The bucket of crabs

By Sarah Arrow

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You all know why you never keep a lid on a bucket of crabs don’t you.


Any fisherman will tell you there is no reason to put a lid on a bucket of crabs, there is no need at all. You don’t need a special bucket to keep the crabs, it doesn’t have to be steep, slippery, just an ordinary bucket will do. You see crabs are self policing, just as one lone crab starts to scale the bucket and get somewhere another crab will pull it back down. You only need two crabs, and none will escape. Often there are 5 or six and you would think they would stand on each others backs and climb out, but no, they don’t do that. As one pincer reaches the top, another pincer will pull it back down. Sometimes they fight amongst themselves, but they still stay in the bucket, which is very handy for the fisherman.


Even if that crab had previously tried to climb out of the bucket and been pulled back, it will settle in and then pull back any other crab that tries to get out.It learns that the correct place for a crab to be is in the bucket. Even if they are about to meet their impending doom at the end of a fishing line, the bucket is best. The bucket is what they know.

Growing up in a family that fished, I spent many hours fascinated by the crabs and asked why they did this, but there was no answer forthcoming for me, my family didn’t know, although one Uncle ventured “because they are stupid” and I thought he was right.

For me, like many others,  I live in a bucket of crabs, they are my family. Every time I do something they wanted to do, should be doing themselves or just plain don’t understand – they work hard to pull me back into the crab bucket. In their eyes for my own good.

I remember when I had finally had enough of my abusive ex husband, to be told after 18 months of marriage and several injunctions taken out against him, to go back to him and make it work. I challenged that, at what point do I say enough is enough? When he kills me? No, came the answer, you haven’t tried to make it work, and my husband has yet to kill me (cue memories of familial violence, but hey, it never killed her, so it was fine). It was the bucket of crabs pulling me back, keeping me safe.

Work life can be a bucket of crabs too, remember that promotion that someone told you to apply for but someone else said you were not good enough for? That’s the crab bucket in action. Some of your best friends are crabs, they are the ones who support you when you try and go for something , then pull you back down quickly instead of pushing you further and challenging you to carry on, to go beyond the first hurdle.

Women are fabulous crabs. Every tried dieting around women thinner than you? Gone round for lunch and found the low carbs you have been chatting about are off the menu? Pizza instead. You clearly belong in the fat bucket and your crab friend is doing you a favour and pulling you back down. Do you really want to get over the rim? Do you want to see the world, the world where you may be the only crab? nah, of course not, get back in that bucket, it’s where you belong.

Whilst this is acceptable behaviour for crabs, it’s not acceptable for people, sadly like the crabs they know no different. They do it not because they are stupid, but because they are fearful.

I have a solution, it came to me whilst chatting about the crab bucket with Elaine, I am not a crab. I am a lobster.

I don’t belong in that bucket. It’s ok to chat to my fellow crustaceans but they are crabs and I am a lobster. So far it’s working. I am seeing a lot less of the crabs and am hanging out in a few cool lobster pots. The lobsters don’t care if I climb out of the pot, you see they know it’s ok to look at your surroundings. It’s how they got in the pot in the first place.

So far it’s working.

What do you do to stop the crabs pulling you back into the bucket?


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Sarah Arrow

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You learn something every day. I didn't know that about crabs.

My family were like that when I was younger. I worked for a bank because my parents and sister worked for a bank. When I finally decided to leave banking they all thought it was a terrible risk. I just decided I couldn't stand it anymore and branched out. Since then I have always made my own decisions over work, except when I was made redundant.

When I gave up smoking a long time ago, smokers kept on offering me cigarettes, knowing that I had given up. They were obviously crabs envious of my resolve to stop.

Thanks for the education.

What a brilliant analogy!

I I choose to hang out with lobsters, you are right they are most definitely the cooler crustaceans. The fat bucket definitely rings true. Also as a new mother I wanted to get back to work, at first it was a struggle and rather than support me crabby friends, and family, tried to pull me back in the 'you are a mother and you can't succeed at 2 jobs' bucket. Battling on as a lobster with lobster posse, and fellow ambituous mum friends, I have found the work/ life balance I was after.

Ann Godridge

Well, I didn't know about the crabs- but it's a pattern you see everywhere. I saw it especially when I lived in a bad area of Liverpool as a student – a lovely family who looked after us had this pattern, they all hated and despised the sister who got away and made a success of her life – she was seen as a traitor.

I seem to recall once reading an analysis of the storylines of Coronation Street over the years – showing that those who were so far above themselves as to try to achieve something are always punished and dragged down…

In my own life I've had the experience of those who try to sabotage what I've been trying to achieve, but I've also been lucky enough to find that there are many who are there for me, and who support and encourage me. I hope I do the same for them.

Sarah, you are one of the best, and I'd like to thank for you for not being a crab. I'm also going to stop calling myself a crabby old bat. Somehow lobsterish doesn't work quite so well though 😉


Wow, Sarah! Thanks for this, I'll use it instead of “radiator or drain” – lobster or crab – love it!

It takes a huge amount of courage to leave the bucket, but those of us that do it don't usually realise this, because for us it is natural to want to leave the bucket, and thankfully many seem to have this instinct to know that we're not a crab.

Oops: You've got me going on this one, Sarah.

Continuing with the analogy:

The sad thing is I reckon that most of us are born lobsters – we're born to reach our potential – it's others whom we allow to get in our way. It can often start with well meaning parents: “Don't run too fast/ climb too high…”; “That's not for the like of us”…

It can be compounded by overhearing “s/he'll never amount to anything”; “Who does s/he think s/he is?” and so on.

Did you read that life conditioning document I sent you the other day? As above, it's often mainly others 'looking out for/ after' us that starts off and fights to keep in place those limiting beliefs of what we are capable of achieving.

That's why I take issue with the idea (as propounded by many NLP practitioners) that we either move away from pain or towards pleasure and we'll each NATURALLY do one more than the other. Tosh! Look at most young kids: They automatically and naturally gravitate to joy. They LEARN to move away from pain.

Others' thoughts?

Ann Godridge

I didn't know that about NLP, Linda – but I agree with you. I think it's learned – unfortunately too many of do get squashed as youngsters, often out of the best of intentions

Linda you said it was for Elaine, so I forwarded it as it came to me, unread, to do otherwise would have been a breach of privacy! If I am allowed to look, I will have a look through it.

“Thanks for the education”, thank you for yours Jon your blog is definitely for Lobsters to read, crabs wouldn't get the wisdom and benefit from it.

I have found that the worst crabs next to family are the crabs that have given something up :(

'you are a mother and you can't succeed at 2 jobs' bucket – what an awful bloody bucket that sounds – you were right to climb out of it and hang with the cool crustaceans. I am glad to hear you have found your Lobster posse, I have found many of mine here on Birds on Blog :-) they are all Lobsters :-)

Ann you are the least crab like person I know! so yes, a new name is needed and Lobster old bat doesn't sound so good does it? What about a Lobby old bat 😉 How about we drop the old too, change that for mature? How does Lobby Mature bat sound? nah, doesn't have the right ring does it? I suspect that's because you really aren't a crabby old bat at all 😉 xxx

'Course you can, Sarah – it didn't cross my mind to say “Have a look if you like” :-)

Lovely analogy! I met a lot of crabs when I decided to emigrate, fortunately it was so obvious at the time that I had the opportunity to remove all crab behaviour from my life at one stroke. I only befriend lobsters these days, and it's noticeable that when I get a new mad plan (that probably won't work but I really want to have a go anyway) everyone says 'go for it, we can't wait for the stories…' instead of the sharp intake of breath and the awful warnings. :)

Now some may see emigrating as a bit of a drastic solution, I'd say it depended on your crabs 😉

I love mad plans, because you never can be sure of how mad it really is until you put it into practice :-)


Hi Sarah, I wanted to say how much I appreciated your strength in sharing your personal story.

I have had many crabs throughout my life, finding out that those you thought were your friends, weren't in fact real friends, has been something that I have personally found very hard.

Through various circumstances I have looked around and realised that those I hoped would be there for me, weren't. Some quite willing to take and take, but nothing to share back.


I have a wonderful husband and best friend, and love being a part of Twitter and BT Tradespace for example, as I have found the most extraordinary, talented, lovely people, which has been a real source of joy. :)

When the crabs start to pull me down I look to the lobsters and smile :)

What an amazing write-up, Sarah – it definitely got to me!

Now I know why some people behave this way… crabs indeed.

Ah the crabs!! Sarah, I absolutely love this analogy, as you know. Such a brilliantly simple and effective description of what most of us experience, often without knowing it, much of the time.

Linda's Conditioning document is a must read too – very helpful – and thanks again for that.

I'm glad you're now out there as a lobster (or should that be Bird, flying free?) – and I'm joining you (yep, I'm not going to pull your leg any more, haha!).

I wonder how much of this is a cluture thing – Americans and Australians for example seem to be more of the lobster ilk than the crabby types. Would be interested to hear some views on that.

Thanks Irina, sadly there are more crabs than Lobsters

Tradespace and Twitter have been good to me too :-) we even met at the Tower :-)

As some who has overcome so much yourself, I appreciate you taking the time to comment and what joy you must get creating beautiful things when the Crabs just want to stay in their bucket.

Interesting observation on the culture front, Elaine – I can't remember which post it cropped up on here a while ago but I do remember that it did…

Space versus density of population came out as a key aspect on that particular discussion whereas, though I believed we touched on it then, here it's maybe much more the 'can do', pioneering attitude of many inhabitants of the younger countries?

Ann Godridge

Your crabs just made it into Chapter Two of my novel, Sarah :)

What a lovely story and a great parable for life in Britain, Sarah!

It reminds me of my own parents and my mother's tendency to be one of the crabs and constantly worry, “well, what if… ?” If I had followed her advice, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now.

My Dad? He'd go, “You go, girl!”

I guess I followed his advice more and took his kindly crab leg up out of the bucket. Thanks, Dad.

Thanks Sally, it does seem a parable for Britain. That to do well “isn't
right” so get back in your bucket. We all love an underdog! One I am
hearing lately with the election is 'posh'. So what if someone is posh?
they still have crabs, they are still restricted but in different ways –
already you are condemning them on their accent rather than ability! It
works the other way too, being to common… I know people who try not to
sound common, me being one of them :-)

Wow. Brilliant. Yes – a perfect analogy.
My parents weren’t crabs. Quite the opposite. We weren’t put in a bucket but left to roam and make our own lives for better or worse – a complete contrast.
However, I have met a lot of crabs. To be fair, I think most of them don’t even realise that this is what they do. But it’s still harmful.
I don’t know what I am. I know I’m not a crab. Not sure I’m a lobster either though. Whatever I am, I try to give my kids the freedom and the safety net of catching them if they fall and help them to pick themselves up again – their own way. Maybe they’ll say I got it wrong but at least I tried. That’s all any of us can do.
Thank you.

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