People walk on eggshells in their marriage or family relationships. Occasionally it happens when someone is having a bad day. That’s normal.

But when it’s a pattern, it’s a problem. Here’s some examples.

Some spouses are in constant dread that the other will

  • push their buttons 
  • blame them for their mood or behavior
  • make them feel bad about themselves (shame, guilt, disregarded, rejected, unattractive, incompetent, inadequate)
  • be erratic, attacking, and disrespectful

Some kids can create an eggshell environment with negative mood, emotion, or behavior.

  • You feel it when they come out of their bedroom
  • Their attitude sets a negative, adversarial tone in the home
  • They can go off on a sibling or parent over something minor they turn into a major offense

Eggshell spreaders can be…

  • An alcoholic or drug addicted member of the household
  • A person with an untreated or poorly managed mood or anxiety disorder
  • A person with a personality disorder
  • A child or teen with emotional dysregulation challenges.

What it is like walking on eggshells.

  • Feel anxious– you don’t want to set them off
  • Feel responsible–for their moods and behavior
  • Feel guilty–like you did something wrong
  • Feel resentment–you don’t like how you’re treated but don’t feel like you have a voice
  • Feel unsure of how to act–second guess yourself
  • Feel a pit in your stomach

Check out my interview on this topic in the All About We Podcast. Click the play button at the start of this blog page.

Clearing the eggshells

Eggshells do not promote a healthy environment for family living. Ignoring them is not a good strategy. You cannot afford to keep making excuses and denying the severity of the situation. Yet, why is so hard to clear the eggshells?
What keeps you walking on them?
  1. The unhealthy attachment – you keep getting drawn into a double-bind. “When things are good–they’re really good. When things are bad–they’re really bad. I’m tolerating the real bad for the real good.”
  2. Your need to fix. “I can love this person into changing.”
  3. Guilt. “It must be something I’m doing wrong.”
  4. It’s my role or I’m obligated. “After all, I am the spouse and/or parent. I’m stuck.”
  5. Low self-esteem, lack of self-respect. “It must be true. I deserve it.”
10 Ways to stop walking on Eggshells
  1. Get out of the pattern of rescuing the person or taking responsibility for their problem. Ask yourself the question: “Whose problem is their mood or behavior?”
  2. Stop trying to fix the person. Allow them a chance to learn from their mistakes. If they won’t learn then they will have to live with the consequences.
  3. Own the pattern you have to break within yourself.  By your response to poor behavior you teach the eggshell spreader how to treat you. If you refuse to confront and let things slide the message is “go ahead and treat me poorly, I can tolerate it.”
  4. Get back to your authentic self. Live from the center. Go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, confront it respectfully. Use your active voice.
  5. Detach with love. This is an Al-Anon concept. When the disrespectful behavior starts detach yourself from the situation. Loving the person does not equate with tolerating disrespectful or abusive behavior.
  6. Accept the person for who they are, not what you want them to be. Once you realize you cannot change them, you can modify your expectations and adjust your boundaries accordingly.
  7. Set boundaries with the person. You don’t have to accept their rude behavior. Sticking to your boundaries over time will likely result in more respectful behavior toward you. You have to stick to your boundaries though.
  8. Get out of the FOG – Fear, Obligation, Guilt of your emotional triggers. Do not allow FOG to direct your reaction to eggshell behavior. Check out: “Emotional Blackmail, Susan Forward and Donna Frazier (1997)”
  9. Memorize the 3Cs:
    1. I didn’t cause it
    2. I cannot control it
    3. I cannot cure it
  10. Establish a support system of trusted people who can help you to not lose site on reality. Walking on eggshells on a daily basis can take a toll on your ability to judge what is happening. Trusted people can help you get and maintain perspective.
Here are some book recommendations on how to deal with eggshell relationships.

Now it’s your turn

Are you tired of walking on eggshells? What can you do today to empower you to stop walking on them?