Are you the fixer?
It’s 2019, and I’ve started a blog! Kidding, sort of. The real story is I only used to share my content via my newsletter, and I’ve decided to make it more readily available for everyone here. That said, if you would like these posts conveniently delivered to your inbox, you can make that happen here. I do not, try as I might, have a regular posting schedule, so that might be helpful. And, if you’d like to access all past newsletters, you can do so here.
My parents separated when I was five years old. Within the throes of the divorce, they took me to see a child psychologist.
Following our first session, the therapist told my parents I was "parentifying." Meaning, I was more concerned about caring for their emotions than my own. “Parentifying" can take on many different forms, but in my scenario —and for many years beyond the actual separation— it was like I had this internal tick I couldn't shut off, and the tick was: Are my parents ok?
Over the years, my tendency to parentify expanded to include everyone around me: Are they ok? Did I do something to upset them? How can I make them ok?
The nature of my parentifying reflected a nice, messy blend of people pleasing and co-dependency. So when it came to my parents, the reason I was "parentifying" was because I felt their emotional state dictated my emotional state. That had me grasping for straws, thinking I could do something to fix the situation, and when I couldn’t, at the very least I could be “constantly ok.” I could be a good student. I could not get in trouble. I could try not to stir the pot. Internally, I felt “better” knowing I was “helping” the situation in some way.
This positive feedback loop carried and grew well into my adulthood. I would come to not just love, but depend on, other's need to have me make them ok. It happened amongst friends, always being the one folks would go to, to share their deepest worries and concerns. Operating as a "den mom" of sorts in larger organizations, carrying the emotional weight of many employees, and so on. It even came up when I was let go from my job back in 2015. I found myself working to make my boss ok. Make sure she was feeling ok in the situation.
I thrived on knowing I was needed in that way. I prided myself on my intuitive nature, my capacity to hold space for another, my ability to facilitate their own self discovery. I was the fixer, and I loved it.
Now there's obviously a plus side to that, which is largely indicative of the work I now do. But there's also a huge, huge downside, which was especially troubling in my dating life. Here’s how:
I consistently operated as the "cool girl" – cool with others actions, cool with whatever we did on dates. Really though, I was terrified to share what I actually wanted.
I thought I could change someone a.k.a fix them. They didn't want a relationship right now, but maybe that would change? And really, shouldn't I give them the space to get there?
My internal narrative when dating someone new was often."Well you know we're just getting to know each other and I don't want to seem to needy and really they've been, ya know, somewhat communicative and kind, so yeah, I'm gonna give this a chance. And really them just being kind is so nice. I don't really need that much anyway!"
The fixer often thinks they don't have that many needs. They just loooooove helping others. But what's really going on is they're so out of touch with their own needs—they almost have no sense of them. They think they don't really have that many (they're super "independent"). But really, what I came to realize about myself and what I see in so many of my clients, is that I actually didn’t feel deserving of having my emotional needs met. I both didn’t think I needed someone to meet my emotional needs and I couldn’t fathom anyone would actually want to.
My dating life didn't set completely in fire (in a good way) until I dropped the knee jerk reaction of catering to every single one of my dates and started to express my own needs. Easier, easier, EASIER said than done. This is very much a life long journey. And I still do relish supporting others, I’ve just gotten a whole lot better at putting boundaries around that urge.
So if you find yourself thinking you don’t need much from someone in dating, if you find yourself plagued with the worry you’re going to be too much for someone, if you find you can relate to the fixer mentality, give yourself the space to ask: what’s really behind that? Does that urge have roots? What might it map back to?
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