On coasts around the world, fishermen fill their buckets with crabs and leave them unattended while they fish for more. These fishermen are not worried that their crabs will escape.
The crabs police themselves, dragging down any would-be escapees back into the bucket.
This self-sabotaging behaviour is called crab mentality or crabs in a bucket mentality, and we can apply it to human behaviour as well. So why do crabs act in this way?
What Is Crab Mentality?
It seems counterintuitive for any animal to actively cause not only their death but that of their species as well. But there’s a strange twist to this fishy tale.
If there is just one crab in the bucket, it will keep trying to crawl out of the bucket until it eventually succeeds. It is only when there are several crabs in the bucket that the crab’s behaviour changes.
Before I talk about how this relates to humans, I want to get to the bottom of this weird crabs in a bucket mentality.
First of all, it is important to recognise that crabs didn’t evolve in buckets. Crabs live where the sea meets the shore, in places such as shallow pools and slippery rocks. These are rapidly changing environments. Waves crash over rocks and crabs cling to each other to prevent themselves from being washed out to sea.
The crabs are reacting as they would normally. Clinging to one another is a survival mechanism that occurs when they are under threat. So crab mentality in the animal world is merely an evolutional response to the surrounding environment.
Now, how does the crab bucket mentality manifest itself in human behaviour?
Recognising Crab Mentality in Human Behaviour
“You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.” – Booker T Washington
Crab mentality is self-sabotaging behaviour best described as ‘If I can’t have it, neither can you‘. Crab mentality is not only counter-productive but also destructive. Recognising when it takes place is the first step in avoiding it.
You can’t be more successful than me
If we use the crab bucket mentality, we can see that some people can’t enjoy another person’s success. Like the crabs in a bucket, they like to pull others down to their level.
However, it is a little more complicated than that. Some neuroscientists believe humans are hardwired to fear loss much more than we are to seek success.
This is called loss aversion.
“The deepest wiring that relates to this crab mentality is called loss aversion. It’s the fact that in our brains we are wired to avoid loss, twice as much as we are to get a reward.” Neuroscientist Dr. Tara Swart
An easy way to understand loss aversion is an example:
- Gaining £100 is less than losing £100. We feel worse when we lose than when we gain. Humans don’t like losses, so we try to avoid them.
So if we don’t like loss, wouldn’t this make us more amenable to another person’s success? Evidently, not. This is because when someone else is successful, it takes away a piece of our success and creates a sense of loss for us.
As such, even though it seems to be a contradiction, we would prefer that everyone lose than just ourselves. It really is a case of “If I can’t have it, neither can you.”
I’m not good enough to be successful
Just as the crabs sabotage their survival plans, so can humans sabotage their success. This stems from Imposter Syndrome, where you feel as if you are not good enough.
Perhaps your parents belittled you as a child. Maybe your current partner is undermining your confidence. It is possible that you are in a coercive and controlling relationship and your inner self-esteem has been chipped away over years.
Whatever the reason for your lack of self-belief, it can manifest in this self-sabotaging behaviour. You worry that you are going to be caught out eventually, so why bother in the first place?
Whether you feel like you don’t deserve to be happy, or successful or rich or attain your goals, or you simply don’t want to stand out from the crowd, you act like the crabs in a bucket.
You didn’t earn your success
Getting that promotion or being able to afford a new car or house is exciting news right? But do you feel sometimes that not everyone in your family or circle of friends is happy for you?
Do you get the feeling it is not just a case of jealousy? It feels like they don’t recognise all your hard work and effort. They say that you always had it easy, that school and college were a breeze to you and you never really had to struggle the way they did.
Family always insist you were the favourite and infer that you were given an advantage at home. It makes you feel as if you have this invisible privilege that gives you a step up that you never even knew about.
Putting someone down or pulling them back keeps everyone on a level playing field. In eastern philosophy, there is a saying “The nail that sticks up should be hammered down.” One way to do this is to shame the nail sticking out into hammering itself down.
4 Ways to Stop Crab Mentality from Ruining Your Life
1. Don’t compare your life to others
It is hard when everyone is boasting on social media about how great their life is. You might feel that you are not pretty enough, or that your life is not interesting compared to your friends.
But social media is not a true reflection of our society. It is what those people want you to believe their life is like. Every selfie has been filtered, so it doesn’t resemble the person anymore.
Every picture of a meal has been carefully curated to present the type of lifestyle that provokes envy. Don’t be taken in by false representation. Live your life as you want to.
2. Be grateful for the things you do have
I’m a big fan of being grateful for the small things we do have. It sounds cheesy, I know, but having your health, a roof over your head, and food in the fridge is a blessing these days.
If you are feeling envious of a friend’s new flash car, I urge you to watch news coverage of refugees in Syria. If you are unhappy with your life, look up a few crime documentaries where parents of murdered children speak of that moment the police arrived and their world changed forever.
Animals are suffering unspeakable cruelty; bears in bile farms, minks in fur farms, chickens in factory farms. Children are being trafficked for paedophile rings. You know what, your life isn’t so bad, is it?
3. Concentrate on your own goals
Just because other people are successful doesn’t mean you can’t be too. But if you develop an envious and bitter nature to successful people around you, it only creates negative energy.
It is far better to work towards your dreams and goals. Why are other people’s dreams your business anyway? And remember, you never know what struggles successful people are going through.
4. Success breeds success
Surrounding yourself with successful people helps you in the end. Positive energy opens up opportunities. Positive people draw people in. By supporting your successful friend or family member, you are bathing in their halo effect.
Moreover, their success will wash over you. You’ll benefit from having happy and successful friends and family. How? Your sister who has just purchased that amazing holiday lodge by the coast lets you rent it every summer at a cheaper rate.
Your cousin with a great job knows a guy who can set you up with your own office space in the city. But it is not just about benefitting financially. Have you ever noticed how your mood is influenced by people around you? If someone is down, your mood can be instantly affected. So it actually matters who you spend your time with.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn sums this up beautifully:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
By constantly putting down others, you are creating an atmosphere of negative energy. Instead, be thoughtful and consciously raise people up to succeed.
Jealousy and envy are natural emotions, so it can be hard to step outside of a crab mentality. But wanting success for everyone only leads to a better life for all of us. Let’s celebrate success for the many, not just a few.
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