Do you feel like your are walking on Eggshells?
A True story
"I feel like I'm walking on eggshells"
I hear this phrase frequently in the therapy room and it's something I've personally experienced in my own relationships. Feeling like you are 'walking on eggshells' does not feel good and it is not how we want to feel in our relationships.
But what does this term really mean?
"I don't feel safe to express what I'm feeling or to say what is on my mind because I am not sure how you will react."
"I can't gauge your mood, it's better if I stay quiet and don't say anything, I'll keep it in, I'll tippy toe around you so I don't upset you,"
"I'm not safe to be vulnerable with you, you might use it against me."
Does any of the above resonate with you?
There are of course many more variations on this theme but what this feeling of walking on eggshells is really saying is you are not feeling safe in your relationship.
Safety and Connection are the two essential components of a loving relationship. It's what we all crave. Safety and Connection go hand in hand. Without these elements it's like trying to build a house without first laying down the foundations.
How does this walking on eggshells experience creep into our relationships?
Isn't our partner, our familiar 'other', the person we are supposed to be feel most safe with, most comfortable?
It is normal for relationships to go through phases. We all know that beautiful place of the honeymoon phase, where all feels so right in the world. We generally feel so alive and so happy to have found each other. There are generally no eggshells to be found in the honeymoon phase!
Once we are in a committed relationship, we see each other warts and all, it's as if the lens of love has fallen from our eyes and we see the truth of each other; two flawed human beings battling for survival...
It is in this phase of the relationship - the Power Struggle, as we call it in Imago - that the eggshell feeling will appear.
To understand how this eggshell phenomena occurs, it's helpful to have a look at the part our brains play in all of this.
The brain's number one function is to keep the organism, (YOU), alive. To do this, it is constantly scanning its environment for danger. It just so happens that the environment it is scanning is your partner!
This all happens unconsciously and is controlled by the part of the brain where the flight, fight, freeze response is based. This means that, if danger is detected, an automatic reaction occurs. This automatic reaction is what kept us alive back in our cave man days. If we'd paused to weigh up the danger we would have been eaten by that sabre tooth tiger. Understanding this highlights how far back this goes and how our reactions are hardwired into us. It helps explain why change is so difficult.
When we are feeling that eggshell feeling our brain is picking up on danger, the message it is receiving is "we are not safe". How we behave from then on is automatic. We react to the danger in whatever way we have adapted to keep ourselves safe. This can look like the tip toeing around, becoming very quiet and small, shutting yourself away and the withdrawing behaviours that are often described as a reaction to feeling on eggshells.
So how can this change?
In a session, Eric revealed to his wife how he often had this egg shell feeling around her. He did not feel safe to bring up certain topics for fear of her possible quick to temper reaction.
Wendy was a very loving wife but felt frustrated by Eric pulling away from her in anticipation she might be angry. She also felt like she was on egg shells around him, that she wasn't free to express her emotions.
Eric through the dialogue process was able to connect that there were certain aspects of Wendy's behaviour that reminded him of his father. His father was a quick-tempered man who was very critical of Eric.
In those moments of 'eggshells' Eric was no longer a grown man in a relationship with Wendy but was experiencing her as though she was his father. Eric as a little boy had had many terrifying encounters with his father.
Suddenly it all made sense. Wendy's presence to Eric as he explored all this was what made all the difference. She listened to understand, she listened with curiosity and compassion.
It was a transformational moment in their relationship and a healing experience for both of them.
If Eric does ever feel like he is walking on eggshells around Wendy, he just names it. He says out loud "EGG SHELLS". By naming 'It', it reminds Eric that Wendy is not his dad and if she is upset and has raised her voice that is okay. It means he can stay present and hear her and Wendy in turn does not have to tippy toe around him. She in turn feels safe and free to express her emotions Egg shells are cured by connection. Connection comes with the showing up for each other with true presence. It is the experience of feeling truly and deeply heard that heals. Along with connection comes the safety, the safety to be all that we are and know we are loved and accepted.
I witness this time and time again.
If we keep experiencing connection and safety with each other what is amazing is that over time it changes our brain rewiring. Now when our brains are scanning our environment instead of detecting a source of danger in each other what it will find is the opposite. We have become a source of safety for each other, the brain no longer needs to be on high alert and we are free to enjoy each other.
To witness this makes my work such a joy and I do believe Imago truly is magical.
Through this work, Eric and Wendy are well on the way to getting out of the Power Struggle and are heading towards the much desired place of Mature/Real love. This is the place that has many elements of the honeymoon phase but it has so much more. The honeymoon phase is when we are unconsciously driven by the delicious cocktail of love drugs and hormones coursing through our body. Mature love is real, it is a place of consciousness and is where deep connection resides.
A Definition of LOVE
A state of space and freedom for growth, and in which each partner would be the means of releasing each other.