*(The examples provided below are composite cases, synthesizing disguised information and not any patient in particular)*
Towards the end of our therapy session together, I found myself reflecting on a few of the things Jeremy had mentioned that stuck out to me. In talking about the process of personal growth and change, my client asked, “Why does changing your life for the better have to be so difficult? Why do I feel weak and inadequate talking about my problems? I don’t like feeling uncomfortable”. While these thoughts could be addressed from a variety of angles and perspectives, a simple story I heard from a prominent psychiatrist, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky, came to mind that I thought was worth sharing.
“Do you know how lobsters grow?” I asked.
“Umm, no I’m not familiar,” he replied with a chuckle.
“Lobsters are soft, mushy animals that live inside of a rigid shell, a shell that does not expand. So how do the lobsters grow? Well, as the lobster grows, that shell becomes very confining, and the lobster feels itself under pressure and uncomfortable. It goes underneath some rocks to protect itself from predatory fish, casts off the shell and produces a new one. Eventually, that shell becomes too confining, and the lobster repeats the process. The key here is that the stimulus for the lobster to grow and to make a change is that it feels stressed and uncomfortable. If lobsters had doctors, they would never grow. When feeling uncomfortable they could go to the doctor and get a prescription and feel fine, never feeling the need to cast off their shell.”
Lobsters can teach us quite a lot about personal growth. They teach us that personal growth throughout our lifetime is naturally challenging and uncomfortable, and that those feelings are normal. In fact, those feelings are necessary, as without them growth would not be possible. They teach us that discomfort can function as an opportunity for change rather than a hindrance. They teach us that we must “cast off our shell” and allow ourselves to become vulnerable in order to grow. They teach us that we will go through these uncomfortable growth processes multiple times throughout our lives, and that each time we will emerge stronger and more capable than before.
Fortunately for us humans, we don’t need to worry about being attacked by predatory fish as we become vulnerable. However, we do encounter other predatory forces such as judgment, shame, and guilt. Just like the lobster, we need a safe space to engage in our personal growth. This is when the therapy process can be most beneficial. A good therapist will help to establish a “safe space under the rocks” where you can be open, honest, and vulnerable. Therapy is a place where you can cast off your shell and genuinely explore the deepest parts of yourself without being threatened by feelings of judgment or inadequacy. A professional therapist will collaborate with you in that space, allowing you to emerge feeling empowered and capable in your new shell.
If you are experiencing seemingly unmanageable stress and discomfort, be like the lobster. Know that those feelings are actually signals for growth and don’t have to hold you back in life. Within the safe space that we created together, Jeremy started to embrace the growth process and continued developing into his most authentic self.