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crabs in my bucket Archives - Julie Murphy Casserly

Hometown Pain

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Although my body was now athletic and trim, in my mind I was still overweight, and this was the cause of tremendous insecurity. Consequently, when I returned to Chicago after graduation, the crabs in my bucket, made up of family, friends and neighbors, had a field day. People I’d grown up with and been around all of my life called me a traitor. They claimed that I’d forsaken my South-Side identity for North-Side snobbery. I was driving a new Honda Accord, and I remember thinking, “It’s not a Mercedes.” But to them, it was fancy, and that meant I no longer belonged. They could no longer identify with me, and that made them feel vulnerable — all because I’d lost weight, earned a college degree and bought a brand new car that wasn’t a “beater,” and — worst of all — I lived downtown!

Well, once again, unconsciously, I yielded to my bucket of crabs and believed what they said. I had no place masquerading as an attractive, smart and fit young woman. Within a few years, the weight came back, pound by pound, until I weighed more than I ever had in my entire life. I made the “fat banana” of my high school days look like Olive Oyl. Darn crabs and silly me for letting them control my personal power.

The Crabs Pull You Down

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Those negative family members, friends and neighbors were the “crabs in my bucket.” Every time I wanted to escape my place in life, they’d reach up and pull me back into the bucket with them. If you’ve ever been to the shore and seen how live crabs behave in a bucket, you know exactly where the metaphor comes from. If you put one crab in a bucket, it can climb out by itself, no problem. But if you fill the bucket with twenty crabs, just as one gets to the rim, the other crabs pull it back down.

I have my mentor, Bob Lyman, to thank for the expression. Because of my Irish background, I’ve heard an awful lot of references to taverns. Most of them are quite inane, but I find Bob’s axiom of life true in many ways. He explained to me that once you follow a new path in life, you can’t go back and “sit on the same barstool” because you’ll no longer see things in the same as your old cronies. Putting it bluntly, the people from your past become like crabs in a bucket. They’ll pull you back into your old ways.