The Crab Mentality: A Sign of Low Self-Esteem?

June 5, 2019 Sam Woolfe

What is the crab mentality? When you have a bunch of live crabs in a bucket, you can notice something quite interesting. As a crab tries to escape out of the bucket, the other crabs will try to drag it back down into the bucket. This unique behavior of crabs has since been used as a metaphor for how many people behave when noticing the success of others. If someone else has made some great achievement or is making progress in some area of their life, there can sometimes be a tendency to diminish that person or their success. This is known as the crab mentality. And it may actually be a sign of low self-esteem.

The Crab Mentality in Action

The crab mentality is encapsulated by the phrase, “If I can’t have it, neither can you” – a way of thinking that can manifest in all sorts of ways. It can show up in your thoughts, the things you say, and the way you behave. For example, if someone you know achieves something they’ve been hoping for, be that a promotion, a raise, a new relationship, good grades in school, or so on, you might feel some jealousy and bitterness. You might think they only achieved what they did because they were lucky, privileged, or helped by others, or you might imagine things not working out for that person as a way to feel better about yourself.

You may keep these thoughts to yourself, which is understandable, given that thinking this way about others can be a great source of shame. It’s not something most of us would like to admit to, in spite of it being a commonplace form of thinking. Other times, though, you may vocalize these thoughts to others. You might gossip about how so-and-so’s marriage is doomed to fail or complain about why it’s not fair that so-and-so is doing so well in their career.

In other situations, when listening to someone telling you about their success, achievements, and happiness, the crab mentality may cause you to react – often unconsciously – by making comments that undervalue a person. You might try to sow the seeds of self-doubt in the other person’s mind or you might try to point out something wrong or flawed about his or her achievement.

How the Crab Mentality Can Be a Sign of Low Self-Esteem

If you notice yourself engaging in the crab mentality, then this could be a sign of low self-esteem. When you suffer from low self-esteem, you will try to find ways to boost it. But a lot of the time, these methods for raising self-esteem can be unhealthy in the long-term. You might think that putting others down is an effective way to protect your self-esteem, yet it doesn’t usually work out like that.

There will always be others who are more successful than you or more skilled, virtuous, happy, and so on. When your self-esteem is based on comparisons with others, it will always be unstable and, in turn, unable to provide you with the self-confidence you need to move forward in the world. The crab mentality doesn’t allow you to feel secure in yourself. All it does is maintain a sense of unworthiness while also preventing you from being genuinely pleased about the success of others, including those closest to you.

It’s important to keep the crab mentality in check. This means being aware of it when it raises its head, recognizing whether it’s a sign of low self-esteem, and making efforts to build healthy self-esteem so that you can interact in a more positive way with others.

APA Reference
Woolfe, S. (2019, June 5). The Crab Mentality: A Sign of Low Self-Esteem?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Sam Woolfe

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Lizanne Corbit
June, 9 2019 at 3:53 pm

It's always so fascinating how things in nature can be such powerful metaphors for things we deal with in our human, personal lives. This is such a particularly interesting concept and so important to be aware of. It's similar to when we notice ourselves feeling jealous or triggered, we have to step back and ask ourselves, what is this really a sign of? Great read.

June, 11 2019 at 12:19 pm

Hi Lizanne, I found this interesting as well. We all have experienced this sensation within ourselves–the delight at someone else's inability to climb out of the bucket. It's one of those less-than-ideal human complications that we can spend time exploring. Thank you for your comment, and Sam thank you for your post.

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