I’m very happy with the response to my post on Werewolf Levels. Some people told me they found the concept helpful in naming a thing they’d already felt. Other people proposed objections or refinements. In one case, someone was able to tell me they felt Werewolfy, which helped me give them the reassurance they needed to continue the interaction. This is a roundup of some of the responses.
Alternative hypothesis: passive aggression
Howie Lempel noted that while the motivation may be different, the actions of a person at a high Werewolf Level are very similar to the actions of a person being passive aggressive. "I'm not going to tell you about my needs and then I'm going to be disappointed/alone when you fail to meet them" is kind of a classic passive aggressive move.
He gives three reasons we should be mindful of this when thinking about Werewolf Levels:
- Werewolf behavior is at least nominally about protecting others, so someone with a high Werewolf Level may be motivated to reduce their Werewolfy behavior if they understand that it’s likely to be read as passive aggression.
- Sometimes we do something for multiple motives, and don’t have access to all of them. Someone whose narrative is very Werewolfy may still be motivated to some extent by passive aggression, so it’s important to consider that hypothesis when trying to understand one’s own behavior and inclinations.
- Noting the similarity may help people who have no first-hand experience with Werewolf Feelings, when they see behavior they are inclined to read as passive aggressive, consider the more generous hypothesis that the other person is in fact feeling Werewolfy.
Alternative hypothesis: fearful/anxious avoidance
A friend pointed out that what I described as Werewolf behavior patterns also resemble the Fearful/Anxious Avoidant attachment style. This seems right to me. The distinction I would draw is that Werewolf Feelings are about fear of damaging the other person, or causing pain to the other person that damages the relationship. This other behavior pattern is about fear of being hurt oneself. The patterns look similar but the solutions are different.
If you are dealing with someone who is Anxious Avoidant you might try to allay their fears of what might happen to them if you get closer. You might try to offer up your own vulnerability first, to reassure them that they have some control and power.
But these can be counterproductive when dealing with a Werewolf. What I said to my acquaintance who was feeling Werewolfy that let them open up was, “I don’t trust you enough to be hurt by you yet.”
A friend suggested that the “Werewolf” framing might encourage catastrophizing. A literal werewolf makes others sick and dangerous forever, but this is unlikely to be true of someone with Werewolf Feelings. Your need for support may be much greater than the costs it imposes on others.
This feels like an interesting disagreement to me. I’ve noticed that as I’ve written about some of my darker feelings, other people try to argue with me as if I were trying to make the case for why those feelings are entirely accurate. But that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to summon demons, but learn the true names of demons that already exist, in order to regain some power over them. Werewolf Levels is for people who are already catastrophizing. And if you’re catastrophizing, better to do it explicitly, so you have at least a fighting chance of noticing, and revising your estimate of how bad things are.
The point of Werewolf Levels is that of course no one is literally a werewolf. The response is maybe sometimes reasonable, but often overblown.
Autonomy/coercion vs care/neglect
As I looked at friends’ responses to the Werewolf post, I found I could predict with a fair bit of accuracy how they responded to it. One important predictor was whether they cared more about autonomy or caring.
Some people have had lives where their big problem is lack of autonomy - people just won’t leave them alone to do their thing. To these people, the Werewolf spectrum is nearly incomprehensible. People unable to accept non-pushy help just seem like people who are too beaten-down to have good boundaries, or have unrealistic expectations that some sort of miracle will happen to them.
Other people see their main problem as lack of caring. They’re more lonely than they are afraid. They often don’t see how to get a satisfying form of connection. Accepting a series of free transaction seems achievable, but fundamentally alienated. They want someone to care for them freely, proactively, with initiative. When it seems like others are unwilling to do this, they might imagine that those others either are autonomy-oriented or just don’t care enough about them. They naturally conclude that an overt request for help would be unwelcome. That’s one way Werewolves are born.
Some people score high on both scales, or publicly focus on one because they’ve given up hope on the other. Some people might not be well described by these. But I’ve found it helpful in understanding people, to think about how much they value autonomy, and how much they value being cared for.