“I know what I’ll do…” starts Emily, after she’s just finished explaining a story about a conflict with a co-worker.
“Hold on there,“ I interrupt. “Are you trying to solve the problem?” I smile.
Emily smacks herself gently on the forehead and giggles. “You caught me… again.”
One of the habitual ways Emily copes with her anxiety about social situations is to Fix, Fix, Fix. And most of the times she is great at fixing. Unfortunately sometimes the fixing is what needs to be fixed. Most overcontrolled leaning folks are excellent problem solvers. In fact, they are so good at it, that it becomes a go to way to cope with all types of problems.
Fixing things doesn’t always look like someone doing massive amounts of work. Fixing is sneaky and can look like:
– Thinking about a problem endlessly till you come up with an answer
– Jumping to a solution without doing a full assessment of the problem
– Telling other people what they should do
– Redoing or re-checking other people’s work
– Always completing your to-do list
If you are thinking that the above list isn’t a problem, let’s take a look at how fixing as a coping strategy might be subtly sending out messages to those around you that could be hurting your relationships and intimacy.
How Fixing Shows Up in Daily Life
Restacking the dishwasher after your spouse does it “incorrectly.” Taking your car to the shop for a “funny noise” rather than looking to see there was a leaf stuck in the wheel that you could easy remove.
Telling a friend, they should break up with their “deadbeat” boyfriend because he can’t find a job. Re-washing a pan that a guest washed at a baby shower that is not up to your standards. Endlessly wondering what your girlfriend meant by a tiny remark she made two weeks ago rather than just asking her.
Not signing off from work each night until you have responded to every email. Telling a co-worker everything that is wrong with the report he just handed to you. Worrying that you made a mistake in the proposal you sent over to your boss, so you can’t sleep and figure out how you will solve it without him knowing the next day.
With the kids
Your kiddo comes home crying and immediately you run to check him for cuts and bumps, but really, he is crying because he so proud that he finally made an “A” in spelling. You research the safest driving route from Texas to California because your teenager is about to drive to go to college and insist she drives the path you want. You tell your high schooler that he “better get a job now” because he will never learn responsibility if he doesn’t.
Fixing as a Social Signal
There are two usual intentions that “fixer” RO DBT clients tell me for their behavior is that:
1 “It’s important to do things properly or right.”
2 “I was just trying to help.”
To a large extent, that’s a great way to live. Unfortunately redoing another’s work or being overly critical can hurt your relationships. Fixing signals to other people that they are not good enough, are incompetent, or you don’t trust them. Intention matters less than what the action signals in relationships.
Internally it keeps the fixer stuck in the problem, rather than allowing them to relax and see the world with fresh eyes. Most fixers are exhausted and anxious from trying to do thing perfectly all the time.
Why do we fix?
Something will cue up a fixing habit. Usually it’s one of 4 things:
– Making a detailed observation that others missed (ex. A speck of egg on a pan.)
– Noticing a discrepancy that no one else pick up on (ex. A friend said he liked eggs one day, and the next day he said he didn’t.)
– Following a rule (ex. Eggs must be eaten scrambled.)
– Being uncertain how to act or in a new situation (ex. How do I crack this egg? Or Is it okay to eat eggs at a fancy business meeting?)
How to Stop Fixing Everything
One of the hardest truths of life is that not every problem is solvable or needs to be fixed, yet that doesn’t mean we should give up on change and growth. Sometimes the best thing we can do when a difficult situation arises is stall and give ourselves time to think through our options, instead of responding habitually.
Asking for help when we are not certain or allowing others to learn, rather than correcting them can increase the closeness someone feels to us. A flexible and open response rather than acting the same way we always do can lead to new learning and possibly a more effective way to live.