It uses the metaphor of the way crabs behave when they are caught at sea by crab fishermen.
When these fisherman head out to sea, they cast out these big nets and bring in great quantities of crabs onto the fishing boat where they are placed in great big holding pots.
The instinct of most of the crabs is to make a pile in the center of the pot and build a pyramid to the top of the pot. The crabs will wrestle very aggressively to get to the top of the heap, often maiming or killing other crabs along the way, only to find that when they get to the top of the pile they are no closer to freedom than they were at the bottom because they are still too far away from the edge to escape.
Occasionally, a crab with a different instinct will start climbing up the side of the pot – which is, of course, the only way to freedom. The pots, over time, get dings and nicks in the sides and the crab will be able to get a foothold and carefully scale the side of the pot. When one of the crabs in the heap notices the crab going up the sides, s/he will leave the pile and come over to the side and yank the wayward crab off the wall, back to the bottom of the pot where s/he “belongs.”
Have you ever noticed that people tend to behave in very similar ways?
Think about it for a moment… Have you ever tried to climb out of your “pot” – that place where you are comfortable and where everyone who knows you best is comfortable with you being?
For example, does this scenario sound vaguely familiar? You make a decision that the image being reflected back in the mirror isn’t quite what you would like it to be, so you decide to start a weight control program. As your weight starts to go down family and friends express their delight at your resolve and offer their support and best wishes for your success.
If you manage to fight your own conditioning long enough for your actions to really start being noticeable, all of a sudden these same relatives and friends subtly begin sabotaging your efforts. Mom has your favorite forbidden foods available when you come for a visit, a best friend chooses a place for lunch where there is nothing plan-friendly on the menu, your spouse or significant other ties up your time so you have difficulty fitting in time at the gym.
If you are able to withstand the pressure and persist with your plan, the subtly of the sabotage becomes progressively more aggressive – negative comments about looking gaunt or ill, belittling your efforts by bringing up past failures, pushing you to eat foods you shouldn’t or risk “hurting their feelings.”
Eventually, the pressure becomes an all out assault – relationships can even be severed or sorely damaged because of your unwillingness to bend to familial or social pressure.
It’s much like the crabs in the crab pot. Those closest to you – who say they want the very best for you – see you trying to “get out of the pot” – trying to better yourself in some way, and they do their damnedest to pull you right off the wall, back into your “pot” – where they are comfortable with you – where you (in their mind) belong!
You keep trying, braving their displeasure, ignoring their comments, and they pull out all the stops. They tell you and anyone else who will listen that there is something wrong with you – in the case of a prolonged weight control program, perhaps they insinuate that you have an eating disorder or some other physical or emotional problem.
You try to share what you are learning with them, but, locked on their own perspective, their brains refuse to accept any part of the knowledge you are gaining. They absolutely, passionately refuse to acknowledge how you are changing. To them, your ‘role’ is cast in stone.
At some point you are forced to make a choice – abandon your quest for change and once again take your place in the “pot”; or, you can finally get to the uppermost point in your life (the top of the crab pot) and decide to fall outside the pot.
(This is so great, so we’ll just quote Ms. Raines-Bridges from here)…
“When the rare crab finally does manage to climb up the sides of the crab pot, and fall out onto the deck below, what do you think happens? Does the crab fisherman, realizing that every ounce of crab is worth money, toss that crab back down into the maelstrom of crab pot?
No. He picks up the crab, and tosses it over the side of the ship, back into the ocean, from whence it came. He sets it free, because he knows that the genes for survival, instinct, intelligence, whatever you choose to call it, are very strong in that particular crab. That crab, left to breed, will produce stronger crabs, better able to survive in our polluted and rapidly dying oceans.
So, what happens to the human being who finally manages to get to the top of their personal ‘crab pot’ full of dysfunctional people? If they decide to let go and fall onto the deck, then the miracle really begins.
The Hand of God picks them up, and gently sets them free in the Sea of Life.”
Isn’t that great?
But sadly, those who profess to love us the most and want the very best for us will be our most crafty and devious saboteurs – not because they are bad, conniving people, but because they also have conditioning and we have a particular place within the boundaries of that conditioning.
Because they are not armed with the awareness that you now have, they act out of habit and instinct and will do whatever they can to derail your efforts.
Take a look around you and if you notice some “crabs” in your life, don’t let them get you down – don’t allow them to pull you off the side of the pot – just understand that they have no idea what they are doing and let their actions fly right on by you. Just say, “Isn’t that interesting?” and keep going!
The closer you get to your goal the more likely you are to encounter this resistance. So, when it comes – REJOICE!!! You are closer than you’ve ever been to your dream!