The crab mentality: If I can’t have it, neither can you


As I See It


Honestly, the only time I heard of the phrase crab mentality or a bucket of crabs was when I was a college student in UP–Diliman… in my Sociology class. The next time I met the phrase again was when I immigrated to the US in the late 90’s, no longer in the classroom, but in my interactions with other people. I then realized, it’s not only a classroom stuff but actually a practice actually occurring in the Fil-Am community.

Wikipedia defines crab mentality or crabs in a bucket, as a way of thinking best described by the phrase, “If I can’t have it, neither can you”. The metaphor refers to a bucket of live  crabs, some of which could easily escape, but other crabs pull them back down to prevent any from getting out, ensuring the group’s collective demise.

The analogy in human behavior is individuals with that kind of mentality tend to reduce the self-confidence of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy or malice, in order to stop or deter their progress. I found out that it does not apply only to members of a group/organization but also to individuals, from among friends and even from relatives. In fact, I was actually a victim of this type of mentality. Those around me, close to me unfortunately, who saw me pursuing the American dream so fast compared to them, tried to pull me down… and wanted me to experience the same agonizing experience they went through as immigrants.

In her article, Crab Mentality, Andrea Thompson posed the question: Have you guys ever heard of the “crab mentality”? In answer to her question, she said, “When crabs are put in an open bucket none of them will get out. Individually these crabs have the ability to get out on their own and get back in the water, however if one of these crabs tries to escape out of the bucket all the other crabs would start pulling it right back down…”

The author explained that human beings can be very similar to crabs sometimes. “As a metaphor, let’s say you are in a big bucket or barrel. You are surrounded by all these people in that barrel. Your barrel could be your job, your community, your church, anything. You start ‘getting out of the bucket’ and following your dreams, your passions, your goals. The rest of these people or “crabs” might try pulling you back,” she continued.

Actually, as a person who has been in this situation many times in my life as an immigrant, I know how hard it is to live with it. It’s really hard to believe that people whom you respect and trust, sometimes are the very people who put you down!

I know every person has a purpose… and we all should follow our passions, our goals, our dreams, and everything that God has called us… but not at the expense of others! I like what the author said: “Instead of having the crab mentality, let’s have the God mentality”.

So, just like the author, I encourage you to love others and build them up… because we are capable of pursuing the things God has placed in our heart!

Author Victorino Q. Abrugar in 2014 wrote, 10 Signs that a Person has a Crab Mentality.

Crab mentality is a widely used term in the Philippines attributed to Filipinos who always try to pull down other Filipinos who are succeeding in life and getting ahead of them.

Knowingly or unknowingly, we can all be guilty of crab mentality, but… we can avoid patronizing it. In order for us to be aware of what it’s all about and be ready possibly avoiding it, the author listed 10 signs that someone is having this unfavorable quality, so we would know.

The first one is: They are too proud of themselves and treat others as inferior beings.

There is a surge of arrogance from people with crab mentality. They feel like they have superior blood flowing in their veins. When they earn some achievements of their own, big or small, they brag it to everyone to place them in a pedestal.

They panic when their comrades are happy and improving, is the second. Aside from arrogance, you can also smell envy and jealousy from this kind of people. They freak out when the people they look down are rising or progressing beyond them. It gives them a terrible feeling of insecurity. That’s why they will try to pull them down, either by harsh words or by unkind actions.

“If I can’t have it, neither can you”, comes in next. They rather wish everyone will fail than let themselves fail while others are succeeding. They represent the “crabs in the bucket” methapor “where the crabs can easily escape from the bucket, but instead, they grab and pull down each other in a selfish competitive manner which prevents any of them to escape, resulting to their collective downfall. In other words, people who have a crab mentality are selfish… They are actually the opposite of Filipinos who are known to love and practice the “bayanihan” spirit.

They are full of positivity for themselves but full of negativity for others, is fourth. They only see the good things in themselves, but they’re blind when it comes to their negative characteristics. When it comes to how they view other people… they only see the bad things and refuse to see their positive deeds. That is why instead of appreciation, what you will get from them are nothing but negative criticisms.

Then comes this sign – They blame their comrades for their failures rather than help them.

What is more disgusting about Filipinos who have a crab mentality is that they will pull you down further when you’re already down. And… the worst thing is they even take advantage of the situation to advance their interests.

The next one is treating their comrades as competitors. It seems like the words unity and cooperation are not in their vocabulary. They always treat others as competitors instead of teammates. You can find this kind of people everywhere – in a basketball team, in your office, in non-profit organizations, social clubs, even in professional groups, and surprisingly, in church organizations.

They don’t know a thing about compassion, Abrugar noted. Compassion is a great virtue that enables us to understand the feelings of other people. It lets us walk in other people’s shoes and appreciate the lives they are living. But people with crab mentality lack compassion.

Next is they act like they know everything? You can’t argue with them because they act like they are the most knowledgeable people in the world. They are active critics but they don’t accept criticisms thrown to them by other people.

The penultimate sign is: They spend most of their time talking about people rather than discussing ideas and solutions. Instead of thinking about the brilliant ideas and solutions that can make things better, they spend most of their time ensuring that no other Filipinos can become better than them.

And, finally, they will never admit that they have a crab mentality.  And that’s the mystery of it, they will never admit that they have that kind of mentality.

While most of the time we are prone to exercise crab mentality, this early we need to kill the urge and be aware of its negative implications. Because if we do, we will not grow as a person, and definitely… as a nation. Now that we know the signs and its negative implications, let’s not practice the crab mentality but practice the God mentality!

(For feedback and other comments, please send them to the author’s email address: [email protected]).