It turns out that the 'soft-shelled crab' is not a distinct species like I thought it was. All those Thai restaurant menus have been misleading me for years! It refers, instead, to a stage in a crab's life where it sheds its hard shell, and grows a new one. For those few days, the crab is more vulnerable until it can develop a new, solid shell to protect it from the elements once again. It happens several times in a little crab's life, and is part and parcel of its journey from babyhood to a ripe old age.
During my counselling training, I came across the work of Douglas C. Kimmel, who focused on the life stages we humans go through. He likened life's great transitions to that of the soft-shelled crab. When we reach a period of significant change in our lives, we shed a part of ourselves, the part that no longer fits. We adapt and grow...that's the hope, in any case. Whether we are consciously choosing to make a change, or we feel that a new stage in our life is being imposed upon us, life's transitions can be challenging to navigate. We can be left feeling vulnerable, exposed and hankering after some stability.
So how can change be so threatening in our lives? If it feels that way to you, it may be because that change threatens your own concept of who you are.
What if your children are about to go to university, and being a nurturing, caring mother was always integral to your own sense of identity?
How do you cope with a relationship breakdown that leaves you devastated, when you thought you were a strong, independently-minded person?
What if you're in your teens, facing the most rapid physical and social changes you are ever likely to go through and you're left feeling completely lost?
Major life changes force us to examine how we are, our hopes, fears, choices and limitations. Seeking the help of someone close to us can help hugely, or look to find someone who can help whilst your new shell takes shape.
To be vulnerable often appears to be culturally unacceptable, the word often used interchangeably with being 'weak.' It seems to me that when we feel vulnerable, we are anything but weak. We are allowing change to happen, allowing new possibilities for growth, despite feeling anxious about what the future may hold. There's a courage in vulnerability and also, whether we like it or not, an inevitability.
Kimmel, D. C. (1990). Adulthood and Aging. Wiley & Sons: New York.