The people described in this blog are composites of many different clients with whom I have worked. Names and identifying characteristics are fictitious, and any resemblance to a single person is coincidental.

The urge to fix

“Helplessness makes me feel anxious” Charlene said as she twisted the Kleenex between her fingers.  “I just need to be able to fix this.”  By “this”, Charlene referred to her boyfriend’s drinking that had worsened a lot over the past few months, and his denial of the problem.  “I totally understand” I said.  “It’s just that unfortunately there’s nothing to fix….”

“But if only he would see what he’s doing to himself, to me, to us!!?  If only he would just stop drinking and face his feelings!”

The urge to fixI know exactly what Charlene means about the driving push to get in there and solve things that don’t feel good.  I am a world class fixer myself, or at least I used to be.  Many years ago I would say I was a compulsive helper.  It came (I thought) from a kind and loving place inside me, where I would put my needs aside and focus my energy on getting the other person to do what they needed to have a better life.  Only after time, reflection, and some serious head injuries as I banged my skull up agains the brick wall of other people’s free will did it sink in to me how my helpfulness arose out of my own intolerance of my anxiety.

I was fixing them so I could feel better.

And sometimes I did actually manage to make a difference in others’ lives, but never without significant cost to the management.  I would be drained, distracted and delayed on my own journey.  And a lot of the time I wasn’t really able to fix anything at all.  But nor was I able to be fully present in my skin to bear witness to the pain of whatever immovable object was blocking the desired outcome.

I am not saying we shouldn’t do what we can do to make change or help ourselves and others.  Sometimes things can be fixed and of course we ought to do what we can to solve the problems in our lives!  Nor should we feel bad if it is our first urge to jump in there with two hands and a machete to cut down the underbrush, build a road, and drive a big truck toward the goal we want…  It’s just that often, and more often than I would wish, there isn’t a fix in my two hands.

The really important things in life often require more than my effort and will and skill.  Many forces to converge to make things happen, some big, some subtle – time, the weather, the economy, gravity, physics, the physical limits in our own bodies, and the free will of other people all may contribute to whether or not we get what we want.  And that is vulnerable.  That is the most powerful truth about being human.  And when we are in touch with that truth it feels uncomfortable.  Our bodies tense and tighten, our energy revs up and we feel agitated.  As Charlene says, it makes us feel anxious.

The most natural thing in the world is to do something to stop the discomfort of vulnerability.  And so we fix, or at least try to.  And when we fail, we can worry and blame ourselves and try harder and get controlling and critical and stay very very busy, all so we don’t feel that tension and agitation.

What do you want to fix right now?  If there is something to be done that would help, have you done what you can?  If you have not, then by all means do that, whatever it is…  But if you have done what you can, if there is not something in your two hands to be done, then you have a very important thing to do.

Be a safe person for yourself.  Say hello to the discomfort in your body, really feel the muscles that are clenching or constricted.  Breathe your loving awareness into the cramped clamped places inside.  Ask for nothing, demand nothing, and listen with warm interest and non-judgment.  Let your body feel your care, and stay there long enough that your presence allows the body to let go its death grip.  In this moment you are with you and that is what matters.

You are the fix.

Photo Credit: Sparker

Dr. Sandra Parker, copyright 2009 - Dr. Sandra Parker. The stories & quotes in this blog are fictional. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only.
(translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)

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