What Does Walking on Eggshells Mean?
Have you ever lived or worked with someone whose moods and outbursts can be unpredictable? The littlest thing can seem to set them off. They go on an emotional tangent completely out of proportion or context to what is really going on. You are always wary of what you say and do just in case they overreact and become emotional, verbally, or physically abusive.
Do you recognize that feeling, that dread or hesitation to interact with someone? If you have, you are “walking on eggshells”.
The relationship anxiety you feel is high. You are wary of potentially tipping the balance of a seemingly innocent situation. It can switch to conflict or something toxic in an instant. Things can, and do, change at the drop of a hat. The fragility of someone else’s moods scares you. You may feel like you are on unstable ground, as if you walk on eggshells. You go out of your way to keep the peace, even to your own detriment.
Signs of an Emotionally Unstable Relationship
If you find you are walking on eggshells in any kind of relationship, that’s a red flag! It indicates that it is an unstable or an abusive relationship. Being upset is normal – from time to time. But, repeated behaviors can say something more serious is going on. Check whether you experience any of the below signs regularly. If you do, you may be in an emotionally unstable or toxic relationship:
- Mood Checks: You check the other person’s mood before you speak. or do anything. Always. You do this just in case they react in anger or lash out.
- Tension: You are always tense and on edge around the other person. You find it difficult to relax and be yourself. Emotions are running high all the time, and the other person has difficulty controlling their emotions.
- Use of Humiliation and Sarcasm: You may feel put down and humiliated. This can be from the way the other person speaks to you or treats you. There may be suggestions that you are a lesser person, or not of an equal standing.
- Non-Verbal Cues: You may be acutely aware of non-verbal cues that the other person is angry. There may be glaring looks, hand gestures, silence, evasiveness, or objects thrown around or handled aggressively.
- Impulsivity: Impulsive behavior may be so frequent it has become the norm. There may be sudden life-altering decisions made that have no say or input into.
- Extended Arguments: Disagreements and arguments that should be quickly resolved, aren’t. They will not let go, the dispute lasts for hours, days, or weeks. They just go on, and on, and on.
- Excessive Self-Monitoring: You monitor and adapt your own actions constantly. This is in an attempt to prevent setting the other person off again. You find you second-guess yourself in every situation and scenario trying to anticipate how they may react.
- Withdrawal from Others: In worst case scenarios with long-term emotional and physical abuse people withdraw into themselves. They may isolate themselves from friends and family. This is because they fear upsetting the other person. Or, because they begin to believe any negativity said to them about themselves.
Stop Walking on Eggshells! How to Deal with an Unstable Relationship
Walking on egg shells in any kind of relationship is not healthy. In both short and long-term situations, it can affect people’s physical and mental wellbeing. Any situation where you are on constant guard and dealing with stress and anger is not good for anyone.
Suggestions for how to deal with an unstable relationship include:
- Self-Care: It may be the other person something going on that is causing their behavior. This is not your problem to fix. Support them with changes they want to make if you choose to do so, yes. If you are walking on eggshells for an extended period you need to focus on yourself first, and foremost. Show yourself some love and compassion. As the saying goes, first you save yourself.
- Seek Support: Professional support for yourself and the other person may help. There can be mental health conditions that cause this type of behavior. They may be clinically depressed or have a borderline personality disorder (BPD). People with BPD or any similar conditions need professional guidance first to accept and understand the change needed. It can also happen with someone experiencing combat-related PTSD. If you feel you are in danger from a partner, seek help from friends you trust or a shelter.
- Read Up On It: Check out books on related topics. Especially if you are in a relationship with someone diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder (BPD). Authors Paul Mason and Randi Kreger have a book that focuses on how to stop walking on eggshells and take your life back. This book focuses specifically on helping everyone involved. People with BPD or who display BPD traits, or other mental health conditions are in all walks of life. Other conditions include narcissistic personality disorder, emotional dysregulation disorder, and destructive disorder. They may include those you love — your parents, young children, adult children, or your partner. When younger you may have felt like your dad, or your mother never saw you as well-behaved children. Your interpersonal relationships throughout life will benefit from knowing and understanding any conditions that affect personality.
- Set Boundaries: Putting in some boundaries for yourself and the other person can help. Find ways to detach in situations where you know it is not your fault. Learn how to use different communication skills. Reflective listening will help you to kindly, and gently, show someone that what they are saying feels offensive. Or that it is not okay. Know your limits.
Feeling like you are walking on eggshells all the time is not a good place to be. Find ways to validate your self so your self-esteem does not suffer. Seek support and help from others. If you are in a long-term relationship with a family member or partner, seek solutions. Find ways that they are willing to accept to make positive improvements. This will help everyone’s health and well-being.