Don’t Shoot the Second Arrow (How to Avoid Unnecessary Pain)

Nobody likes to admit it…

But feeling pain is a part of being human.

It’s easy to forget this. And when we do, we do something silly: judge ourselves for feeling pain.

This judgment is what the Buddha called “shooting the second arrow.”

The first arrow is the initial experience of pain. This could be emotional, psychological, or physical pain. Maybe it’s a result of a difficult event. Or maybe you don’t know the cause and are simply having an “off” day.

When that happens, it’s easy to get upset about this negative feeling-state.

  • “It shouldn’t be this way!”
  • “I shouldn’t be having an off day!”
  • “I shouldn’t be feeling this much pain.”
  • “I shouldn’t be so tired!”

But when we judge ourselves for experiencing negative feelings, it’s like we’re shooting a second arrow RIGHT AT the spot where the first arrow struck.

Which doesn’t merely add a little more pain to the situation. It intensifies the pain 10x!

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to this challenge: don’t shoot the second arrow!

“If Something is Wrong…I Better Freak Out!”

In a recent coaching session, Jared noticed this pattern surface.

He’s a passionate guy who cares about lifting other people up through his work. But recently, he observed a pattern of negative states showing up every week!

When he’d start feeling negatively, he would, in his words, “freak out about it.”

The train of thought went like this:

  • “I’m feeling pain!”
  • “That means something is WRONG!”
  • “And if something is wrong, I better freak out! Maybe if I do that it’ll go away and I don’t have to feel it!”

The initial experience of pain is like encountering a crying baby.

Sure, your ears would be more comfortable if the baby wasn’t crying. (Those wails are painful to hear!)

But the reaction to a crying baby is different than the reaction to your own pain. Instead of judging the baby for crying, you don’t hesitate to give it love.

And you can’t give this love from afar. You actually need to move closer to the screaming and crying. Only by bringing yourself closer to the pain can you care for it and move forward.

That’s Just What They Do

Babies cry. That’s just what they do. So you approach them with love. And it makes things better.

Humans feel pain, hit low-points, and experience all imaginable emotional states. That’s just what we do.

So the next time you find yourself feeling upset, in pain, frustrated, or low-energy…

Consider this:

  • Are you willing to find space in your heart to go towards that pain with love?
  • Are you willing to embrace what’s there with the love and compassion you’d give to a young child?
  • Are you willing to let go of judgments, knowing that it’s 100% okay to experience pain and “off” days?

When Jared first considered this, he was all-in.

He also recognized that it can be difficult in the moment to face the pain. And it’s easy to underestimate the power of treating yourself with love.

But by facing it head-on with love, we’re quick to see the positive results. We care for our needs by working through what’s there. And we become emotionally stronger and more capable of doing the same in the future.

Put it Into Practice

  1. Notice when you’re feeling down, or in pain.
  2. Acknowledge the physical sensations of that pain without judgment. What do you notice? Where do you feel it located in your body?
  3. Let go of the resistance to feeling that pain. Though it’s uncomfortable to experience, resisting it or pretending it’s not there doesn’t make it go away. (And often intensifies it in the long run.)
  4. Find space in your heart to extend compassion to yourself. It’s easy to love yourself when things are going well. But it’s even more important when the seas are rough.
  5. Lean into your growth, recognizing that experiencing pain with openness makes you stronger in the long run. Like developing physical strength in the gym, developing emotional and psychological strength also requires discomfort. In the words of Phil Stutz: “I love pain! Pain sets me free!”

So…Where are you feeling pain or a little bit off? Got any “screaming babies” to care for in your life?

What would it look like to bring an open heart and a whole lotta love to the situation?

Let’s do that.