Skip to Navigation

If you poke me with a sharp stick I’ll get upset. Not at first perhaps, but if you persist, eventually, you’ll provoke a reaction in me. I might even become a threat to you or myself.

Applying the idea to psychological wellbeing, I have been using the ‘sharp stick’ metaphor for some years. It originated in my Anger Management workshops to illustrate how anger can be kept alive. I have realised that the same mechanism is at work in many other situations.

In the workshops a question would often arise about someone who was ‘always angry’ or ‘born angry’. Neither of these statements can be true because emotions are transient, they come as and when needed and go when their job is done. If I am trapped, or hurt, I may lash out in anger, once the threat is removed the anger subsides. If the threat isn’t removed, say, because I am held in captivity (literal or metaphorical), the full emotion of anger still doesn’t remain because it’ll be transformed into something else.

It is impossible to feel any emotion all the time, because emotions just don’t work like that. However… some people are in a constant state of alert. By harbouring anger-provoking thoughts (the sharp stick), they are constantly prodding and goading themselves into emotional flare-ups.

Not that anger is necessarily bad; it can be inspirational and a call to make something happen, so I am not implying that anger a negative emotion. Like all emotions is has a job to do. Because it is associated with survival and safety though, it is a particularly seductive and persuasive emotion, and sometimes it does the job too well, which is why we start to carry the sharp stick around.

The same can be true with any emotion. The stick stops us getting over things and can prolong the agony. It can also do the opposite. For example; loving thoughts can provoke compassion, sexual thoughts can generate lust and nostalgic thoughts can produce sorrow.

There’s no denying that all of these have their place. The problem arises when we think that recurrent emotional responses are triggered by some outside agency, when often it is the stick that’s doing it.

Originally, my message to therapists in training was to help the client ‘find and remove the sharp stick’. Now I think that it’s not actually necessary to find the stick (i.e. what’s goading the person to the emotional response), simply understanding that there is one may be enough to stop using it.

What do you think? Share your thoughts...

Latest from the blog

Patterns In Your Life

How do you change self-defeating behaviour when you don’t know what it is? Simple really, when you know how.

It’s a bit like quantum physics (I think, but I could be wrong here). In quantum science they have had to test for things by assuming they are there and then working from that assumption. Its the same with patterns of behaviour. If you assume there is one and act to change it, you’ll soon find out if it existed or not.

Continue reading

Your Vision – Without It You’re Stuck

visualisation, vision

You’ve heard the expression “Be careful what you wish for”. When we hold a belief that something will happen, it’s more likely to. This is generally associated with negative events, but it also applies to positive ones, like goals and aspirations. Successful people – especially the super-achievers – in any field know this. Every success […]

Continue reading

Free Stress Reduction

There is something on the horizon. We all see it every day, but mostly we keep our eyes lowered. The something that we all see but many would prefer to avoid noticing is the common-sense dictum that taking time for ourselves, outside, is essential to both short- and long-term wellbeing and health. Whether it is […]

Continue reading
FREE DOWNLOAD - Get it now.

How to be more Resilient

Get my super-helpful guide '9 Steps to Resilience' absolutely FREE, when you subscribe to my newsletter.

Understand the steps to resilience and you can develop the ability to cope with problems and setbacks with less stress and more confidence.
close-link
%d bloggers like this: