Anatomy of Crabbiness

by Melannie Svoboda SND on July 13, 2020

Sometimes I get crabby. When I do, I can often point to several root causes: the injustices I perceive in the world around me and in my personal life; the pain and sorrow of others as well as my own; the state of the economy, society, education, family life, the planet, and the church; my own sense of isolation or loneliness; or the plain old experience of uncertainty, lack of control, or things not going my way.

When I’m crabby, little things irritate me and I find myself thinking things like these: “Why can’t she be more patient?… why can’t he offer to help me?… this coffee is too cold… this lemonade is too warm… those birds are too noisy… she’s too doggone cheerful… wearing this mask is so uncomfortable… why is everybody so crabby?”

Kids get crabby…

When I’m crabby, I’m ashamed of my crabbiness. I tell myself, “How can you be so crabby over these minor annoyances when so many other people are bearing such major loads in their lives?” This line of thinking sometimes makes me even more crabby!

My crabbiness led me to do a little research on crabbiness. I learned the root word crabby can be traced back to the Old English word crabba meaning to scratch or claw. Yes, it’s related to the crab’s tendency to painfully nip with its claws and hang on. Crabs also appear to walk sideways and even backwards, analogous to a difficult or uncooperative person. (Poor crabs! Too bad their name is associated with such negative qualities. Instead of saying, “You’re such a crab today.” Why don’t we say, “You’re such an otter today!—or such a chipmunk today!” We don’t—because otters and chipmunks are cute and fuzzy. But remember: all crabs are not crabs… and even otters and chipmunks can be crabs some days!)

Prior to the 18th Century, crabby meant crooked, gnarled, rough. In about 1776 there’s evidence that the meaning of crabby became what it essentially means today: disagreeable, sour, cranky, easily irritated, grouchy.

I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to a crabby day every now and then. But not every day. Not even 50% of the days–or even 10%. I can excuse some crabbiness, because we’re all human. Also, being pleasant takes a lot of energy, and sometimes our energy supply is low. Our crabbiness can also indirectly build community by calling forth virtues (such as patience) in the people who have to deal with our occasional crabbiness. And finally, crabbiness keeps us humble. It often requires that we apologize for our unpleasantness. (gulp!)

Dogs get crabby…

Was Jesus ever crabby? After all, he was human. I think there’s evidence in the Gospels that Jesus was crabby on several occasions. His encounter with that Syro-Phonecian woman shows him becoming very irritated by her insistence that he cure her daughter (Mk. 7:24-30 I wrote about her under “The Canaanite Woman” January 18, 2016). He gets impatient with his apostles—most notably Peter (Mt. 16:23) and Phillip (Jn. 14:8-9). Then there are all those interactions with the Pharisees…

How do you deal with your crabbiness? (Notice I’m assuming you are crabby—every now and then!) First I try to get some extra sleep… go for a leisurely walk… do something I enjoy doing—like reading a good book, calling a friend, solving a crossword puzzle, working on my blog, sitting by the lake and watching the red-winged blackbird shooing the blue heron away from the area where his nest is (like I did today!) I even take my crabbiness to prayer.

Ostriches get crabby…

Loving God, I’m crabby. And I have some good reasons for being crabby too. But I ask you to help me emerge from this cocoon of crabbiness and become once again a more pleasant person to be with, live with, and work with. At the same time, allow my crabbiness to speak to me. It may be urging me to do something… to make a few changes in my life… to rearrange my priorities… to let go of something… to grow in patience and understanding of others… and to remember my absolute need for your love, strength, and direction in my life. Amen.

What makes you crabby? What helps you get over your crabbiness?

Does you crabbiness ever “speak to you” and cause you to change something, do something, let go of something, lead you to prayer?

PS: I ask your prayers for the zoom retreat I’m facilitating this week, sponsored by King’s House Retreat Center in Belleville, IL. We will have 71 individuals making this retreat from 15 different states, Canada, and India. The retreat begins Monday evening and concludes next Sunday morning. I will let the retreatants know you are holding them in special prayer. I’m sure that will mean a lot to them. Thank you so much!

Our song today is “Perfect Peace” by Laura Story. I like her gentle voice, the beautiful words, and the exquisite visuals. I hope you may hear God saying these words to you today…

I invite you to respond below to today’s words, song, or other readers’ comments…

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomas DeFreitas July 13, 2020 at 4:30 am

Sr Melannie and all, good morning!

Well, a timely post (for me, at least!). I’ve noted an uptick in my irritability in recent weeks. My language has become startlingly coarse while I’m puttering around the house. If I drop something on the floor, I’ll erupt in words that would make a beat poet blush!

Usually, this is a sign that I need to do one of the following things:

(1) Re-establish some beneficial spiritual practice (everyone’s mileage varies, but for me, the rosary and meditation have been consistently helpful);
(2) reach out to someone! There are days I’m stuck in the house, and if the mood gets sour, I’ll text five friends, two or three of whom will usually answer within the hour;
(3) get outta my own head! Short walk outside usually does it, or doing something for a friend, a “mitzvah” as it’s called in Judaism.

I have notoriously bad sleep, owing to a 2009 injury. Sometimes, my utter fatigue leads me to be surly and intemperate.

Thanks so much, Sister, for the visual and musical oasis of Laura Story’s song. I definitely was drawn to it, largely due to the beautiful imagery of the video.

I have so many things to do around the house that I’ve left undone for too long. I rebuke myself for lassitude, and yes, I become crabby with myself.

Wishing everyone a peaceful, grace-filled, un-crabby week! Take care, everybody.

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John Hopkins July 13, 2020 at 5:26 am

Really like your description of Laura Story’s song: a “visual and musical oasis.” Well put, Tom!

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Thomas DeFreitas July 13, 2020 at 6:29 am

thanks kindestly, John!

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John Hopkins July 13, 2020 at 5:39 am

Good morning, Sr. Melannie….
Good morning, all…

You mentioned a lack of sleep, Sr. Melannie, as a source of crabbiness. So true! If I go into a school day with a lack of sleep, I have to make a point to remind myself to just let things go. With a full eight hours (Wait, when does that happen?), I fancy myself a paragon of patience, but when I’m working with four or five hours of sleep, my patience has all the depth of a puddle on a newly paved driveway!

Thank God for summer!

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Linda Marie July 13, 2020 at 6:26 am

Good morning Sister Melanie, ahhhh what a beautiful song, “oasis”. I look forward to your Post each Monday morning, your reflections always bring a smile to my spirit.
I will keep your retreat and attendees in my prayers. May they all hear God speak those words of perfect peace…..

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Mary Zogelman July 14, 2020 at 1:45 pm

the Lord spoke to me through this reflection this morning!! Just dealt with a stressful situation at work!! I asked the Holy Spirit to help me!! He answered my need!! Thank you sister!!!

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Ed Johnson July 13, 2020 at 6:35 am

Sister,
Being overly tired (slumpy, as I call it) triggers my crabbiness. When this occurs, usually late in the afternoon, some quiet time and a bit of a rest are the needed cures for these moments. Stillness, as Meister Eckhart called it in the wonderful video….connecting with our Creator. Wonderful music by Laura Story, accompanied by beautiful images. Thank you, Sister Melannie.
Peace and Blessings to All.

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John Hopkins July 13, 2020 at 11:52 am

Hi Ed,
First, happy belated St. Benedict feast day! Second, while rummaging through some old papers, I found an article from the “Florida Catholic” by Glenda Meekins from August 2019: “Seeking God as a Benedictine Oblate: A Rule for Ordinary Life.” Is that you with your wife in front of St. Leo’s Abbey? Great article! And third, I’ll try to check out the Meister Eckhart video. Thanks!

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Ed Johnson July 13, 2020 at 7:06 pm

John,
Indeed, the pic you reference is my wife, Nancy, and myself. I’ve been an oblate of St Leo Abbey in Fla two years. The Florida Catholic had been doing a series of articles on tertiaries of different orders. They contacted St Leo Abbey seeking a Benedictine oblate from the diocese of Orlando (St Leo is in the St Petersburg diocese). Turns out I’m the one and only Benedictine oblate in the Orlando diocese! Unfortunately, our monthly oblate gatherings are on indefinite hold to Covid 19. I follow Brother Jerome Lawrence’s daily reflections from up your way….St Mary’s Abbey in Petersham, Mass…..Good hearing from you. Peace and Blessings

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Mary Zogelman July 14, 2020 at 1:48 pm

I just recently enrolled to be an oblate Benedictine Abbey Atchison Kansas!! I am finding the Rule is needed for these times!!

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Ed Johnson July 14, 2020 at 7:31 pm

Mary,
That is wonderful! Perhaps you are familiar with the book “Atchison Blue,” by Judith Valente. If not, it is a great read about the Benedictine order. Best wishes,
Ed Johnson

Joan July 13, 2020 at 6:39 am

In Al-Anon (12 step program for families dealing with a loved one’s alcoholism) we refer to the HALT acronym, for possible causes and remedies for crabbiness. Am I hungry? Angry? Lonely? Or tired? I can feed myself, explore what I’ve lost or what hurts, reach out to someone or have a rest. The last time I was crabby, I was tired and I pushed myself to do just one more thing before going to bed, resulting in my being loud and crabby with the woman on the phone taking my flower order. I pray I am forgiven Lord.
Thanks for a great reflection Sister Melanie.

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Kim July 13, 2020 at 7:17 am

Thank you for the HALT acronym. Beautiful song choice, Sister Melanie

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Kathleen Magiera July 13, 2020 at 6:51 am

Good reminders Sr. Melannie and friends!

Timely reflection.

I have been crabby during the quarantine. I am an extrovert and have had to find ways to connect with others on a regular basis.

God bless everyone. A Zoom retreat sounds interesting. Praying for you Sr. Melannie.

Kathleen

God

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Denise July 13, 2020 at 6:54 am

Good Morning Sister Melannie,
I too get crabby and remember my infant children having crabby periods. Though in infants and small children we generally say “cranky”, same thing I believe.
When I ponder those precious innocents having such days I wonder whatever could have been the root cause? Do they miss being in Gods perfect peace and being thrust into this world? Is it the loss of quiet time in the womb? Who knows? One think I know, trust me on this… it’s internal and there is nothing you can do to remedy the situation.
Maybe when I’m cranky, I want to believe if only this or that would be different I wouldn’t be cranky. That sure let’s me off the hook and I can avoid making time to do a spiritual inventory. God’s perfect peace is a lot like my glasses, I need them to see the word clearly and am forever misplacing both. When I feel cranky I get quiet and go looking for His peace and reconnecting through prayer puts all in a better place. Reading Ecclesiastes also helps to put things in a proper perspective and brings me to a mindful place. Life is seasonal, enjoy it, endure it or embrace it no matter what season you are presently experiencing.
Have a good day.

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Deacon John July 13, 2020 at 8:48 am

I find that when I’m crabby I usually need to stop and take stock of all thw ways in which God has blessed me; then spend some time giving thanks.

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June July 13, 2020 at 9:04 am

Crabby? Who, me? These are great times for crabiness. Sad but true. I, personally, have to pray, talk, think myself out of being crabby most every day now. The idea of being “Locked” up is number one for being crabby BUT I still thank God every day that my family is well, that my husband and I are well and that helps knock that crabbiness out of me.

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Marla July 13, 2020 at 9:09 am

Dear Melannie, thank you for this reflection which mirrors the many times my own crabbiness gets in my life and overflows to another. A few years ago my dearest friend, Mary, passed away. Somewhere in our friendship, I found a metal crab paperweight. Over the years we took turns keeping that
“Crab” in a prominent place wherever we each lived. It was a subtle reminder to look on the bright side of life rather than annoyances.
Mary is now in heaven and the Metallic crab got misplaced along the way, but I know from heaven, Mary, dear friend, sends me frequent reminders that it is far easier to live in joyful acceptance than to live like a crabby person.

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Dorette July 13, 2020 at 9:59 am

Good morning,
A perfect reflection to start my day and my week. Such a timely topic in the midst of this pandemic.
Thank you!

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Melanie L Ebert July 13, 2020 at 10:11 am

Good morning Sr. Melannie,
This reflection rings true on so many levels at this time of constant unrest and pain across the country, and often overpowers the beauty around us in our family, friends and environment.
I truly have to make a conscious effort to be more positive and accepting at times by asking for patience through prayer. Not being able to attend daily Mass and changes in my daily routine of friendships and outings contribute
as well. Remedies for me include music, writing “thinking of you notes ” to friends and family, baking, and reading devotional books at night.
Your book “Hanging onto Hope”, Sr Melannie, helps us find good in this imperfect world!
Unfortunately I will be having surgery the same week as the retreat, so cannot attend. So sad I will miss it, and I would truly appreciate everyone’s prayers.

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Jean July 13, 2020 at 11:22 am

Your reflections are always spot-on and relatable. I love your sense of wonder in the world around you as well as concrete memories like your Mom’s kitchen. You bring me out of my own little world every week – thank you!

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Rosemary July 13, 2020 at 12:04 pm

A Blessed Monday, Dearest Sister ♥️
I find myself more crabby/cranky than normal!
I believe because of the isolation and homebound rules dealing with Covid 19 we are All a bit overwhelmed!
I rein myself back in line by going outside and seeing God’s Gifts of Nature.
This calms my Soul and Heart! We Huggers hurt doubly not able to reach out and embrace those who are hurting.
Praying for Your upcoming event!
You always begin my week on an Upbeat ♥️♥️

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Ann July 13, 2020 at 12:10 pm

Dear Sr. Melannie,
Thank you for your thoughts today—I look forward to your weekly reflections.
Always timely.

Many Blessings for you and the retreatants this week.
Also have a pale yellow kitchen! ☀️
Peace, Hope, Joy!
Ann

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Beverly Palumbo, RSM July 13, 2020 at 12:37 pm

Thanks so much, great reflection. God’s blessings on the retreat for you and the retreatants. God bless

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Donna VandeKieft July 13, 2020 at 1:24 pm

Thank you, Sister, Melanie, for addressing this very human condition we all get caught up in–crabbiness. I have said so often recently, “I’m so damn crabby, I don’t even like being with me!” The context has to do with being a caregiver for my 71-year old husband who has dementia. The Pandemic requires us to be like velcro 24/7. Crabbiness is a reasonable response, but it’s not where I want to live and move and have my being. I am so excited to be spending a few days (with my husband) on the OR coast and will be one of your ZOOM retreatants, starting today. That makes me very happy. Good-bye crabby! Hello happy!

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Ken Locken July 13, 2020 at 8:23 pm

Thank you Sr. Melanie for that calming, beautiful and inspirational video.
Much needed in these difficult times. May God bless everyone and all He created this week.

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Pete July 13, 2020 at 8:34 pm

Yes! Don’t we all have the ability to be crabby? It gets to us before we know it. BUT, the ability to recognize it and deal with it is a is a virtue! And then Perfect Peace!

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Teresa Skierkowski, SCC July 14, 2020 at 10:46 am

Crabby??? Yes, crabbiness happens to all of us every once in a while. We can be crabby in our relationships with others and with God. And if we can turn to both with honesty and love we will find that “perfect peace”!
Blessings on your retreat!

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Jean Canatsey July 15, 2020 at 2:01 pm

Thanks so much for reminding me that Jesus got crabby occasionally too! Sometimes I think that we forget that Jesus was human just like us and that he got tired and irritated just like us. Lord, help us to regain our footing and be more patient with the trials of this current life situation.
Jack & I wish we could have joined you in this retreat but you are in our prayers. Thank you for the beautiful music and imagery.

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