What kind of fish has no backbone

Show your backbone: why a clear edge is so important

“You have no backbone!” - Nobody wants to hear something like that about themselves. Physically, of course, that's nonsense. Everyone has a spine and a backbone. Otherwise we would not be able to stand up straight or walk. But this is exactly where the symbolic meaning of the term lies: Those who have a backbone show attitude. Such a person remains steadfast, upright, and "sincere". Somebody like that doesn't give in to the slightest resistance or contradiction. We may not always agree with these people - but at least we show them respect.

But how can you show, strengthen and preserve your backbone - in everyday life and at work? We explain why virtue is essential for (professional) success ...

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

Have backbone: meaning and synonyms

The backbone stands for hold. On the one hand, the many vertebrae make us flexible and adaptable so that we can bend down and stretch. At the same time it stands for steadfastness, mental strength and a strong personality. You can have a backbone, show a backbone - or have “no backbone”. In all of these cases it is an idiomatic phrase. After all, everyone has a spine.

Accordingly, one speaks synonymously today of the backbone also of strength of character, courage and moral courage, of straightforwardness, courage and loyalty to principles. Anyone who accuses someone of having “no backbone” or being “spineless” is implying that the person concerned has no courage, no bravery and no values ​​and does not stand by anything. Not even to yourself or your own opinion.

People without backbones turn their flags in the wind, are opportunists and adapt to the majority. People with a backbone, on the other hand, afford the luxury of having their own opinion and a confident attitude - and thus prove their intellectual independence.

Backbone or backbone?

What is the correct name for: "backbone" or "backbone"? Clearly: "Backbone" is the correct spelling according to the Duden. It's easy to remember: think of the origin of the word backbone. backbone is related to "ridge" - the narrow mountain ridge or ridge. The term “fishbone” (like “fishbone”) is derived from this. Our back also resembles a mountain ridge or corresponds to the bones of a fish. The spelling uncertainty arises from the fact that the letter “G” is silenced by the preceding “K”. The word is usually pronounced like "back wheel". But it is written with “g” and “t” at the end.

No backbone: how can it be recognized?

There are people who are seen as the "backbone" of an entire organization or department. Nelson Mandela, for example, has been regularly referred to as "the backbone of the ANC". The middle class, in turn, is often described as “the backbone of the German economy”; the middle class as "the backbone of society". This expresses a special stability and importance as a "supporting pillar". The counterpart to this is, however, almost more common: people who have no backbone.

This can often be seen on the job. The corresponding colleagues generally represent the majority opinion (or that of the boss), buckle as soon as you openly contradict them, do not stick to agreements or do pretty much anything at work - without grumbling or objecting. No question about it, such an attitude is not and can be as submissive as it is uncooperative.

However, and it has to be said, there is not always only bad intent, conformity or lack of principles behind it. It is not uncommon for a person and colleague to be revealed here, with a broken personality and a lack of self-confidence or self-esteem.

Reasons for a lack of backbone

There are people who have such thick fur that, if necessary, they could stand upright without a backbone. However, they are not meant here. Rather, it is about the reasons why some seem to have no backbone. And they can be varied. For example…

Need for security

Not everyone is naturally endowed with unwavering confidence. Quite a few people are just shy, insecure, or indecisive. Their need for security is correspondingly high. Joining the majority or a strong person can give them that sense of protection and control.


Having no backbone can also be the result of powerlessness and an expression of acute helplessness. Anyone who has been subjected to bullying for years, who has been systematically marginalized and massacred, will literally have their backs broken. The victim feels demoralized and destroyed. Getting out of such a spiral is difficult for many. Even those who receive support must first regain trust in order to strengthen their backbone again.


A similar phenomenon can be observed in the so-called Stockholm Syndrome: When victims fraternize with their tormentors and perpetrators (such as a hostage with the hostage-taker), then they give up their own attitude and betray themselves. Ultimately, this is based on pure fear of bare survival . And the desire to suppress the feeling of powerlessness. That is why it is only possible to speak of a lack of backbone here to a limited extent. Similar behaviors can also be observed at work: For example, when there are job cuts and employees go along with everything the boss asks for out of sheer existential fear. Group dynamic processes can also lead to individual employees fraternizing with other colleagues in order to be able to remain silent at important points out of fear.


The situation is completely different with someone who acts out of opportunistic motives. Outwardly, it may lead to the same behavior if someone remains silent about apparent injustices, for example. But the motivation is different: The focus here is not on existential fear, but on your own advantage. Without a backbone opportunists always say or do what works best for them. So today, different tomorrow. Quite a few seek rectoscopic closeness to superiors and hump or slurp in competition. However, only as long as it serves them themselves.

Character is what is left of a person when things get uncomfortable.

Have a backbone: That's why it's important

Having and showing your backbone is an extremely important quality. Not only because such people maintain their own self-respect and earn the respect of others. Ultimately, only those who have a backbone can implement and enforce their own goals. Things, values ​​and needs that are important to us and that therefore deserve a clear point of view (“clear edge”).

Behind this is the ability to say no from time to time, to overcome resistance, to document self-assertion. From the point of view of psychologists, these character traits are among the most important success factors of all. Even more than intelligence. Lewis Terman, the inventor of the Stanford intelligence test, for example, found time and again in his investigations that intelligence is often overestimated. Perseverance and fighting for one's own goals led to success much more often.

Strengthen your backbone: Be aware of your own principles

Admittedly, those who have never learned to stand up for their principles will hardly show their backbone overnight. Anyone who has somehow navigated and cheated their way through life (and got away with it) sees no need to change their strategy. It works quite well - with significantly lower friction losses. But the lack of attitude and indulgence is dangerous. Sooner or later it goes to its own substance - up to and including self-denial.

Hand on heart, when was the last time you asked yourself: “What do I want to stand for?” What is really important to you? Why do you still say “yes” and what is no longer negotiable for you? In short: it's about becoming aware of your own principles and values.

Proving your backbone does not mean that you trumpet your opinion unfiltered (and possibly offensive) and hold on to it even after good arguments speak against it. That is stubbornness or even stupidity and not an attitude. Especially since there are always situations in which diplomatic skills are more in demand than documented strength. A certain amount of flexibility and the ability to compromise on the one hand and backbone on the other are not mutually exclusive. But adaptability has limits. You should know (your own) and not exceed them.

This is exactly what distinguishes people with a clear profile: They have rough edges and know about their strengths as well as their weaknesses. They stand by both without bending. Such "types" polarize, yes. But not a few have - thanks to their backbone - something even more attractive: charisma.

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