12/29/08 - schopenhauer's porcupines

During this holiday week we are reaching back into our archives to bring you a few excerpts from the past that have elicited the most comments and requests. In today's excerpt, psychotherapist Deborah Luepnitz introduces her book by recounting and amplifying on Schopenhauer's famous fable (and metaphor) of the porcupines:

"I [mention] Arthur Schopenhauer's well-known fable, a story Freud liked enough to cite in his book on group psychology [and] I paraphrase the fable as follows:

" A troop of porcupines is milling about on a cold winter's day. In order to keep from freezing, the animals move closer together. Just as they are close enough to huddle, however, they start to poke each other with their quills. In order to stop the pain, they spread out, lose the advantage of commingling, and begin to shiver. This sends them back in search of each other, and the cycle repeats as they struggle to find a comfortable distance between entanglement and freezing.'

"The story spoke to Freud as a lesson about boundaries. ("No one can tolerate a too intimate approach to his neighbor.") It also spoke to his belief that love is everywhere a thorny affair. Freud wrote: 'The evidence ... shows that almost every intimate emotional relation between two people which lasts for some time—marriage, friendship, the relations between parents and children—contains a sediment of feelings of aversion and hostility, which only escapes perception as a result of repression' ...

"All relationships ... require us to contain contradictory feelings for the same person. As the poet Molly Peacock observed: "There must be room in love for hate."

author: Deborah Anna Luepnitz, Ph.D.
title: Schopenhauer's Porcupines: Intimacy and its Dilemmas, Five Stories of Psychotherapy
publisher: Basic Books a Member of the Perseus Books Group
date: Copyright 2002 by Deborah Luepnitz
pages: 2-3
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