Do you constantly feel like you’re walking on eggshells? This may seem like a way to keep from stirring up trouble, but it can be a major red flag in personal and professional relationships. Here are some examples of when treading lightly does the most damage.Amy has been dating Jimmy for about six months. He is fun, smart, nice and affectionate. Despite their busy schedules, they talk daily and see each other at least once each week. They know each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities, and she helped him through a professional transition. He seems like a great boyfriend. But actually, he’s not a boyfriend at all .Jimmy has made it clear that he doesn’t want to and isn’t able to be in a committed relationship. He’s not seeing anyone else, but he isn’t fully investing in Amy either. These mixed messages (behaving like a boyfriend while saying he’s not a boyfriend) leave Amy spinning. She’s afraid to contact him unless he contacts her first, and she’s afraid to not contact him, for fear he won’t contact her at all. When his actions make her feel girlfriend-y, she’s confused and afraid to verbalize those feelings.
She’s afraid to tell him that she needs more in the relationship, because she already knows his answer. And she’s afraid to leave the relationship because the good times together make her doubt her own perceptions. So Amy spends most of the time when she’s away from Jimmy and some of the time when they’re together walking on eggshells, afraid to do or say the “wrong” thing.
Becca has been at her job for five years. She works for a mid-sized company where she supervises several employees and reports directly to the CEO. She enjoys her work and has consistently earned favorable reviews and promotions. Though her staff has not always functioned well together, Becca has worked on building morale and cooperation and she is currently quite happy with the team. Unfortunately, there have been some decisions made at the top in the past year that have trickled down and caused problems for Becca and her staff. Since Becca wasn’t told about the changes until after they were in effect, she had no way to plan for them or to minimize their negative impact.
After each new decision, she requested a meeting with the CEO and voiced her concerns. The first time, she was told that it was not her concern and not her place to be discussing such issues. The second time the CEO spoke to her in a condescending and insulting tone while ignoring her comments. And the third time she requested a meeting, Becca was told that she is getting a reputation for being a trouble-maker. Her effort to speak up and improve the situation for herself and her staff resulted in more problems, instead of a solution. So now Becca has as little interaction with the CEO as possible and is afraid to answer honestly when asked her opinion. She spends all her time at work walking on eggshells.Both of these women were effectively silenced. This result can have major consequences, both externally and internally. Externally, walking on eggshells means that Amy stays stuck in a relationship where her needs are not being met, afraid to leave and afraid to speak up lest she be left. It means that Becca is stuck in a work situation where she is unable to be effective because she is afraid to communicate with her supervisor.Internally, they are both stifled. They’re afraid to give voice to their thoughts and feelings, and they’re becoming convinced that their words don’t matter. Over time, they may lose the sense of who they are and what they want to say.
Everyone censors themselves sometimes, depending on the situation, other people involved, the goal of the interactions. But if you feel like you’re holding back consistently, it may be time to figure out what’s going on. Frequently walking on eggshells is not OK. It may not be good for the situation and it’s definitely not good for you.