Robert Frost wrote: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
But what about when you want to be more than neighbors.
What if you want to be lovers, or be more intimate with friends and family than fences will allow?
Connecting or Not
You try among family, friends and strangers to be a unique, separate self but there is a pull to melt into the collective.
It used to be, before the time of cell phones, close work quarters and traffic jams that we had time and space for individuality, but it isn’t that way today.
As we wander around we are more mushed together than before, obviously on an airplane where we are squeezed in like so many sardines, but also at the busy mall or in the faceless corporation or waiting in one of the many queues or lines that greet much of what we have to do in a day.
To protect ourselves, amongst so many people, we have build our own “thin candy shell.”
The shell on an M&M has the candy “melt in your mouth, not in our hand.” Our shell protects our over extended, battered and bruised psyche. But the shell also thwarts intimacy and connection.
At certain times, like holidays, and certain places, like relationship we expose less of ourselves and more of our thin candy shells.
Who can blame us?
But when thin candy shells meet there is no intimacy, there is little connection, and we are more like the hermit crab hidden away in a shell or on his/her journey between shells and less like the loving, caring and connected person we might wish to be.
Who can blame us?
Well, often we blame ourselves. And if that doesn’t work we blame the persistent others around us either for the forced connection or the absence of closeness that characterizes so much of our lives.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to be alternately too exposed and not enough connected. After all it is your thin candy shell: and it is you who can learn to vary its thickness and permeability. Lets explore how.
Your Thin Candy Shell
There are two primary places that thin candy shells prevail.
Between you and other people
Everybody has a candy shell between themselves and other people. My father had a thick one, my mother a much thinner one. I identified more with my mother’s, growing up thinly defended as my sister adopted my father’s thick shell that defined her tightly defended world.
What the shell protects is our soft centers, the parts of ourselves where we feel so much that it scares us. Those places where we are innocent, uncertain and full of emotion.
In these places we are afraid of what we might say or do if our shell broke through. We might tell uncle Bill that he shouldn’t talk so much, Mom that she raised us wrong, a co-worker that his breath is bad or a close friend that we want to be more than friends.
We might, as it were, spill the beans, feel the feeling and reveal what we are trying so hard to conceal. We might turn inside out, exposing our insecurities and opening to love.
Our thin candy shell prevents that. Or, at least seems to.
Becoming Aware of Shells
Notice shells: How connected do you feel with your family, friends and strangers? In other words, how thick/thin is your shell?
I mentioned the thinness of my shell. It hasn’t always been that way. It is slowly getting thinner, and I am revealing ever more of myself to other people.
My friend John, a doctor and intellectual of great ability, has a thick shell, you are more likely to see a total eclipse while riding on a white horse on a Tuesday than you are to see/feel an emotion from John.
My friend Rosie has a much thinner shell, she is quick to cry, to emote, and wears her feelings on the outside.
How about you?
Get curious about your own shell and the shells of those around you.
In the process of observing shells you are likely to discover that your shell varies. When entering the big meeting your shell may be as thick as it gets.
But while holding my granddaughter close and looking at the Christmas tree I melt into a chocolate puddle with no shell at all.
Somewhere in between these two, very defended, and undefended is where most of us live.
Varying Your Shell
When shells go unnoticed they tend to get thicker not thinner. So the act of noticing them thins them.
It is a fact that the thinness or thickness of your parents’ shells, your friends or lovers’ shells has an influence on you. You can mitigate that influence by focusing attention on shells.
Forgive the defense and distance that shells have created.
As I mentioned my father had a thick candy shell. Up until his death he used that shell to keep most people away. He would talk freely, and superficially to strangers but with family his shell thickened making him a silent hermit.
My father was like that—protected and defended—with me too, until he wasn’t.
I resisted his shell for a long time, even spoke at length with my mother and other family members about how unreachable he was. Luckily I didn’t stop there.
One day I visited my folks. As usual my father dismissed himself, and headed to the garden. My mother took her seat at the table where it was our tradition that we “catch up,” talking about all that was going on with each of us and about how my father kept to himself too much.
But that day I broke out of the mold. I said, “I am going to help dad in the garden.” My mother looked shocked. But to this day I remember my father’s expression as he peeked over the egg plants. He wasn’t my father anymore—he was open, defenseless and we became confidants.
On that day my father’s thick candy shell melted. We talked in the garden about things that mattered to each of us. We hugged too, and connected. From that moment on our relationship was transformed. His shell was thinner and he was more available to me.
Here are a few of the things that I have learned about candy shells:
Some people, a recent lover, pretended to have a thin candy shell when in fact she had a very thick impenetrable one.
Variability of a shell begins with observation of shells, acceptance of shells as they are, forgiveness of the distance shells created and openness to the shells themselves.
Commenting on the shells of others, rather than just noticing them, usually results in shelling up.
All shells, whether thin or thick should be just as they are. They are a collaboration between aspects of ourselves that we are aware of and aspects that we aren’t: they’re protecting us.
It isn’t better to have a thinner or thicker shell, but to observe the context dependence of shells. If you are in a relationship and your shell is getting thicker beware, notice but don’t resist.
The creation of shells isn’t accidental but can become habitual and chronic. Bringing shells into your own attention is always better than not.
Candy shells define and determine our closeness, intimacy and connectedness both to others and ourselves.
Learning more about shells
There is a lot more to learn about shells: and if you would like to learn more please click here to download a recent group call on which participants are introduced to the idea of shells and begin to explore their own and other people’s shells.
Author: Jerry Stocking
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Robin Green