Yesterday I used the term, “people fixer.” These words make me cringe.
I have realized that many people are not broken…therefore they don’t need to be fixed.
I am not perfect, and I am not a licensed mental health professional, but this is what I know.
What is a codependent?
A codependent (people fixer) seems to thrive on fixing others as a form of security, approval or self-identity. This behavior happens at the expense of their own emotional health. Codependents have a hard time accepting that individuals can help themselves, and might take it personally when another individual does not take their unsolicited advice.
I used to be in a relationship with an addict, which by definition made me “the codependent” part of the relationship. Think of it as a noun, rather than adjective in this situation. In my experience, my addict and codependent relationship was about a million times more complex than non-addict relationships. I would love to expand on this, but I think this blog post would end up becoming a book if I did!
After surviving cancer as a teenager, being in a relationship with an addict and then being diagnosed with fibromyalgia several years later, I have been on the giving and receiving end of this kind of dysfunctional behavior.
I have been that desperate girlfriend, wishing for attention while my loved one was in rehab. I have started arguments with, “If you would just …”
I have also had to tell people that I am fully capable of dealing with my problems/illness on my own, without spending hours overanalyzing everything on the phone. It’s nothing personal, but I am an introvert, and I just enjoy quiet time to myself. I seek help from a therapist, because we see dentists for our teeth…so why not see a therapist for the brain?
What can you do?
When a loved one tells you exactly what they need from you, LISTEN.
Don’t take it as a personal slight against you if they don’t want to talk. Give that person space if they need it. Don’t be passive aggressive about this. Acknowledge their problem, without forcing your opinion. No one wants a lecture. This person is not broken and does not need your fixing. Let them come around and chat when they are ready. If it’s been a while, an occasional snail mail letter or email are a great way to remind that you are there for them when they are ready to chat, because they might feel guilty for their lack of contact.
Don’t be so desperate for their attention that you sabotage their focus on self-care.
Don’t think that you know what’s best for them.
Let them do what they need to do to cope with their situation (within reason.)
Don’t enable substance abuse or addictive behavior.
Don’t become so engrossed in their issues that you stop focusing on yourself, your own needs and personal growth.
If they ask for help, assist them in finding a group or a therapist. If you are not a therapist, do not pretend to be one.
If that person wants company, invite them for dinner and a movie…or whatever you two like to do for fun.
If that person wants to talk, listen without trying to fix the person. Ask before giving advice.
Don’t believe that people only want to talk about doom and gloom. Let the other person bring up their issue ONLY if they want to. I am not asking you to ignore someone’s problem, but if your friend needs to take their mind off of the negative…don’t force them to revel in misery. This person is not only their disease or problem. They are still your friend. There is no need to ask about their issue in every conversation. Try this:
“Hey! How is your day going?”
“How are you feeling?”
In my experience, when a conversation starts with the second example above, it doesn’t allow me to feel like more than a walking disease.
This advice does not apply to actual mental health professionals, as they are actually trained to help individuals help themselves. As for the rest of us, all we can do is stay present, allow space when it’s needed, and love others for who they are…not the conditional version of who we want them to be. Let people be.