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?
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.
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.
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:
@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.
@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.
@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.
@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.
@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.
@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.
@MicheleDD_MT When I come from a place where "I know what is best for you."
@yehiadief When "helping" becomes an argument.
@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.
@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.
@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:
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How to Manage Controlling People
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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.
That's a good point, Pietroortolani. The one thing that stood out to me was that Carol did not first ask Jim if he were okay or needed help because she noticed a particular action. Based on his response, this could open the door to further discussion but she saw the signs and ran away with them.
Mind Tools Coach
I think I have the worst case of "Fixer" syndrome ever. It literally controls me. I feel the need to fix everything and most of the time I do. I am fairly smart and mostly its people that come to me for help but when they do I can't just guide them, I take over the entire situation and fix it myself because it's much easier and faster then trying to teach them how to do it.
How do I stop doing this. People get upset with me because of my bluntness, I'm VERY factual. (Legal field) and I have basically been told that I need to learn how to eeeaaassseee into a conversation....to me that is adding fluff....comments like that are what gets me into trouble.....Please Help!
Oh dear, you do seem to have a bad case of 'fixer syndrome' don't you? Thanks for sharing your experiences, which I am sure others will be able to relate to.
Well, I have good news for you - the first step is recognizing it's causing problems. But of course, the next step, which can be more difficult, is to see if you can reprogram your behavior.
I find it useful to remind myself that we are all different and sit somewhere along a sliding scale. Then it is worth reflecting on the fact that people respond to different techniques. The stark truth is many people don't respond well to bluntness - this is because we are hard-wired for human connection so if we don't allow some time for 'small talk' people can feel very disconnected from us. So my suggestion to you would be to reframe what you perceive as 'fluff' and instead focus on what you can talk about with people to help build good working relationships with them - this may help you see it as having a purpose.
Hope this helps,
Mind Tools Coach