I like a good Facebook share as much as the next guy. In fact you’ll notice we do a bit of that on this very page. And perhaps like me your newsfeed is full of people sharing postiive thinking messages. The sort of “think this way and your life will be better” type of post which is sometimes code for “this is how positive I think (honest) and you probably should as well”.
Now this comes from a good place, because we see people around us who are struggling and want to point out that “hey, just change your thinking and it’ll be ok”.
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.“One is Evil – It is anger, envy, hate, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, acceptance, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
What a great message! Focus on building the positive stuff and you can overcome your negative self!
The correct technical psychoanalytical response to this insight is – “well, duh”. Because those who already do that naturally don’t need the metaphor and those who don’t are unlikely to switch purely based on this story.
Imagine I had two pet wolves as the metaphor suggests, and I decided I quite liked one, but didn’t much care for the other. So I decide to feed one and not the other. Guess what happens? Firstly the one I’m not feeding gets decidedly grumpy and starts to play up, becoming increasingly viscous and unsociable. Secondly my neighbors quite rightly dob me in for animal neglect and suddenly I’m before the courts. Because it’s not acceptable to starve the animals you’re supposed to be loving and caring for.
And it gets more interesting when we apply the metaphor to itself. Remember how the “good” wolf represented love and acceptance? Well starving one wolf hardly feels like love and acceptance, but perhaps looks more like hate and neglect – which is the wolf we’re supposed to starve! Boom, that was the sound of the metaphor imploding.
Trying to starve or ignore that part of ourselves only makes it scream all the louder.
So for example jealousy and insecurity may be an unconscious attempt to protect the person from hurt. Anger and aggressiveness maybe an unconscious strategy to ensure a person is heard. So rather than try and starve these parts, we prefer to listen to them, discover their positive intention and then help them discover more useful ways to achieve that intention. It’s not an exorcism, it’s a nurturing.
Because it’s not about winning the war with ourselves it’s about loving,understanding and accepting ourselves.