• Call (828) 620-0521 or email us:

Are You Shooting the 2nd Arrow?

Are You Shooting the 2nd Arrow?

What you do with the discomforts and pain that you experience in your life makes a huge difference in how you relate to yourself and others. Buddhists say anytime we suffer misfortune, 2 arrows come our way. The 1st arrow comes to you from the outside and may or may not be in your control. You may experience pain, disappointment, discomfort, sadness or anger. The second arrow is your response to that first arrow, taking the form of a judgement, criticism, shame, numbing or blame directed back at yourself or another. The question becomes, “is the 2nd arrow necessary?” It causes suffering on top of that 1st painful arrow.

What is your habitual response to the 1st arrow?

3 examples:

1. I made a mistake at work, a colleague brought it to my supervisor’s attention and then came to me to tell me what I’d done, how to correct it and how to prevent it. The first arrow was the mistake. Life happens and I make mistakes. That part of the experience was uncomfortable because I don’t like making mistakes and I was grateful for the fix and prevent information. However, at the end of the day and for some time afterwards, I experienced the habitual 2nd arrows of shame, inadequacy, wanting to blame someone, and wanting to numb the feelings with addictive behaviors and worries about what was going to happen as a consequence.  Days later, noticing the 2nd arrows, I began speaking kindly to myself, focusing on my breath, and feeling my body and feelings, without catastrophizing. I began to see the situation for what it was, stopped the 2nd arrows and moved on with whatever else was up for that day~~ lesson learned!

2. I had a patient who felt she had somehow caused her leukemia diagnosis.  Her guilt and fear are feelings based in judgments and not in reality. In shooting  the second arrow, she was less available to receive the support and love available for her. Shooting the second arrow  increased not only her own suffering but that of those who loved and wanted to help her. Do you know people who express guilt about bringing a health problem upon themselves and fear of becoming a burden?

3. The other day I felt a sharp pain in my lower back upon standing. I hobbled to work but had to leave early because of the pain. Days later, annoyed with the ongoing pain, I began feeling angry about my condition, for aging and for the ongoing spinal issues that I can do little about. When I realized that I was shooting the 2nd arrow, I just stopped and continued to allow myself to be quiet and rest and became inspired to write this post. 

 Young children and animals don’t seem to shoot 2nd arrows when they are not feeling well. Without judgments they do what they can, when they can- rest, heal and move about when they have the energy.

The key is becoming aware of your responses to life’s events. During this week, as you observe your responses to life’s events– discomfort, frustration, anger, disappointment, sadness, notice if and when you shoot yourself or others with arrows. Here’s the good news: you can choose to stop the 2nd arrow any time if you are aware. If shooting the 2nd arrow is a habit, it may take time and practice to stop or change it.  When you stop the criticizing, numbing behaviors, blaming, judgments and shame (the sources of your suffering), you increase your happiness and empower yourself with clarity to address what it is you can control.

Along that line, the early bird registration is discounted for the Vitality in Progress: Healing and Preventing Burnout for Nurses. In this on line program you receive lots of support for not shooting the 2nd arrow as you create your own Self care plan based upon your burnout  and self care assessments. 


And in the meantime, please join us on our weekly phone call.

Self Care for Vitality     


Leave a Reply

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)


Your Message