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  • Deah Curry PhD

Ecdysis and The Vulnerable Beauty of Being Structureless

In biology, there is a lovely word for the somewhat painful and unlovely process of shedding one's skeleton -- if you happen to be a lobster, crab or other critter with an exoskeleton. That word is ecdysis and it's one of my favorites for capturing that period of disorienting growth or change of life stage that humans as well as some crustaceans and insects go through.

You see our friend the naked lobster above. She has shed her outgrown shell, and for an eternity of lobster hours will be extremely vulnerable to all kinds of dangers.

And it's not just a once in a lifetime thing for Miss Lobster. Nope, she will go through ecdysis 25 times or more until becoming full grown.

Now we of course don't shed our skeletons. But some of us do go through periods when we feel structure-less -- without the protections of beliefs that we've determined to be illusions, without habits or environments that were our comfort zones, without community, family, career, or purpose in life.

Miss Lobster is going to grow a new self-protective skeleton, but alas, it's going to look pretty much exactly like the old one. No wardrobe revamp for her. But what about us? How can we survive the anxiety of feeling so vulnerable?

Perhaps start with acknowledging that although uncomfortable, what you are going through is not bad, nor a sign that you are losing your mind, nor cursed. Try to see it as the Universe stripping off all that no longer serves you, or all that will be overly constrictive to the person you are soon to become.

Then consider that you now have more choices. Unlike Miss Lobster, you can choose which new beliefs to layer over your psyche. You can decide which energies to resonate with, and which now are not in alignment with your new perspectives.

Ecdysis often occurs when we make life stage transitions such as:

  • losing parents at a relatively young age

  • divorce and the disorientation of changing everything

  • empty nest and the sense of losing your role in life

  • getting fired from a job, even one you hated

  • retirement and the sense of losing your purpose for living

The key to surviving your ecdysis lies in accepting that it is a lesson from the Universe in allowing transformation to occur, and trusting that you will be better for it, even if it brings with it some loss and grief.

It's okay to not have answers during an ecdysis. It's okay to say, I don't know, or I haven't decided yet. If part of your old anxieties bubbled up from the insecurity of uncertainty, an ecdysis is a gift for practicing how to dance joyfully with the not knowing.

And it's an opportunity to explore vulnerability. Not by taking truly dangerous risks like walking down a dark alley at night in a strange city, or cashing out your 401k for a pony, of course. But like having difficult conversations with a parent or partner, or being emotionally vulnerable in admitting your shame or fear out loud to a new friend.

The more we can get comfortable with being a bit vulnerable, the more we can reduce the existential anxiety of fearing the unknown. And the more we do increase the sense of trust that whatever happens, we can handle it.

To get to that sense of confidence despite uncertainty is worth going through ecdysis. © 2017 Dr Deah All Rights Reserved Originally published by the author at a previous therapy blog

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