Amy Rees Anderson

The Lobster Syndrome

A lobster may have tremendous value at an expensive restaurant, but they have absolutely no value in a work environment.  I have likely lost a few of you with my observation so let me explain exactly what I mean.  If you have ever observed lobsters in a fine restaurant you will find that they are kept in a shallow cage without any lid on the cage, yet you don’t see the lobsters getting out of the cage and running lose in the restaurant…so why not?  The reason why is that when one lobster tries to crawl out of the tank, the other lobsters will grab and pull that lobster right back into the tank with them.  They can’t escape because they consistently pull each other back in.  I don’t know the science behind why the lobsters act this way, but I can tell you that this phenomenon is something that is not always unique to lobsters in a tank…

There are certain people in this world who are infected with “the lobster syndrome”.  These are the people who cannot stand to see other people do well.  They will pinch, pull, and pry to try and drag anyone else down who appears to be progressing ahead of them.

What causes lobster syndrome?  From what I have observed it has typically started with someone feeling insecure or inadequate about themselves and it festers and grows from there to jealousy and envy and bitterness.  The more a person becomes unhappy with themselves the more they want others around them to be unhappy too.  Everything becomes a comparison to themselves – if one person accomplishes something good they read it as “I am not capable”, if someone is told they are pretty the insecure person hears “I must be ugly”, and it goes on and on for them.  Rather than recognizing their own unique gifts and talents, they become so focused on wanting the talents that other people have that their own talents never get developed.  And so their behavior ends up perpetuating the growth of their insecurities, and the way they try to combat those is to do everything they can to bring other people down with them.  If they don’t get to be happy then no one else should be allowed to be happy either.  And so the negativity comes and the mean spirited behavior ensues.  Sadly, their doing so won’t lead to helping them feel any better about themselves; in fact it is quite the opposite.  When they are constantly working to pull others down they only succeed in feeling worse and worse about themselves.  It’s like a never ending spiral downward until that person will face their disease and make a conscious decision to break out of this lobster syndrome.

Many years ago I made the decision that I would keep my life free from people who were affected with the lobster syndrome. As a CEO I have witnessed time and time again how quickly a person with the lobster syndrome will spread their infectious disease to everyone around them, so I understand the danger that they bring into an organization.  It has taught me over the years the importance of protecting the environment you allow into your company.  I believe that companies who do not stay cognizant of the lobster syndrome will find that their business getting pulled down just as quickly as their people are, because at the end of the day a business is a reflection of the people who make up that business.  The majority of the success of my company can be attributed to the quality of the people who work there and the quality of the clients we associate with.  We chose to surround ourselves with people of integrity and values and it was reflected by the success of our business.

So what can be done if you encounter someone who is infected with the lobster syndrome?  First and foremost be aware of it.  Don’t make excuses for it or try to dismiss it as “no big deal”.  Remember that it is a contagious disease and the more you allow yourself around it the more likely you are to become infected yourself.  If you see someone who is mean spirited, a backbiter, a gossip, or a joy killer, I suggest you point out to them how hurtful their actions are and then choose not to associate with that person any longer until they can get their own life together enough to free themselves from their disease.

If you want your life to be full of success and joy and happiness then make a conscious decision to surround yourself with successful, joyous, and happy people Life can be a beautiful grand adventure that is full of love and learning and service and joy and success.  The best way to ensure that your life will have those things is to surround yourself with the right kind of people.  Choose your friends wisely.  Choose your business associates wisely.  Keep your standards high and don’t bend them for anyone.  Always stand up for what you believe in, even if you have to stand alone.  Know the kind of person you want to be in life and then be that.

Oh, and most important:  AVOID LOBSTERS!



  • Anonymous says:

    I love this application to business, but what if a person is in your family that has this nasty lobster effect?

  • Anonymous says:

    I have seen this lobster behavior all though my life. I had to separate myself from my family for a number of years until I could cut those ties that held me down. No big arguement but they had an opinion of what I could do and could not do. I had to break that to see that I could do anything I dreamed of. Now their comments have no sway on what I think of myself. Not all of them where that way but together they were toxic. Once I freed myself from the cage, as Amy spoke, they could not pull me back in. Then I was also freed to love them and realize they did not understand what they were doing. It also taught me that helping others see themselves as they really are is a marvelous thing all by itself.

  • Anonymous says:

    Myself I have found that you cannot choose your own blood but you can choose your family. Sometimes you have to make the choice to break yourself apart from these harmful people but when they are family it’s hard to. You can still distance yourself by letting them know you love them unconditionally but if they continue to be the person you wish not to be apart of then it’s been their choice to not have the relationship that should be there. You should not live in the bottom of someone else’s choices because then they will become yours. I would love to know what you think about this question Amy

  • The HuMan Hyena says:

    From your perspective , when a Lobster tries to escape the Cage the other lobsters pull him back so to face the destiny they are all meant to have. It appears to me as if Lobsters – as you view them – understands the consequences as we Humans do. As you kindly admitted that there is no Scientific explanation to that behavior but to your observations it explained that some Humans have the same attitude based on Envy or Jealousy as escaping is Good while being in the Tank has one final destiny – Death on Boiling water.
    I personally find what other Lobsters do – from a Human point of view – more morally accepted than escape!! Its too cowardice to escape ur destiny when your other mates will face the Most undesired destiny, no one likes to die but dying among Crowd more Noble than living alone with a beating conscious. Putting your Lobster Syndrome into business context makes ur argument strong but not always having successful people around guarantees your success , soMetimes you really need Hyenas and some Noble Lobsters around to make your life mix of Both, your Actual and what’s Expected ..

  • Melissa says:

    Wow. It’s a real shame more people haven’t heard about this site,
    this had everything I needed this morning

  • susan says:

    Excellent article and I cannot agree enough about surrounding yourself with upbeat positive people at work and at home! When you do this life becomes so much more enjoyable and fulfilling.

  • Kaylee says:

    I just came across this article googling about eating lobster. I had not heard the term before, but I have definitely seen the behavior. Thank you, Amy, for you insight. I have had the tendancy to avoid or make excuses for such behavior. I would love to ser hear different ways to confront people to be effective communicators while building self esteem.

  • Connor hanseeeee says:

    yoo, this article is legitnis broooo keep up the good work brrooooo

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