What does It Mean to be "Walking on Eggshells"?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 May 2020
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The idiom walking on eggshells generally describes a situation in which people must tread lightly around a sensitive topic, or make every effort not to offend a volatile or hypersensitive person. Literally walking on the empty shells of eggs would require exceptional caution and self-control, similar to the feeling of avoiding conflict with an easily disturbed friend, relative or employer. Family members of active alcoholics or rageaholics often use this phrase to describe their careful avoidance of conflict with their loved one.

The origin of the idiom is a matter of dispute, but the general consensus is that walking on eggshells came from the same place as other cautionary actions, such as walking on thin ice or broken glass. Some sources suggest that it came from an earlier idiom, "walking on eggs." While walking on eggshells presents enough difficulty for most people, walking on the whole egg without damage would be nearly impossible. Certain politicians who took extraordinarily cautious positions on an issue were said to have the dubious ability to walk on eggs without breaking them.

There are any number of people who have poor anger management skills or a hair trigger temper. Even the slightest offense or deviation from routine may be enough to trigger an explosive emotional outburst or physical reaction. This volatility may be enough to cause others to modify their own behavior and actions to maintain a tense but workable work or social environment. Walking on eggshells around a known rageaholic or temperamental person may be viewed as a form of self-preservation, although often accompanied by feelings of anxiety or dread. Failure to maintain such a non-confrontational atmosphere may end badly.

There are also times when people may feel like walking on eggshells around otherwise self-controlled family members, co-workers or employers. A certain subject may prove so potentially upsetting that others agree not to bring it up around those it affects most. Family members may be extra cautious around a patient until the results of an important medical test are revealed, for example. Employees may feel as if they were walking on eggshells until their employer learns of a project's fate. Any circumstance in which the need for diplomacy and tact outweigh the need for direct confrontation could easily trigger a need to tread lightly. Once the situation has been resolved or the person's own coping skills improve, such careful action may no longer be required.

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Post 8

It must be a very very harrowing experience dealing with those people. Walking on eggshells is a very difficult skill.

Post 5

It was once believed that witches could use the shell of an egg to create a boat to sail or fly in. Breaking up, crushing, walking on the eggshells being discarded was a way to make certain they could not be used in witch craft. To walk on eggshells would then be to prevent a bad outcome.

Post 4

Walking on eggshells is a pejorative.

Literally walking on eggshells, you take a relatively easy mess to clean up and you grind it into the carpet until you completely destroy the carpet with the mess you made.

Metaphorically walking on eggshells, you take a relatively easy mess to clean up and you lie to your "friend" until you completely throw this person under the bus and then blame them for your malicious pretty-sounding lies.

The origin intended this correlation. There's no other possible explanation for the origin. You cannot walk on eggshells without making the mess bigger. Not literally and not metaphorically. It can't be done. People who use the idiom in any way other than pejorative are filthy liars.

Post 2

Oasis11-I heard of this book and it really helps you learn how to deal effectively with people like this because it can feel scary when they lose control.

It is really important to understand that you can change how you let people affect you, but you can not change the behavior of others.

If you learn how to focus on things that you can control and let go of things that you can you will lead a more peaceful and productive life because you will not spend time second guessing your actions with people like this.

It is really a disorder that causes the instability and it is not about you so if you keep this in mind you should be all right. This is how to stop walking on eggshells.

Post 1

The phrase walking on eggshells really relates to our dealing with unstable people and how they react impulsively in anger or distress at the slightest provocation.

We tend to feel very uncomfortable with these people because they are so unpredictable.

There is even a walking on eggshells borderline personality disorder that relates to people who suffer from intense feelings of abandonment. They often engage in behaviors that are harmful like promiscuity, excessive spending and overeating.

In addition, they also have suicidal thoughts and extremes in feelings toward people. They may hate a person one day and love them the next.

There is a book called Stop Walking on Eggshell written by Paul Mason and Randi Kreger for family members of people afflicted with this disorder.

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