I can handle the pain thatcomes from the arrows we are shot with and that we pull out. It's noteasy 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 fromtwisted arrows that we usually don't handle well. Because when thearrow gets twisted we are no longer in stress, we are inDistress, ...and most people don't handlethat well!

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

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

5 - The Shooter isNOT responsible for youramount of pain or anger. As #1 aboveindicated, the Shooter is reponsible for shooting and therefore forthe pain caused by his arrow. But since he cannot twist his arrowsonce they hit you, any additional pain you feel is created by whatyou say to yourself about the arrow, the Shooter, yourself, or thesituation.

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


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

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

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

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

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

That's our self-talk, and it's going on24 hours a day whether or not we are aware of it.

Well, since it's our self-talk thatdoes the twisting and pulling-out and breaking-off of arrows, andsince our self-talk can largely be within our control, that means wecan have considerable control over our feelings, despite the factthat 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 whatwe're saying to ourselves in our self-talk we can check it out interms of how realistic, accurate, reasonable, cool, or level-headedwe are talking to ourselves about the various arrows sticking out ofus.

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

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

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


Let me give you some examples of thedifferences between the feelings that come from pulled-out arrows andthose 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.

...acalledoninclasswhenyoudon'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 badnewsfromthedoctorarrow.

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 longlineinthegrocerystorearrow.

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 thefeelings in bold print, which in each case are the ones that comefrom twisted arrows, are rougher, "awfuler," and longer lasting thanthe feelings associated with pulling arrows out.

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

Conversely, in the physical world whenarrows are twisted, bigger, rougher, nastier wounds are created thathurt more and can take quite a long time to heal. And in theemotional world so do the feelings of fury, rage, worry, paranoia,depression, guilt, and humiliation. Some of these can take a lifetimeto heal if we don't pull them out sooner or later and let the healingbegin!


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 twistingthem, 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 aregoing well.


The important question is notwhether you've been shot or how many arrows you have been shotwith.


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 angryor hurt people tell us, "You think too much. Just let go of it!" Sowe try, and it just gets worse because "thinking too much" isn't whatthe problem is. We're all thinkers. Couldn't stop if we wanted to. Weneed to go right on thinking. Twisting and Pulling-Out are boththinking (self-talk), but I believe you can now see that the latterhelps because we are thinking differently than the times whenwe twist the arrow. Let me repeat that:Thinkingdifferently...that is the key to feeling better and feeling likewe have more control of our lives ... at least our emotionallives.

You or an event or a disease orwhatever 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 meor make me feel guilty. There are lots of feelings I don't like, butI can handle them one way or another. It's the feelings from theTwisted Arrows that are the real rough, scary, debilitating ones, andI am their creator, not you, not my father, not my boss, notmy ex-spouse, not the doctor, not the IRS man, not the obnoxiouscustomer or student, and not my disease...ME!

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


My best to all of you!



p.s. I'd love to hear your comments,questions, and any other feedback about The Twisted Arrow. Pleaseemailthem to me.

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