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Fixers seek out the problematic...yup it's purposeful

As a clinician and personally, I have encountered the fixers and those with the righting reflex. These folks like to problem-solve. They pridefully say they're the "rock" for their family, friends, and community. They are the "main" or "sole" support and are "strong," "reliable," and "dependable." These are the folks everyone can count on. People come to them with their problems to seek solutions. These fixers offer solutions, including emotional and financial assistance to others without a second thought. They usually operate on autopilot to jump right into being the do-gooder. Dependent on the person, they may have been forced into the role, it was inherited due to family position, or they volunteered to be in the role. On the outside, they appear proud of their work to smile, grin, and talk positively about all they do to help people. However, behind closed doors, especially in the therapist's chair, they discuss how drained, exhausted, overwhelmed, and "so, so so, tired" they feel.

Let's be real: fixers are exhausted and have good reason to be. I have heard these folks ask, will I ever get a break? Will someone offer to help me? The fixers are disappointed, sad, depressed, stressed, and overwhelmed with their own life stressors. They are not at capacity to take on other people's problems. Although, they do not voice being unable to carry other people's load. Nope. When someone comes with an issue and starts unloading, they listen and fix it. That's the major problem here:

Fixers neglect and sacrifice their wants and needs to prioritize others.

From a perspective of purpose, one may ask, what's the benefit to the fixer? Why are they doing this if it does not benefit their overall well-being? Let's look at some of the purposes I have encountered behind unhealthy behavior or habits.

  • It feels good to be accepted, loved and praised for your actions. Fixers attain internal and instant gratification from helping others. When fixing, the fixer can observe the short-term outcomes of whatever solution they offer. Instant gratification is a positive reinforcement to continue the behavior. Fixers also receive external gratification when those they help offer appreciation, love, acceptance, affection, and praise for their assistance. In many cases, the fixers I have seen in therapy have limited life experiences when they have felt a sense of belonging, love, and affection. Sometimes, I have found fixers to be starved for love and affection, rarely receiving healthy demonstrations of both throughout their lifetime.

holding hands
holding hands

  • It is a temporary confidence booster for those with low or compromised self-esteem and confidence. Many times, fixers have chaotic and immensely stressful lives. So, their ability to assist others with their life problems is an easy distraction from their daily stress. They compare their life to those they are helping to get a temporary confidence booster. A fixer may think my relationship is not as terrible as theirs. My partner never cheated on me. Or, I am not in that much debt as so and so. At least I have a job and am not unemployed. Whatever is going on in the fixer's life then becomes not as bad as the person they assist.

  • It acts as a temporary boost to their sense of self-worth. As stated above, some fixers have low or compromised self-esteem and confidence. Additionally, they may have low self-worth or feel worthless compared to others. Their actions provide a sense of feeling needed, wanted, and worthy. When helping others, they can relate to being at the same level at some point during their lifetime or feel at a higher status to be more of a mentor or role model.

  • It temporarily challenges their thought of being unlovable and the void of feeling unlovable. Fixers may have life experiences that involve different types of abuse and trauma for them to feel unlovable, meaning they are not capable of receiving love from anyone. These thoughts are interconnected to feelings of low or an absence of self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. When they help, the temporary feeling of being loved will quickly go away because the feeling is based on a transactional relationship. The transaction is the person coming to you with an issue and seeking your help to fix it. Once the fixer provides the solution (i.e., transaction) to "fix" the issue, the person will then offer temporary love, support, appreciation, or praise to the fixer. However, what I also learned from working with chronic fixers or righters, the people they usually help are typically not as self-sufficient, struggling with adulting or meeting basic needs, or have serious mental, emotional, and behavioral problems. Therefore, the fix is typically quick, temporary, and short-lived. Thus, the positive response the fixer receives from that person will be short-lived because this person will be in a similar predicament in the short term. So, the fixer never fills the void of seeking unconditional love because the love received is conditioned on their fix. In actuality, the fixer's behavior affirms their thoughts and feelings of being unlovable.

So, if you are a fixer, how can you avoid being used, abused, and taken advantage of?
  • Establish and reinforce boundaries. For starters, before listening to someone else's problems, discern whether they asked you to listen. If someone starts unloading their problems onto you, the person has assumed you are a person they can dump on. I will use this analogy: would you let someone come to your home with their garbage, family or not, and toss it on your lawn, on your front porch, or your steps? I don't think you would. So, why let someone dump or toss their garbage onto you? Now, if the person asks you if they could unload their stress (i.e., problems), and you agree, that's your choice. But, if not, they are taking advantage of your silence or kindness, which should not be acceptable. Establish and reinforce boundaries with known offenders. You can say, moving forward, I'd prefer you'd ask if I am in a good place or at capacity to hear your issues today. Maybe you can provide a time limit; we can focus on what's wrong with you for the next 15 minutes and then talk about x, y, and z. These are examples of boundaries. Regarding reinforcement, if the person doesn't ask and starts unloading after you set and vocalized the boundary in a prior conversation, you have the right to cut the conversation short, reiterate the established boundary, or limit contact with that person to name a few consequences for overstepping established boundaries.

  • Learn to consider and prioritize your wants and needs. Before offering a fix, complete a cost benefit analysis. Identify (e.g., list) the benefits and potential pitfalls to you and your family. Ask yourself, what are the benefits to me and my family? Will this action compromise me or my family in some way? Is the fix a one-time transaction or will my good deed be interpreted as an expected repeat transaction? How will this action impact me and my family in the long-term? What am I teaching the person asking for help? How am I teaching the lesson with my action or fix?

  • Try stepping back from fixing to see how you feel and how others respond. Have you ever tried taking a step back from the role to give yourself a break? Or have you ever tried to let others problem-solve on their own? If the answers to these questions are no, then I recommend allowing the opportunity for both to occur and observe the outcomes. When taking a step back, you may feel less stressed, you may be able to prioritize someone who needs assistance for a more serious issue, or others may learn to problem-solve on their own. The goal of helping someone should never turn into you becoming their crutch for life or for them to become more dependent on you. The goal should be to help the person become more stable, secure, self-sufficient, responsible, accountable, productive, etcetera.

  • Seek out mental health counseling. If some of the above purposes I identified resonate with you, individual mental health counseling or therapy may be beneficial. There's no harm in seeking out professional help to explore your purpose for these actions. I encourage you to take the first step to prioritizing your wants and needs by seeking help for yourself. Another consideration, you may not be helping others like you think if you are not in a healthy state. Your help may be doing more harm than good (e.g., enabling their unhealthy behaviors or creating an unhealthy, overly dependent relationship).



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I am a clinical mental health counselor and an educator. I have been in private practice for almost a decade. During this time, I have encountered hundreds of individuals to listen to their narratives and to help them heal in some way. Additionally, I have my own story. I hope to weave takeaways and lessons learned over the years from these interactions and from my personal life into informative and thought- provoking posts. 

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