Which wolf are you feeding?
Our thoughts and behaviors are continually feeding our self-perception and the outcome of our life. The idea of having two “wolves” in our psyche is a metaphor for understanding that there are two primary aspects of who we are: we have an active, positive “wolf” part of our psyche that wants the best outcome for our lives. It wants us to be disciplined, creative, loving, assertive, and take appropriate risks. It likes exercise, healthy food, and intimate relationships. It is interested in nature, is helpful to others, and generous of spirit.
We also have what Carl Jung called a shadow self or shadow "wolf". This is a part of ourselves that actually wants us to be in trouble. That is important to understand. It is not just a default part of ourselves if we don’t do those things that are healthy for us; it is an active part of the psyche that wants pain. The shadow wolf self can be addictive, often lazy or avoidant, selfish, jealous, indulge in gluttony, greedy, and even abusive. The shadow self keeps us in suffering. It can convince us to either take no risks and play small or take unwise risks and sabotage ourselves.
As obvious as it may sound that we should “feed the positive wolf” with appropriate thoughts and actions that are compassionate, generous, assertive, and loving—it is equally important to accept the shadow wolf. The temptation is to call the shadow wolf “bad”—to try and deny, fight with, or reject it. This actually fuels the shadow wolf self even more. Not only do our shadows become more problematic when we reject them, they increase in intensity and influence over our lives. We will also project them onto others in a vein attempt to get rid of them.
For instance, someone with an intense unresolved anger or judgment on their spouse might end up acting out the anger in an addictive manner by going to prostitutes late at night. They could also end up condemning or even legally persecuting others for similar behaviors (i.e. projecting the shadow). The work psychologically speaking is to accept the shadow, to take it in, forgive it, and even love it. One step toward this acceptance is to use Mindfulness. The person in the above example may begin with using Mindfulness to accept their anger or judgment neutrally. This could in turn help them talk to their spouse. They may admit to a friend or therapist their desire to see a prostitute. They may talk about their struggles in a twelve-step group. These would be acts of taking in, owning, and forgiving the shadow.
Using Mindfulness we can be neutrally accepting of the impulsive feelings behind the shadow wolf's desires without acting on them. This is a major step out of the problem of acting on destructive impulses. It is important to realize that true Mindfulness takes practice and diligence. Using it once in a while, when I am really "triggered" into a shadow behavior is often fruitless. Use Mindfulness throughout the day around little disturbances or even little appreciations. When the Mindfulness muscle is developed in this way, it is ready to be used with the shadow wolf comes to the door growling.
Check out the video below for a good story on “feeding our two wolves”: