“Why do I always feel the need to ‘fix’ people in my relationships?”August 7, 2022
Written by Lauren Geall
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.
Having the urge to help others can be a wonderful thing – but it can also become a problem. Here, 3 women share their experiences – and a relationship expert explains how to deal with the need to ‘fix’.
At the end of the day, most people want to make a positive difference to the lives of those around them. While it might not always work out that way, a large majority of us would rather make things better than worse. But for some people, this drive to make things better – to ‘fix’ the problems of others – is more of a need than a preference.
This urge to help is also known as a ‘fixer mentality’ – a psychological term used to describe someone who feels this need to ‘step in’ and help solve other people’s problems. In some ways, it can be greatly beneficial to both the fixer and the fixee – but it can also have its downsides. Helping a friend, family member or partner overcome difficulties can be incredibly satisfying, but it can also be frustrating and emotionally draining.
Ruth, from Birmingham, is a self-professed ‘fixer’. The 32-year-old – who works as a jewellery designer and goldsmith – has always enjoyed helping others, and is often someone her friends and family come to for advice. However, she says shouldering the weight of everyone’s problems can sometimes be a lot to deal with, especially when she doesn’t have all the answers.
“On the one hand, it’s really nice to be able to help people, and it’s nice that people know they can come to me and talk about their problems,” she tells Stylist. “But on the flip side, I can’t always help – so that’s when I find it quite frustrating, especially when someone’s issue is to do with their mental health and I can’t get them the support they need.”
Sisanda, 24, from Hampshire, has also experienced mixed emotions as a result of her drive to help others. She says this drive to be helpful comes from a combination of childhood trauma and mistakes she made when she was younger. But instead of simply being there for others, she now feels as if she’s “obsessed” with fixing.
“I tend to spend more time focused on improving other people’s lives than my own – kind of like a pseudo-therapist,” she explains. “Before, I’ve spent two hours on the phone with an acquaintance dissecting all the reasons why she had chosen to be with a particular man and helping her to overcome some of the fears and insecurities that she was dealing with.
“In these kinds of conversations, I tend to ask endless questions so I can understand why that person is the way they are, so while I have the full picture of their situation, they never really know much about me. And when the time finally came to pay attention to my own issues, I couldn’t do so with the same level of enthusiasm that I had for others.”
While Ruth and Sisanda have both found this behaviour dominates their platonic relationships, Hannah*, a 27-year-old from London, finds this urge to fix dominates both her friendships and her romantic relationships – although it’s something she’s consciously trying to work through.
“I’ve learnt to spot the signs in romantic relationships better, and stop myself from this fixing behaviour when it comes to men, especially,” Hannah says. “My current partner is the first person I’ve dated who I’ve not tried to ‘fix’ and who equally doesn’t need me to.”
Hannah, like Sisanda, also feels that her need to fix others has come from trauma she experienced as a child – something she’s been working on in therapy.
“It stems from having to be parental as a child, and feeling responsible for the adults in my life from a young age,” she explains. “It created a dynamic where I’m always the giver. It becomes toxic if the other person only wants to take.”
In this way, while trying to help others may not be especially toxic, the consequences of this behaviour – including the way others treat you as a result – can quickly become problematic.
No matter how much you love or respect someone, their problems are their own, and you should never give all of yourself just to lift someone else up. So, if you’ve found yourself in the ‘fixer’ role, how can you go about undoing this impulse?
Natasha Mahtani is a relationship and divorce coach who shares advice on her Instagram @natashacoaches. Over the years, she’s worked with many clients who feel responsible for the problems of their partners – and while she believes this urge to help isn’t inherently negative, she warns that trying to ‘fix’ people can often be a slippery slope.
“It goes without saying that trying to fix someone is often futile and yet many people try,” she says. “I’ve seen recently with some clients that it comes from a need to take care of people and ensure they’re happy.
“Perhaps they had a fragile mum growing up and they stepped in to take care of her or maybe they had a sibling who was bullied and they took care of them. This ‘role’ then gets carried forward throughout their lives and manifests itself in other relationships, and they start to feel deeply responsible for other’s people’s emotions and happiness.”
She adds: “It may feel mutually beneficial because the fixer feels validated and the one being fixed often enjoys having their problems taken care of, but this is not a solution.”
While it’s OK to want to help others, if you have a ‘fixer mentality’, Mahtani recommends trying to take a step back. Not only will this stop you from feeling frustrated and upset when things can’t be fixed, but it’ll also help you to reconsider where your urge to fix comes from, and give you space to pay attention to your own struggles in the process.
“Try and take a moment to reflect on where this need is coming from and ask yourself some questions – when did it start? Who were you trying to protect? Is it serving you now? Is your desire to fix someone else motivated by the validation you seek or genuine concern for the other person? By trying to fix the other person, what are you not allowing them to do?”
As well as taking this time to work on yourself, Mahtani stresses the importance of giving yourself space to just be. “Give yourself some grace and compassion – the role of fixer is probably years old, and untangling those beliefs around why you adopted the role and how to break out of it will take time and consistency,” she says.
“The only person you can really ‘fix’ is yourself, so invest in your own mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.”
While being there for other people is a wonderful thing, it’s OK to take a step back and focus on yourself from time to time. At the end of the day, we’re all responsible for our own behaviour – and while you might enjoy helping others, it’s important to reconsider whether your urge to help is forcing you to sacrifice a part of yourself.
*name has been changed
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.
Additionally, you can ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.
For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email [email protected]
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