It’s not breaking the eggs that does the lasting harm; it’s the continual walking eggshells. Emotional damage has a way of lingering in the times between resentful, angry, or abusive flare-ups. The empty, dull ache of unhappiness is most accurately measured in the accumulative effect of these small moments of disconnection, isolation, and dread. Take the
The following quiz reveals what it feels like to walk on eggshells day after day. Read it aloud – the objectivity in hearing your own voice say the words – especially your answers -is the first step toward healing.
If you live with a resentful, angry, or abusive partner, you probably have a vague feeling, at least now and then, that you have lost yourself. In your constant efforts to tiptoe around someone else’s moods in the hope of avoiding blow-ups, put-downs, criticism, sighs of disapproval, or cold shoulders, you constantly edit what you say. You second-guess your own judgment, your own ideas, and your own preferences about how to live. You begin to question what you think is right and wrong. Ultimately, your perceptions of reality and your very sense of self change for the worse.
The cold fact is that it’s hard not to lose yourself in the morass of what you should say or what you need to do (to keep things peaceful) and how you’re supposed to be at any given moment. If you have to be one thing one minute and behave a different way in another (depending on your partner’s moods), your confidence and sense of self can seem to disappear. You begin to feel that you cannot reclaim yourself or begin to feel better until he changes and starts treating you better.
The understandable but tragic expectation that you are dependent on him for your emotional well being is the first thing you must change. You must heal and grow, whether or not he changes. Although our inborn sense of fairness and justice tells you that he ought to be the one to make changes, your pain tells you that you need to become the fully alive person you are meant to be. This means that you have to remove the focus from him and put it squarely on you. Happily, that is also the best thing you can do the help him and your relationship. This book will help you reclaim your true sense of self. That is its primary goal. But it will also help change your relationship.
All the tools you need to heal are in these pages. All the tools that he needs to replace resentment, anger, or abusive behavior with compassion are also in these pages. The first part of the book is about reintegrating your deepest values into your everyday sense of self. This will make you feel more valuable, confident, and powerful, regardless of what your partner — or anyone else — says or does. As you read these pages and reconnect to your deepest values, you will naturally, forcefully, and compassionately demand value and respect from your partner. Your compassionate demand for change is likely to be the only thing that will motivate him to once again be the man you married. But whether or not he changes, you must connect with your enormous inner value, resources, and personal power to stop walking on eggshells and to emerge as the richly creative, beautiful whole person you truly are.
The Worst Things
One of the worst things that can happen to your health and happiness is to live with a resentful, angry, or abusive partner. The worst thing you can do to your soul is become a resentful, angry, or abusive partner. And the worst thing you can develop in a love relationship is an identity as a victim, which destroys your personal power and solid sense of self. The cry I hear over and over again from women who walk on eggshells is, “I don’t like the resentful, angry person he’s made me.”
To stop walking on eggshells, you must overcome abusiveness and victim-identity. Your emphasis must be on healing, growth, and empowerment. The true issue at stake is your core value – the most important things about you as a person – not his behavior or your reaction to it. As you reinforce and reconnect with your core value, you are far less likely to be a victim. As you experience the enormous depth of your core value, the last thing you will want to do is identify with being a victim, i.e. with “damage” or with bad things that have happened to you. In your core value you will identify with your inherent strengths, talents, skills, and power as a unique, ever-growing, competent, and compassionate person. You want to outgrow walking on eggshells, not simply survive it, and you do that only by realizing your fullest value as a person.
You Both Walk on Eggshells
If you feel that you are walking on eggshells, you probably do not realize that your partner is, too, though in a different way. He is so reactive to you and so unable to regulate his reactions that he constantly expects you to say or do something that will “push his buttons” and “make” him withdraw or attack. He feels that you are totally in control of his emotions, and all he can do is pout or shout like a defiant child. He feels that you control him.
The Pendulum of Pain
Please do not make the mistake of thinking that you can heal yourself simply by getting in touch with your understandable resentment and anger and leaving your relationship. Most of the women who leave (or nearly leave) out of resentment and anger end up returning out of guilt, shame, and anxiety, when they see how lost their husbands seem without them. They enjoy a brief honeymoon period following the reunion, until the tension returns and the resentment and anger get overwhelming. So they leave again (or withdraw emotionally from their husbands), only to face renewed guilt, shame, and abandonment anxiety, once the resentment and anger subside. Sometimes economic considerations drive women to return to these relationships, but they are not the most compelling factor. Research shows that women with means return to walking-on-eggshells relationships as often as women who are financially dependent. My own mother, like many of my clients, was the sole support of our family, yet she returned to my unemployed, resentful, angry, and abusive father 13 times in my first 11 years of life.
This pattern of leaving (or nearly leaving) out of anger and resentment, only to return out of guilt, shame, and anxiety is a hallmark of walking on eggshells. I call it a pendulum of pain. It has nothing to do with your “indecisiveness” or your personality. It follows from the strengths of your emotions, from your attachment to your husband, which we’ll explore more in the next chapter. Resentment and anger at loved ones always resolve into guilt, shame, and abandonment anxiety. These painful, completely irrational emotions keep you attached to your husband no matter how bad the relationship is – these emotions developed in our brains at a time when to leave the tribe meant certain death on your own, by starvation or saber tooth tiger.
As long as you love someone, the only way to keep resentment and anger from turning to guilt, shame, and anxiety is to stay resentful and angry all the time. It might be safer if you did stay resentful and angry all the time, but that is probably not your nature. When your resentment subsides and your anger is exhausted, the pain of seeing someone you love in distress can become overwhelming and make you return to your now-remorseful, if not helpless, partner. However, if he does not learn to regulate his resentment, anger, or abusive behavior with compassion for himself and for you, the pendulum will swing back and forth, again and again.