THE NEED TO FIX OTHERS
Below is a transcription of the podcast episode, "The Need To Fix Others":
Deeper than caretaking, some of us, because of our early childhood wounding, get this deep desire, this unconscious and unhealthy desire to fix people out of their pain, out of their suffering, out of whatever we deem something that is not comfortable for us to tolerate in somebody else. Caretaking is such confusing business. It looks so different on the outside to what is actually going on inside of us. Fixing is the next level, we're beyond caretaking, we want to grab people by the scruff of the neck and get them to do something to help themselves.
I've talked at length to you before about our helplessness and the anxiety that many of us are unable to tolerate. Because of our inability to tolerate these feelings, we project them onto other people and then try to fix it there, instead of healing it inside of ourselves. So, just to differentiate between these words, fixing is the next level in an unhealthy way of caretaking, and healing is what we do when we do it internally. Caretaking and fixing is when we project it outside and try to do it externally. Of course, with caretaking and fixing nothing really happens for us on the inside. All we do is to delay the inevitable place where we need to go back inside and heal ourselves.
We have to understand the need to fix comes from a place where we actually project our helplessness, on an unconscious level, onto another person and then try to care for them, and then the word “care” isn't really correct again, it's really fixing, but we try to care for them, that's how it seems, as a distal way of doing for another what we can not do for ourselves. Right, so we see somebody in pain, we feel helpless, and then we project that energy onto the other person, it freaks us out, makes us anxious, and then we want to fix them, get them to see a healer, get them to read a book, get them to change their diet, get them to do things differently, but it's not really coming from a place of health in our own psyche, it's coming from a place of fear and anxiety, because we can not tolerate to see another in that state.
This action has many consequences; a huge one, that might not be obvious, is that our own inner child goes into a rage because it needs the care itself so bad. Right, so caretaking isn't free. When we go into that caretaking mode, when we go into that fixing mode, when we are constantly giving to another as a way of taking care of ourselves, our own bodies and our own minds really suffer greatly. Why? Because we're bypassing our own needs and we're projecting it on another person. So, the inner child is a real psychic force, like we talk about and have talked about in the past, and when it's denied, it is watching us. So, when I see Mr. X or Ms. Y, and I go out there, and I'm spending time and talking to them and trying to get them to do something to take care of themselves, and they might be open, they might not be open, but we'll get into that, my own inner child is watching me and gets furious because he is starving, she is starving, that's why we run around.
Now, I'm not talking about giving somebody advice, an ear, a helping hand. I'm talking those of us who are professionals at the caretaking piece, and you know who you are - people reach out to you, you'll spend hours a week doing this, on the phone, by email, by having 10 coffees, where you're actually in this mode, and it looks really wonderful externally to other people. Certainly you yourself will know at some point that something is off. The issue is that many times we don't know what's off for many, many years. For many of us it might be decades. Why? Because we get kudos externally, “It looks so lovely”, “Oh, it looks so nice”. But internally we know what's up, we know because we'll leave exhausted, we'll leave angry, we'll leave tired from these meetings, but we might not necessarily connect it.
One of the things that's important is for us to know that some people, because of their wounding and most of the times without their own conscious awareness, can trick us. And trick may be a harsh word, but on an unconscious level it's actually pretty accurate. They can trick us into thinking that we need to heal them, that it's our responsibility to help them along the way. But the issue is that they don't really want help, what they want is the attention to unconsciously keep repeating the pattern that they're doing, and they don't want to change. So, a good rule of thumb is to learn to distinguish the people that might be reaching out to you who really want to change, and the people that just want attention and they don't change. And again, that's a pretty obvious thing if we sit with it, but many times, especially if we have the caretaking wounding, we can have the same conversation 30 times and nothing changes, we get frustrated, but we don't really realize that something is up.
So, the analogy I use when I'm working is a Cineplex. Some people really love to watch Friday the 13th part 9,000,673. We might want to watch a rom-com; we might want to watch some kind of movie that's funny or happy. Somebody might really love to watch that horror movie. Those of us who are caretakers constantly want to go grab someone and pull them out of that theater and have them come watch what we enjoy. We have to learn to tolerate our own anxiety and our own pain and understand some people really want to enjoy that movie, that horror movie. That's their movie, over and over and over. But then we don't have to sit there and calm them down every time they come out of the theater shaking after the 600th time they've watched the same movie, and calm them down and give them a cup of tea and try to converse with them about, "No. You should never do that. It's not good for you," to watch them again go right back and watch the next series.
So, we have to, again, tolerate our own pain, our own fear, our own helplessness. In these times of rapid change that we're all going through, it can be difficult to tolerate these things, as there's so much suffering going on, but truly we have to be our own saviors. We have to do our own work to get to the next level. When there is such a rapid change, people are responsible for their own healing. So, remember, part of those of us who have this childhood wounding is we feel an obligation to help others, an obligation to heal others. We can not do that. People can do that only for themselves. So, as we have talked about in the past, you're not obligated, sometimes you just have to let people go, or if you choose to stay in a relationship, take responsibility for the ways that you might get annoyed, exhausted, and use it as a part of your own teaching not to get over involved with stuff that's not yours.
Be very conscious that this kind of unhealthy caretaking does have dire consequences because we can enable another's helplessness under the guise of care and love, which then makes them unconsciously angry, just as it does us, because what we're saying to them is that we're their higher power, we have the power to change them, and we get angry because we don't have that power, and it's exhausting. They get angry because even though they're not aware, on some level they know that we're hustling them as much as they're hustling us. Remember, in these situations it's always a 50/50 dance. Both parties are gaining something, even though it's not healthy for either party. So, in such relationships there's no honesty. Right, it's basically based on two people not being able to self-care, so they're hustling each other for the care that they can't really use.
So, until we're honest with ourselves and are conscious of our own needs, we can not really truly care for somebody else. Nisargadatta Maharaj had that wonderful line, "In order to help others, first be out of a need yourself." In order to help others, we first need to be out of need ourselves. Again, does this mean that we don't give a helping hand to someone who's hurting? No. But if we're having the same conversation for the 30th time, we have to sit back and examine what's going on, what are we losing, what are we not seeing? So, there'll always be a tint of dishonesty within ourselves when we're starving emotionally internally while we're serving up a feast for another person. The other person is suffering the same fate in reverse because they're starving, because they can't nourish themselves. Right? They're not engaging honestly, so they're feeling like a beggar instead of an equal person.
So, these things need to be examined when we are in a place where we get activated by somebody else's issues. And again, this is more of an issue for some of us than others. Some people, they're wounding is to be more narcissistic, to be more self-involved and not care. That's unhealthy in its own way, but this specific thing that I'm talking about, this need to fix others, it's a very specific coping mechanism for some of us who had early childhood wounding, where we feel, we felt, we had to tap dance and save another in order to have permission to be here. And where does that come from? When we didn't get the attention we need at a young age, we try to save others as a way of healing them, so they can get better, so they can feed us. But since we were never fed, and since we haven't even learned how to tolerate that nourishment, it becomes a vicious circle. We actually will choose people who can not take care of themselves or need this constant negative feedback loop because it becomes a repetitive pattern where we can not feed ourselves.
Now, there are some guidelines that we can follow when we feel the itch to fix another. And like always, we have to check ourselves, check how we're feeling, and examine the situation. This means we have to take a moment, whenever a situation comes up, if you are someone who is a professional fixer, check yourself - when you get that phone call, when you get that email, when you get that running into the person… feel your body, feel how you're feeling. We always know when we're being hustled. So, ask yourself, "Is this situation my fault?” “Literally, is this something that I have caused?" If we have caused pain to somebody else, that's a different issue. We need to sit down and take an inventory of how we have hurt another. But I'm talking about a situation where if the answer is “no”, then right there you have to sit with yourself and know that you don't have to, nor can you, fix somebody else.
So again, somebody brings something to your door, a hot coal for you to put out. Did you set that fire? Is this the first time that this person has brought this to your door or is it a situation that keeps happening over and over? Again, remember that you don't have the power nor the ability to fix somebody else's fire - only they can do it. Sometimes, the way this looks is that we're professional cheerleaders. We talk people out of their pain, we talk people up, after the 19th time when they get into a relationship, professionally or personally, where they're heartbroken and we cheerlead them out. If this is a situation that's familiar to you, check yourself. Again, how many times have you had this discussion with someone else? Do understand that heartbreak has its own medicine in it. We have to allow the other person to sit with their own pain, just like we have to do that for ourselves, so we can learn from the situation and not repeat it.
And many times, those of us who are professional cheerleaders, there's an amazing amount of pain and depression that hasn't been felt inside of ourselves, which is why we're trying to lift somebody else out of their own pain. We can not tolerate, we haven't been taught to tolerate, and we have unexamined issues, where if there is some “down” energy with someone, we freak the hell out. So, we go into that cheerleader mode, we become a little nice talker, “Hey, talk them up.” “Hey, it's not that bad.” “Hey, go on." Again, does it mean that we walk away from someone who's in pain? No. But I'm talking about situations where these things repeat over and over and over. So, check yourself. If it's one of these situations, how do you feel after talking or discussing these issues with someone? Are you feeling exhausted? Are you feeling agitated? Are you feeling angry? Check yourself and see if any of these situations or issues are reflecting something back to you.
Part of the issue of being a fixer is that we have all kinds of suggestions for people. So, a nice guideline would be to ask permission and inquire what, if anything, the other person needs, before you offer them advice. Sometimes just sitting with someone and being with them can do wonders, without us trying to grab them to see our therapist, our healer, our favorite massage person, our favorite energy worker, our favorite book that'd help them, sometimes just sitting with someone, it's so, so profound. But because we're a culture of doers, we really forget that sitting with someone and giving them our undivided attention is profound healing medicine, but we don't trust it, because we don't trust ourselves.
Now, if you're a professional fixer, learn to sit with yourself for a minute and check with your feelings. If you're being asked to call someone for the 10th time, learn to get in the habit of saying, "Let me think about it," to give yourself some time to figure out what's going on. Is this something that you want to do? Is it something that's actually healthy for you? Remember, if it's not healthy for you, it's going to actually be not healthy for the other person. For someone who is healthy emotionally that's not going to be an issue. They can tolerate that. They're like, "No. I can't do it. I'm tired today. Talk to you some other time." For someone who's not healthy, it's going to be very difficult to say no. So, just saying "Let me think about it" can give you a little bit of room just to sit with yourself and figure out, do you want to get involved in somebody else's drama or is this someone that you can actually help?
So, we have to really pay attention. If someone's suffering, if we can actually sit with it that can really help them, but we can actually be indulging in somebody else's drama and then that can actually create all kinds of problems. Learn to keep your heart fully open and let it break fully open with the suffering of life. Just remember that our own inner child needs so much love that he or she is starving, and those of us who are running around, putting out other people's fires one after another, are dealing with a four alarm fire in their own backyard, their own home, their own yard, their own apartment, and has learned to tolerate the heat. So, we go outside and put out fires, when instead we need to be home and paying attention to the fire that's burning in our own hearts.
As always, the practice is: check your body. Being in the body is how we examine or inform - know what to do next. And in order to do that, we need to learn to tolerate our own anxiety. So now, as you have been reading this, hopefully you have been feeling your body, but if not, let's drop in. So, I want you to feel as you think about a situation where this might be happening for you, or a situation where you feel you were hoodwinked into fixing, or a situation where you step into fixing. Think about it, but let the emotion come up. So, here's Joe Blow, some of us have a couple of those Joe Blow’s, some of us are healthier than others, but think of a Joe Blow where you are not quite sure if it's healthy, or you already know it's not healthy, where you keep talking to them about the same thing, but you do it anyway.
Feel your body. Where do you feel this energy? So, feel your head, feel your face. Relax everything, drop your breathing down. Feel your neck and shoulders, feel your arms, feel your chest, feel your throat. Keep going down. Feel your abdomen, feel your hips, feel your thighs, feel your calves, feel your shinbones, feel your feet. And remember, we are very head heavy, so feeling our feet, kinesthetically being aware of our feet, really helps build our energy up, so we can actually feel what's going on in our chest, feel what's going on in our emotional heart. So, now that you're feeling your body, feel how this feels. Do you feel sad? Do you feel agitated? Do you feel angry? Do you feel like, "God, I don't want to do this anymore"? Do you feel like, "No, that's actually okay, I can do this"? Check yourself.
Examine a situation within your body. And remember, trying to fix another is actually detrimental to both you and them. Caretaking is not free; it has negative consequences for both parties involved because it's not honest. And dishonest relationships always lead to pain all around. So, tend to yourself, tend to your heart. Do trust that when we are centered in the midst of our own chaos, truly it's such a gift to other people. When we tend to ourselves, tend to our heart, out of that place we can truly help others just by our presence.