Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop? Here Are 5 Steps you Can Take to Help You Stop Walking on Eggshells and Start Really Living…

“You Get Right Up My Nose…”

One evening when I was 4, I interrupted my dad’s newspaper reading. In his irritation he said:

“You get right up my nose.”

“But daddy, my feet would stick out” I giggled.

To my little girl brain, getting up his nose was clearly impossible and I found the image of me trying hilarious.

I was open-hearted and playful in my response to my dad, but instead of laughing along with me, he found my “back-chat” disrespectful and flew into a violent rage. I was caught off-guard and shocked by his anger.

I didn’t even have to wait for the other shoe to drop. My “punishment” was instantaneous.

After the beating, I vowed to be more careful about who I was myself around. I swore to myself that I would never be funny or silly ever again. I had forgotten to be vigilant and I had paid a hefty price. The consequence (the other shoe) was swift but unforgettable. And sadly, long after the bruises healed, my vow to squelch my playful spirit remained.


Perhaps you can relate…

* Maybe for you the other shoe was the bully in grade school and you just never knew when or where they might ambush you.

* Maybe it’s been a recurrent auto-immune condition that flares-up whenever you burn the candle at both ends.

* Or perhaps it’s a vague feeling of impending doom, a nameless waiting for something bad to happen any time you experience too much happiness, joy or financial success.


So what can we do about this feeling of waiting?

The most important thing we need to understand is that “waiting for the other shoe to drop” is a trauma response.

Whether you experienced childhood, developmental trauma, sexual abuse, or a one off traumatic event like a car accident, the same rule applies.

Simply put, a traumatic event is anything that’s too much for our brain and body to process in the moment.

In that moment, we become overwhelmed and our pre-frontal cortex (the part of our brain responsible for thinking and making rational decisions) goes offline.

We go into auto-pilot and our survival-response system kicks in. Our blood pressure and heart rate rises, and our nervous system prepares our body to fight or flee.

If, as is so often the case during traumatic events, we’re unable to complete a survival response – like fighting or escaping, we can go into freeze or shut down.

When this happens, what we get left with is pent-up or thwarted survival impulses that have nowhere to go. They get stuck inside us.

Flash forward to today and this translates into us feeling hyper-vigilant and anxious during events which are seemingly unrelated to our original trauma.

Let me give you another example…


I Plucked Up the Courage, and Then Got Knocked Back Down…

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was a caretaker and confidant for my Mum. When I graduated university, I decided that I wanted to be more independent. To call her a little less frequently and to drive to visit a little less often so that I could begin to establish my own adult life, relationships and career.

I plucked up the courage to tell Mum and it felt so good – like a mini-victory in autonomy.

On my drive back to London, less than 4 hours after our conversation, I got a call to tell me Mum had had a seizure.

I turned the car around and so began a further 2 years as primary caretaker and nurse for Mum until she died in 2005.

For years I believed my “selfishness” during that conversation caused her illness and subsequent death.

And this is really what waiting for the other shoe to drop is all about.

* I wanted to be more independent
* I got up the courage to assert myself
* I felt good about myself and my decision
* I was hit by the other shoe (Mum’s shock diagnosis)
* I made meaning (there is no escape from my caretaking role)
* I went deeper and created a belief (I am not allowed to be happy or to live my life – I have to put my life on hold and always care for others…)


How Does It Show Up in Your Life? 

Take a moment to reflect on how this pattern of waiting for the other shoe to drop shows up in your own life.

* What meaning have you given it?
* What beliefs have you developed because of it?
* How have these impacted your life today?

Logically of course, I know I didn’t cause Mum to develop lung and brain cancer. So what was really going on?

As young children, we all believe that the world revolves around us. This is a natural and normal stage in childhood development. It’s why we play peek-a-boo with toddlers, to help them to learn about object permanence, separation and autonomy.

However, in developmental trauma and beyond, we are often told that the bad things that happen are our fault. We learn to conflate or mesh-together cause and effect:

“I was me, I was funny, I was happy, I got beaten.”

And so we learn:

“I must not be me. I must hide me. I must shrink in order to be safe (and to avoid the other shoe being dropped).”

So, now that we understand a bit about what’s going on…

Here’s How We Can Begin to Work With and Heal These Old Patterns:


Step 1: Is This Really True Now?

The First thing we need to do is pause and ask ourselves “is this really true now?”

For me… Yes, it was true back then. Yes I did get beaten. Yes, Mum did get sick. But is the meaning I gave these traumatic events still true here and now today?

Or – am I a little bit safer now, more able to be myself and live the life I truly want and deserve today?

So take a moment to pause and ask yourself “is this really true now?” Don’t judge what comes up. Perhaps it does still feel true, and that’s ok.


Step 2: Acknowledge the old patterns

Remember, we can’t heal what we can’t see.

Write a list of situations where you feel like you’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When you write this list, you will begin to clearly see patterns and “evidence” about all the reasons why you must not do the thing (be happy, be successful etc).

For me this is usually anything that involves being visible, speaking up or being authentically myself. And my reasons for not being more me usually revolve around fear or dread of being punished.


Step 3: Build New Beliefs

Begin to take tiny, titrated steps towards creating new evidence that will support a new belief today, like:

It’s safe for me to be joyful for 5 minutes, especially around my friend Casey.


My immune system is healthy and strong and I can go out with friends once a week without my condition flaring up.


Step 4: Untangle Old Traumatic Events

Using Tapping, continue to untangle old traumatic events from the meanings you gave them back then:

This allows us to create space for new, more empowering beliefs to develop and grow today:

Yes, it wasn’t safe for me to be playful or to be authentically “me” back then, but what if it is safer now?

And above all, get curious and the best step of all…


Step 5: Let Yourself Dream!

Ask yourself questions like…

I wonder what my life could be like with these new beliefs today?

I wonder what might be possible for me now that I’m free from this school bully? I wonder how much more I could concentrate on learning French now that I’m not waiting for the bully to strike.

I wonder how playful I could be with my kids, now that I’m not constantly waiting for the repercussion or the other shoe to drop.

You see, the bad things that happened were never my fault and they were never your fault either.

It’s time to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. You’ve waited long enough. And with these steps and tools, it’s possible to process and release old wounds and start living the life you truly want and deserve today.

Sending you love today.❤️

Karen Ortner

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12 Comments on this post

  1. This post was exactly what I needed right now. I was asking myself recently what is the nature of the obstacles I feel in the way of my career success and happiness. Karen, your clear specific examples of the false beliefs (meaning) attached to past traumatic events cracked open for me the source of the obstacles I feel. And an answer to prayer. Now I know what to tap on, and to give myself compassion. Thank you!!

    • Awesome work Grace and not at all easy to do. I’m so glad you found this blog post so helpful. Keep going and if you find more obstacles along the way, keep repeating the process of noticing the protective resistance first, naming them, honoring them and tapping through them. This will help you keep momentum going. You’ve got this! ☺️

  2. Thanks for the post Karen! As I read it I started remembering childhood situations with the bully, who was my mother. It occurred to me that I used the “freeze” mechanism a lot. When cleaning out old boxes I came across my grade school report cards, and first grade teacher wrote me up for NEVER speaking up in class. By the age of 4 I had learned that it wasn’t safe for me to speak or make any noise at all. After reading your article I wondered if some how I still have that “freeze” stay quiet programmed without my being aware of it and that’s why I stay stuck. I’ve noticed that recently I’ve attracted more than one employer where I reported to a female very much like my mother. That wasn’t always the case. When I was younger I seemed to be able to override the programming and was more successful at being happy, but I can’t seem to override it now. I will do these exercises and see if that helps.

    • Hi Mary,

      This is very typical as we get older for us to no longer be able to push through or override past programming.

      Meeting people who are like people from our past is very common. I always try to look at it as an invitation to explore whatever pattern is being repeatedly presented so that I can acknowledge it, in all aspects and then gently release it. It is a process, so please, if you can, be gentle with yourself.. ☺️

      Having no voice or not speaking up could be a freeze and/or a flight response. But either way, it was certainly a very effective survival mechanism back then.

      Going forwards, see if you can separate out not speaking up back then (for safety) from where you are now in this present moment. Yes, it might feel unsafe today, but “is that really true”? That’s a question I ask myself ALL the time.

  3. Thank you for this! I was recently encouraged to ‘reframe’ the conclusions I automatically draw from present day events. Which has led me to become curious about the meaning I’ve given to many (too many) past events that are still in force today. (the meaning I’ve given them is still overshadowing me today.) First of all, could NOT have done that much without knowing about and regularly using EFT/Tapping to de-escalate the related emotions. The 5 steps you’ve given to help us stop walking on eggshells will be so helpful for me and others I’m sure. I can’t get over how helpful the image of ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’ is. That’s it exactly! So obvious how I’ve been expending energy all this time to be on alert for the shoe to drop. And trying to manage things ahead of time so the metaphorical show doesn’t drop. Can’t wait to go deeper with this, as you say to really start living, rather than being on alert all the time for something catastrophic to happen.

      • Allie and Karen – your comments resonate with me. Thank you both. Karen – given what you know now, how, and how well, would you deal if a similar huge potential stressor, such as learning that someone in your inner circle has a catastrophic disease? I feel like I’m having some success reframing the past, but am not confident I could handle new situations, in which a very big shoe could drop, successfully. Thanks!

  4. Karen you are absolutely fantastic!
    I can understand you as I had similar experiences back in my childhood with my father

  5. Hi Karen – very powerful post. It’s very helpful in terms of understanding the past and making some new choices in my interpretation of past events. Still, though, at least vestiges of this pattern remain – something like “ I must remain hyper-vigilant so that x won’t happen or so I’ll be ready to respond.” and/or “There must be something I can do to keep the other shoe from dropping (even though it’s someone else’s life, which I don’t control).” It’s a habitual response to worry about and dread disaster. My rational brain knows that hyper-vigilance doesn’t prevent the other shoe from dropping. How to break this pattern? Slowly teaching the brain that I am safe in this moment and establishing a boundary for myself that says I choose to live my own life and know that other people need to live their own lives. Would love your thoughts on this, Karen. Thanks.

  6. I have been texting a female long e to become romantically interested and over a short period of time I became suspicious of her reasons for wanting to be close to me,!I am twice her age.

    Well finally ‘the other show dropped’

    Since we became closer and I was fairly convinced by her that my age did not matter I asked we use each others real phone numbers and I gave her mine. Her response was her phone did not work well enough for that and I proposed buying her a phone that would work. Her reply was she didn’t trust the mail or someone coming to her door, that she has been robbed of packages before so she suggested I send her the money.

    Thus the other shoe!

    What if I’m wrong? I lose a good woman for me ?

    • Often our instincts can be colored by our past traumas. It’s sometimes challenging to differentiate between what is gut feeling (other shoe) and what is a red flag. I would ask more questions and see if the answers are calming and regulating or if they bring more red flags. Wishing you all the best with this difficult situation Mike.

About Me

I'm Karen Ortner, an EFT Tapping expert, personal development coach, and childhood abuse survivor and I'm passionate about helping YOU in your healing journey!


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