During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last week, we discussed "fixer syndrome" – the need that some people feel to step in and "fix" people and situations.
"When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul." – Rachel Naomi Remen, American author (1938- )
Jim was often late. He couldn't concentrate on his work, he had anger issues, he got into conflict with his co-workers, and he even swore at a client.
Knowing that Jim was the only breadwinner in his family, and realizing that he might end up losing his job, Carol made it her "work" to help him.
She took time out of her already busy schedule to help Jim see a professional counselor. She mediated at work, she covered for him when he was late. Sometimes, she even picked him up from home and drove him to work and to appointments.
Jim's behavior improved, but as soon as Carol took her attention off him to focus on other responsibilities, he regressed. Once again, she went through the same drill to help him.
Carol is at her wit's end. After returning to work from a much-needed vacation with her family, she found Jim back at square one, making poor choices and giving in to bad habits as soon as she was out of sight.
Should Carol step in again? And why did she get involved in the first place?
Why People Develop Fixer Syndrome
The desire to "fix" people, or not wanting them to experience pain, usually comes from good intentions. Fixers like Carol mean well. Their need to step in and help often originates from their own experiences of needing help.
Although fixers are truly kind and compassionate, they also need to feel needed and, in a sense, they're fulfilling a selfish need while helping others. They get a kick out of solving problems, providing solutions, and being rescuers.
On the surface, it's hard to argue with such apparent altruism. After all, acts of kindness and compassion make the world a better place.
Stepping in to help is the right thing to do. And fixers set a great example – up to a point. Beyond that, the boundaries between helping, interfering and controlling start to blur.
The Downside of Fixer Syndrome
Also, fixers could set themselves up for failure because of a single universal truth that I call Relationship Rule Number One: you can't change other people!
To be honest, often you can't even change yourself, even though you want to change and you have full control over you! Imagine how difficult it would be to fix another person.
Trying to fix others can take up a great deal of time, as well as mental, physical and emotional energy.
We're all adults who must learn to take responsibility for our own choices and actions. If you're constantly taking responsibility on behalf of another person to shield them from the consequences, there's no motivation for them to change. While you may think you're doing good, you're not helping their situation.
Fixers often find it difficult to stop wanting to improve a person. It's necessary to learn to accept people as they are, and not as you want them to be.
Learn to know the difference between healing and fixing. By all means help someone heal by providing a safe space, by listening mindfully, by coaching and guiding, but don't try to fix them.
Lastly, work on your healing, and help others heal from your position of wholeness rather than your position of need. The best guide to the mountaintop is a person who has already climbed it.
Do You Have Fixer Syndrome?
During our #MTtalk Twitter chat, we explored the good and bad about wanting to fix people and things. Here are the questions we asked and some of the responses we received:
Q1. Who or what would you like to "fix," and why?
@J_Stephens_CPA I tend to jump in and "fix" if I see a need in a situation where I have the ability or knowledge to be helpful. Sometimes that backfires.
@GThakore I would like to fix my mind against its mischiefs.
Q2. What behaviors characterize a "fixer"?
@LrnGrowAchieve Different people - or better yet different motivations - elicit different characteristics. A) helper, supporter, intention to help/guide/teach. B) controller, impatient, "I can do it faster," intention to help but also to get it done "right."
@temekoruns Fixers can be impatient control freaks and dictators, who are overwhelming with belief systems and don't understand there may be several different paths to get to the same destination. Or fixers can be thoughtful mediators who guide others in the right direction.
Q3. Why do some people need to be fixers? Is it always good or bad?
@SayItForwardNow Some fixers have the best intentions - they are caring, helpful, compassionate - and they want to help!
@harrisonia Wanting and needing to fix things are two different actions. People who need to be fixers have an unaddressed void in their life. People who want to be a fixer are driven by helping someone else.
Q4. What are some of the drawbacks of being a fixer?
@Adventure1Photo Not understanding why others don't see your help as help. Not understanding boundaries. Not understanding to self-reflect first and then help, if help is really needed.
@MelissaPalumbo Fixers can internalize and blame themselves if they are unable to fix.
Q5. How is the fixer mindset linked to difficulty in saying "no"?
@DrRossEspinoza A fixer takes responsibility for something that is not in their area of responsibility; they say yes to a question that was not even asked.
@realDocHecht It is hard for a fixer to say no, because they are constantly wanting to help and say yes to anything they can fix.
Q6. Where are the boundaries between kindness and fixer syndrome?
@JKatzaman Kindness is empathy. You cross the line when you're the kind who meddles when not invited.
@Dwyka_Consult Kindness can step in and step back, and feel OK about both. "Fixing" is being too involved, interfering and feeling rejected if you're asked to take a step back.
Q7. When have your attempts to fix or to give advice not been welcome?
@MicheleDD_MT When I come from a place where "I know what is best for you."
@yehiadief When "helping" becomes an argument.
Q8. How could you respond to someone who is trying to fix you?
@SanabriaJav Being mild always helps with your colleagues, and people in general. They probably mean well, and that's something you can thank them for before letting them know you have your own plan of action.
@Midgie_MT I might choose to ignore their 'suggestions,' or politely thank them for what they are offering yet say that I need the time/space to make my own decisions.
Q9. How do you break the habit of being a fixer?
@Yolande_MT Learn the two rules of life: Rule 1 - I can't change other people. Rule 2 - I can't control other people. You can influence, teach, support and inspire. Do that. Show others that you believe in them. Fixing is not an act of trust or belief.
@carriemaslen You can break the habit of being a fixer. Truly listen. Pause before replying. Accept that taking care of your needs 1st is key to having energy for others.
@BrainBlenderTec I don't want to throw gender in this, but some guys are just programmed that way and it's a hard habit to break.
Q10. How could you help others in a more productive way than fixer syndrome?
@SophieHassell30 Motivational interviewing is a good tool. Letting people lead their own changes within a supportive framework.
@PmTwee Helping others should be teaching them fishing, but not giving fish. Understand the problem they are facing and help them to find a solution together. It will be more productive.
To read all the tweets, see the Wakelet collection of this chat, here.
Fixers often want to "fix" things that don't need fixing – all they need is time and space to grow and develop.
The topic of our next #MTtalk chat is, "Make Space and See the Magic Happen." In our Twitter poll this week we'd like to know why you think some people find it so hard to give others space. Please cast your vote here.
In the meantime, here are some resources relating to fixer syndrome:
Note: Club and Premium Club members can enjoy instant access to these resources. Nonmembers may find that access to some of them is restricted.
How to Manage Controlling People
How to Avoid Generosity Burnout
Boosting Your Self-Esteem
Preventing Manager Dependency
Developing Personal Accountability