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Don’t Let Others Keep You Down

How to Manage the "Crab Bucket Syndrome" and Herd Behavior

written by Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD June 24, 2019
Don't Let Others Keep You Down

Do you feel like others are holding you back? This has come to be called “the crab bucket syndrome” because crabs pull back those who try to escape. A lone crab can climb out of a bucket, but when its mates are present, it ends up boiled to death with them. Maybe you feel like this is happening to you—whether family, friends, or coworkers; whether actively undermining you or just failing to applaud when you think you deserve it. Sometimes you even feel pushed to choose between escaping the bucket and preserving your social bonds.

Why Do Crabs Hold Each Other Back?

Crabs did not evolve in buckets. They evolved on seashores where clinging to others promoted survival. A crab is not consciously trying to hold back its mates. It is not consciously trying to save them either. It is just repeating a behavior that was naturally selected for it.

I recently discussed this with one of my readers, Obinna Ogadah in Nigeria. He sent me some interesting suggestions for managing that situation (below). Obinna has read all of my books so here is a bit of background for those who haven’t.

Your friends and family are mammals rather than crustaceans; it’s important to understand how mammals cling to others. Mammals seek safety in numbers for protection from predators. Natural selection built a brain that rewards you with a good-feeling chemical (oxytocin) when you find social support and alarms you with a bad-feeling chemical (cortisol) when your social support is threatened.

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