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Fixing the Fixer!

Psychology ONE Blog 22

Recently, I have noticed many a confused and frustrated client who has tried to help a friend or loved one, only to be rebuffed. Fixing (or advice-giving, or offering suggestions) usually comes from a place of love; a well-meaning act of kindness. While this is done with the best of intentions, this type of help may actually do more harm than good. When you suggest to a friend, something they can do (for example, “you should ….”, you are giving advice from your own perspective and denying your friend the opportunity to think for themselves. Furthermore, you are implying that they are inferior and cannot come up with a solution for themselves. As the “fixer”, you want to do right by your friend. However, you are not “qualified” to give advice and in fact, your friend has all the tools they need to make their own decisions and decide what is best for themselves. (This is of course, unless you are, say, a dietician, and your friend has sought advice about diet.) When you give advice that is unwanted, you do so from your own needs, such as to reduce anxiety, rather than for the other person.  It is satisfying if the other person takes your advice; if they don’t you might end up feeling frustrated or annoyed.  If your friend does take your advice, and this does not go well for them, they may become resentful. Sometimes friendships even break down due to one person’s well-meaning advice leading to the other feeling judged and helpless.

If you have a tendency towards “fixing”, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this my problem? Or somebody else’s problem that affects me directly?
  • Is this something I can fix or change?
  • Is this something that is in my control?
  • Did the person ask for advice or ideas?
  • Am I helping this person or enabling?
  • Why am I trying to help this person?
  • Is this an attempt to manage my own anxiety and/or worries about what is going on?

Instead of “fixing”, consider how you might better help. Perhaps your friend simply needs a shoulder to cry on, or a vent about something that has annoyed them.  In this case, you might offer a hug or simply listen, allowing your friend a “safe space” to talk through their problems or issues, offering validating responses (e.g. that sounds difficult OR how annoying). Be curious; ask your friend how they intend to act, or if they need anything from you. Resist that urge to jump in and offer advice, even if you genuinely think you know better. Asking your friend if they have a plan allows them to think about possibilities and empowers them to think for themselves, use their own skills, and/or consider their needs.  Let’s say your friend wants to get healthier and has embarked on a certain diet, you might encourage by being curious, or suggesting you find a restaurant which offers that type of food.  This is much more supportive than asking “should you be eating that?” 

Remember that other people are quite capable of making up their own minds, working through their issues, and/or listening to their own intuition. Your well-meaning advice might deprive someone of making their own mistakes in order to learn, even if it means that person has to hit rock bottom to do that. And sometimes people are unwilling or not wanting to change – it is not your job to try to convince them otherwise.

What you can do!  Accept the person for who they are!  This often conflicts with felt anxiety about how things should be.  Sit with your anxiety here, knowing that you cannot change them or the situation.  Accepting a person for who they are and the decisions they make is empowering for them.  Offering a listening ear without judgement is the most useful and loving thing you can do.  This sometimes helps people to come to their own conclusions about what is useful for them and/or what they want to do about their problems (if anything).  Rather than “fixing someone”, just accept that they are not broken.  There is true power in that.  😊

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Picture of Sharon Connell

Sharon Connell

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