Porcupine Intimacy

Porcupine Intimacy


Freud considered the great philosopher Schopenhauer`s porcupine fable a great metaphor for conveying the challenges, pathologies and hopes for human intimacy.

As a constant reminder of the prickly nature of human intimacy he kept a statue of a porcupine on his desk.

In my therapy practice, more often than not, people show up because of interpersonal problems, that is, difficulties in their familial, professional, social and romantically intimate relationships.

And more often than not I point out to them that there has to be enough room for hate in loving relationships.


Most people look puzzled when they hear this. But it`s a phrase I have borrowed and paraphrased from the New York poet Molly Peacock because it is brief and to the point and resonates well with people. I go on to explain that it means that all relationships {originally Freud`s assessment] require us to harbour contradictory feelings for the same person.

Then I go on to cite Schopenhauer`s porcupine fable and explain how the dilemma of closeness between the porcupines is a great metaphor for boundaries and contradictory feelings in relationships.


Consider an ordinarily loving mother who may experience occasional feelings of hostility towards her infant because the child`s constant crying and crankiness has caused her to lose sleep.

When a mother can acknowledge and not disavow the ambivalence of her feelings for her baby, she will be less likely to do physical or emotional harm than a mother who would disavow her ambivalent feelings.

Grateful but

Similarly, consider the loving son who worked daily with his father but avoided the man socially. This troubled the son because he loved his father dearly. His dad had proudly made him CEO of the family business and he was grateful to his father for the financial rewards.

Through therapy the son was able to come to terms with the guilt-provoking repressed hate he felt for his father who had never entertained the notion that his son may, in fact not be interested in following in his father`s professional footsteps.

Eventually, the son came to accept that his autonomy often couldn`t bear the closeness that his dependance on his father demanded. Paradoxically, he began looking forward to spending more time with his father socially.

All this to say that every relationship – whether it`s marriage, friendship, the relation between parents and children – is a thorny affair.



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