Most of us – I think I can safely assume – have at least heard of the ‘ick’. Whether from our friends, online, in articles, or just in passing conversations, our generation has made the concept of the ick a massive joke and point of community, conversation, and memes.  About a year ago I started a list of icks as a joke when I was drunk. We can laugh at it together;

Now, some of these I will still argue are hilarious. But that’s not to say it couldn’t be evaluated as a little ridiculous. I loved this list and tried to add to it long-term as they came to me. It is also the list which inspired me to research the ick and write this article. I have gotten the ick myself a few times, like most people I know, but I started to wonder why that happened. What exactly is going on in my head that a switch seems to go off and the person I was once enamoured with becomes repulsive?

As a psych student, I didn’t have to look very far. There’s a lot of ways this concept could be analyzed, but it all essentially whittles down to attachment styles and our fear of exposure/trust. The ick is best described in serious terms as a defence mechanism we use to distance ourselves for self-protection (even if there is no threat). This is exactly why it can be so troubling or annoying – there could be absolutely wrong with someone, they might even be pretty ideal for you, but something they do just ticks you off. Based on components of attachment theory and the trauma model of psychopathology, psychologists alike agree that if someone has been exposed to problematic attachment/relationships, we become uncomfortable when we later experience healthy ones. In essence, we expect to be continuously treated worse because that is what we’ve learned to be acceptable.

Those who have experienced such attachments or have gone through trauma alike, may see intimacy/flaws/openness in partners as “icky” or embarrassing. This may be because we convinced ourselves we didn’t need the love and support we lacked, in order to make sense of the situation or not feel neglected – in order to cope.

That being said, trauma isn’t the end all be all of the ick. A lot of what media teaches us these days has to do with emotional availability and suppressing it. So maybe people also just feel pressure to not be “soft”, leading to icks – rejection sensitivity and fear of intimacy. I understand this kinda sounds intense – and you would be right. Maybe you already knew this! Maybe you didn’t! Either way it’s a worthwhile conversation to have – even if you still wanna joke about it (I know I will).

For those wondering how someone might avoid getting the ick, or wanna confront it when it happens, consider which situations are giving you the ick. We can learn to sift through actual red-flags or just our own self-sabotage. Something important to keep in mind is that relationships and attraction work on a “flip-flop” basis – highs and lows, lulls in lust or attraction, etc. Therefore, not many relationships (if any) are “destinys”. Love and attraction is work that you put in everyday, love is a choice. While most icks come up in early months or the honeymoon phase, this is especially when this is useful to keep in mind. Do I feel seen by this person? Do they fulfill my needs? Do I fulfill theirs? What do I like about them, what do I not? What am I asking of them, and am I ready to accept it? What are they asking of me and am I ready to provide it? If these boxes aren’t getting ticked, then that’s a sign, and rather than looking for an easy out like an ick, you learn more about yourself, and navigate it with less stress and more respect.

Obviously, I am also just a stupid young adult navigating everything all the time, just like anyone who might be reading this article. I’m gonna joke about it, still probably going to experience the ick, and even add to my list most likely. I think there is comfort in laughing at our shortcomings, and that is totally okay. But I think alongside that, there should be a level of self-awareness. I want to spread love, joy, affection, and trust to people I care about and I’m sure you do as well. So take what you will from this, but I urge you to remember that nobody does anything for no reason at all.


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