Crabs in the Barrel – Part 1

Posted by on Sep 1, 2004 in Success!Ezine For You


Do You Try to Keep Others Down?

E. Carol Webster, Ph.D.
Original Copyright © 2004

Everyone understands the concept of “crabs in the barrel.” People from all cultures, socioeconomic status, and genders can tell a story about working hard to get ahead and being pulled down and held back by those who undermine their success. So, let’s be honest: Are you one of those crabs who is clawing at people to keep them down? This is a flaw in your character. You can’t truly feel proud of any success you attain if you don’t fix this problem, so start today!

  • ‘Fess Up

The first step in coming to terms with behavior you may not be so proud of is to acknowledge that you’re guilty of it. You can’t change your behavior if you can’t clearly see what needs to be fixed. Admit that you feel envious of the success of others and that you sometimes do and say things to tear people down or otherwise keep them from getting any further ahead.

  • Identify Your Need to Be the “Favorite”

Those who are most relentless in keeping others down often are those who are still competing with their siblings to be the favored child in the family. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be singled out to receive special attention, but sometimes it’s somebody else’s turn. You can’t be the favorite all the time and have to learn how to let others enjoy the limelight when they attain good fortune or do, indeed, outshine you. You have to learn that their success doesn’t necessarily detract from yours or take anything away from you. In fact, their success may result in a residual positive effect for everyone, so try to embrace it rather than scorn it. Learn to be happy for someone other than yourself.

  • Recognize Feelings of Inadequacy

Those who get most bent out of shape about the success of others typically struggle with inner questions about their competence and suffer feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth when others pass them by. If they aren’t getting ahead they don’t want anyone else to do so either – this helps them to feel better about their position in the company, in the community, or in life in general. But this baggage is coming from inside you. No one else is doing this to you. The other person getting ahead is just trying to take care of his or her own business. So, your joy in blocking their rise isn’t anything to feel proud about and any comfort attained doesn’t last long. Inwardly, you want to advance too but can’t marshal your resources to excel because your energy is tied up with making sure that no one else starts to climb.

  • Strengthen Yourself Rather Than Weaken Others

You will feel less distressed about the success of others if you are attaining success of your own. What’s keeping you from moving up? Take stock of your skills and abilities. Critically assess your professional relationships. Where are the weaknesses and why are you allowing them to persist? Read self-help books, attend workshops and seminars, and solicit frank feedback from mentors and others who are interested in your future. You still may compare yourself to people and feel some twinge of envy as they pass you by, but the more confident you feel about your own ability to excel, the less likely will you need to act on these feelings to block somebody else.

  • Get Help

While self-help activities are effective in overcoming many problem behaviors that hold people back in life, you may find that you need greater help to learn how to stop yourself from clawing at others to keep them down. Many of these attitudes and behaviors stem from longstanding family rivalry and competition issues and are triggered every time you learn that somebody else is getting ahead of you. Start by scheduling a consultation with a mental health professional to see if this applies to you and learn what is recommended to help you move beyond this negative behavior. You’ll feel much happier about yourself once you understand yourself better, and genuinely will be able to enjoy the successes you attain in the future.


About the Author:

Dr. E. Carol Webster is a clinical psychologist consultant in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
She is author of the book for those dealing with the stress of success ―
Success Management: How to Get to the Top and Keep Your Sanity Once You Get There,

The Fear of Success: Stop It From Stopping You! ―
the book to help you overcome fears that may be holding you back in your life and career
The Private Practice of Clinical Psychology in: Voices of Historical & Contemporary Black American Pioneers
To contact Dr. Webster visit online at or call 954.797.9766.

E. Carol Webster, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychology Consulting
Mailing Address: 7027 West Broward Boulevard, #262  Fort Lauderdale, FL 33317

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