Ever noticed how you end up being the ‘fixer’ in almost every circle you’re in? The one everyone relies on, turning to you whenever chaos brews? This pattern shows up regularly with the folks that spend time in my office, and if I’m being honest, it’s a familiar story in my own life from time to time. If you’re nodding along, let’s dive into why this pattern might be showing up and what to do about it.
What it looks like
After partaking in some of my own work in a therapist’s office around this pattern and my staggering levels of burnout, I realized there were a few questions that stayed with me between my sessions. Questions like:
“Why does everyone always seem to need things they can only get from me?”
“Why does it seem like there’s always chaos if I take a break from keeping all of the plates spinning in my life?”
Sitting with those questions while holding on to some serious curiosity and self-compassion, I began to recognize even larger-than-anticipated implications of being everyone’s ‘go to person’. The correlation I found was startling:
If I stop doing the “fixing” needed to keep everything in my life on track and moving forward, the entire train will derail. It’s like everyone and everything around me had grown used to me ‘fixing’ any issue that came up during their day to day.
It didn’t matter what the issue at hand was. If there was a problem that someone close to me was experiencing, I was there to help. Anxious about starting a new job? I’ll help talk you through why you don’t need to be anxious, and I’ll probably pack your lunch with a cute note to help ease your mind at lunch time. Feeling overwhelmed by cleaning up your messy toy box and room? I’ll do it for you so you don’t have to feel that overwhelm. Upset that your friends treated you poorly? Give me your phone and I’ll type out a response for you to smooth it all over, or better yet, give me their number and I’ll just call them myself.
Whether it’s emotional support or just jumping in to do the physical labor of ‘fixing’ the issue, I had taken it upon myself to ensure it would be remedied. But in my exploration behind this, I started to realize the reason it was so dang hard to set it all down.
Was it a lot of work to do all of the ‘fixing’ for everyone and myself? Of course; sometimes downright exhausting and aggravating. But the shocking realization I stumbled into was that it felt like it was almost *less* work to do all of that, versus letting the train derail and having to ‘fix’ that mess to get everything back on track again.
I believed that as long as I kept the plates spinning, I was doing myself a huuuuge favor by avoiding the much bigger pile of work that would show up if I stopped ‘fixing’ everything.
Just like that, I had finally pulled back the curtain and I could finally see just how functional this ‘fixer’ mentality was in my life. And the worst part was, my ‘fixing’ actually had less to do with being helpful to others and much more to do with saving myself. Yikes on bikes.
If you find yourself in this description, I’ll share with you what I wish I had known earlier:
You’re not alone.
This cycle does suck sometimes/most of the time.
It’s really f***ing hard.
And it doesn’t have to be a life sentence.
What to do about it
With awareness comes the power to make change. Although this can be a tricky or even painful realization to make, you don’t have to stay stuck in your current ‘fixer’ role. If you’re finding yourself wanting to make the shift, here are a few ways to start the journey:
Continue creating awareness around the cycle and its function.
In order to break this cycle once and for all you’ll need a clear view on what this cycle is truly about. There are many ways you can start to build this awareness, but if you’re feeling stuck on where to start, grab a pen and reflect on these questions:
- What does it feel like in your physical body when you’re operating in that role? Do your shoulders tense up? Clench your jaw? Do you find yourself with a headache? Do you feel like you detach from your body/dissociate/struggle to recall time?
- What do you notice that’s different in your behaviors when you’ve stepped into that role? Are there changes in your thoughts? Do different feelings or emotions present when you’re in that role?
Make some space in the next few days to gather as much raw data about your experience as a ‘fixer’. This information is the base for the next two steps, and beyond.
Explore the “why?”
With the data from step one in hand, you can start exploring the function this cycle has in your life. This process can be a bit tricky. It can take a bit of practice and support to really master, but here are a few questions to get you started:
- What is this part of me trying to help me with by showing up to do the ‘fixing’?
- Is there something this ‘fixer’ part of me is trying to protect me from?
- What do I fear would happen if I stopped jumping in to ‘fix’ things for others like I currently am?
- Where do I see this pattern first initiating in my life? What’s my first memory of this cycle starting/playing out?
The goal is to be able to approach this aspect of yourself while setting aside self-judgment, anger, etc., and I want to highlight a point of caution here. If answers like ‘I don’t know, I’d be better off without this “fixer”’ or ‘it doesn’t help me with anything, I don’t like it at all’, come up when reflecting on these questions, take a pause and find some support. This is usually an indicator that different aspects of yourself are clouding your view of this ‘fixer’ cycle.
My favorite part of it all! With all of that information you’ve just gathered, you get to start experimenting with different thoughts, stances, actions, beliefs that maybe fit your situation/you a bit more fully. Think about a few low-risk areas in your life that you could test out what it’s like to set down the “fixer” role. This could be with friends, at work, at school; wherever it feels like there’s not a lot to lose if the experiment goes sideways. Jot down what changes you notice in yourself and in the situation.
The big takeaways from this article are as follows:
- The ‘fixer’ in you does not stand alone.
- It can be a painful cycle to feel stuck in.
- You can begin breaking the cycle by (1) building awareness, (2) exploring the ‘why’ behind it, and (3) experimenting with change in low-risk areas of life to build evidence.
- You do not have to go it alone, and some of the work may require support from someone trained to help.
As always, if and when you’re ready to break this cycle for a future that’s more reflective of who you are, I’m here for it. Reach out here when you’re ready.