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Being gentle with yourself (the hermit crab metaphor)

By Nikki Knighton


Pain coaching supports people to make changes to the way they’ve been

approaching things in their everyday life to reduce the impact of pain on their

function and wellbeing. It is not about changing who the person is at their core. We

aim to help people find more space in their life for what makes them unique.

Main image: Hermit crab with shell © Nikki Knighton 2024


The hermit crab provides an interesting metaphor for people experiencing pain that

are considering making lifestyle changes. The crab’s shell provides useful and

necessary protection of its soft, squishy bits … just like our pain responses evolve to

protect us in unique and individual ways. As the hermit crab grows, the armour of it's

shell can become restrictive, and the hermit crab will look for a new shell that will have

more room. People wanting to change their experience of persistent pain are like

hermit crabs ready to find a new shell.


As a hermit crab moves from one shell to the next there will be a time where its soft

squishy bits are exposed and vulnerable. When we do something differently, the

novel information from our senses will tend to alert our protective systems until our

mind can determine if the input is indicating ‘friend or foe’. Making a change to how

we live our life can feel like we have taken off our armour. It’s scary, challenging, and

unfamiliar. It’s hard work and takes courage. You don’t have to do it alone.


Crab with no shell © Nikki Knighton 2024


It can be useful to think of protective DIMs (Danger In Me responses) as the things

that threaten your unique sense of Self – your values, your unique sensory needs

and limits, your sense of identity and purpose, and your reason for being in this

world. This makes SIMs (Safety In Me responses) the things to support and nourish

your true, authentic Self to feel confident and capable doing what you want, need

and must to do in the world.


It is important to be patient, gentle and curious as you make changes, knowing that there will be times when things will feel weird, confusing and different. Be ok with that – you are packing and unpacking things. You are working out where to put things and do things in your new house. Look for the moments of ease, effortlessness and ahhh … clear signs that you are in SIM land and what you are doing feels like home.


Pain coaches guide and support you to explore different ways of approaching life

knowing that pain plays an important function in looking after your unique nature –

the soft and squishy bits that make you the amazing person that you are.


Just like when the hermit moves into the next shell it is essentially the same Being, you don’t

need to be a different person – you are perfect just the way you are.

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