Hey you. Are you a fixer?
Maybe you approach problems in your life with an ‘I can fix this’ attitude. And I bet, more often than not, you pull it off beautifully.
Problem-solving is exciting and challenging for you!
There is nothing quite like the thrill of being presented with a seemingly impossible situation and finding that you can actually make it work in your favour.
This Is The Story Of A Fixer
If the above basically describes a day in your life, you know that it can be difficult to resist the urge to solve every problem.
And problems include people.
It’s possible that you are applying your ''fix-it'' attitude to your loved ones as well.
What can this look like?
If someone comes to you with a problem, you never let them leave empty-handed. Whether it’s stellar advice or a step-by-step plan to tackle the issue head on, you know you can get your loved ones through anything.
Anyone in your life who is struggling, grieving, or just needs someone to talk to can find safety and reassurance in your company.
This is a valuable trait and believe me, people are lucky to have ''fixers'' in their lives!
However (you knew it was coming) I want to gently draw your attention to this: there is a side effect to being a perpetual problem-solver.
Hello Burn Out, My Old Friend
Living in the midst of a global pandemic, the world feels like it is imploding on itself at times. More people are struggling, grieving, and in need of some kindness and reassurance these days.
As a fixer and problem-solver extraordinaire, there are suddenly more fires to put out, more tears to dry, and more people who need a -Remember The Titans - style pep talk (I may have aged myself with that reference).
In my work, I have come across two types of fixers:
Have you ever met someone with an uncanny ability to tune into and embody the feelings of those around them? Whether you are sharing a sad or happy story, they seem to experience your pain and joy as their own.
They may be an empath.
Now, most people experience some level of empathy.
An empath, however, is the person who absorbs all the feelings in the room. Empaths are like emotional sponges. They experience emotions deeply, and feel the emotional highs and lows of others acutely too. Your pain becomes their pain.
Crucially, empaths have a hard time not caring. When you are feeling emotions not just alongside another, but as if you were them, it is very challenging to distance yourself from a situation.
Acting on your natural inclination to help others can be taxing when it is not possible to ease someone's distress. And very often, it's simply not.
An empath's response to this is to absorb it themselves. Over time, this leads to emotional burn out because it can be exhausting and isolating to experience others' emotions alongside your own.
I want you to know that I really tried to come up with a better title for this second category of fixers. In the end, I decided that 'do-er' captures it best.
This is because a do-er's default response is simply...to do. To assess, plan, and mobilize- basically get moving so you can solve the problem and life can go on.
The catch with this is there will always be something that needs solving.
And maintaining the status of everyone's go-to person all the time is a lot of pressure!
Bilbo Baggins describes it best: "I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread."
This is not to say that you are the opposite of an empath and devoid of emotions- on the contrary, you do try and make space for them.
However, this can be challenging because emotions seem to get in the way of problem-solving.
Interlude: Story time With Sarah
When I was a therapist in training, I was told by my supervisors to avoid going into problem-solving mode with clients. Let me tell you, in those early days, this was HARD.
I found it particularly challenging when I thought I had the right tool, approach, or strategy to potentially turn a client's life around. How could I hold such a gift back?
I'm glad I did though. The keyword here is I thought I had it. The more time I spent with clients, I realized that most of them were not looking for a neatly packaged solution. In fact, many already knew what had to be done to resolve their issues.
What they needed, and perhaps had not experienced until our time in therapy, was someone to listen to them- truly listen- and validate their experience. I noticed that this simple, yet powerful offering gave them the courage to do the difficult thing they had been putting off.
So what is the lesson here for the do-er ?
Like the early years of many therapists, your tendency is to launch into problem solving mode. When the problems are tangible, this is a major strength because you can act quickly in a crisis!
When the problems are emotional, existential, or otherwise intangible, your problem-solving approach may come across as invalidating to others.
It's a harsh truth, my friend, but you CANNOT fix feelings.
Whether you are an empath or a do-er, let's talk about 2 reasons why it is worth easing up on your fixer role.
1. People Need To Do Their Own Coping
One thing we can be sure of is that life has hills and valleys. Our loved ones need to develop their own coping skills to manage these inevitable ups and downs.
If we are trying to fix situations and feelings (with varying degrees of success) all the time, we may actually be doing the people we care about a grand disservice.
The truth is that no matter how much we care about people, we cannot shield them from hard times and suffering.
By supporting loved ones to develop coping skills we are:
- Setting them up for a more lasting form of healing
- Letting ourselves off the hook for something we were never responsible for
The next time you get find yourself absorbed in someone's pain or resolving their issues prematurely, try repeating these phrases to yourself like a mantra:
There is room for me to care about them AND also take care of myself.
As much as I love them, I can't live their life for them.
My actions today won't stop difficult times from happening.
2. Fixing Interferes With Connection
This one is more for my do-ers.
Are you finding it difficult to watch your loved ones struggle with difficult feelings and circumstances outsider of their control ?
This pandemic has likely tested your problem-solving abilities enough! Give yourself a break and try focusing on connecting rather than solving.
When you listen to respond and react rather than listening to understand, it may get in the way of people feeling understood.
Conversely, helping people feel heard, seen, and understood is incredibly validating and can improve your communication and connection in a relationship.
Here are 3 tips to get you started with this:
Disrupt that little voice pushing you to give unsolicited advice or make a suggestion by listening closely to the message being conveyed.
Active listening also involves leaving judgements at the door and being open to new ideas other than the ones that may be brewing in your head.
Avoid cutting the person off, finishing their sentences, or thinking about your answer before they have finished.
Focus On The Feelings
When you are listening closely, be curious about feelings and show your willingness to get in there with them and attune with that feeling yourself.
When you honour someone's vulnerability by being empathetic, it builds trust and improves connection!
Validate The Experience
Try summarizing and validating the experience without adding a solution. For example, you can say: "I'm hearing that you're feeling anxious because you might lose your job. This is a difficult thing to go through and I'm here for you".
On Your Way Out...
Fixers, I hope reading this has allowed you to release that breath you've been holding!
As tempting as it is to fix feelings, sometimes we have to put our tools down and understand that the simple act of listening and being there for someone can be the best fix there is.
Sometimes we all need a reminder that we cannot pour from an empty cup. Remember to take care of yourself and tend to your own needs as well!
If this post resonated with you, leave a comment below and let us know if you are an empath or a do-er.
Until next time,