the fixer

Are you a fixer? Almost all groups and families have one. You know, the person who feels that it’s their job, their duty even, to wade in between two people who don’t appear to be getting on as well as we’d like them to.

If this is you, you’ll know how hard it is to get people to kiss-and-make-up. The solution may look simple and obvious to you, but they either won’t or can’t get it.

The big item here is that the fixer is often emotionally vulnerable themselves!

It’s not all about failure or course, sometimes fixing does work. When it does it can bring a warm and satisfying glow to the fixer, as you’ll know, if you are one.

But, it’s a burden. Leaving aside that fixing other peoples’ problems for them can be a thankless task, there are a number of side-effects which fixers usually aren’t aware of:

It stops others learning

If you are around to rescue others from the consequences of their behaviour or actions they won’t learn either how to change their behaviour or how to fix things for themselves

They don’t have to take responsibility

This also means that they don’t need to take responsibility for their actions. In extreme cases, the notion of personal responsibility is completely alien to them, and likely to stay that way as long as you are on hand to protect them.

They’ll do it again, probably

Though the problem you’ve been fixing for them may lessen short-term, in the longer term they are likely to repeat the harmful or destructive behaviour. Why wouldn’t they, if their protector is always there to pick up the pieces?

Fixing isn’t helping

Helping and fixing are different activities. Fixing implies that something is broken, but it also suggests (to the person or people with the problem), that they are powerless to help themselves.

It’s about you too

And what are you getting out of this? One thing’s for certain, fixers see their role as important. They don’t see themselves as interfering (which it is), and they assume that they are doing something valuable (that’s doubtful). But the big item here is that the fixer is often too emotionally vulnerable themselves!

Genuine helping focusses on the needs of the person in distress, and it doesn’t mean ‘doing it for them’.

There is also a tendency for fixers to be too emotionally involved in the affairs of those they wade in to help. Although it’s well-intentioned, worrying about fixing other people’s lives for them often means that you are feeling their emotions, rather than your own. In which case, the first thing to attend to is fixing your boundaries.

If you want to help

Humans are essentially altruistic. It feels good to help others and it makes for a better society. But just because something feels like helping doesn’t make it so.

So the first step is to be clear about our own needs and motives. Of course, it’s important to help others, but deciding for them that they need your help to fix something, when they should be doing it for themselves, is not necessarily helping.

Genuine helping focusses on the needs of the person in distress, and it doesn’t mean ‘doing it for them’. So helping might mean teaching a skill so that those in need can stand on their own two feet. It may also mean providing resources, or the opposite, withholding resources (as in ‘tough love’).

It’s painful to watch others suffering when you believe that you could help. One of the big lessons we have to learn as parents is when and how to ‘let go’ as our children are growing up. Failure to do so can be a huge handicap for them later on.

It’s the same among adults, though often the fixer will have taken on the ‘peacemaker’ role when they were still too young to realise the habit that was developing.

What to do

The hardest lesson of all, if you are a fixer, is to learn to step back and let others get on with it. The difficult part is not so much the stepping back. It’s handling the maelstrom of your own feelings as they rush in to fill the void that’s created when you stop filling the time with fixing.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.