Despite reaching esteemed professional goals, Maria was angry, resentful, and tired. She didn’t even realize how stressed she was until one day her husband said to her “Why are you always yelling at us?“
That question was a wake-up call for Maria.
She was so used to shouldering the responsibility and emotional weight of fixing her employee and clients’ problems, she didn’t realize how she was treating the ones she loved the most.
In addition to her role as a fixer at work, she was also investing time, financial resources, and energy in taking care of her extended family, while she had her own young family to care for.
Does Maria’s story sound familiar?
Does this narrative hit a nerve with you? Can you relate to being a “fixer” in your work and home life?
Being helpful to others isn’t the issue. After all, the willingness to support one another and pick up the slack for co-workers is a key aspect of a healthy team.
In Maria’s case, it was a role that came naturally to her that started in her upbringing.
“My father was an alcoholic and my mother suffers from mental illness. Growing up my father was abusive towards my mother physically, emotionally, and mentally. Ever since I was five years old and my parents divorced, I’ve been a fixer. Whenever there was conflict in the family, I took charge to ease the chaos.”
Maybe there wasn’t abuse or addiction in your family upbringing. But you found yourself in the position of taking care of a parent or sibling who was ill?
Or perhaps you saw one of your parents serve in a helping profession and it was modeled to you to be a caretaker for others. Or perhaps both of your parents worked a lot while you were growing up and as the oldest taking care of your siblings landed on you.
There are endless possibilities of how we become “fixers”. Self-awareness is the first step toward positive change and moving towards a better place of reacting.
Maria’s tumultuous upbringing led her to become a “fixer” – someone who continuously takes responsibility for others. Maria’s childhood had a major impact on her work, including the profession she chose. She wanted to give back to families affected by abuse and alcoholism. Leading her to earn a degree in social work and become the head of a domestic violence agency.
How to Remove Yourself From Being the Fixer?
- Gain self-awareness that it’s a pattern for you to bear the brunt of the responsibility for those around you. You can’t change what you’re not aware of.
- Recognize how the role of the fixer has benefited you. Oftentimes those who are fixers feel a sense of importance and contribution by being the one who takes care of others and their problems.
- Make a conscious choice to set boundaries and allow others to be responsible for their life.
What did Maria do?
“Just like in my extended family, chaos shows up in our agency every day… I’m mindful of my tendency to take on a protective fixer role.”
“It was a turning point of setting boundaries when I realized I was doing for others what they could and should do for themselves. I was actually preventing others from being responsible because I was so quick to fix problems!”
With her husband’s support, Maria realized that by allowing others to fix their own problems and take responsibility for their own lives. She could be fully present for her husband and children.
Over time, Maria invested more attention and energy in her husband and kids. And allowed her extended family to be responsible for their own choices and life. Maria’s team has similarly benefited from her making this shift at work of setting boundaries and removing herself from the fixer role.
How did Maria manage this shift in perspective?
A few strategies that were useful to Maria in her journey will guide you in your own circumstances:
- Look at your past to understand how it brings you to where you are today
- Make time to take care of yourself
- Step back and consciously remove yourself from solving other’s problems
Removing yourself from the fixer role is easier said than done. As others often attempt to guilt you into reverting back to rescue them.
Maria said, “As a leader, part of my role is to bring order out of chaos, but I’ve changed my conflict pattern by removing myself as the fixer. Instead, I strive daily to figure out that fine line between offering alternatives to violence and allowing others to make their own choices.”
You can read further about Maria’s productive conflict management strategies in chapter one of How Did My Family Get in My Office!?
Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “You can’t help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.“
So what about you? Are you Ready to Release the “Fixer” Role?
If you resonate with the “fixer” role, you’re not alone. Many caring and competent leaders are “fixers” and have learned how to establish boundaries and stop rescuing others.
When a team or organizational system is out of balance. It becomes a breeding ground for resentment, anger, gossip, and many other dysfunctions. The goal as a leader is to create an environment where everyone functions to their full capabilities.
When you allow employees who are under-functioning to experience natural consequences benefits everyone involved.
Schedule a complimentary strategy session with Bonnie today to learn how to remove yourself from the “fixer” role.
About the author
Drawing from decades of experience as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist. Bonnie Artman Fox works with family-owned businesses who want to bring their teams together and create healthy work cultures that drive results.
For more stories about how real-life leaders gained self-awareness of their conflict style and improved their leadership effectiveness, get Bonnie’s book How Did My Family Get In My Office?!