I am a Recovering Fixer
As little kids we grow up learning coping mechanisms that help us get through certain situations in our childhood. When we get to be adults, many times those coping mechanisms no longer work.
If we are not conscious we just repeat those old patterns, sometimes even blaming the outside world for our problems and not taking responsibility for our feelings and issues. However, if we are conscious and we realize these old tactics no longer serve us in a positive manner, we can change them. That’s not easy, but it can be done and it can have great results.
One of my old coping mechanisms from childhood was fixing. It wasn’t until a year and a half ago I even realized I was using this old trick that was absolutely no longer working for me.
I came to understand that I, indeed, was a serial fixer.
I love the word. Fix. Fix. Fix. Fix.
To me, it implies something is broken and is about to get better; to be fixed! The idea of fixing makes me feel adjusted and relieved. But I was fixing the outer world and not myself… and not much good comes from that.
I could understand this was a tool I learned as a kid; when there was chaos in my family I tried to “fix” to make things better… I would pretend I was okay, I would change the subject, I would bring out my ‘happy’ voice to make everyone feel relaxed, I would try to please by cleaning the kitchen sink.
As an adult, this fixing thing morphed into me telling my husband how to talk to the kids better, micro-managing my children’s lives so they would have happy experiences and avoid sadness, and diverting conversation to something positive when at a cocktail party with someone making other people feel uncomfortable with negative talk. Being a fixer is exhausting!
It was my therapist guru, Marilyn, who said to me during a personal crisis, “You must fix the inner, not the outer.”
My Usual Fixer in Action
Here’s an example:
I came home from work at my normal time of 8:35 one school night and pulled into the garage. As I got out of my car I could hear the sizzle of food on the stove. “They’re eating so late night!” I fumed in my head. I had a few conversations with my husband in the past about me wanting the kids to eat as early as possible so they can get into bed earlier. When I smelled the food I immediately felt like my needs were being ignored and I went to judgment faster than a speeding bullet.
I walked into the kitchen and blurted out my judgment cloaked in a question. “You guys haven’t eaten yet?”
Right away I noticed my husband’s body stiffen and he defensively replied, “Nicholas was late getting home and the tutor didn’t leave until twenty minutes ago and Elle is just now getting out of the shower.” At that moment I shifted into consciousness. Thank God. The shift means I was watching things more than I was reacting to things.
I saw his defensiveness, and I saw my fixer coming out and judging him, and I saw that I wasn’t owning a thing. I literally shifted my body to get aligned and centered so I could peel the onion of my feelings and get to the root. I said, “I’m sorry I judged you. I was feeling anxious the kids were eating so late, and I was worried they would be tired for school. (next layer of the onion) Honestly, this is really about me not feeling good enough as a mother because I’m working during dinnertime so I’m trying to control everything so I feel better. I’m working on letting that go. I know they’re in good hands.”
My husband could hear me way better when I owned my feelings and actions, but more importantly, I could hear myself. I was fixing myself. I was practicing being okay with my own not-good-enough feelings and issues. I didn’t do it right away, but the more I practice the more quickly I’ll be able to do the work on myself.
The Unsolicited Fixer
Another example of fixing the outer and not the inner is when we give unsolicited advice.
I do this all the time.
Since that epiphany in my kitchen over a year ago, I’m now aware that giving advice to someone who isn’t asking for advice, is just my fixer coming out disguised as “helping”. I can validate myself and understand that fixing is engrained in my cells (some call it old cellular memory), and that’s why it takes work to change this.
This is a lot of work for me. As a matter of fact, just a few hours ago a friend was confiding to me she was having an issue in her relationship. I listened, validated, then jumped into “It would be really good for you to do blah blah blah.” I caught myself a few seconds later and quickly apologized for giving unsolicited advice (fixing), and then told her I’m here for her.
Overall, I was coming from a good place because I love my friend, but what I was unconsciously doing by giving advice she didn’t ask for — is implying that something with her was wrong and she needed to be fixed. Why would I do that? Because on some level (the old cellular memory), I was uncomfortable with someone being uncomfortable.
When I accept I am feeling uncomfortable, I can then consciously choose something different… in this case I chose to allow her to have her feelings and tell her I’m here to support her in any way. Now, if she said, “What do you think I should do?” that would be a different story. But many times people just want to be heard – and everyone deserves to have their feelings.
We can only fix ourselves.
How do we do that?
Here are my steps to cure fixing:
1) Catch Yourself fixing and accept the feelings you have at the time.
Example: “I’m feeling uncomfortable everyone seems tense.” or “I’m feeling sad someone else is sad.”
Accepting your feelings is big because it’s the same as validating yourself which is very healing.
2) Validate the other person.
Example: “I could understand being hurt by those comments… that’s tough.”
Validating the other person simply is a way of saying, “I see you, you matter.” And that is more healing than any fixing tactic!
3) JUST BE.
Be with your uncomfortable feelings. If you just be with them, and don’t try to change them or the outside world, they either subside or, at the very least, don’t get worse.
4) REPEAT a billion times. It will get easier, I promise.
So my friends, fix the inner — not the outer.
I’m not cured yet… but when I am… you’ll be the first to know.
July 26, 2016
July 19, 2016
July 12, 2016