Two Arrows (Emotional Objectivity)

By Bruce Craig, MA, Resident in Counseling in Northern Virginia 

There is a Buddhist metaphor that I have found to be a great way to think about emotional objectivity. When something difficult happens in life, as can be expected from time to time, we often internalize how we feel about it subjectively.

This is where Buddhist Psychology describes us as shooting ourselves with a second arrow. I have found through personal practice and experience that the difference is the ability to maintain healthy perspective in the moment instead of becoming overwhelmed by emotion. I can use an example I have used in the past that really seems to resonate with people around here – traffic!!! Imagine someone cuts you off, nearly making you run off the road (first arrow). This can be highly frustrating, bringing about intense feelings of anger and, if internalized and allowed to continue, could spiral into several hours of difficult emotions and possibly even cause irritability leading to fights and arguments with loved ones (second arrow).

Daily, moment to moment practice

The way to work with this difficult scenario and others like it that arise from time to time is through moment to moment practice. Notice when your emotions suddenly become intense. Set an intention to take deep, slow breaths for a few moments. Notice your thoughts racing with negativity and choose to disregard them for the moment by concentrating your focus on your breathing. After a few moments when they begin to calm, you can then cultivate rational thoughts based in compassion. You can remind yourself that we are all human and everyone makes mistakes. You yourself have likely cut someone off in traffic by accident so you can certainly identify with how the other person likely feels after making a mistake. Then you can bring your focus back to the present moment and allow the difficult emotions to pass.

Of course, this takes practice and we all fail at times so you have to give yourself compassion and understanding for that. The more you intentionally practice this way of being, the less likely you will be to add to your own suffering.


About Bruce Craig: Bruce is a resident in counseling providing counseling services at our Fredericksburg location. Bruce is a recent graduate from Eastern Mennonite University with a MA in Counseling, following a B.S. in Social Psychology from Park University.

Bruce completed a rigorous internship working with individuals, couples, families and groups. Bruce also finds Mindfulness to be useful in helping clients be in the present moment. For clients who are receptive to it, he teaches them ways of controlling their thoughts instead of becoming anxious about things that might happen or focusing on aspects they cannot change.

He is currently in a course to become certified in the use of Mindfulness in therapy but already has experience and success applying Mindfulness with clients. Bruce provides a warm, empathetic, and non-judgmental space for all people to bring whatever issues they need to work throughTo learn more about Bruce, visit here.

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