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The damage of living in a Humpty Dumpty Family

Three brown eggs in an egg carton with faces drawn on them

In a family, there is often a dynamic referred to as "The Humpty Dumpty experience". This concept centers around an issue that has been spoken of in many therapist's office, "I feel like I am constantly walking on eggshells around him/her".

Whether this experience is uttered by a partner, a parent, a child, or a sibling, it all means the same thing, one member of the family holds a great deal of power to control the atmosphere in the home. This dynamic creates many challenges within a family system.

Most importantly, when any member of a family feels they have to walk on eggshells around another family member, there is an unhealthy balance created in that relationship, often effecting the whole family. Communication patterns, relationship modeling, and family values become disruptive for all members of the family as there are no clear rules around behavioral expectations, and everyone works to protect the household environment by "keeping the peace".

With couples, this dynamic effects the power division between partners. If a partner is worried about speaking up, then often times resentment and fear build up and is ignited over something small and inconsequential which leads to an unhealthy pattern of communication.

If a parent is explosive or unpredictable, that often leads to kids holding things in, unable to get guidance, help or support around something if they aren't sure how a parent will react.

If a child or sibling is the one everyone is working to manage, the power given to the child creates a dynamic where the power isn't equal to the developmental level and there is no sense of security or accountability for that child. Children can only handle certain responsibilities at any given age. As parents, we do not want to put our children in the drivers seat to control whether the family is working well together or not.

There is no dynamic in a family where "walking on eggshells" ever supports healthy growth. If you experience this feeling in your home, it's important to take stock of what is the most important value you hold in your family, and in a relationship. Have a family conversations about healthy boundaries and positive communication. In a non-threatening way (being curious is always a favorite, ie. "I'm curious if you notice..."), suggest to your family member the challenges you have when you are worried about a reaction. Offer that, if something is said to anyone that doesn't feel right, they should count to 10 before they respond so that there is time to quiet the reaction and enable a healthy conversation about any given issue.


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