Created By: NoirGrimoir on August 6, 2011 Last Edited By: NoirGrimoir on December 10, 2016

Hedgehog's Dilemma

The idea that humans, no matter their good intentions, can't help but bring pain to those they are intimate with.

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The Hedgehog's Dilemma is the philosophy that to open up to other people will inevitably result in pain or hardship as a result of that action.

The name comes from an analogy involving hedgehogs (or porcupines) to represent the human psyche. It describes a situation in which a group of hedgehogs want to huddle together to share heat during cold weather, but to do so would they would end up hurting one another with their sharp quills. Though they all share the intention of a close reciprocal relationship, this may not occur for reasons they cannot avoid.

This philosophy is where Humans Are Bastards and Humans Are Good can overlap. Even with good intentions, we can still hurt one another. It is the unchangeable differences between people's thoughts, philosophies and experiences, which leave them unable to completely understand others, resulting in inadvertent pain. In a conflict, no matter how much two people might long to make-up, if their personal philosophies differ to enough of an extreme that there can be no compromise, there is nothing to be done.

Opening one's self up to loving or valuing other people is another source of issues, because their loss or betrayal would harm you immensely. Likewise, loving the wrong person can potentially bring you into physical harm should your romantic interest have dangerous enemies who might use you against him.

It's Not You, It's My Enemies (Loving someone has opened them up to danger) and Love Hurts (Falling in love leaves you susceptible to the worst emotional pains) are common instances of this in action. The Shrinking Violet or Ineffectual Loner are often as such because they operate under this philosophy and in order to escape being hurt or hurting others, they avoid making friends. This is a common theme in darker and more psychologically oriented works.

One thing to know, however is that a hedgehog's quills are only sharp when "activated", meaning that in Real Life the hedgehogs would not stab each other under this circumstance.

Compare Love Hurts, Humans Are Bastards, Humans Are Flawed

Anime and Manga

  • Closer plays with this, although pretty much leaves the ultimate verdict up to the viewer.
  • Will has a bit of this in Good Will Hunting. He gets better.
Community Feedback Replies: 18
  • August 6, 2011
    Neon Genesis Evangelion. This is essentially the entire plot of the series in a nutshell.
  • August 6, 2011
    One thing to point out is that a hedgehog's quills are only sharp when "activated", meaning that in real life the hedgehogs would not stab each other under this circumstance.
  • August 6, 2011
    Closer plays with this, although pretty much leaves the ultimate verdict up to the viewer.
  • August 7, 2011
    Wouldn't this be just Humans Are Flawed, then?
  • August 7, 2011
    Will has a bit of this in Good Will Hunting. He gets better.
  • August 7, 2011
    ^^Not really, but that does inform this.
  • August 8, 2011
    I'd like to see a more concise description.
  • September 10, 2011
    IIRC there was a Mater quote in Cars 2 along the lines of "if you get close to me you're gonna get hurt" or something like that; though McQueen didn't realize Mater was referring to the bomb strapped to him.
  • September 10, 2011
    Though I like the name, it isn't clearly indicative of the concept on its own, though I actually hope it can keep the current one despite that. There's also that obscure blue hedgehog in sneakers. Though that's an easy fix with a "Not to be confused with" sentence.

    This might benefit from No Real Life Examples.

    The Myth of King Midas touched upon this concept. When he wished that everything he touched turned to gold, he realized that he made a mistake when he ends up turning his son into gold. The Aesop to the tale of Midas is either Be Careful What You Wish For, or The Hedgehogs Dilemma, depending on the interpretation of the one telling the story.
  • September 10, 2011
    I think this is definitely trope-worthy, considering it was based off the theories of some guy. A lot of shows are loosely based off of this concept, especially some sitcoms and dramadies.
  • September 10, 2011
    This needs examples with far more contexts than what's being provided. Add more contexts to the examples or remove them.
  • April 17, 2013
    The French film "The Hedgehog" definitely has this.
  • April 17, 2013
    Wow, three examples listed and all of them Zero Context Examples...

    EDIT: ^And they just keep on coming.
  • September 14, 2015
    • Bring Me The Horizon's "Can You Feel My Heart" is about someone with this issue.
      I'm scared to get close, but I hate being alone
  • September 15, 2015
  • September 16, 2015
    • Elsa in Frozen believes she's too dangerous to stay around other people, due to her ice powers that have grown harder to control and once nearly killed her sister. She turns to isolating herself instead in hopes that it will keep others safe, but instead her powers keep growing to torment the land no matter how far she runs.
  • September 16, 2015
    ^ Elsa isn't an example. She's just about the opposite. It's only when she lets people in that she stops hurting them.

    As every other example is a ZCE I am going to discard this as no one seems capable of writing a proper example for it.
  • December 10, 2016
    Angel from the Buffyverse can't experience a single moment of pure happiness without his superpowered evil side taking over. He'd need to invoke this trope if necessary to keep the people he cares about safe.