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Sometimes making changes in your life is hard on other people.

Have you ever heard of the Crab Bucket Mentality?


This concept compares an individual trying to improve their life to a crab trying to crawl out of a bucket. A single crab in a bucket would be able to crawl out with relatively little trouble. The problem is that when there are other crabs in the bucket, they are constantly grabbing the poor guy trying to escape and pulling him back in.


Similarly, if an person is trying to change something significant in his or her life, like eating healthier or starting an exercise program, the people in their life will oftentimes (consciously or not) undermine the individual’s effort to change. The crab bucket mentality is “if I can’t be successful, neither can you”. 


A lot of the time, the reason friends or family are acting like crabs (in more ways than one, sometimes!) is because they are feeling threatened by the changes you’re trying to make. They may see your efforts as an insult to the way they choose to live.


Perhaps they have been wanting to change something in their life but they haven’t been able to generate the courage, a plan, or the “why” to get to work. They might worry that you will “move on” from them after you reach your goals. They may worry that your changes might require them to change, but they are happy enough with the status quo. Anytime a person tries to change something, anything, in a relationship, the other party is going to resist. They will often do anything they can to try to force the other person back into behaving in the old, predictable way. Hello, crab bucket.


The thing is, these people are important to you and you likely don’t want to kick them out of your life unless it’s absolutely necessary. And for some of them, it might be necessary if you are going to be successful at what you’re setting out to do.


Some of them might not be able to handle the “new you”. Maybe some of them are so wrapped up in an area of your life you are trying to change that the relationship just can’t continue. Some of them might have their own emotional baggage that they aren’t currently able to set aside and be there for you. 


Realizing any of these things about people in your life is going to be hard. It will probably make you sad and back-pedal a little bit to reevaluate if your “why” is worth losing these people. Make sure you take the time (and seek out support if you need it) to make an intentional choice on this matter.


For the people who you know need to stay, you will have to practice some interpersonal effectiveness skills to set boundaries and communicate your needs in an effective way.



  1. Validate the other person’s perspective

    • I know you’re just trying to help

    • I can see you’re hurt

    • I know you care about me

    • I know it’s disappointing when…

  2. Specific action you want them to change

    • …and when you criticize/shame/humiliate me…

    • …and when you minimize my goals…

    • …and when you don’t have my back…

  3. “I feel” statement – how is their behavior affecting you?

    • I feel sad/attacked/unloved/unsupported/rejected/lonely.

  4. Clarify your intentions in setting the boundary

    • I want to have a good relationship with you…

    • I want to be able to count on you…

    • I want to prevent any future arguments or misunderstandings…

    • I want to be able to talk to you about what’s important to me…

  5. Firmly and compassionately state your boundary

    • …and in order for that to happen, I need you to honor my boundaries.

    • …so in the future, please do/do not…

  6. I hope you can understand how important this is to me.


Will this work with everyone, every time? Probably not. You will likely get a lot of practice at being assertive and working on this skill.  That is okay! That is good.  Maybe you’re growing in ways you didn’t anticipate and that is pretty cool. 


It likely took you a long time to get the point where you were ready to make these changes in your life. Maybe you were talking about it to the people around you, but maybe you weren’t. In either case, a lot of people are probably surprised by what you’re undertaking. Some of them may be doubtful of your capacity for success because maybe you’ve tried to change in the past, but it didn’t work out how you had hoped. I think we’ve all had that happen. And unfortunately there are often people in our life who have the “this too shall pass” attitude toward change. 


Be patient, believe in yourself, and they will see this time is different.

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