There is a Native American story about a grandfather, talking to his young grandson. He tells the boy that he has two wolves inside him that are struggling with each other. The one is the wolf of peace, love and kindness. The other is the wolf of fear, greed and hatred.
“Which wolf will win, grandfather?” asks the young boy.
“Whichever one I feed,” is the reply.
We can do ourselves so much damage when we expect ourselves to be completely devoid of uncomfortable and seemingly destructive emotions. In fact, often the feelings we have about our feelings can wreak more havoc than the feelings themselves. By demanding that we experience only “positive” feelings, we practice emotional perfectionism, which can set us up for emotional constipation.
Not the most lovely concept, but isn’t it true? Think about it. When have you tried to be ceaselessly happy, upbeat, tranquil, and friendly for an extended period of time? How did you feel when your life didn’t go exactly according to plan or when something that could not be termed anything other than tragic occurred (say, 9/11/01)?
While peace, love, kindness and other traits generally thought of as “positive” are great, the fact is that we all have what Carl Jung termed the “shadow side” — those feelings and impulses that we’d rather sweep under the rug and often do. As a result, we may find ourselves reacting in a dramatic manner when other people display these traits, rather than recognizing them in ourselves. This can lead to our harboring intense resentments and can inhibit our ability to relate well to others (not to mention ourselves).
For peace of mind, it’s crucial to accept that we all are composites of many feelings, and that we’re not “bad” people if we experience anxiety, selfishness, or anger from time to time. The key is how we respond to these emotions, what we can learn from them, and what we choose to do with them.
All feelings exist for a reason. Sometimes we intuitively sense that a particular situation will be dangerous, say, taking a walk alone in a spotty neighborhood at night. If we listen to our fear rather than judging it and ourselves, we are more receptive and thus likely to take appropriate action and choose another walking route. On the other hand, if we habitually try to stifle our fear, thinking that we “should” always feel confident and peaceful, we might eventually become desensitized to the important messages our fears are trying to convey.
The point is that while we needn’t feed our uncomfortable feelings, in honoring them and taking the next indicated step that will be in everyone’s best interest, we can make good use of such distressing emotions. Such an approach can then feed our more “positive” feelings, while accepting ourselves in our entirety.