The Turtle Syndrome

The Turtle Syndrome….Turmoil and Recoil

When we grieve we often start out by going through a period of numbness and shock. Sometimes this “period” lasts so long it almost feels like a “season” of numbness and shock. We just can’t believe that our loved one is gone.

It is usually during this time that we face what some call the “turmoil and recoil” stage. I call it “the turtle syndrome.” We recoil from others, and go into our protective shells. We withdraw emotionally from people, and sometimes from God.

One reason we put up walls or go into our shells is because we don’t want to talk about the situation. We don’t want others to remind us of what has happened. We don’t want to face it. We somehow think that if we don’t talk about it, it never happened. We can then just go on, and continue to deny what we know is real.

Another reason for crawling into the shell may be that it gives usa little reprieve from the excruciating and unending pain that grips our heart. For a time we feel protected from the hurt.

I don’t believe it is a bad thing to act like a turtle when we needto do so. Other people may not understand this. They think weare avoiding them, or worse yet, avoiding reality. It is true that we are avoiding them, because we don’t want them to tell us what they think we need to do. And it may be true that we are avoiding reality. But not forever. We just need time to heal.

Being “in the shell” so to speak does not mean that we cannot hear. We still hear what people are saying, even if we don’t respond to their words. Sometimes we will hear sweet and kind words of caring. We are not ignoring those words. We just won’t let them draw us out of our shell yet.

Other times we hear the words from the criticizers. The ones who think they know what’s best for us. They tell us “it’s time to come out of your shell and face this fact.” Or they think that because we aren’t openly showing our grief that we are over the situation.

Or perhaps they thing that we didn’t love the person who is gone enough to openly grieve or discuss the person freely. When we hear those words of  “tough love,”as they like to call it, we don’t react the way those people want us to. In fact, we usually recoil deeper into the shell. And sometimes stay there longer than we thought we would.

At times the shell becomes a place that we abhor. We can’t stand it anymore. It has become a terribly lonely and unacceptable place for us. There are times when we hate the shell, and feel uncomfortable being there. So we slowly crawl out. One day we stretch our necks out, and begin to feel the “outside world” again.

A moment may pass, or maybe even a few days. Then we have to crawl back into the shell. We’re afraid to feel too much too soon.We feel that it’s just too much to handle. And we crawl or jump back in to the place where we feel safe again.

Why am I writing all of this? To simply explain that it’s okay to be a turtle. Retreating into our shell is our defense mechanism for survival. And we need it. We will survive. We will one day be able to come out of the shell and live again. It may take a while, but we will leave the shell behind and move toward other safe places. It’s all part of the healing process.

If you are in the place where you had to withdraw from people,and you are reading this, you understand. But more importantly, you are dealing. You have moved a little from your shell enough to read this. And that, my friend, is a huge step.

May you know that others understand, and are truly supportive. May you know that God loves you and sees you, even in your shell. He knows where you are. He knows one day you will come out and see Him.

You may be a turtle, but you are a turtle that is loved by many. And that sure is better than being a rat!