When two wolves fight, if the wolf on the bottom turns his neck and exposes his jugular, the top wolf will get off and spare the bottom wolf’s life. If the bottom-wolf continues to fight, the top-wolf will kill him. The message: Submit or die!

This is a re-occurring theme in therapy. An example is a 35 year-old man who as a young child was beaten and humiliated by his older brother. He never told his parents and never fought back. He solved the problem by avoiding his brother and making sure he never provoked him. In essence he always exposed his jugular, in a submissive stance, rather than risking an almost certain beating.

This form of self-protection, developed into a passive character style. During one session, when we discussed his passive style, he said, “It’s safer. THE BOTTOM WOLF HAS THE RIGHT IDEA!”

“But look how unhappy you are,” I said. “Depression, anxiety, always waiting for the last minute to finish your work… Always afraid you’ll be fired.”

“But I can’t concentrate. That’s why I don’t finish my work.”

“But you said you are able to concentrate better with the combination of Zoloft (an antidepressant) and Adderall (a stimulant for Attention Deficit Disorder). Isn’t that problem taken care of?”

“Well, the medicine does help.”

“So you’re doing this to yourself. You’re afraid to be the top wolf.”

“What if I fail? If I’m humiliated?”

“It’s possible. But with your current style, you’re always on the verge of failing. How can you win when you always expose your jugular? You keep acting just like when you were a child and your brother was bullying you. You’re an adult now. Stronger and smarter than he is… You are in charge!”

Fear of failure, of not getting a new job, the girl or guy you’re attracted to, getting your novel sold (I wonder who that might be?) is all understandable. We all want to be winners. It hurts to lose.

The good news is that we’re not wolves! If we’re on the bottom, we can keep fighting, keep trying to accomplish what’s important to us. We won’t be killed if we continue to struggle, and we can continue the battle for as long as it takes.

2 thoughts on “THE BOTTOM WOLF HAS THE RIGHT IDEA! by Art Smukler MD

  1. I’m glad you fixed the broken link 🙂

    Are you saying it’s better to be on the bottom and continue the struggle. Personally, I think I’d rather be top dog (or wolf!!)


    1. I agree! The top wolf is definitely the wolf to be! My job was to help my patient get comfortable with being more assertive and shedding the passive role. Luckily, if we decide to fight to the end, we won’t have our jugulars ripped out.


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