The Cherokee Legend of the Two Wolves for Depression


theoceanthewave.blogspot.comThere is a Cherokee legend about an elderly Cherokee brave who tells his grandson about life.

“Son,” he says, “Within all of us there is a battle of two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

He continued, “The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

“The same fight is going on inside of you, and inside every other person, too,” explained the wise Cherokee elder.

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”

I feel the wolves attacking each other every day. Every hour. Most minutes.

One is resentful as hell that she can’t eat a piece of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving without suffering the consequence of loud death thoughts for two days after, that the tiniest bit of refined sugar and flour can throw off her limbic system (brain’s emotional center) so significantly. She’s angry that she has to exercise so intensely no less than six times a week in order to escape suicidal ideations. She’s bitter, in general, that she has to work so hard and be so disciplined in order to experience the same serenity that is available to her friends and family all the time.

The other reminds her that, while the rest of the world would like very much to be on a diet but can’t drum up the self-discipline, she should be happy that not eating right has such devastating consequences, that she’ll never have to go on a diet because in order to exist without suicidal thoughts she has to always be on one. The other wolf says, sure, the exercise is sometimes a drag, but she should be thankful that she has legs with which to run and arms with which to swim, that there are many people with physical disabilities that don’t get to enjoy the temporary anesthesia from depression that an intense work out can offer.

One wolf believes her suffering is unique, that that no one could possibly understand the anguish she feels. She’s resentful of those who have never wanted to die, and wishes she could experience that kind of ignorant bliss. She is tired of telling her story to people who don’t understand. Their puzzled expressions only make her feel that much more alone and send daggers through her heart.

The other explains that everyone is fighting a battle of some kind, that anyone born to this earth has known a type of suffering. The wolf tells her to forget the happy persona most people try to project, that every home has shed its own tears for tragedies and sorrows and distress and fears that are kept hidden from the world, but are nonetheless there.

One wolf believes that if those in her life could listen to her thoughts, they would abandon her for sure. She builds a wall of stone around her morbid world so that she can never be hurt again.

The other reminds her that they didn’t leave her during those moments of bleakness, that they have stood by her during the ugliest hours, and that they are still around. The wolf says that she is safe to be real and transparent, that peace comes with authenticity.

One wolf knows for certain she will never feel better. She has given up on trying to get better. She is tired, disillusioned, and deflated. After opening her mind time and time again to new ideas and strategies, and investing the energy needed to pursue them, she has no more space in her heart for hope.

The other reminds her that her track record for getting through difficult times so far is one hundred percent, that there is always room for hope, even if a heart is rock hard from trying and failing and trying and failing and failing once more. She says that although depression feels permanent, there is nothing in this world that is constant, that biochemistries evolve and relationships shift and situations change, and not one thing is the same from moment to moment, therefore there is always the potential to begin again, and for healing to happen.

I suppose I feed both wolves every day.


When I have my hand out to feed love and hope, the other wolf snatches the goodies, and suddenly I’m filled with envy and anger. I try so hard to do all the right things–eat right, meditate, exercise, pray, get support, help people—but the “dis-ease” will present symptoms, and then I have to start over.

But I know about these wolves now.

I know how deceptive the wolf of despair can be, but how powerful the force of compassion and kindness are.

All I have to do is keep trying to feed the wolf of peace and benevolence, to continue to hope and have faith even when good health seems impossible, and the other one will eventually get bored and stop begging for food.

Be sure to check out a collection of podcasts, interviews with authors and thinkers about this Cherokee legend at My interview airs Dec. 9.

Join the conversation on Project Beyond Blue, the new community for persons with depression.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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20 Responses
  1. Judy

    Therese, What a beautiful post!! Thank you for being you and helping those who suffer the complexities of life. Hugs,

  2. I have both wolves in me too. I suppose we all do. For me, I have learned to accept both. The less I fight with the negative one the less trouble he makes. Great post. Thank you!

  3. jacquie10

    Dear Therese, This is going to sound hokey, but here goes. Every word you write drops to my dark nearly dry dirt heart as though it is water. Water filled with hope. You tell it like it is in a way that is perfect for me, and I bet the rest of your thousands of friends are helped by your encouragement. But. Hold fast to the belief that this moment is all there is to bear. You could be just around the corner from a hot meteorite hit that would send you to ecstasy. To Him your soul yearns for. This IS a fight. Don’t worry about us. You are linked with all of us as surely as Christ is. We not only have you for as long as He gives us, but we have Him, those who have finished the battle, and thousands of Angels, armed and ready. God bless you.

  4. Shanti

    Therese you write so eloquently.
    It’s sad trajic & true the more I gave my daughter the further she backs. She begged for my help & when I did she kicked me. She begged me for advice. Then she cussed and lied. Mental illness or not she has chosen the darker side.
    I don’t wish her ill but I stoped praying for her.

    1. seesir

      NEVER stop praying for her. There is a place in her being that loves you. It just can’t get out right now.

  5. notguiltiest

    Therese, bless your heart, appreciate your intentions, but this is woefully… Uh, not anything Cherokee at all; despite its commonsense folksy wisdom, that this Cherokee is a lie now assuredly traveled more than once around the world. Shall we let the truth put on its shoes? (yes, shoes. Not moccasins.) This “tale of two wolves” is definitively attributed to the late Rev. Billy Graham, first told in the late 1970s, as due diligence does reveal.

    There is nothing “Cherokee” or even generic Native American about this, despite its raft of misattributions. We are not honored or respected, despite your best intentions, with misattributions and cultural misappropriation.

    You can best serve your own and the common best interests by being an agent of truth against this widely shared falsehood. Due diligence?

    There is always virtue in truth. Walk in beauty.



    PS illustrating this with one black wolf and one white wolf? Really? Really?

    1. joan

      You care more for knowledge than for people’s feelings. Believe me this will not bring true happiness.

      1. notguiltiest

        Knowing, willful propagation of an untruth disrespects and shirks, or perverts, the social contract and our collective understanding of objective reality. In this instance, a moral tale is misattributed, and by being so appropriates and misrepresents the living, developed, complex and unique culture of the Cherokee.

        This is a lie. This is not a Cherokee legend, nor is it in any way other than through this too-oft-repeated misattribution related to Cherokee culture.

        Good faith insists that we not knowingly further falsehoods, perhaps especially those that steal from an active cultural entity. Presenting, and continuing to represent this as a “Cherokee legend, tale, or story” most notably having been informed of its true provenance, is wrong.

        Truth in beauty, beauty in truth.

        (Which wolf are you feeding?)

  6. sarah

    Very soothing. It’s not so complicated when it’s explained like this
    Wish my CBT taught me to ‘re train my thoughts this way

  7. Therese

    I stumbled upon this post as I get ready to write my own post on this amazing story. I found your words truly inspirational. In fact, you gave me the courage to talk about my own two wolves. Thank you. I hope you don’t mind if I share a link to this post with my readers. Also, please don’t let others get you down.

    Keep feeding the “good” with love and compassion.


    Susan Kinchen