Lobsters (and all crustaceans) eventually outgrow their shells.
The Molting Process
When lobsters get too big for their current shells, they go through a process called molting. The lobster retreats to an isolated place, where it struggles out of its hard exoskeleton. When it finally emerges, it is wrinkled, weak, and appears dead.
Out of its hard shell, the lobster’s soft under-layer is exposed until it grows into its new shell. The lobster ingests water to pump up its body; hormones eventually release to harden its new shell. As the shell hardens, it is still too big for the lobster; the lobster must grow into it.
The process is laborious, excruciatingly slow, and dangerous.
In the liminal phase of the process, the lobster is fragile and vulnerable to injury or attack. At least 10 percent of all crustaceans die during molting. More die over the subsequent few weeks until they harden enough to defend themselves.
During this time, the lobster hides away in a cave or crevice to avoid attack.
This is the process of growth.
By comparison, humans have it easy. We don’t risk death in our process of growth — even if it sometimes feels like it.
In the human body, approximately 330 billion cells are replaced daily, and we hardly notice. We shed skin, hair, and nails without feeling a thing. In 80–100 days, we replace 30 trillion cells — the equivalent of a new you.
We, too, are always molting.
Our process may not come with physical discomfort, but certain parts of our shedding carry emotional and existential pain.
Even as our skin sheds without our awareness, we struggle to shed our hard psychic outer layers:
- the stories we tell about ourselves
- our habits
- the masks we wear out in the world
- the roles we play
- beliefs about who we are
- expectations about who we must become
The process isn’t always comfortable. It can be excruciatingly slow. And while there’s no risk of physical death, it can often feel like an existential death.
A part of us must die in order to facilitate our growth.
We don’t get to embrace a new version of ourselves without giving up something to the altar of our potential.
Our Impulse to Isolate
Like the lobster, we might feel an impulse to isolate; a place to hide away as we expose our soft underbelly and grow into our new shell.
But we have an advantage over the lobster: there’s no risk of death if we let ourselves be seen in the process. And if we dare to find community, we might even discover the support available to us in our most vulnerable stages of molting.
The protection and support of community can ease the psychic pain of our growth, and nourish us as we grow into ourselves.
We don’t have to do it alone.