The Spoon Theory discusses our reserve for the amount of positive energy we have to give away, until we run out, crash and burn. This is a useful analogy describing the “fuel” we have to cope with life’s demands, but does not address the “damage” that we accumulate on a day-to-day basis.
The Fork Theory is an eloquent, complementary theory to the Spoon Theory to visualise the effect of stress and annoyances on our mental health on a day-to-day basis.
Unlike spoons which we give away from a collection throughout the course of a day, forks are negative experiences and events that we accumulate over the day. We are stabbed with various forks day-by-day. Some are tiny, such as stepping on a Lego block or finding out that you’re out of milk. Some are giant pitchforks, such as finding out that your partner is cheating on you or being diagnosed with a serious medical condition. Whatever the size of the fork may be, the damage from each fork accumulates until you reach a personal threshold.
Much like running out of spoons, when we are stabbed by the last fork that breaks our threshold, we stop functioning normally. This may manifest as breaking down in tears, a rage-filled tantrum or engaging in self-destructive behaviour.
From the perspective of those around us, it may seem as if we are being triggered by the smallest thing, such as seemingly breaking down because a jar won’t open. But forks are invisible to others; only we can see and feel their effects. Therefore, no one can truly know how many forks a person has had to endure before they cannot take any more forks.
The Fork Theory helps us understand (others and ourselves) why we can be so reactive or sensitive at times. As much as we try to be proactive instead of reactive, there will be days when a small annoyance, such as our partner forgetting something insignificant or a slight delay, can set us off down a spiral of anxiety, depression and frustration. It is important to know that the reaction is likely to the total accumulation of forks, rather than to the final, individual fork.
Ergo, the way we should address forks is to remove as many forks as possible to reduce the burden on our mental health. We all know that smaller forks are easier to deal with than larger forks. It is much easier resolving your hunger or cleaning the room than paying off your mortgage or attending therapy to heal old traumas. By clearing away the small forks wherever we can, we create more room and emotional capacity to handle the tougher, more painful forks, while giving us a buffer for any new forks headed our way.
For example, let’s say your partner comes home from work and you tell them that you would like to talk to them about a financial issue that you two are facing currently. Your partner acknowledges you, but also proceeds to head directly to the kitchen to eat a sandwich. You are perplexed by this action: are they blatantly trying to ignore you, or suggesting that you and the household’s finances are a lower priority than a mere sandwich?
If we apply the Fork Theory, we may react less angrily. Perhaps our partner is exhausted from work and starving because they missed their lunch, while already being stressed from the economy being down. We have just stabbed them with a large fork that is financial stress, so our partner may be taking a completely healthy, rational step to remove a smaller fork such as satisfying their hunger, so that they have a greater reserve to deal with the new fork, preventing a threshold being breached and causing a breakdown.
If the Spoon Theory teaches us that we must be mindful of how much reserve we have left to give out, the Fork Theory teaches us how to better manage our woes so that we can survive each day, while facing new challenges that life throws our way.