“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
― A.A. Milne,
When I’m working with kids, I ask them if they are being a teddy bear or a porcupine. I realized that this question is also effective with adults.
What does it mean to be a teddy bear or a porcupine?
Humans are wired for love and connection. Our deepest desire is to be loved and cared for. This is the reason we buy big houses, desire lots of money, paint our faces, and drive fancy cars. We do all of these things because we think it makes us more attractive and desirable to others. This is actually not true but we are bombarded with this narrative from the time we’re born until we die. It’s hard not to believe that having things or looking a certain way is tied into how lovable we are.
The truth is, we are lovable just as we are right now. We are deserving of love no matter how we look or how much stuff we have. The challenge is so many of us walk around like porcupines as opposed to teddy bears we make it impossible for people to love us as we are. This only feeds the narrative that I am unlovable.
When a porcupine gets scared it pokes to stay safe. This is the same for some people. Some of us will lash out, get defensive, call people names, get self righteous, hit someone, and withhold love when they get scared or sad. This leads the person to a lonely life and a sad life. It’s hard because a lot of porcupines don’t know they are being porcupines, all they know is that they can’t get close to another person. This makes them more sad and more scared and more pokey.
Porcupines are hurtful because they are insecure and lonely.
When a teddy bear gets scared it reaches out for connect to stay safe. Of course, a teddy bear is not a real thing but it is in my head. A teddy bear will say things like: I’m scared I’m going to fail, I’m sad this happened, I need help, I don’t know what to do, I need you to just love me, can I have a hug, I’m so sorry I hurt you, I made a big mistake, I’m in a bad place. The teddy bear is able to reach out lovingly for connection. The teddy bear is vulnerable and accepts that it’s imperfect and will make mistakes or falter in life. The teddy bear doesn’t always know it’s a teddy bear either. The teddy bear is loved, loving, and usually happier.
Teddy bears are compassionate because they know life is hard and they can’t do it alone.
I think that we can all be teddy bears and porcupines. It’s hard when we get scared or sad not to try and defend or protect ourselves. The challenge is defending and protecting limits our ability to connect with others. We connect with others in our vulnerability.
There is a book called How to Hug a Porcupine related to raising adolescents. I think parents of adolescents understand why it is named as such.
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
~ Brené Brown