CNM: 045 How (Not) To Walk On Eggshells – with Hope Eden, LCSW

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In this episode we’re talking to licensed clinical social worker and therapist Hope Eden.

Hope works with people who are experiencing relationship trauma or loss, life transitions, and negative emotions like anxiety, grief, anger or depression.

Today we’re talking about walking on eggshells, temperament testing, optimism bias, and something called the locus of control.

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Now let’s get to the interview!

Interview With Hope Eden About How (Not) To Walk On Eggshells

Brian: Hope, welcome to the show. We’re so glad to have you today.

Hope: Thanks for having me, Brian.

Brian: My pleasure. Let’s get right to my first question.

Question: What are some of the most helpful or foundational things you found that help the people that you work with?

Hope: In working with people for over sixteen years as a licensed clinical social worker, I’ve found that people often come with relational distress, anxiety, and depression that traces back to relational issues. One of the most foundational things that I’ve discovered is so basic that if I don’t lead up to it slowly and tell them that it’s so basic, that they could miss it if they’re not paying attention, is this – I’m going to pause right before I say then I’m going to ask the audience to really take this in – “I am me and you are you. I am me and you are you.”

I call it a reset button. It’s a way for people, when they’re having boundary issues or discomfort and relating to another person, to take a moment and say, ‘I’m me, he’s he. I’m me, she’s she. I’m me, they’re they,’ and get perspective and get centered within their own self in order to re-engage or make a decision to move away from the other person.

Brian: Yeah. It’s like setting that invisible wall of, ‘Here’s what I can take control of, here’s what I don’t have control of. I should live within my limit and have you live within a limit that doesn’t impose on mine at the same time.’ That’s a great way to say it.

Hope: Absolutely. Also, it helps to see yourself as a person, and the other as a person. It’s really important for that to happen because in order to have relationship, there must be two people. I look at it like – if we were circles, we must be even-sized circles in order to have relationship. If one circle is big to another person’s circle being small, then it is not possible to have relationship.

Brian: Yeah. There’s a visual that you can think about there; you are inside a circle, they’re inside a circle and they should be the same size, right?

Hope: Absolutely. Or even, they are the circle. In order to have a healthy relationship, the circles must be equal rather than different sizes.

Brian: Yeah, okay. That’s funny because on my Start Here page on my website, I have an illustration that has ‘You and Me’ inside of a circle (believe it or not). The illustration that we draw actually looks like this – in a healthy relationship; ‘You’ and ‘Me’ intersect a little bit. In the place where we intersect, we call that ‘Us.’ But in a codependent relationship, what it looks like is a small ‘Me’ inside of a bigger ‘You.’ So I am what you think of me and I am basically you (for lack of better way to say it), and I’m smaller than you and I’m basically inside you. That’s dangerous. I just remember that we have it on our Start Here page; what a great reminder.

Question: Earlier we were talking about concept that’s called the ‘locus of control’. There’s something called the ‘internal locus of control’ and the ‘external locus of control.’ Can you help our listeners understand what the can take away from this concept of the locus of control?

Hope: Imagine the two circles. Imagine the circle that is ‘you’ and then add arrows going out; that represents internal locus of control. This is when the place of control for me is within me. Locus of control is the ‘place of control’ and the internal locus of control is when the control is within me. The external locus of control would be the circle with arrows coming in toward the person who is represented by the circle and the control is outside of them. The locus of control is at a point outside of them – whether it’s a person, a situation, a circumstance – it’s a control or a motivator that is outside of the person.

What I do with that is help people use that as an assessment tool. I might ask, ‘Is this from a place of an internal locus of control or an external locus of control?’ Most people when asked will say, ‘I’d really like to come from an internal locus of control where I’m making my own decisions, operating as a ‘self’, and making determinations about my life.’ They’re coming from their own space, their own belief system, and their own values.

If they’re using this tool, they can say, ‘Am I being motivated by what’s outside of me or am I being motivated from what’s within me?’ If then they look at it like, ‘Okay, how do I move from outside to an inside place of control?’ then they can start taking steps.

A symptom of an external locus of control might be blame or resentment; that thing outside of you is causing you distress and you’re blaming that. That’s a sign of an external locus of control. That person may say, ‘How do I move to where I’m coming from within me rather than depending on what this person outside of me is doing?’

Brian: Right. You’re reminding me of something. I want to actually ask your input on this idea. As you say that, I remember talking to Christine Askew in episode 12 about codependency schemas. It seems to me that two of the four codependency schemas that she discussed would correlate with internal versus external locus of control – at least the two most obvious ones.

For example, Self-Sacrificers and Subjugators are two different brands of codependency. Self-Sacrificers are often the folks who sacrifice themselves, always trying to help another person fix another person, jump in there and save the day when someone else is in distress, and keep things on an even keel. Whereas subjugators have a lot of anxiety around personal safety. ‘I’m going to give you anything in order for you to stay.’  ‘I’m going to make sure that you’re pleased so that you’re not angry with me.’ ‘I’m going to make sure that all of your opinions of me are good because I don’t want to ruffle feathers. I have a lot of anxiety and I want to keep you happy.’ But the motivation for doing each of those is very, very different.

The Self-Sacrificer seems to have a high internal locus of control. They’re almost like a superhero coming in to save the day, very almost dominant, assertive, and very proactive whereas the Subjugator is more concerned about what the other person thinks.

They (Subjugators) don’t feel like they really have a lot of control at all. Or, they try to use the little control that they do have to keep themselves safe, but they’re so worried about what someone else thinks of them from the outside that they would seem to have an external locus of control. Does that make sense to you?

Hope: Yes. It sounds like there’s a high-risk based on those schemas of toxic bonding. Patrick Carnes talks about that in The Betrayal Bond. I think there’s also a risk of what I call ‘locus of control leapfrog’. It sounds like the Self-Sacrificer who’s coming from an internal locus of control becomes someone else’s external locus of control. Then the Subjugator might seek to have the other person dependent upon them by whatever it is that they’re offering so they become bigger.

Then there’s a back and forth, big circle to little circle, and the Subjugators may operate on the small circle side where they have an external locus of control. They seek means to regain some control, but they do it by seeking to get it from the outside. Does that make sense?

Brian: Yeah, it makes sense. Thanks for commenting on that. It just came to mind when you were describing the locus of control.

Question: Moving along, there’s a concept that a lot of people mention when they talk about having codependent tendencies of feeling like they’re ‘walking on eggshells’ all the time. They don’t want to ruffle feathers. What would you say to someone who feels that they’re always walking on eggshells?

Hope: I would ask that person, ‘How much could you possibly weigh to walk on eggshells and not break them?’ Because that’s what the goal is. If they say they’re walking on eggshells, my guess is they’re talking about whole eggshells that aren’t broken. The answer is you can’t weigh very much if you’re trying to walk on eggshells and not break them. That indicates not existing, not being a person, because a person has weight.

The solution is to be a person. That means, having thoughts, feelings, opinions, beliefs, needs, and expressing them.

Brian: Yeah, that makes sense. Walking on eggshells is equivalent to not being a person, you need to have some weight and be a person.

Hope: Right. If the other person is the external control, and if a person is seeking to please them, not make them angry, or keep them satisfied, then they may be in a position where they must forfeit their own self in order to have that happen that the other person isn’t angry, they’re satisfied, or they’re dependent. Forfeiture of self means that you’re not existing.

Going back to the first question about ‘I am me and you are you,’ there must be two people in order to have that overlap that is ‘us’ in the form of terms, agreements, compromise, understanding, and relationship.

Question: Can you define what you call ‘temperament testing’, why you would use it, and how to do it?

Hope: I had the opportunity to learn about temperament testing from a dog breeder at one point. She would actually thoroughly interview people who wanted to adopt one of her dogs or puppies, and then she would select a dog or puppy based on the people’s needs and wants, and on their responses to her interview. Then she would do what was called temperament testing on the puppies. She would put them through a series of tests to see what they would do in certain situations. She would test for intelligence, agility, temperament, and then she would match the puppy to the people and the people to the puppy based on all of that information gathering.

I thought, “Wow, that’s amazing. What if people did that as they entered into relationships with other people?” We do it in the work world. We go to job interviews, we apply to jobs, we research the companies that we’ll be working for, and then once we’re hired, we sign off on policies and procedures. In interviews, the interviewee and the interviewer are paying attention to each other and how they might fit in. But in regular relationships that aren’t in the workplace, how much of that is going on? Not much. That’s high risk behavior because we enter in based on how we feel about someone initially; their charisma, what they might be offering, how they look, and the chemistry. We may not be testing out what they’re like in certain situations, what are their strengths, their weaknesses, and how that might play out in relationship with us given our own strengths, weaknesses, and temperament.

Temperament testing is a way to get to know who the person is that you might be entering a relationship with and to do it safely. Temperament testing may include creating opportunities like the breeder situation I talk to you about. She would throw a ball to see how intelligent they might be, if they would go after the ball, she would hold the puppy up in the air – and of course all of this was safe but it may had been uncomfortable for the puppy. She would open an umbrella toward the dog and see what it would do.

I thought, “I wonder what kinds of things could be done entering into a relationship,” and so here’s a short list of things that might be useful: create opportunities to notice what the other person does if you make a mistake, cancel a plan, have a different opinion, disagree, or express a need. See what the other person would do if you express a feeling, state an expectation, offer a compromise instead of doing what they want to do, leave a question unanswered, and don’t explain or give a reason if they ask you why.

Offer a different perspective. Maybe prioritize another person, a friend, or maybe even a pet and say, ‘I’m going out with my friend tonight,’ and see what they do. Maybe you could even stay home and do something trivial. Tell them, ‘Oh, I can’t come out tonight because I’m going to watch reruns of Tom’s show on Netflix,’ and see what they do. If they are not honoring of you as a person, if they become big and put out the opportunity for you to become small, then that is a major red flag.

Brian: I love that you gave such specific examples. Those are some things that people could do if they wanted too to test this out for themselves with their partners or with potential partners.

Hope: Yes.

Question: Okay, great. I want to move on to another term that you introduced me to before – Optimism Bias. I have a sense of what that is but can you describe what you mean when you say optimism bias and why do we need to be careful with it?

Hope: Optimism Bias is a term and concept I learned from Tali Sharot. She did a TED talk in 2012 where she talked about this concept that we tend to be optimistic and believe that we will beat the odds.

She gave an example of penguins who, let’s say, are on a cliff. There’s a penguin who thinks it can fly. Of course penguins have little-short wings and if they try to fly, it’s dangerous. But if a penguin thinks it can fly and it jumps off, it will die. If the penguin is pessimistic, it won’t go near the cliff, but then it won’t get to experience flying. Then she talked about the penguin who puts on a parachute and the parachute allows them to fly but to do it safely.

I have incorporated parachutes into my work based on this talk and encourage people to set up measures to be able to be in relationship or to do things that require safety by creating parachutes. What happens when we use parachutes in relationships (and this references what we had just talked about with temperament testing) without temperament testing (which is a parachute by the way), one might just go into a relationship, be optimistic, and think, ‘Oh, this is the best person I’ve ever met,’ ‘Oh, wow. They are terrific. I want to spend the rest of my life with them.’ Then of course overtime they might realize, ‘Ooh, that’s a problem. That’s a problem.’ But they are so far into it and there’s an oxytocin connection (that’s the loyalty hormone, the relationship hormone) that it’s very hard to get out.

But if at the beginning they keep that optimism bias in check, set up parachutes, do things like temperament testing, or have a due diligence period where they gather information about the person before they enter into relationship, then they can do it as safely as possible.

Brian: Yeah, great advice. Instead of taking what you see (because you don’t really see a complete picture), you have a tendency to fill in those gaps with what you want to believe rather than what’s necessarily there. Don’t be so optimistic, really try to see what’s there first. That sounds like a wonderful practice.


Question: Moving on, what is your biggest piece of advice for a codependent person?

Hope: I would say, use your parachutes, always gain information to make good decisions, be purposeful about the relationships that you enter, and always, always be a self, and weigh something. Exist. Go ahead and break the eggshells. This can be done by knowing your personal rights.

There’s something called the Personal Bill of Rights. I’ll read the first five on the Personal Bill of Rights; “I have the right to ask for what I want. I have the right to say ‘no’ to requests or demands I cannot meet. I have the right to express all of my feelings, positive or negative. I have the right to change my mind. I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.”

If you’re being a person and you’re operating within your Personal Bill of Rights and you might adopt the one that I’m mentioning or create your own, then you’re able to be the same-sized circle as other people. If you’re not, exit the relationship or don’t enter the relationship.

Again I want to stress safety, that there are contextual considerations when exiting a relationship. If there’s a relationship where there are safety issues, please do contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline and they do have safety planning. You can speak to someone about it. Know your Personal Bill of Rights.

There’s more to those list but I will say these things; this is what makes you you: your character, beliefs, values, curiosities, knowledge, perception, intentions, understanding, feelings, goals, dreams, preferences, needs, wants, desires, personality, and temperament. If you are operating as a ‘self’, you are honoring all that is you, all the things that are on that list. You make those determinations as you operate from an internal locus of control.

If someone begins to tell you who you are, what you are, what your intentions are, or what you’re trying to do, then they are in a position of an external control and that’s high risk. Bring that control back to you and make determinations within you based on your own value system and your own self.

Brian: Awesome advice.

Question: Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t, but is there anything else that you want to add to this conversation that we just didn’t get a chance to discuss yet?

Hope: The language of operating from an internal control that honors the other person – so I am me, you are you – if I’m wanting for something to come from me and go to you and not overtake you, I call those ‘send outs.’ These might sound like this, ‘I agree,’ ‘I disagree,’ ‘I will,’ ‘I won’t,’ ‘Yes, ‘No,’ ‘This is how I feel,’ ‘This is what I need’, ‘From where I’m standing, there is this observation.’

Rather than telling someone about themselves or seeking to overtake them in order to have agreement, I send out my part and then they get to decide whether or not they agree or disagree with what it is that I’m sending to them.

Brian: I love how you put that. It makes so much sense when you articulated that way that you don’t have to have responsibility for the way someone else reacts to you or what they think of you necessarily. You have a certain degree of ownership, they have their own degree of ownership, and let’s not muddle those together; but very well said. Thank you for that.

Hope: Thank you for having me, Brian.

Brian: My pleasure.

Question: Before we wrap up for good here, what if somebody wanted to get in touch with you for some reason, where can they find out more about you?

Hope: I can be found on Psychology Today. I live in Asheville, North Carolina. If you do a search on my name, Hope Eden, you can find me there. I also have a Facebook business page. If you hit ‘Like’ there, you can get updates about what I’m doing and more information about ‘I am me and you are you’.

Brian: Awesome, thanks so much for coming on the show today, Hope. We appreciate your time and expertise.

Hope: Thank you.

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