Life in the Country Lane

-Just some thoughts and words on slowing down, and finding myself.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Thank you to Deedee, Kelly and Teresa for putting this where I could find it when I needed it.


Walking on Eggshells


Walking on eggshells describes a sense of feeling it is necessary to maintain an abnormally high level of vigilance, or an unusually high level of caution in a particular situation.

Usually the phrase is used to describe a tense and dysfunctional relationship with another person - as in "Mary walks on eggshells whenever Sam is around."

When you are in a relationship with someone who has borderline personality disorder, it is very common to be in a nearly constant state of hyper-vigilance around that person.

You may feel this state of vigilance is necessary because you hope that by being very careful in all that you say and do, their raging or "crazy making" behavior might be reduced or avoided.

You may feel that if you can ‘just get it right’ the relationship will be okay once again.

You may feel (or you may have been told) that all the problems are your fault, and that all the issues in the relationship are because of your behavior.

These self-blaming attitudes are often vigorously reinforced by the BP in your life.

According to the BP, the fault never lies with them or their behavior – you are the only one that needs work!

We have all seen the nature shows on television where the prairie dog regularly pokes his head up out of the hole to keep watch for coyotes or eagles.

Vigilance can be a good thing, particularly when one is in real danger. However, if we feel we must continuously ‘poke our heads out of the hole’ in our closest relationships, we may not be able to regularly give ourselves the rest that is necessary to maintaining our physical and mental health.

Maintaining this hyper-vigilant state over a long period of time leads to very high levels of stress.

When you feel you must guard your every statement, justify your every decision, exercise caution before doing anything, and pay close and continuous attention to everything around you there is no room left in your life to experience joy!

Nor will your own needs for nurturing, companionship and personal growth be met.

Because your attentions are so focused on your BPs emotions, your own may narrow down to nearly nothing.

Your natural and healthy joyful behaviors (laughing, playing jokes, being spontaneous) may be reduced or even eliminated.

You may find that you are so controlled by your BP’s reactions to your behaviors, thoughts and actions, that you choose to unduly limit your choices.

Your own needs are delayed time and time again, but are often never fulfilled.

Everyone walks on eggshells from time to time in order to preserve the peace in their lives. The question becomes, "how much walking on eggshells is good for me and those around me? When does it become dysfunctional and unhealthy, or even dangerous?"

If you live with someone who has borderline personality disorder, walking on eggshells has probably become part of the ‘background’ of your life. It s just one more way that the person with the disorder controls your behavior, leading to unhealthy dynamics in the relationship itself, and stress related problems in general.

During periods of peace and calm, you may find yourself anxiously wondering when the next storm will hit, knowing that it may be unexpected and totally out of the blue.

Like walking on something thin and fragile, you fear that a single misstep or mistake will cause the floor to lose its stability and crumble, letting you fall into the chaos the disorder creates.

You watch your BP for signs of approval or disapproval of your every word, every thought, every action, and every behavior.

You are afraid that the BP in your life will go crazy and harm or even kill yourself or others.

This constant state of fear may even trigger violent reoccurring nightmares.

If you feel that what you do or say has the power to cause the borderline in your life to behave in a more ‘normal’ manner, this is the beginning of a major problem.

It is important for you to realize that you are a sane person in an insane situation.

You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it and you certainly cannot cure it.

You can’t prevent raging.

You can’t put off crazy behavior forever.

You are entitled to a little peace in your life and to your own reality.

So, in a nutshell, what is "walking on eggshells?"

Walking on eggshells is stuffing your feelings down into a tight little ball while doing your best to keep a calm mask on your face.

It’s wondering where the person you used to be has gone, and if he or she will ever return.

Walking on eggshells is feeling absolutely helpless and worthless.

It is seeing your self-esteem traumatized, damaged or even destroyed over the course of your relationship with the BP.

Walking on eggshells is refusing to set clear boundaries and consequences for hurtful behaviors with the BP in your life.

It is allowing them to do things and say things that you’d never allow anyone else to do or say to you to your children.

It is allowing this because you know the emotional price you will pay if you don’t.

Walking on Eggshells is beginning to believe what the BP tells you about what you did, why you did it, what you were thinking and believing, despite your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors telling you differently.

It is beginning to doubt whether you even know what reality is anymore.

Walking on eggshells is feeling dread at the thought of going home when you’ve been out.

It is looking for excuses to stay away longer, or to find any reason to avoid going home to the uncertainty. It’s the conflict of ‘feeling free’ when you escape from the crazy making for a little while, and the guilt you feel for feeling ‘free’ from the person you love so much.

Walking on Eggshells is doing or saying what ever the BP in your life tells you to do or say, just to get through the chaos, to get back some form of ‘normalcy’ in your life just so you can continue to function on some minimal level.

Walking on eggshells is making excuses for his or her behavior, whether it’s their terrible childhood, their addictions, or a past romance that went sour. It’s minimizing the damage they are doing to you, to your self and to your family and friends.

Walking on Eggshells means avoiding people the BP in your life doesn’t like, stopping activities that he or she doesn’t approve of.

It’s the shrinking down of your social circle to just you and the BP or just the few other people that the BP may like or approve of.

It’s the feeling that you’ll do or say anything - anything - the BP wants you to do or say, just to get some rest.

It is wanting desperately to figure out what you have to do to make the raging, the splitting, the blaming and the controlling go away ‘just for a little while.’

Walking on eggshells is the feeling that you cannot talk about what is happening to you with family or friends because the BP tells you that this is disloyal to them or a betrayal of the relationship.

Walking on eggshells is knowing that you have no privacy, no space that is yours in this relationship.

Walking on eggshells is knowing that if you ever finally achieve some sense of balance, some sense of ‘we’re going to make it after all’ that the rules will change once more.

It is knowing that when this happens, according to the BP in your life, it is all YOUR fault.

Walking on eggshells is the feeling that maybe, just maybe, death itself is walking around in your life, an uninvited guest - and that the you that you used to be has died and no one even noticed or cared. Not even you yourself.

Walking on eggshells is the feeling of fear and tension that compels you to protect your BPSO and keep your life on an even keel.

Walking on eggshells is being afraid to say what you really think or feel, or even acknowledging your own feelings to yourself.

Walking on eggshells is keeping bad news to yourself.

Walking on eggshells is being afraid to ask your BPSO to do anything or made any decisions.

Walking on eggshells is feeling that you have a ticking bomb in the house and any false move will make it explode.

So, how do you avoid walking on eggshells?

First, let go of the fear of raging. If you can’t let go of the fear, it is an indication that you are really not safe. If you are in real danger, the only solution is a geographical one. Make a safety plan and get out.

Understand that you can’t control the raging. It’s not a response to what you do. It’s part of the disorder.

Speak clearly, calmly and slowly.

Maintain YOUR version of reality, while being as validating as possible.

Lower your expectations that the person is going to act rationally. It isn’t going to happen. At least not overnight.

You aren’t perfect. Recognize this. From time to time you will make a real mistake. When you do make a mistake own it. Don’t own the raging response, that isn’t yours.

Be gentle with yourself and forgive yourself.

Remember that it is ok to leave when your BPSO is raging. Recognize that a geographical solution may trigger abandonment fears, but it’s still a good solution.

Do whatever you need to do to maintain your safety and that of anyone else in the situation.

Be good to yourself. You deserve an occasional break. Do something fun.

- Deedee, Kelly and Teresa

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