Hedgehog's Dilemma

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In the following posts I will continue to develop the subject of interpersonal relationships, especially those related to anxiety disorder in social relationships.

Today I am going to introduce the metaphor / paradox about the hedgehog dilemma or the porcupine dilemma.

A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened.

At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance.

By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.

(adapted from Arthur Schopenhauer‘s Parerga und Paralipomena, Volume II, Chapter XXXI.)

The Hedgehog Dilemma is a metaphor used in Psychoanalytic Psychology that explains the nature of the human individual in relation to others. Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schopenhauer believes that human intimacy cannot occur without substantial mutual harm, and what results is cautious behavior and weak relationships. With the hedgehog’s dilemma, one is recommended to use moderation in affairs with others both because of self-interest, as well as out of consideration for others.

So the bottom line lesson Drawn? We long for strong and intimate relationships, yet we also fear getting hurt so we do all we can to protect ourselves as an effort to protect others.


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Updated 09-18-2021 at 12:25 PM by Tannhauser