I don’t remember how old I was when I learned to be the one who fixes things in my family. I think it happened around the same time that my brother was born. My mother had to have surgery on her gallbladder right away after my brother was born. My family always talks about how helpful I was as an older sister because I helped my mom with whatever she needed. She wasn’t supposed to lift much, so I held him up for her when she needed to nurse or change him because she couldn’t easily bend down. I had just turned three.
As a child, I was very proud when I heard that story. I helped out. I was valuable. But now I look at that story in a different way. At three years old, I shouldn’t have been in charge of that much. I wonder if that sense of responsibility came naturally to me or if I learned it. No matter what, I knew from a very young age that my job was to make the people around me happy. I should try to ease their anger and pain. I knew deep down that I held everything together. I watched out for my brother, stopped fights, or put myself in the line of fire. After college, I thought about moving away, but I didn’t think I could leave them behind.
The fixer way of thinking
A fixer thinks or believes that they can stop other people from being hurt or unhappy. They think they have the power to make things or people better. Fixers are usually kind, caring people who want to help. Fixer mentality starts out with good intentions, but it can quickly get into trouble. When fixing is tied to value and being liked, it can be dangerous. Most of the time, the fixer can’t do anything to change the situation or the person, and in the process, they hurt themselves or the relationship.
It wasn’t just my family that needed fixing. I helped my friends, coworkers, bosses, and pretty much anyone else in my life. I tried to fix things even though I knew I wasn’t good enough to be loved (or so I thought at the time). People liked me and kept me around because I was the glue. It also gave me something to think about and help me forget about my pain. People sometimes asked me to fix things, but most of the time I did it on my own. In retrospect, I can see that being a fixer gave me a sense of control I didn’t have before. It was just a trick, but it made me feel like I had a reason to live.
What Happens to the Fixer
One of the worst things about being a fixer is that you don’t have time or energy for yourself. As a fixer, it’s also hard to say “no” or even figure out what you need. The fixer ends up feeling, thinking, and being physically and emotionally worn out from trying to save the world. I had serious health problems for more than fifteen years. This was because I hadn’t taken care of my body in a healthy way for far too long. I had trouble sleeping, anxiety, illness, and several surgeries.
Did everyone around me have a good life? No, not at all. In the end, nothing changed no matter how hard I tried. Did I make them feel better or less stressed? Maybe to some extent, but the truth is that life is hard for everyone and there’s always something else to get in the way. The person who fixes things can’t keep up, so the job will never be done.
I have learned that even if I want to, I can’t change other people or their lives. I can’t be everything to everyone and still stay alive. I’m also doing a lot of harm to the people in my life when I stick my nose into their business. It stops them from being able to learn and grow. In Psychology Today, Toni Bernhard says, “Not only is no one happy all the time, but people, including our loved ones, need to learn on their own how to deal with the ups and downs that are a part of life.”
I had to learn how to set limits and stick to them, even though I felt guilty about giving up my job as a fixer. I still wanted the best for the people I cared about, but I had to keep reminding myself that I couldn’t do their work for them. Fixers need to learn that you can love and be happy for other people even if you don’t know everything about their lives. When you accept that you can’t fix anything, you feel free.
You can still be kind and helpful. You can care, be kind, and understand other people. “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the hurt,” says Pema Chodron. It’s a partnership between two equals.”
“I love you and want the best for you, but I can’t do your work” is a hard thing to say. It hurts a lot, and you want to take it back and fix it right away. But it gets easier the more you do it. As a fixer, boundaries can be upsetting, but they are a good example of the self-care you need to get better. Caregivers who are healthy take care of themselves first so that they have the energy to help others. Everyone’s idea of self-care is different, but it’s important to find out what works for you.
There is still hope for the fixer, but making the change is hard. Relationship patterns and dynamics are hard to change. Stepping out of a role you’ve played your whole life is hard work. When you change, people will either rise to meet you in a new, healthy place or stay where they are. You can’t make things happen. People are the only place you can meet and love them.