The Boiled Frog Syndrome: Incapable of Reacting to Subtle Mistreatment

November 3, 2019
The boiled frog syndrome is about a frog who spent all of its energy adapting to the circumstances, and when the critical moment came, he had no resources left to save itself.

The boiled frog syndrome makes reference to the emotional fatigue created when you find yourself enclosed in a situation that you think is impossible to escape. You continue to put up with it, until you burn out.

You could say that you’re slowly keeping yourself in a vicious circle. A circle that deteriorates you mentally and emotionally until you end up absolutely fatigued.

Olivier Clerc, French writer and philosopher, was the one who used simple language to create this spot on and illustrative story about “the boiled frog syndrome.”  Let’s take a more in-depth look at what this means, and what we learn about it.

Boiled frog syndrome: the frog that wasted its energy 

Bird whispering something in the ear of a woman

This tale is based on the belief that if the rate at which water temperature heats is slower than .02 degrees C per minute, a frog will stay still, and die once it gets too hot. At any greater speed, the frog will jump out and escape.

So, just as Olivier Clerc explained, if you put a frog in a pot of water and start to heat it slowly, the frog simply adjusts its body temperature to the water gradually.

Once the water begins to boil, the frog will no longer be able to adjust his temperature, and will then try to jump out.

But sadly enough, the frog can’t escape at that point because he has spent all of his energy adjusting his temperature. Therefore, he no longer has the strength to escape.

Consequently, the frog boils to death and is unable to jump out and save itself.

Which begs the question: what killed the frog? Was it the boiling water, or its inability to appropriately decide when to jump out?

If you had submerged it in a pot of hot water, it would’ve jumped out immediately. But while it was tolerating the gradual increase of temperature, it never realized that it could, and should, get out.

Woman looking at a heart in a hole

The silent deterioration that leads us to faking we’re alright

When emotional deterioration is slow, it goes by unnoticed.  This justifies our lack of reaction. It’s the reason why we don’t oppose it. As a result, we end up drowning in toxic air that slowly poisons us all.

When a change takes place slow enough, it escapes our awareness.  It therefore fails to cause any sort of reaction or opposition.

In this sense, there are certain types of romantic relationships, jobs, family situations, friends, and even social situations in which it’s not uncommon to see victims of the boiled frog syndrome.

So when dependence, pride, selfishness, or demands start to manifest little by little, it’s difficult to realize just how harmful it is to be in that place.

Read also:

I Was in a Toxic, Damaging Relationship Too

In fact, you might even feel good that your partner needs you; that your boss trusts you to give you certain tasks; or that a trusted friend constantly needs your attention.

But over time, these demands slowly reduce your reaction and response time. They use up all of your energy and ability to see that this truly isn’t a healthy relationship.

Woman sitting on a cage and experiencing the boiled frog syndrome

This silent process of adapting to discomfort will deteriorate you. It slowly and very subtly takes control over your life. This stops you from noticing and preparing yourself to respond in a way that truly fits your needs.

That’s why it’s absolutely necessary that you make a conscious effort to keep your eyes open and to know what you want. This is the only way you can take control over what is deteriorating your senses.

The only way to grow is to feel uncomfortable for a little bit

A lot of times, the people around you don’t like it when you decide to follow and value your own rights. They’re already used to you conforming to them. That’s why this attitude change is uncomfortable for them.

Remember that sometimes saying “enough!” helps guarantee your well-being and safeguard your own self-love, dignity and interests.

Read also:

Self-Love 101: How to Love Yourself

So always remember the boiled frog syndrome. Avoid falling into a deep well of pain, because you can prevent it if you notice it on time.

  • Clerc, O. (2007). La rana que no sabía que estaba hervida… y otras lecciones de vida. Madrid: Maeva
  • Savater, F. (1995). Ética Como Amor Propio. Libro de Mano.
  • Smith, A., & Rodríguez Braun, C. (2004). La teoría de los sentimientos morales. El libro de bolsillo.