Lessons from the hermit crab


Hermit crabs aren’t born with an inherent sense of belonging: unlike snails, they aren’t born with a shell of their own. Instead, a hermit’s abdomen is adapted to clasp onto the old shells of sea snails; although occasionally, they will find solace within a hollowed-out piece of wood or perhaps, a plastic bottle. As the hermit crab crawls through life her shell may break or stop fitting the way that it used to. When this happens, she finds a queue of other hermits in need of a new shell of their own, and so will exchange hers for a new one. 

I think people are a lot like hermit crabs. Except our shell comes in the form of a person, a place, or a greater purpose that we can give ourselves to or find comfort in as we evolve through life. Unfortunately, it’s not always as straight forward for humans as it is for hermit crabs; it’s not a process of queuing up and exchanging old friends, old professions, or old ways of thinking for new ones. And finding a sense of belonging for one part of yourself doesn’t always mean it’s found in another. Sometimes, we may even choose a shell we aren’t ready for, or one that’s not suited to us, that rubs our back and leaves us with scars, because others have told us it fits, or looks pretty. 

In shedding my shell, I have discovered something else – my own strength – and an inherent resilience within me to carry on in the face of loneliness

Throughout my own life, I have found myself searching for somewhere to belong, and I have put on many shells. I have lost parts of myself to people I thought were good for me but inevitably were not right, and I have tried to blend myself into places I know I won’t be found, resulting in a lot of back pain. But I know I am not the only person who has tried to become something they are not. I have leant my shoulder to friends who cry because they feel unloved by their person, yet still stay, and I have witnessed the crushing of souls in those uncomfortable in their own skin. It’s easy to believe something is right for you when it seems right for so many others, and it’s hard to see something isn’t right for you when everyone else is telling you it is. 

I have learnt a lot about myself since coming to university, and I suppose I was naive to think it would solve all of my anxieties around figuring out who I was, and where I belonged in the world. I may not have found the people or the answers I was looking for, but in shedding my shell, I have discovered something else – my own strength – and an inherent resilience within me to carry on in the face of loneliness. While it’s scary outgrowing old shells, it hurts more holding onto the weight of false comfort. 

The largest hermit crab stands at the front of the queue. After handing over her last shell, she is alone, her back now bare. But she doesn’t try to squeeze herself into something smaller or compromise herself in the name of belonging. She waits, patiently, for something bigger to come along. And as she looks back at the long line behind her, she sees a trail of the shells she once belonged to, and is reminded of how far she has come and the ways she has grown. Like the hermit crab, I have learnt that sometimes in life, I will need to walk away without a shell, and in that I know, the only sense of belonging I need, is the belonging to myself.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.