schopenhauer’s porcupine parable


On a cold winter’s day, a group of porcupines huddled together to stay warm and keep from freezing. But soon they felt one another’s quills and moved apart. When the need for warmth brought them closer together again, their quills again forced them apart. They were driven back and forth at the mercy of their discomforts until they found the distance from one another that provided both a maximum of warmth and a minimum of pain. In human beings, the emptiness and monotony of the isolated self produces a need for society. This brings people together, but their many offensive qualities and intolerable faults drive them apart again. The optimum distance that they finally find that permits them to coexist is embodied in politeness and good manners. Because of this distance between us, we can only partially satisfy our need for warmth, but at the same time, we are spared the stab of one another’s quills.” -Arthur Schopenhauer

This noteworthy parable is an analogy for the challenges of intimacy. A critical part of any relationship is managing the space between you and the other person. Too little space can feel suffocating and too much space can feel isolating. A balance of self-protectiveness and vulnerability is needed for true intimacy. Just like in Shopenhauer’s parable, the porcupines moved back and forth from one another until they found just the right distance between them to feel both safe and connected.

Boundaries can be complicated; they are not always respected; some feel that boundaries injure relationships and that they should always “go with the flow” in order to avoid conflict. There are countless other ways that boundaries might feel confusing. The truth is, we begin learning about boundaries on day one and our tutelage continues through our primary relationships, that is our family systems. We learn about boundaries by watching and listening to how others relate and by experiencing how they relate to us. From here, we learn how to negotiate relationships – hopefully, healthfully and successfully.

What have you learned about relationships and about boundaries within relationships? Are your relationships working for you today? Maybe only some? Which ones do/don’t? What needs to change to make them better? (hint: begin by reminding yourself that you deserve to have room for your own needs, including what you need/don’t need from others!)


About Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW, CEDS

Jodi graduated with a B.A. in Psychology from SUNY at New Paltz and earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University. In addition to over a decade of work as an LCSW and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist with individuals, families and groups in her private practice, Jodi is a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Certified Personal Trainer and created Destructively Fit®, a training that addresses eating disorders within the fitness industry. She is a former director of Day Treatment at The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders and a founding member of Metropolitan Psychotherapy and Family Counseling Practice. Jodi also specializes in infertility and has served on the Clinical Advisory Board of Seleni Institute since its inception. Jodi is the creator of a curriculum on eating disorders for the Graduate School of Social Work at New York University and has been teaching this course, as well as guest lecturing in the NYU Post-Master’s Program, since 2007. Jodi actively lectures and teaches students, families and professionals throughout the metropolitan area about the etiology, prevention, treatment, assessment and work with eating disorders. Through psychotherapy and supportive work with adolescents, adults and families, Jodi works to create a secure sense of self, increased self-esteem and a healthy relationship with self and others. She works with an eclectic person-centered approach and tailors her practice techniques to the unique needs of each individual. Please feel free to contact Jodi directly in her Greenwich Village office, 212.529.5811. View all posts by Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW, CEDS

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