Porcupines Teach Us Balance in Relationships
Aren’t porcupines cute? What is it that we can learn from them?
One of the things that porcupines can alert us to is that relationships are a complicated balancing act between closeness and distance.
And it doesn’t matter if we mean a love relationship, or a close friendship. Each must be orchestrated similarly.
The German philosopher Schopenhauer captured this dilemma when he wrote about the myth of the porcupine. To paraphrase his story, Schopenhauer wrote about a winter night in which a colony of porcupines became cold.
In an effort to get warm they huddled together, but as soon as they got close to each other they were stung by the twills of the other porcupines. The pain drove them to pull away. When they pulled away they became cold again, and then were forced to return to the warmth of the other porcupines only to find themselves getting pricked by the twills again.
Is this what we do in relationships too?
Do we yearn to be close, but when we get close the intensity of the fusion can become suffocating and painful so we pull away. When we pull away we become frightened at being alone, and so we snuggle back in until it gets to be too much again.
Is the peril of a relationship for you the intensity of being fully known and the fear to fully know someone else? A quote from one of my favorite psychologists D.W. Winnocott captures this dynamic, “It is a joy to be hidden, and disaster not to be found.”
Finding Balance in Relationships
How then can we find the balance between closeness/distance, hiding/being known?
This balance requires that we be able to stand tall in our own skin and be comfortable in who we are – this is the only way we can risk being known and being close. You have to love you first, before you can truly love someone else.
We have to be clear on who we are apart from someone else – it is about establishing our own boundaries. And if you’re thinking, “Who am I?” well, let’s explore that question a bit more.
Think about what you like to do. Name things that bring you joy and you do just because you feel like they bring value into your life. You may hear them called hobbies, or past times, but the idea is that they are individual factors that make you up as a person.
You are also part of your philosophies. So, how do you feel about current politics and why? What do you eat, and what made you buy the clothes you wear? It’s ok if you don’t know, but it’s important to recognize what leads you to your choices.
Having your own sense of identity can help you set internal boundaries that keep others from trespassing on who you are, what you feel, and how you make decisions. When you establish your own set of boundaries, you will be able to, in essence, make out with porcupines.
Can you relate to being afraid to let someone get to know you? Have you participated in the vicious cycle of getting close and then pulling away? Share with me in comments.
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Dr. Ines K. Roe has been helping women in transition rediscover themselves for over 20 years. If you’ve been feeling unfulfilled, are frustrated with your sense of accomplishment in midlife, or simply need guidance on your path to holistic well being, join her ecourses.
Interesting. Aside from the insights you share with respect to relationships, it made me wonder exactly how two porcupines ever manage to get intimate. Tummy to tummy?
I love the image. I’ve never liked the thought of being consumed by another person and have always liked the idea of distance.
There is a lot we can learn from God’s intelligent design of animals. It is we humans who think we know more than how we were designed to be, because of our free will. It is always nice to stop and look at nature and learn a thing or two about relationships. I will never look at porcupines quite the same again
This was a great article. I know that our own personal marriage it is so nice that I can always be me no matter who I am around. My husband tells me that I always compliment him as he is not a social butterfly like me and he says that we always have balance. We can always be who we are no matter where we are. We laughed together reading this because the porcupine is his favorite animal.