Recently I came across an interesting bit of mail. Normally, I would usually toss all non-relevant mail on the counter or anywhere that wasn’t covered with sweaters and books. This was not normal card, it was a card in the shape of a hermit crab, stating on the back “ A hermit crab will find a larger shell when it’s outgrown its current one.” (Spoiler alert: it was an ad for a hospital, not an expose on the rising costs of the hermit crab’s home inflation market here in LA). So, what is the relevance to this little crab’s experience and us as humans? Growth, vulnerability and discomfort.
Growth requires a certain amount of vulnerability, pain and fearlessness. It is interesting watching animals out in the wild- Salmon endure the resistant waters to swim back upstream, lobsters must begin a long arduous process of shedding their shells only to leave themselves vulnerable as their new shell grows, and hermit crabs must make themselves exposed while they transition over into the better shell.
So what happens when we outgrow our “shells?” Maybe first, we must appreciate why our old ways of being are no longer working for us. As children, we create coping skills and ways of interacting that serve to get our needs met. Perhaps in a large family of 10, a child needs to be extra loud and boisterous to gain attention from a parent; as an adult this once necessary behavior may alienate others. A child that needed to be distrusting of the people around them because it was not physically or emotionally safe to do so, as an adult may have difficulties forming healthy attachments. The necessary behaviors we adopted as children may no longer serve us as adults.
In order for change to happen, we must be open to trying out new methods, or letting go of old ideas that may be harmful to us, and this can be uncomfortable. Much like the aforementioned crustaceans , we must also shed our older versions of ourselves. Change in any form- ending/starting a relationship, moving away, starting a new job, all of these create feelings of being exposed since it’s so new and we don’t know what we might encounter along the way.
Vulnerability is a positive state- so much beauty can come from exposing those soft underbellies of emotions rather than closing ourselves off to growth. As poet David Whyte put it:
"VULNERABILITY is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice , vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to be something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.”
I would encourage you to go on and try to embrace the process of change in all of its forms. Much like the hermit crab scuttling the ocean floors, we can embrace vulnerability, because it is in that space where we make the most growth.
Alexis has been a part time contributor to the online website Patientworthy which is dedicated to education and awareness of rare and serious diseases. Links to articles written by Alexis: