Earth grief and the protective shell

I’ve always been sensitive. When I say sensitive, I mean it in the all encompassing sensitive sense. Not just sensitive to emotions, or people, but sensitive to the world, animals, nature, the spirit. I know my upbringing and all the education about the world, the sense of responsibility and care I was taught, definitely has played a part in this, but I do also believe that some are just born sensitive. Born with a connection to the universal responsibility we all have. Born with the ability to connect with the universal pain, the universal grief…

Born with a certain fragility to the world (people, animals, nature) around you. I feel a pain in my chest, have a breath taken away, and feel raged with anger like I could punch the tree surgeon in the face, when I see a tree being cut down. I tear up when I walk past someone drunk and sat in dirt covered clothes. The sorrow and grief, and anger for the way life works, stays with me for a while afterwards. As does the guilt I live my life as full as I do, and the feeling of responsibility. I can’t breathe and feel I’ll crumble when I begin to even think of the destruction we’re doing to this planet…the injustice, the utterly fucked-up and twisted way things work. This is a grief, a pain, that I am not able to tap fully into. I shut down. And I know I have been shut down for a long while about this, out of fear and out of a feeling of being unable to emotionally cope with just how giant this feeling is. But I’m learning to manage it, slowly…slowly seeing that this anger, this feeling of injustice, this pain, this sorrow, and this feeling of responsibility and protection for the planet and everyone, everything, in it, can be oh-so powerful and beautiful, and productive.


Something I’ve noticed though, as I am on the therapy wagon, I feel as though my protective shell – the shell of shut down, perhaps – is not feeling so strong and able to protect anymore. It’s as though all this digging deep into myself and expanding of my consciousness, and softening of my emotional numbness that I’d created to protect myself from childhood and adult trauma, is beginning to open up this sensitivity like never before. What’s beneath this shell that I’ve had for so many years, is a vulnerability and a sensitivity that runs deeper than I ever knew.

Sometimes I’m feeling so much hurt and pain for the world, leaving the house feels a challenge. Today is one of those days. I feel like I’ll crumble and crack if I step foot out of the protection of my room, yet in twenty minutes I need to. The room takes on the protective shell that I no longer feel like I have in myself. It’s as though the weight of the world lies within my heart…and in this weight is a mixture of grief – Ecopsychologists call this Earth Grief – sorrow, pain, guilt, worry, anger, rage, panic. All mixed into a weight no words can describe.

It’s so somatic. As though my body is red raw to the injustice in the world. As though my heart is cracked open to the destruction. As though my back carries the weight of the responsibility I have for the Earth. As though my blood is full of pumping rage and a desire to protect those – people, animals, nature – that are being abused.


I have to resource myself, bring myself back to my breath, focus on little daily things, to ground myself when I get too swept up in these feelings, write from the body, from the heart, rather than from my racing mind. Just like I do when I’m grieving for my mom or something else that’s happened in my life. It’s the same feeling, just a larger vessel I’m grieving for. This muscle is only just developing – the grief muscle. As my protective shell is cracking, crumbling, I notice my own protective muscle inside myself is growing. Rather than being shut off from the world, with my protection lying on the outside in the form of a shell of numbness, shut down, and disconnection, I am open and truly feeling. And the protection that lies within – the self protection – instead brings self nurturance, care, love, and a sense of connection to the world. It’s healthy. The protective shell isn’t so much, although I know I need this defence mechanism still. If this shell completely crumbled and cracked away, I’d be so open I’d probably decompose.

Perhaps I need this middle ground of swinging between feeling like I can’t cope, like my protective shell is dissolving and leaving me red raw open, to then shutting down and shutting off from these feelings because they are too much, in order to then find the middle ground of sensitivity. The ground where sensitivity lives wholeheartedly. And wholeheartedly means having boundaries, developing self protection from the inside out, saying no to the feelings sometimes, putting yourself first in moments of overwhelm. Maybe I’m learning how to nourish myself from the inside out.


11 thoughts on “Earth grief and the protective shell

  1. When lobsters shed their hard exoskeleton, the soft tissue beneath takes time to harden. They are incredibly vulnerable without their protective shell, but soon the new shell hardens, and they’re stronger, bigger, tougher than before. Without periodically shedding their exoskeleton and exposing their soft vulnerabilities, they would never grow, never develop…

  2. beautifully written. I love it, I feel it. It needs some immunological soul protection for this sensitivity to protect us (also me) against self-destruction. Sensitivity is beautiful, overwhelming by this sensitivity is self-destructive. Self-protecting brings us harmony in living with all arround, not to be burried by it, also see more solutions how to protect nature (including our inner nature).
    Great! All the best

  3. Pingback: the surprising connection between guilt and grief | power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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