Are You Sick and Tired of Walking on Eggshells?

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Hi there, welcome back to Kelly Martin Speaks. I’m your host Kelly Martin and this is episode 86.

This week, a bit of a continuation from last week, I am a bit poorly. I have a viral infection and have been cooped up indoors for nearly a week now. So, my apologies if I sound a bit bunged up in my nose or croaky in my voice because I have been coughing almost non-stop.

So today I am going to talk about why walking on eggshells around certain people can be damaging to your self-esteem and how it’s important to stop doing it.

I think many of us are accustomed to walking on eggshells. Certain people really bring that out in us, especially volatile personalities. And we walk on eggshells for safety. It’s a natural instinct, but when does walking on eggshells become more toxic and what can we do about this?

For me it started at school with the typical school bully. You knew you had to keep you head down, keep quiet or say only things that they would be okay hearing. I was a shy and quiet child so I pretty much hid away from this kind of situation, but I have also had my fair share of walking on eggshells with people for a very long time.

The hardest part is that you know you have something to say, something to offer, but you simply can’t share it, because if it does not match the belief system or narrative of the volatile person, you know you will get shot down and sometimes abused so you keep quiet, suppressing your authentic voice.

Sometimes families have long lengthy patterns of walking on eggshells around one another. These patterns can often be tracked back through the ancestors, where mothers or fathers have learned to behave towards their children in a certain way or behave in volatile ways towards siblings. It’s a learned response within families, carried on down through the generations.

An example can be when women (or men) in families all have volatile tempers, but nobody has ever questioned this, so it just continues as if this was normal and okay behaviour, through into the next generation and on and on until someone stops and thinks and changes.

I know I learned my temper from my family. I learned to express anger in a volatile way, but I also learned quickly that it was okay for some to express anger, but not okay for me. Adults were allowed, children were not.

And because of this I learned to hide my feelings, and this became toxic.

I was taught by example to see anger as a way to get what I wanted, but at the same time I was given the contradictory message that anger was wrong. Fortunately, I have learned over the past few years that anger is a powerful emotion, that is not necessarily bad, because it is also the birthplace of creativity and fire. Yes anger can be toxic, but only if we internalise it in a shame-based way, or use it to harm others.

So, when we are brought up in a dynamic where anger is both right and wrong, who do we attack apart from others? Ourselves. We express this anger and then we feel guilty for expressing it and toxically shame ourselves for expressing it OR we develop a more volatile personality and project it completely onto other people and don’t take any responsibility whatsoever for our emotions.

And everyone responds differently according to their childhood programming.

Some will mimic the emotions of a parent or primary caregiver and become the angry volatile person regardless of circumstance, whereas others may shut down, keep quiet, and not express themselves for fear of receiving the wrath of others.

This is very common in many families.

I was just talking to some friends in my private group on Facebook, how many of them relate to walking on eggshells around family and how most have at least one or more family members who everyone just gives a wide berth to.

It saddens me that this is the case, because often the person who is volatile may feel very misunderstood, but instead of seeing that people around them are watching what they say and keeping quiet, they may internalise this as believing that they are disliked or hated, but it’s not that, people are just protecting themselves from angry energy. No-one wants to feel on the defensive 24/7.

Over a year ago I decided I was no longer going to walk on eggshells. I decided I would start to speak up, not bow down to the demands of others and to acknowledge my right to an opinion and a voice. It was an uncomfortable change for me, to finally change my life script, because not everyone will like the new script, especially those who found the quiet, ‘nice’, people-pleasing me more tolerable.

Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder

angry volatile woman

And this is where we look at those we walk on eggshells around. Is it worth it anymore? What have we got to lose by speaking up or walking away from them? If we are honest, nothing.

True, authentic relationships are based on trust and a feeling of safety. We feel safe to express who we are and be who we really are. If we have never felt able to express who we are, why should we stick around or be kind to those who have never acknowledged our right to have a voice?

And also some people have an emotionally unstable personality disorder, where you could talk about something minor or something most people would not even be offended or upset about and they fly off into an instant rage or tirade of abuse. I know people like this, and it gets exhausting having to walk on those eggshells to keep the peace. It also gets so tiring having to second guess what to say to keep them happy or to stop them flying into an angry rage. Nobody should have to live like this.

Now I know certain conditions like emotionally unstable personality disorder or borderline personality disorder are common and we often approach mental health issues with compassion and understanding for those with these conditions, but I think sometimes we need to face how interacting with volatile people feels and start making choices that are empowering for ourselves too. Our mental health is equally as important.

People who have volatile personalities can often have a distorted sense of self, a deep experience of paranoia and because of this they are on the lookout for perceived wrongdoings, criticism and conflict.

Living with or interacting with someone like this can leave people feeling that they are never good enough and not appreciated. While the volatile personality believes that their view of reality is more important, the person in the firing line will be made to feel ‘less than’.

Communicating with an emotionally unstable person can be seriously draining to the point when you just stop talking, you stop speaking up for yourself, especially if you have low self-esteem or low self-confidence. The volatile person becomes a bully by not allowing others to see things differently, to the point where whole families or friends may simply stay clear for fear of engaging the wrath of the emotionally unstable person.

Much like a narcissistic personality disorder, volatile emotional personalities will not see anything they are doing as unacceptable. Instead they will be always projecting and pointing fingers outwards, to those they see as in the wrong.

Are You In A Relationship With Someone Who Is Emotionally Unstable?

shocked woman

When you are in an eggshell relationship, with a partner, a friend, a family member or work colleague you may feel a lot of different things.

Joe Navarro from Psychology Today says that the following may apply to the emotionally unstable personality:

  1. Displays of intense anger and outbursts are very disproportionate to the circumstances or the event.
  2. Since knowing or entering into a relationship with this person, you have become less happy, less confident, or less sure of yourself.
  3. The relationship is best described as a “roller coaster” of highs and lows.
  4. Is unable to appreciate the consequences of hurtful statements or behaviour and how it may affect others, including family members or society.
  5. Behaves in ways that at times are inappropriate or outrageous.
  6. With some frequency, seems to fall apart or gets angry under the slightest 
  7. Arguments that should last a few minutes may go on for hours or days with no effort to ameliorate or end them.
  8. The smallest of instances causes him/her to become angry and to lash out.
  9. There are recurrent instances of fighting, arguing, or physical confrontations.
  10. Verbal altercations or arguments seem to be a way of life even with total strangers or even service providers such as a doctor.
  11. You can’t seem to relax, chill out, or “stand down” around this person.
  12. Those who are closest (e.g., you, family, children, spouses) routinely have to “check” to see what the current “mood” is.
  13. Is described by others as “unpredictable” or “unstable,” or is known to throw things or destroy property.
  14. Claims to forgive but never Wrongs, grievances, or injustices are remembered specifically for use in future arguments.
  15. Has a “short fuse” and frustration level is very low.
  16. Seems incapable of consistent empathy, caring, or love and yet demands it from you or others.
  17. You have felt reluctant to speak or to take action out of fear of this person’s reactions toward you or that they may hurt themselves.
  18. You feel trapped by this person in some way.
  19. Uses humiliation as a form of punishment or to put you down in order to elevate their self-esteem.
  20. Often lashes out not just with anger but with rage. At times frighteningly so.   

If you recognise yourself in this list you may need to get help from a therapist or counsellor to give you the strength to walk away, especially if they become violent, but equally so if you sense that you may have an emotionally unstable personality, you may also benefit from getting help, to get to the root cause of what is hurting so much that life has become so intolerable, especially when relating to others.

What we need to remember is that we are not responsible for this emotionally unstable person. We are not here to fix them; we cannot fix them. They need to acknowledge that they need help and until that happens nothing will change.

What you can do if you feel you are in an emotionally unstable relationship is:

  1. Walk away, get out. If you struggle with this, get the help of a healthcare provider to support you.
  2. If the other person is willing, get help as a couple or a mother – daughter relationship, whatever the relationship is, you can get counselling for this.
  3. If you plan to stick around and stay with your partner or have to care for a volatile parent who is sick or elderly, perhaps take on some assertiveness classes or courses, learn to be stronger in your communication so you can set up more healthy boundaries and feel more empowered.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Kelly Martin Speaks

If you have a question or topic you are struggling with and would like me to answer on an upcoming podcast episode, please get in touch. Your name will be confidential. EMAIL me at or message me on Facebook via my page Kelly Martin Speaks.

And don’t forget, if you feel that others are passing you by and ‘The Not Good Enough’ voice is screaming loudly, pop by to find out all about my books, including Book 1 ‘When Everyone Shines but You’

You can also support my channel via my podcast page on my website via Paypal or buy me a coffee via ko-fi.

Until next time…bye for now

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Kelly Martin
Kelly Martin

Kelly Martin, author of ‘When Everyone Shines But You’ is a dedicated writer and blogger who fearlessly explores life’s deepest questions. Faced with a decade of profound anxiety and grief following the loss of her father and her best friend Michael, Kelly embarked on a transformative journey guided by mindfulness, and she hasn’t looked back since. Through her insightful writing, engaging podcasts, and inspiring You Tube channel Kelly empowers others to unearth the hidden treasures within their pain, embracing the profound truth that they are ‘enough’ exactly as they are.

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