Spoon Theory

by Rev. Criss Ittermann, L.F.

Learn more about Spoon Theory in our presentation on Better Spoons from the 2020 Plural Positivity World Conference (session recording available free on YouTube)

I love spoon theory.

See about Spoon Theory

Spoon theory is a useful way to explain what it's like to deal with chronic illness (like PTSD, Lupus, chronic fatigue…) on a daily basis to people who do not understand.

I also appreciate that it's easier to say "I'm out of spoons" than try to explain things or give a long-winded explanation of everything you did that depleted you that day.

I came across someone using Spoon Theory charts that are meant to be memes for social media (or printed as posters perhaps), to explain spoon theory to friends and family, who suggested that people actively use spoon theory to individually deal with their energy every day in a personal way.

In this imaginary Spoon Theory-based world everyone should look up their own illness and find out how many spoons their illness allowed them and plan their day by consulting the "how many spoons per chore" chart — so if they needed to take a shower, it would take 2-3 spoons to take a shower, and they should then make plans for the rest of their day with only their 9 remaining spoons.

Frankly, I don't think for a moment that's what the creator of spoon theory intended.

This whole idea of telling people what they're capable of actually made me upset. Dictating how much energy an individual with a certain illness has based on a theory used spontaneously in a diner to explain personal energy systems — a tremendous if handy oversimplification — and telling people that "preparing dinner" uses the same number of "spoons" regardless of who is doing it and how etc. is ... well, it's a dangerous misconception.

I made rubbed kale salad a couple times this week. I make it once, it serves at least 4 servings. But rubbing the kale leaves for someone with EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome - a connective tissue disorder) is tiring and if I had tendonitis at the moment, I wouldn't be able to do it at all. So I could have rubbed them longer, harder, and made the salad better and easier to digest — but I stopped because hands. One could say the spoons allotted to rubbing the kale ran out. I did determine I had the "spoons" (chi energy) to attempt the salad. Rubbing the kale isn't the end of making it, so I knew I had a limitation. Plus I knew EATING the salad would replenish some spoons — it's a damn good salad and very healthy, packed with nourishment.

So I stopped even though I knew the leaves needed more rubbing, and chopped up what needed to be chopped up, finished making the salad, packed away 3 additional servings for the next 3 days, etc.

Through personal energy management I'd like to think I use my chi and shen energy wisely. I don't depend on jing and caffeine and sugar to get me through the day. Overall, this means that in spite of a few chronic immune issues (aforementioned CIDP, and asthma...), my C-PTSD issues, and possible other issues like pre-diabetes, etc. I am still able to have more energy than just my spoons (chi) to get me through the day. The more I stay based in my heart (shen) and stay out of my fear (which depletes jing) the better off I am as a whole.

So I wanted to mention that I think it's important that people understand that spoon theory was never intended as a personal energy management system.

You don't look at a chart of # of spoons each task will cost and count your spoons literally. Spoons are energy, and energy is entirely subjective. The author herself said, some days she has "more spoons" (energy) and can do more. Others, she may have a cold and really have few to no spoons at all.

But to say to oneself (not explain to someone else): "Everyone with Lupus has 12 spoons, and it costs 2 spoons to get out of bed in the morning and 1 spoon to brush your teeth. So after getting out of bed and brushing your teeth, every person with Lupus would have 9 spoons left." is not how spoon theory was intended.

I am under the impression that spoon theory is a way to explain chronic illness and daily energy issues to people who don't understand it — not for people with chronic illness to consult a chart and determine what they can or cannot do according to spoon theory.


Please take good care of yourselves.

If you'd like to learn more about personal energy management, please see the following articles. If you'd like coaching on how to better manage your energy, please contact us for a sample session.

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