Huge Gorilla Sitting On Our Shoulder

Last week, comedian John Mulaney was a guest on Marc Maron’s podcast. During the conversation, the topic came up about how both guys had struggles with alcoholism. During the discussion, Mulaney said, “A psychiatrist told me when I was young, ‘half of you is this really nice guy who is very polite and the other half of you is a gorilla whose job is to kill the other half.”

I found this to be a very interesting description of internal conflict. The classic pop culture and movie trope usually features an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Both personas typically look like the character enduring the conflict, and they spend most of the time bickering with one another.

Here’s and example from the movie, The Emperor’s New Groove:

As common as this portrayal can be, it doesn’t always paint an accurate picture of someone dealing with internal conflict. As Mulaney brings up, sometimes the two voices look nothing alike. Sometimes, the thing sitting on your shoulder is a giant gorilla.

When we picture the two contrasting voices in our head as similar images, we assume we can fend off the bad one. But as Mulaney explained, quieting the voice that looks like a gorilla is a much different story. And this is why it can be easy to fall victim to the gorilla’s side. Especially when the sole purpose of the gorilla is to kill the other half.

During their conversation on the podcast, Mulaney and Maron also discussed how within the concept of two voices, one is typically the authentic us.

In explanation of how he has been able to remain sober for years, Mulaney said “I think the authentic me is the nice guy who is very aware of the gorilla and goes, ‘stay over there gorilla, no way, not today’.”

That is a very honest explanation that many of us can relate to. Even if we have not had struggles with substance abuse, we may have dealt with the shoulder gorilla in the form of laziness, dishonesty or envy.

It is important to remember that we do not necessarily have to defeat the gorilla. We do not even have to try to ignore it. We just have to be aware that it is there and have to courage to tell it to stay away, no way, not today.




Photo credit: Wikipedia