Being a ‘Fixer’

I’ve been in therapy for a few weeks now. I think it’s going well, though of course it’s early. I really like my therapist, which is good.

Early on, she said that along with fight-or-flight, psychologists and sociologists now recognize freeze and fix as immediate responses to various stimuli (like fear stimuli).

I went home thinking about that and realized that yes, that probably does fit me pretty well. My first response any time anything goes awry in my world (or the worlds of my loved ones) is usually to try to fix it, whatever that may look like. Sometimes that’s listening, sometimes that’s doing or saying something, sometimes that’s writing, sometimes that’s protesting, etc.

And it can be healthy, to a point, just as can fight, or flight, or freeze. It’s a self-care response just as the others are.

But it can also be destructive (as I imagine the other can be, too).

I’ve talked about this ‘being a fixer’ bit with a few friends, and the general response is, “Oh, but you’re fixing things, so that’s good. That’s a good way to be.” Which–sure, it’s a good way to be if I’m actually helping the situation. But the ‘fix’ may not actually help.

The thing is, ‘fixing’ can also be toxic. I have to ask myself, when I have that inclination to jump in and ‘fix’ a thing–why? Why am I doing this? Why do I feel this urge? What is it that I want? What motivates me here?

I can’t ‘fix’ things like racism and sexism and misogyny and cisnormativity and heteronorativity on my own. I can’t fix rape culture by myself. And I can’t ‘fix’ them because I’m seeking approval and validation, pats on the back, to feel good about myself because others feel good about me.

I have to be able to separate out the wounding of people I love by other people from the wounding caused by systems of oppression. I have to be able to make sure I’m not slinging arrows at the wrong targets–because misfires and friendly fire still hurt, still wound, and sometimes make everything much much worse.

And if I’m centering myself instead of the people who need the care in XYZ situation, then I’m taking away from their care (given situations in which I am not one of the ones in need of care). I’m then furthering oppression by ‘fixing,’ and often I’m silencing at the same time.

I must watch myself. I must recognize my ‘fixer’ instinct, recognize and accept it, and be sure to query it as much as I query everything else. Only then can I move forward.

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4 thoughts on “Being a ‘Fixer’

  1. I’d never much thought of it this way. I tend to be a fixer too. I always just considered it to be a mom instinct. I don’t want to see people hurt, so I kiss the boo boo and make it better. Life just isn’t that simple. It can be terribly difficult to be a fixer because you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, even problems too big to tackle on your own. The trouble is telling the difference between activism and trying to fix problems you can’t change. Sometimes that line is very thin.

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    1. Agreed. I knew I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders–as you say–but I’d never really considered why. I just knew that ‘fight or flight’ didn’t really fit, and that I cared a lot. I never saw myself as particularly maternal, though–or, not toward younger children. I have just cared, a lot, about everything and everyone, sometimes to the point of detriment. And it can be so hard to tell the difference.

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  2. I was taught growing up that this creation was never meant to be a paradise and it can never be given its nature. Before I was born and long after I’m gone the world kept spinning, some peoples will be doing good actions and other bad ones.

    It does not mean we should ignore the badness and do nothing. It is just that it is very easy to be sucked into trying to fix the world and in the end all that happens is it consumes us.

    My mum told it to me this way: The world is like a huge thorny plant blocking your path. If you try to run barefoot through it (like I probably would have when I was little), you will get pricked with so many thorns and bleed. If you try to pull each thorn from the bush to clear your path, you will never finish. But if you put on good strong shoes you can walk across the thorns and continue on your journey.

    What she was saying is that submerging yourself in the badness of the world (running barefoot) will just bring sorrow. Trying to fix every problem in the world (pulling each thorn), will wear you out and you’ll never finish your own journey. But putting on shoes allows you to not be stung by every care in the world and to focus on where you need to go.

    It is easy to say but hard to do when there is so much injustice and badness around us. I can just pray you are able to find a balance that lets you care and help and at the same time not feel like the world is yours alone to carry.

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    1. I think that’s a really good way to look at it, Finora. I think I just never learned about the shoes part, or didn’t get strong enough shoes, somehow. And I do keep trying to pull at every thorn…it’s exhausting. It’s hard to reconcile a need to fix with having a limited energy supply sometimes.

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