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What is the Crab Mentality?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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The term “crab mentality” is used to describe a kind of selfish, short-sighted thinking that runs along the lines of “if I can't have it, neither can you.” This term is especially widely used among Filipinos, who use it specifically to refer to people who pull other people down, denigrating them rather than letting them get ahead or pursue their dreams. As a general rule, an accusation of having this type of mentality is a poor reflection on someone's personality.

This concept references an interesting phenomenon that occurs in buckets of crabs. If one crab attempts to escape from a bucket of live crabs, the others will pull it back down rather than allowing it to get free. Sometimes, the crabs seem almost malicious, waiting until the crab has almost escaped before yanking it back into the pot. All of the crabs are undoubtedly aware of the fact that their fate is probably not going to be very pleasurable, so people are led to wonder why they pull each other back into the bucket instead of helping the clever escape artist.

When someone has a crab mentality, it means that he or she is unwilling to allow someone to get out of a situation or to get ahead. People who are attempting to get out of bad life situations often find themselves foiled by friends and family members who keep sucking them back in. For example, a Latina immigrant in the United States who decides to pursue a college education in the hopes of securing a good career may find herself discouraged by family members who do not approve of education or who fear that she will become distanced from her family after going to college.

The mentality can strike at all levels of life. Some charitable organizations are sometimes accused of it, with members of the organization failing to think ahead or refusing to support certain initiatives in a way that ultimately drags the whole charity down. In office environments, the crab mentality can be particularly devastating, as coworkers snipe at each other to bring each other down, rather than congratulating someone who earns a promotion.

This way of thinking is a reflection of the famous saying “we all like to see our friends get ahead, but not too far ahead.” People who learn to recognize it in themselves can often find ways of counteracting it, which is a very good idea, especially for those who work or live in a highly competitive environment.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon992804 — On Oct 03, 2015

It's not just the Philippines. It's a major problem in Australia and New Zealand too as discussed in this 2015 paper: Crab Mentality, Cyberbullying and "Name and Shame Rankings," from Waikato University in New Zealand.

People there even choose to call it "Tall Poppy Syndrome" instead of "Crab Mentality" because they think it is a good thing as discussed in npcomp's comments on the Talk page of the Wikipedia Crab Mentality article.

The paper shows it holds back a country by almost 20 percent.

By anon932941 — On Feb 13, 2014

If you want a good example of crab mentality, try the Iago character from Shakespeare's Othello.

By anon932940 — On Feb 13, 2014

@Nettesky: Your 'positive thinking' version of events seems to be clutching at straws a bit. They're making a pretty pyramid so that's OK? Sounds a bit cotton wool wrapped. They make a pyramid because they are all clambering to get to the top. Getting out of the bucket would be a positive outcome.

Yes, society could no doubt do with several paradigm shifts but not at the expense of becoming out of touch with reality!

By anon337624 — On Jun 07, 2013

It is not just Filipinos. It's other places, too. Filipinos just happen to have a special term for it. I see it in Canada, too.

I live in Canada. We emigrated when I was 15. Anyway, the answer to this mentality is simple. One has to sacrifice in order to gain something. Obviously, you will end up making enemies even if you don't intend to, if you pursue success. What do I mean by enemies? I mean people who will badmouth you simply because they don't like you for working so hard. It is not that you did something bad; it is just the way it is. This kind of attitude is predominant among lower classes.

Why do I know? Because I used to work in a factory back when I graduated high school and didn't know what to do. I also worked during summer breaks to fund my education a bit. Remember, birds of a feather flock together. If you don't want to be the same as they are, then you don't need to be with them.

Some people are different though, and will truly want your success despite them being in a lower class. It's just the lower classes have more people like that. What I mean by lower class, by the way, are those who do the lowest types of jobs and earn the lowest wages. My theory is that because their collective attitude is to pull each other down is the reason that they remain in that position. I mean seriously, if you spend your energy pulling someone down rather than lifting yourself up, you will remain down there for all eternity.

By anon332030 — On Apr 26, 2013

Yes, it's true in this modern world everyone tries to outshine the other people in competition, but it's wrong. People like this really have a mean mentality. Such people should be avoided and if we are such then it won't be wrong to say that we will also be surrounded with such friends only and we will never be successful.

By anon317409 — On Feb 02, 2013

Sad but true. I am a Filipina, but when I encounter as such, I couldn't think of another good word but: "what a Filipino..." I understand it as a part of most Filipinos' lives, but what I couldn't understand is that the majority of the population are Roman Catholics, values education us taught at the secondary level but luckily I came from a state university in the Philippines where we had the subject "Character Building," but then that way of thinking still exists although we know Filipinos are known for that, and that it never does anything good!

I think Filipinos should diversify more in terms of socialization and participate more in brainstorming, which happens in almost all websites. That also enhances their skills and helps them learn from other people how other citizens listen and care for what they say to integrate values on it. It is affecting the nation and strikes back, affecting the people itself creating it. I believe it always starts within to come up with great things, like economic development.

By anon295689 — On Oct 07, 2012

I believe that all we need to do is to repent all the sins we committed against our fellow men and against God, and learn how to forgive each other because our loving God also wants to forgive us.

Think about it: we are asking God to forgive us and yet we ourselves don't know how. Why not live a life with a forgiving heart and giving heart? Eventually you can change the world.

Don't focus on the negative traits of one another; instead focus on God: a God who is consistent with His promises, a promise to prosper, to bless us and to give us salvation.

Let's stop thinking about the crab mentality of the person or the nation. Instead, let's look at the person the way God wants us to look at them. Let's focus on the good things.

By anon295570 — On Oct 07, 2012

There are bad apples in every nationality. The world is as crazy as it is because people did not learn good manners and right conduct. Please, if you have nothing good to say, just keep it to yourself.

By anon279115 — On Jul 11, 2012

To: anon240765 Post 16: I don't think your problem with your Filipina wife has any relation to crab mentality. As a Filipina, I know we value family relationships, especially marriage. A wife who was left by her husband can have a deep feeling of resentment because she felt rejected, despised & betrayed.

So the negative attitude of your ex-wife toward you is coming from a deeply wounded heart and if this is the case, asking forgiveness is in order.

By anon276649 — On Jun 25, 2012

This expression was taught to me by my English teacher from the Philippines today. And I liked it. It will protect me from speaking about other people from now on. Thank you teacher.

By anon263526 — On Apr 24, 2012

@anon 240765: You are financially supporting your son, yet your wife who you are separated from will not allow you time with him.

The solution, as hard as it seems, is to threaten to stop your support. You are paying for nothing otherwise. Hopefully this will wake your wife up at the thought of the financial loss.

By anon253851 — On Mar 11, 2012

Why do you have to put Filipinos? Please don't generalize. Filipino trait? Maybe you had a bad experience with a Filipino but you shouldn't be so offensive.

By anon240765 — On Jan 15, 2012

I am married but separated, and my wife, who is filipino, has crab mentality. We have a 3 year old son together and her behavior is having a negative effect on my son most importantly, but also on me.

I have been extremely generous and provide lots of financial support, yet she doesn’t allow me time with my son and I have tried everything I can to explain to her how her actions are having detrimental effects on his future but she seems ‘blind’ to anything I explain, which is always done calmly yet all I receive is anger, resentment and blame, whatever approach I take.

If anyone has any helpful advice, it would be greatly appreciated, so my son has the opportunity to receive the love and time with his dad that we both desire and ensure his future happiness and security.

By anon162038 — On Mar 22, 2011

Crab mentality is associated more strongly with a socialist/communist mindset. You won't find this so prevalent in all cultures as someone stated it above. For example in a racially diverse nation like India, certain ethnic groups encourage the success of individuals, but in other ethnic groups such as Kerala in southern India, there are no enterprising or private companies that are too successful, due to a communist mentality.

People are constantly put down, ridiculed and publicly humiliated until their spirit breaks, leaving them dejected and often broken for the rest of their lives. This is why Kerala has a very high suicide rate in Asia, even if they boast they are one of the most progressive 'ethnics" in India, they are not.

Same thing can be found even in countries like Australia and New Zealand, where most people came to escape the british class system.

But in places like New York or California it is quite different. An overachiever is singled out, encouraged and even promoted. He is seen as an asset. This explains one of the most successful nations for migrants or achievers is the United States and some other countries.

Crab mentality is a dangerous deadly attitude that destroys the calling and hope God may put in an individual. It is not up to us to restrain a person or destroy his future by damaging words. We will be held accountable by God one day for a lifetime of missed opportunities and destroyed hopes.

I am from Kerala, India and I lost my younger brother to suicide. He scored 98 percent in his studies and won a scholarship to study in the U.S., but he was torn down repeatedly by people around him, including my family, In the end he hanged himself, joining the statistical rate of the highest suicide rate in Asia.

Today, I warn entrepreneurs and others to avoid Kerala or dealing with Kerala ethnic groups and focus on dealing with other Indian races or beyond. Rather than sit and change a culture that is deeply rooted in this, we focus on reaching out to others who will recognize our talents and reward us fairly. One has to take a stand for oneself.

By anon133657 — On Dec 11, 2010

Cool, I've just started to experience this with my family. Shortly after deciding I would follow the career path of Psychology, and my stepmother, who is the only decent person I know, had a conversation with me and convinced me that I would make a good psychologist.

Now everybody accuses me of being distant, shallow, avaricious, etc. telling me they haven't seen me in "about five years" despite babysitting their kids all summer, "moving away from everybody" so that I can go to a university 30 minutes away, etc. Obviously a result of my selfishness.

I find it curious how everything was fine and dandy when I was studying to be an accountant, and then when I changed my mind to become something that will actually improve society, and allow myself to help people, while going into a higher socioeconomic class, my personality idiosyncrasies (which I'm sure Freud would have agreed are a result of my parenting) are now my problem, and horrible flaws that need to be attacked whenever possible.

My mother especially feels the need to condescend me whenever necessary, implying how old I am, even though I'm going to graduate with a BS five years earlier than she did. My dad told me on Thanksgiving that "I'm not like Sigmund Freud, and neither are you" as as ostensible insertion into an irrelevant conversation. Too bad my profound and lucid introspection and intuitive grasp on the way people think/interact with others makes me much closer to the way Freud was than any ignorant member of my family ever will be.

My HS Sociology teacher told us the same story. Pretty much all of his friends and a lot of his family ostracized him following his decision to go to college (grew up in the hood). I can't believe how many weak minded people there are out there who believe that it is their duty to make sure that those who have the ambition and motivation they don't, aren't able to use it. If anything, it just goes to show how material our world is, when people are willing to cast out their "loved" ones based on the simple fact that they have self-actualized, and no other reason.

By anon122865 — On Oct 29, 2010

The usual sign of crab mentality is putting down the one going up because of envy, insecurity and self-interest.

Instead of all working to get out of the bucket (and potentially all of them living), the crabs instead pull each other down--including the ones who have been to the top and gotten pulled down.

It's very indicative of the "me-first" and "it's not my problem" nature of many societies.

By anon110199 — On Sep 11, 2010

i had no idea why other people need someone to slide down while they were on the top.

By anon86431 — On May 25, 2010

Crab mentality pervades all societies, no matter how few people are willing to admit it. I experience it on a regular basis, with not only "having the highest potential in the family"(overheard a conversation between my mother and grandmother) and dealing with the constant, treacherous advice (for lack of a better term), but also the subtle denigration that is meant to bring down my self esteem.

One thing that describes it, is the scene in Good Will Hunting. The professor's aide tells Will in the office one day "most people get convinced they're stupid" and that they never reach their potential because of it. I remember reading somewhere also about a story of a girl whose peers convinced her she was stupid, until she took an IQ test in a psychology course in college and found out she had an IQ of 160.

I have witnessed a similar phenomenon in the workplace, called "tall poppy syndrome." Look it up online. The jobs I've had where somebody asked if I was in college (of course in an environment where nobody has a college education), I have been ostracized, along with one other guy who, you guessed it, was also in college.

I've actually had people say "you seem pretty smart. Why do you work here?" among other subtle forms of the indignant question.

Gee, I don't know. because By mother kicked me out of the house in the middle of a 15 credit semester, citing "I changed my mind (about my children living at home as long as they pay for their education and general living expenses) as the reason, and since the government doesn't have any sympathy for independent people with profound intelligence, I have to pay the bills somehow?

I can't just waltz into NASA and say "Hey look man. Now I know I don't have what you guys like to call experience, or a lick of formal education in a related area of study, but I have an IQ of 138. That has to count for something, right?"

But hey, might makes right, right? Majority rules, right? If only they had made Atlas Shrugged mandatory reading material in school. The world would be a better place, I believe.

By anon69396 — On Mar 08, 2010

that was actually crab mentality.

By anon68916 — On Mar 05, 2010

It's not crab mentality. You look different to your Dad, he is not used to it. That's not crab mentality.

By anon57541 — On Dec 24, 2009

I'm also a victim of crab mentality. I'm a college student (fashion design) now, and I learned a lot while staying in the other continent. I even got my hair dyed and I have chosen and worn best dresses that I didn't have in my high school life.

When I returned back to my province, my father was shocked when he saw me in my new appearance.

He began saying something ugly and full of nonsense and he even pissed off the course I took. He even recommended me to "shift" to another course because my present course is full of nonsense.

Grrr. I hate him. Crab mentality can be also paired by insecurities as well. People will really try to pull you down when you're already happy with what you have. Crab mentality can also occur inside the family.

By anon55693 — On Dec 09, 2009

people will hate you for no reason and regard everything you do, especially your mistakes and they do emphasize it.

In my work, i used to have friends, but after the training program, they've changed. They became strange and very competitive even though there is no competition. I went ahead of them and they think I'm stupid.

By anon40838 — On Aug 11, 2009

To fall under the illusion that 'Crab mentality' depicts society in one phrase is extremely narrow minded but it does influence decisions and does add a hindrance to cause and effect. It is ingrained into the human persona to be greater or higher in status and this is shown throughout history in many different ways but there is nothing we can do to influence or deflect how we are.

By anon31451 — On May 05, 2009

How do you counter crab mentality in the office especially if it happens in 1 team?

Do you have any suggestions? or any activity that will help get rid of the crab mentality thinking of other members of the team?

By Nettesky — On Oct 01, 2008

Crab Mentality. Does the other crab really pull down the one on top? Or in a positive way of perspective the one on top really go down to give way to other crabs for them to experience being on the top... besides the crab helps one another they make a pyramid to support the one on top.I guess we really have to shift our paradigm. If you focus on the negative side it will turn out to be negative. But if your always proactive it helps a lot.

By anon16310 — On Aug 03, 2008

If you want a first-hand account of what the Crab Mentality does, read the story of a Canadian priest whose career would be destroyed by this terrible Filipino Trait.

Father Tony Martin was the founding father of two of the largest & most successful cooperative institutions in the Philippines, the Visayas Cooperative Development Center (VICTO) & the National Confederation of Cooperatives (NATCCO).

At the height of his career in the Philippines in 1979, he was struck down by his former colleagues who wanted to take his place.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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