Why Do We Pull Each Other Down? A Dive into the 'Crabs in a Bucket' Phenomenon

a girl giving the side eye to another girl that's on her phone

The phrase "crabs in a bucket" describes a phenomenon observed when multiple crabs are trapped inside a bucket or container. If one crab tries to climb out and escape, the others will pull it back down rather than letting it get away. Instead of working together to find a collective solution, or allowing even one member to succeed, the crabs hinder each other's progress.


This story is often used as a metaphor for human behavior, especially in the context of groups or communities where people might sabotage or bring down those among them who are trying to improve their circumstances or achieve success.

Sounds a bit like some human dynamics, right? If you're nodding, you're not alone.

But here's the thing: while crabs are just being crabs, humans have complex reasons rooted deep in history. For the Latino community, it's like piecing together a jigsaw of past events and experiences.

The roots of this mentality might stretch all the way back to centuries of colonization, oppression, and marginalization. In Latin America, colonizers often used "divide and conquer" strategies, turning indigenous groups against each other. Over time, many internalized these divisions, leading to competition rather than cooperation.

The experience of many Latino immigrants in the U.S. and other countries is colored by hardship. The constant struggle for resources, acceptance, and opportunities can sometimes foster a sense of scarcity, leading individuals to believe that another's success diminishes their own. But underlying these battles are deep-seated beliefs and feelings, born from years of history and personal experiences. Let's dive a bit deeper into what some of these might look like:

Scarcity Mindset

At its core, the scarcity mindset is rooted in the belief that there's a finite amount of resources, whether those are jobs, opportunities, or recognition. In many Latino communities, this stems from genuine experiences of deprivation, whether in their home countries or as immigrants in a new land. When every chance feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, watching someone else seize it might feel like a door being shut. Or the classic scenario of fighting each other for resources that have been intentionally limited that then keeps those in the under-resourced communities fighting each other for the crumbs, instead of recognizing that an entire pie exists and that certain actors unfairly distributing that pie are the actual problem.

This competitive edge can overshadow camaraderie, leading to a situation where people might try to outdo one another instead of lending a helping hand or coming together to fix the fundamental problem of inequitable distribution. Scarcity mindset fuels the conquer and divide fire.

Internalized Oppression

Generations of being portrayed as "less than," whether through colonization, media stereotypes, or societal prejudices, can take a toll on a community's self-image and sense of self-worth. This internalized belief can sometimes manifest in negative reactions when someone within the community seems to break free from these expectations.

Their success is a mirror, reflecting both what is possible and the limitations one has internalized, thus creating a sense of discomfort or even disbelief. This causes the classic envidia, casting of the evil eye, or destructive acts of sabotage. Rather than feeling proud of the achievements of others, those achievements are just painful reminders of their own feelings or beliefs of inadequacy.

The Need for Validation

Modern culture with social media deeply embedded in our lives has turned the need for validation into sometimes harmful psychological conditions. When you're often made to feel as though you have to prove your worth—approval can feel like a deeply sought-after prize. When another member of the community receives widespread recognition or achieves something noteworthy, it can evoke feelings of envy or inferiority in others. Related to internalized oppression in that low self-esteem is also present here, in this situation, not getting the same validation for perhaps similar acts or achievements doesn’t invoke mutual pride. Instead, it inspires the silent question: "Why them and not me?"

Fear of Abandonment

In close-knit communities, there's often an unspoken pact of solidarity. Achieving significant success or "making it out" can be perceived as a betrayal or abandonment of one's roots. The community might fear that their successful members will “forget where they came from,” while those who achieve success might grapple with some form of survivor's guilt.

Understanding these complexities is half the battle. Now, armed with this knowledge, what's the next step? How do we transcend these ingrained behaviors and mindsets? While it's true that acknowledging the problems and their roots is essential, it's equally important to be proactive in finding solutions.

Breaking the Cycle

It can seem tough to undo years of entrenched beliefs and behaviors. But changing the narrative, championing unity, and uplifting each other is completely within reach, and everyone can play an active role:

  • Celebrate Every Win, Big or Small: It's all about the mindset. Start seeing every achievement - whether it's your neighbor's kid getting into college or your cousin's bakery opening - as a win for the community. When one person succeeds, it can open doors for many others. Organizing community events to recognize and applaud local achievements can help reinforce this belief.
  • Community Building, One Program at a Time: Collaboration over competition, always! How about setting up mentorship programs? Imagine the local entrepreneur guiding young aspirants over a cup of coffee every weekend. Or study groups where students share resources and pull all-nighters together before exams. By pooling our strengths, we're proving that together, we achieve more.
  • Educate, Reflect, Grow: Knowledge isn’t just power; it's transformational. Imagine hosting a monthly book club where everyone reads about and discusses community growth, or even better, invite guest speakers to chat about breaking societal molds. Awareness sessions about the pitfalls of the "crabs in a bucket" mentality can lead to some eye-opening conversations and personal growth.
  • Share Stories that Resonate: Positive reinforcement through storytelling can be impactful. Ever heard a story that just sticks with you? Those tales of unity, where someone not only climbs up but also throws a rope for others to grab hold of, are gold. Weekly storytelling evenings at a local park, or even on online platforms, where everyone from grandparents to kids shares tales of camaraderie can be something magical.

By understanding the historical and psychological context of this so-called “crabs in a bucket” mentality, we can start to pave the path forward. After all, a community's strength lies in its unity, not in pulling each other down.

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