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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Relationships and The Need to Fix Others: Are You A Fixer?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 23rd 2012

Relationships and The Need Fix Others, Are You A Fixer?Many of us want to fix others. I think that is one reason why some people become social workers and psychologists. However, this is a healthy outlet for the need or wish to fix others.

An unhealthy wish to fix others is to get into relationships where the partner is seen as someone who needs fixing. One problem with this is that the other person may not want fixing and may not even see a need to be fixed. The other problem is that any relationship based on one person trying to fix the other is doomed to failure. As the boyfriend of one of my patients told his girlfriend, "I don't want to be changed, I want you to love me the way I am." Her attempts to fix or change him were beginning to alienate him.

This patient, along with many others I've worked with over the years, who try to fix others, was severely abused as a child. In reality, her need to fix others stemmed from a deep sense that she was damaged. Of course, abuse damages self esteem. That low self esteem is the result of constant parental disapproval, rejection and physical and emotional abuse. As a child she blamed herself for her parents abusiveness. In other words, her belief was that it was her fault she was being abused. Then, in her adulthood, she projected her damaged self onto her boyfriends. She always saw as less than perfect and, therefore, in need of repair. She was really trying to fix that part of herself she saw as flawed and at fault. Underlying this is the unconscious reasoning that "if I can fix the boyfriend I will be loved rather than abused." To put it another way, by fixing them she is fixing herself. The trouble is that these repeated and compulsive attempts to fix her boyfriends ended in them rejecting her. That would be further evidence that reinforces her negative self attitude along with her belief that she deserved being abused.

In actuality, it is the wish to fix others that represents what is referred to as codependence. At one time, the use of this word was limited to those who were in relationships with substance abusers. Now, it has a wider use in which the codependent  sacrifices their own needs while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, and also romantic, peer or community relationships. Codependency may also be characterized by denial of what is really happening, low self-esteem, and excessive compliance to abusers. People who are codependent often take on the role as a martyr. By constantly putting the needs of others before their own needs they get a sense that they are "needed." Self sacrifice to the needs of others is never a good thing.

Are you a fixer? Do you sacrifice yourself for others? Are you in a relationship in which you are constantly being taken advantage of? This is a good place to discuss it.

Your comments and experiences are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

 

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    a fixer - - Jan 18th 2015

    I am fixer anytime i feel i have hurt someone or made them mad, i want to make everything okay.. I also see where i expercience rejection , feel it's my fualt and I feel if i can just fix it then I m fine and my world is better.. I hate for anyone to be mad at me.. It bugs me and i want to fix what is my fualt.. hoping that makes it better

    My mother is a fixer, is it hereditory? - - Jan 14th 2015

    I had a very happy upbringing and was never the victim of any sort of abuse. My mother had a hard life, she was very badly burned as a child and not expected to survive so wasn't given any formal education. Her father was physically and mentally abusive to her mother and eventually deserted his family. He made contact with my mother much later (when I was a teenager) and their relationship was difficult. My father was a real good 'un, my mother got lucky when she found him, he was also a great dad. When my grandmother died my mother attempted suicide.

    She's always doing things for other people and as a family we all used to gently tease her about being a bit of a saint and a martyr. She is very much a fixer and so am I. I can't say 'no' to a request for help, I put the needs of the kids, my husband, my mother before mine and find the idea of not doing that appalling. I can't just listen and empathise when someone has a problem, I have to find a solution.

    My real fear is that I see signs of this in my 12 year old son.

    Am I really a fixer? - Searching to Understand - Dec 12th 2014

    reading about what a fixer is troubles me because some of the characteristics match my actions, yet other characteristics don't fit into what I see as myself. I never came into my current relationship looking to fix anyone. I still don't see it as trying to fix. I do see myself putting the needs of my wife and childen ahead oF mine. I don't see myself as a martyr and cringe at the thought of seeing myself as such. I tend to "fill in the gaps" in our daily lives to try and make up for things that don't get done because it's needed. Those who don't or can't pull their weight, I pick up the slack. Does this make me a "FIXER"?

    finally i recognized what I been doing wrong all along - charo - Jul 13th 2014

    I finally realize how wrong I been.  For the last 3 years I been helping my brother who had a relapse with heroin, driving 100 miles each way multiple times a week to buy food, check on the kids etc, for the past 11 months, they moved in with me( a family of 5) with a heroin addict who I put in a rehab center.  A wife that was paralyzed by the fact that she didn't know how to provide for her kids.  As the "fixer", Ii took on a family of 5 with no extra income, I  shopped, cleaned, register to school, clothes, shoes etc etc etc endured the extra financial burden that has caused financial hardship.   My brother started working, making 800 a week, instead of saving to get their own place, they are spending all their money, he gives me 200.00 as him doing his part.  I am at the point that they need to get their own place, they need to live their lives....I get very upset when its 1 pm in the afternoon , the kids haven't had breakfast, I see parents that don't interact with their kids, they don't playn with them, they don't teach them, they don't correct bad behavior...both parents are very selfish, their needs come before the kids... So this week, I have hung my fixer hat, well I am trying, I noticed the kids had no milk, fruit, or even cereal, before this week, i would run to the store, this week I didn't, the mother got up a 11, realized there is no milk or eggs to make what she promised the kids, ran to the store, and its now 2 pm and the kids are finally eating breakfast.   I hope my fixer days are over...I am going to work on my priorities getting my finances in order, my family on track....the sacrifice has been too great..I also think I need therapy, will be looking for someone to talk to.

    This helped me to understand myself. - John - May 31st 2014

    As a child, I endured many hardships.  From mental abuse by my parents, religious intolerance by my absentee father (Jehovah's witness who spent most of my life in and out of prison for selling meth), emotional abuse by my mother, who slowly starved me and left me for dead after constantly threatening suicide whenever I brought up problems, torture and rape in foster homes by foster parents.  I spet the better partof my early adulthood fixing all of these problems in myself by researching and slowly correcting my thinking around them.  I had never heard of cognitive behavior therapy before a certain point, but I had been practicing it as an amateur on myself for quite some time before discovering it in a medical journal.  I occasionally saw therapists, but I didn't trust them because I feared the labels they might apply to me, such as PTSD, bipolar, manic-depressive, etc (PTSD is the only one ever applied to date, by an overworked  military psychiatrist who didn't have time to deal with trivial childhood issues).  I would despise the fact that, when I sought them out for help, they would seek to put me into a box, to categorize me.  I found it annoying that they could take an hour a week to judge me...as if that somehow made them understand me and then charge me money for that judgment of me.

    Seeing this article helped me to understand that I was applying that same practice to my girlfriends...that, despite having addressed the majority of my issues from the past and found peace in them, that I would always have diminished self-esteem.  I know now that that is not how a relationship is supposed to work.  I only hope now to be able to find a way to remedy that before my current relationship goes the same direction, as I have been trying to fix her.

     

    Experiencing This - Anon - May 22nd 2014

    My friend and I jsut had a conversation about this - it seems as though the both of us almost "absorb" other's emotions, having the desperate need to fix them. I've been doing research and that's what brought me here. I noted how here you spoke about how the fixing was, in her mind, done to prevent abuse; I've come to a realization that it seems as though being around others who are sad, who are helpless is like a punishment, is like abuse to certain people. As I was saying, I was doing some research earlier and I ended up reading a study on how plants can absorb energy from alternative sources, and how humans are similar - this brought me to many sources revolving around spirituality, which is not exactly what I was looking for, but I found something interesting; I read a lot about people considered "emotional sponges" and the characteristics that tended to go with them. Anyways, waht I found intersting and wondered about was how/why other's sadness or emotions in general can be taken as a sort of punishment to others. That's really all. I wonder about that and I found it quite interesting.

    Thank you.

    I used to be a fixer - Klarity Belle - Feb 13th 2013

    What Dr Schwartz has described is almost exactly my life experience. I experienced loss of significant family members and emotional abuse growing up. I developed unhealthy coping mechanisms of 'helping' and 'fixing' others around me, believing that if I was not useful to them in some way they would not like me or need me and I would again find myself abandoned. I took this unhealthy pattern into my adult friendships and relationships, attracting people who mistreated or abused me in some way. I kept getting involved with men who were emotionally unavailable and try to 'fix' their issues so I could finally feel loved.

    Eventually I reached what I guess was my own rock bottom, I got into therapy, found an online support group amongst others who had chosen disordered partnerships and started to do what I had needed to all along - fix myself. It doesn't happen overnight, i think it is going to be a life long process but I at least now I recognised dysfunctional behaviour traits when they arise and nip them in the bud, I know what healthy looks and feels like.  A very helpful support forum for those who have been abused in disordered relationships is Out of the Fog. The information and support I found there was invaluable to my recovery process.  So keep going one step in front of the other, things do improve in time.

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