“It would be impossible to estimate how much time and energy we invest in trying to fix, change and deny our emotions – especially the ones that shake us at our very core, like hurt, jealousy, loneliness, shame, rage and grief.” ~ Debbie Ford
“My job isn’t to fix or rescue or to save. It’s to accompany, see people, listen to them.” ~ Greg Boyle
“The show is ‘Fix My Life!’ Get it? Life. I do not fix people.” ~ Iyanla Vanzant
When people we love are hurting our first inclination is to rush in and “fix it”. When your child comes home from school crying because they got their feelings hurt your first instinct is to offer tenderness and hugs. However, right after that comes the urge to make it all better by suggesting ways to “fix” the problem, like asking what they could have done differently, telling them the other child didn’t mean it, or making it seem like it isn’t that big of a deal.
We are all guilty of slipping into fixer mode as a way of offering help. This type of behavior feels good because we believe that we are doing something positive. Unfortunately, the total opposite is true.
Even when your intentions are noble, fixing creates distance between you and the person you love. By jumping in to fix you are jumping out of a space of hearing and understanding. When someone is hurting they need compassion, not solutions.
Here are the top 4 types of Quick Fixes that hurt more than they help.
The All About Me Fix
This type of fix turns the conversation away from the person who is hurting and puts it on the fixer. It usually begins with, “I know what you’re going through.” And then jumps into, “When I injured my back I did acupuncture/went to yoga/had weekly chiropractor sessions and I was better in no time.”
The first statement swivels the conversation back onto the fixer. The second statement feels like they are just being helpful or relating to the person in need, yet that’s not the case. By implying that what worked for one person should be the answer is an empty solution.
Everyone’s situation is different and what worked for one might make the problem worse for someone else. Plus, this type of fix feels very narcissistic; the person in need is lectured to instead of heard.
The 1-Up Fix
This type of fix tries to help with the, “You think that’s bad?” one-upmanship challenge. By telling stories of people who had it worse the fixer believes they are helping, when in fact they are only horrifying.
I had a client who was waiting for some test results and she heard a myriad of horror stories about bad test results, medical mix-ups, and getting bad news from the doctor. She already had some anxiety over waiting for her results, but now it was compounded by all the anxiety producing stories her friends and family piled on her.
This fix leaves the person in need far worse off than they were before. No one has ever been terrified into feeling better.
The Downplay Fix
This type of fix uses dismissiveness as a solution. It is characterized by statements like, “Snap out of it” or “It can’t be that bad”. The fixer believes that by dismissing the suffering or hardship of the person in need they are helping them “get over it”. Instead, it makes the situation worse because the one in pain now feels hurt and abandoned.
The Chicken Little Fix
This type of fix is like Chicken Little because the fixer is running all the disaster scenarios they can think of about how this situation will negatively affect them. The one who is hurting is accosted with all the worries and fears the fixer imagines for their life, like “What will I do if you don’t get better?”, “How is this going to affect my work?”, or “I’m afraid your pain will become too uncomfortable for me, so you’ll have to deal with it yourself.”
The person in pain now has to put themselves on hold to deal with their loved one’s fears, worries, and pain.
Over time this can cause a deep rift in the relationship because only one person is ever cared for, regardless of whose pain it is. Additionally, this type of fix exacerbates the situation. By communicating panic, fear, doubt, and despair the neurons of both parties sync up with those emotions. There is no one in the situation balancing out the pain by communicating confidence, compassion, and healing.
How to Really Help Someone Who is Hurting
So, what’s the answer? How do you show up in a way that actually helps instead of piling on more hurt? After all, these are people near and dear to you. Well, it’s a two-step process.
First of all, go within. The most common reason people jump right into “fix it” mode is because they are uncomfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Spend time meditating or in quiet contemplation. By finding your center you will be less reactive when you find yourself feeling discomfort. Take a few deep breaths and intentionally calm your mind to lower your fight/flight response. This will put you in a place of being of service to someone who is hurting.
Secondly, focus on the other person. Listen deeply to what they are saying without any need to respond or engage. Create a space where they feel heard and cared for by sitting with them, giving them your full attention, offering tenderness or gentle touch, and accepting their emotions without commentary. Trust that after the emotion dies down a bit and your loved one is in a space of feeling loved, heard, and cared for then a conversation about solutions will follow if it’s necessary.
This month focus on compassion. When you find yourself in a situation where you are beginning to feel uncomfortable and have that urge to “fix” the person in front of you, stop. Take a few deep breaths, calm your mind, and just listen. Focus on them and your attention will shift away from your discomfort and open up a heart connection that will be a healing presence in their life.