THE CRAB BUCKET
Dear Ones –
A few months ago, I was on stage with Rob Bell — minister, teacher, family man, great guy — and a woman in the audience asked him this question:
“I’m making all these important changes in my life, and I’m growing in so many new and exciting ways, but my family is resisting me, and I feel like their resistance is holding me back. They seem threatened by my evolution as a person, and I don’t know what to do about it.”
Rob said, “Well, of course they’re threatened by your evolution as a person. You’re disrupting their entire world view. Remember that a family is basically just a big crab bucket — whenever one of the crabs climbs out and tries to escape, the other crabs will grab hold of him and pull him back down.”
Which I thought was a VERY unexpected comment to come from a minister and a family man!
Rob surprised me even more, though, as he went on to say, “Families are institutions — just like a church, just like the army, just like a government. Their sense of their own stability depends upon keeping people in their correct place. Even if that stability is based on dysfunction or oppression. When you move out of your ‘correct place’ you threaten their sense of order, and they may very likely try to pull you back down.”
And sometimes, in our loyalty to family (or in our misplaced loyalty to the dysfunction that we are accustomed to) we might willingly surrender and sacrifice our own growth, in order to not disrupt the family — and we will stay down in that crab bucket forever.
Friend groups can do this to each other, too. My friend Rayya Elias was a heroin addict for many years, and she saw the same phenomenon at play with her friends in the drug world: One junkie would try to get clean, and the others would instantly pull her back down into addiction again. I’ve seen it happen, too, when friends try to sabotage another friend’s efforts to lose weight, or quit smoking, or stop drinking, or get in shape. (The mentality being: “If I can’t out of this crab bucket, NOBODY is getting out of this crab bucket.”)
When I first got published, I was working as a bartender, and when I shared my happy news with co-workers, one of the managers said, in real anger, “Don’t you DARE go be successful on us. That was not the agreement.” (And, silently, I was like: “The agreement? What agreement?”) That person never forgave me, actually, for aspiring to climb out of that crab bucket.
Not every family (or family-like grouping) is like this, of course. Some families encourage their members not just to climb, but to soar, and sometimes even to fly away. That is true grace — to want somebody to grow, even if it means that they might outgrow you.
But others will try with all their might to hold you back, to pull you down into the crab bucket again and again.
If that is happening in your life, you must identify it and resist it.
Don’t let them stop you from growing.
As Rob Bell said beautifully: “If people love you, they will want you to grow. If somebody doesn’t want you to grow, you can call their feelings about you by many names…but you cannot call it love. You can call it fear, you can call it anger, you can call it control issues, you can call it resentment…but nobody has ever held anyone back because of love.”
Dear Ones, if it’s time for you to grow, you have to grow.
If it’s time for you to change, you have to change.
If it’s time for you to move, you have to move.
If it’s time for you to finally crawl out of that crab bucket, start crawling.
Holding yourself back in order to make other people happy will not serve you, and — ultimately — it will not serve them, either.
Be loving, be compassionate, be gracious, be forgiving. But if it’s time to be gone, be gone.
(And needless to say, if you are the crab at the bottom of a bucket who is holding another crab back from escape, it might be time to summon up all your love and all your courage and gently, generously, LET GO. It won’t be easy, but it might be the most important thing you ever do.)
(*Been there, done that! The crab bucket is a tricky place to escape from!)