The Need to "Fix"


What is the need to “fix”?

  • Behavior to rescue or help another.
  • Desire to be there for someone in need
  • Believe you can do a better job or know more than the person who you are helping.
  • Inability to emotional detach from person or situation—you fix because the costs to YOU are too high not to.
  • Inability to accept people, places, or things the way they are and the chronic attempt at changing them even if they are unchangeable.
  • Inability to not give advice, suggestions, or offers of help, even when you know in doing so that it will hinder another person's growth and personal mastery in life.
  • Interfering in business and personal affairs "to help'' people even when they haven't asked for your help or assistance.
  • Drive to feel "needed'' or "wanted'' which leads you to become overly involved and over responsible in your relationships with persons, places, and things.

What are the potential negatives of “fixing”?

  • Others become dependent on you
  • The relationships are ones of inequality—you are helping someone you perceive to be not as strong as you
  • Fixing is judgmental—it requires you see another person as “broken” and in need of fixing.
  • Judgment creates distance, disconnection and seeing ourselves as somehow “different” from those we fix.
  • Helping or fixing incurs “debt”—you “owe” me.
  • Fixing is draining and depleting
  • Fixing is very concrete and specific—we help a particular person with a particular need
  • When we help or fix, we gravitate towards those that are weaker than we are—needier than we are—this inequality is felt and diminishes the others self-esteem.

How is the need to fix a control issue?

  • It puts the "locus of control'' into your hands as the fixer rather than into the hands of those being fixed where it correctly belongs.
  • Giving advice, offering solutions, and directing choices puts you in a "power'' and "controlling'' position over those things you are trying to fix.
  • The sense of over-responsibility which leads you to need to fix others is a "de-powering'' of the others to take responsibility for themselves; it puts the onus of accountability on you if the solutions do not succeed. It also puts the recognition for their success on you rather than on those you are fixing.
  • Those being "fixed'' often feel "out of control'' in terms of what is happening in their lives and can become dependent on you the fixer to "do for them'' rather than to "do for themselves.''
  • Although "fixing'' looks altruistic, it is really a sef-centered behavior because the outcome is not so much for the other's  benefit but to make you feel good, relaxed, at peace in that things are the way they "should be.'

How is “fixing” different from “serving”

  • Service is a relationship of equals—I am served as I am serving
  • When we serve—we trust the wholeness of the other—we respond and collaborate with others.
  • We serve life not because it is broken, but because it is holy (Mother Teresa)
  • When we serve, our service comes out of the wholeness of our lives—we give and receive at the same time
  • Service generates gratitude (from us and those we serve), service is sustaining and renewing.
  • In service, we know we are serving something greater than ourselves, not something less than ourselves.

Steps to overcome the "fixer" role

Step 1

List and identify all persons, places, and things with whom you are a “fixer.”

  • The people I feel a need to "fix'' are:
  • The places I feel a need to "fix'' are:
  • The things I feel a need to "fix'' are:

Step 2

For each person, place, or thing identify the following:

  • What are the issues that need fixing?
  • For whom are these issues a problem? Are they a problem for you, a problem for the other, or a problem for both of you?
  • How openly has the other admitted these issues are problems and how have they asked for your help to “fix” them?
  • How has the other tried to take steps to solve or “fix” these problems on their own? How successful have they been?

Step 3

You next need to identify what are the "hooks'' in your relationship with each person, place, or thing that keep you in your fixer role.

Emotional Hooks Self Assessment

  • Your sense of guilt if they should get worse
  • Your sense of over-responsibility
  • Your sense of obligation
  • Your fantasy of a change in the relationship
  • Fear of losing them
  • Your need to be needed
  • Your need to control others
  • Your need for approval and recognition
  • A martyr complex. This is your role in life to clean up the messes which others make in your life
  • A sense that they can't do it without you
  • Your inability to emotionally detach from others who are in a toxic relationship with you

Step 4

Once you identify the "hooks'' in the relationship with each person, place, and thing for whom you are a fixer, then you need to develop rational, healthy alternative beliefs which allow you to "let go'' of the need to "fix'' them.

We can fix without serving. And we can help without serving. And we can serve without helping or fixing…helping and fixing may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul. They may look similar if you’re watching from the outside, but the inner experience is different. The outcome is often different too.
— Rachel Remen

Results Versus Process Oriented


Results Oriented

  • Try to do for others what only God can do.
  • Focus on “curegiving,” on trying to solve others’ problems.
  • Foster dependency by making decisions for others.
  • Use their “caregiving” to satisfy self-centered needs to feel good about themselves and in control.
  • Try to control others’ behaviors.

Process Oriented

  • Concentrate on what they are able to do and leave the results to God.
  • Concentrate on caring for others.
  • Foster dependence on God, and self-reliance, by helping others make their own decisions.
  • Focus their other-centered care on providing what their care receivers need.
  • Try to control their own behavior.

What We Can Do versus What Only God Can Do

Stephen Ministers care for their care receivers in many ways, but only God can bring healing and changed lives. When SMs try to take over God’s role, it never works out. You will hope for many results in your care receivers’ lives that only God can bring about.

Cure versus Care

SMs are sometimes “wounded healers” who have gone through crises similar to their care receivers’, It can be easy, however, for SMs to forget how long it took and how much struggle was involved in working through their own crises. They may push CRs to try a particular solution that worked for them. This may appear caring, but it crosses the line from caregiving to curegiving. Most often, people need to figure out their own solutions.

Part of caring is sharing the CR’s pain. This may well be the hardest part of relating as a caregiver instead of a curegiver. When a SM tries to impose a cure, he or she may think it is for the CR’s sake. It may actually be done, however, to relieve the pain he or she feels from empathizing with the CR. It is most caring to stick with the process orientation and continue caring, even though it hurts to do so.

Depending on the Caregiver versus Depending on God

When someone uses results-oriented care, it may make the CR dependent on the caregiver. If the SM makes decisions for the CR, the CR may end up making fewer and fewer decisions for him- or herself. This delays a CR’s recovery from a crisis.

Some caregivers may be tempted to encourage such dependency. They may like the feeling of having someone else depend on them. It may make them feel needed and bolster their self-esteem. Such dependency, however, does CRs no good.

Instead, SMs encourage CRs to depend on God and become more self-reliant. With a process orientation, SMs help CRs take responsibility for themselves. They help CRs to think through what they can do for themselves. They also model reliance on God by praying with and for their CRs and by witnessing about how much they personally depend on God’s help.

Sometimes SMs are convinced that they know what a CR needs better than he or she does. Even then, they need to remain process- oriented, allowing the CR to make his or her own choices and leaving the results to God.

Self-Centered versus Other-Centered

Self-centered care might include: pushing the CR to get over their grief so the SM can report a “success,” pressuring the CR to get started sharing so the caring visit can end and the Stephen Minister can go do something else, putting guilt on the care receiver for not trying to reconcile with their estranged spouse because the Stephen

The Power of Presence

I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have—life itself.
— Walter Anderson
Love is stronger than death even though it cannot stop death from happening. No matter how hard death tries, it cannot separate people from love. It cannot take away memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.
— Anonymous

The Power of Presence

All Things Considered, December 26, 2005 by Debbie Hall

"Presence is a noun, not a verb; it is a state of being, not doing."

I believe in the power of presence.

I was recently reminded of this belief when I and several other Red Cross volunteers met a group of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. We were there, as mental health professionals, to offer "psychological first aid." Despite all the training in how to "debrief," to educate about stress reactions and to screen for those needing therapy, I was struck again by the simple healing power of presence. Even as we walked in the gate to the shelter, we were greeted with an ardent burst of gratitude from the first person we encountered. I felt appreciated, but vaguely guilty, because I hadn’t really done anything yet.

Presence is a noun, not a verb; it is a state of being, not doing. States of being are not highly valued in a culture which places a high priority on doing. Yet, true presence or "being with" another person carries with it a silent power -- to bear witness to a passage, to help carry an emotional burden or to begin a healing process. In it, there is an intimate connection with another that is perhaps too seldom felt in a society that strives for ever-faster "connectivity."

I was first hurled into an ambivalent presence many years ago, when a friend's mother died unexpectedly. I had received a phone call from the hospital where she had just passed away. Part of me wanted to rush down there, but another part of me didn't want to intrude on this acute and very personal phase of grief. I was torn about what to do. Another friend with me at the time said, "Just go. Just be there." I did, and I will never regret it.

Since that formative moment, I have not hesitated to be in the presence of others for whom I could "do" nothing. I sat at the bedside, with other friends, of a young man in a morphine coma to blunt the pain of his AIDS-related dying. We spoke to him about his inevitable journey out of this life. He later told his parents -- in a brief moment of lucidity -- that he had felt us with him. Another time I visited a former colleague dying of cancer in a local hospice. She too was not awake, and presumably unaware of others' presence with her. The atmosphere was by no means solemn. Her family had come to terms with her passing and were playing guitars and singing. They allowed her to be present with them as though she were still fully alive. With therapy clients, I am still pulled by the need to do more than be, yet repeatedly struck by the healing power of connection created by being fully there in the quiet understanding of another. In it, none of us are truly alone.

The power of presence is not a one-way street, not only something we give to others. It always changes me, and always for the better.

Debbie Hall has been a psychologist in San Diego's Naval Medical Center Pediatrics Department for 12 years. She volunteers for the Disaster Mental Health Team of her local Red Cross and lives in Escondido with five cats and a 15-year-old golden retriever.

The world is more magical,
less predictable,
more autonomous,
less controllable,
more varied,
less simple,
more infinite,
less knowable,
more wonderfully troubling
than we could have imagined
being able to tolerate
when we were young.
— James Hollis, Meaning in the Second Half of Life

Five Ways of Making a Verbal Assertion


1. Basic Assertion

Expresses needs, ideas, expectations.

  • This is what I think
  • This is what I feel
  • This is what I am.


  • I would like to finish what I am saying.
  • I need some time to think about that.
  • This afternoon is not a good time for me.
  • I like you.

2. Empathetic Assertion

Recognizes the other person’s needs, feelings and situation but stands up for one’s self.


  • You may not realize that interrupting me bothers me but it does.
  • I know you are trying to be helpful, but I would rather do this my way.
  • I know it is easier for you to file this under the old system but the new one is more useful to me.

Empathetic assertions confront the other person with behavior that is having undesirable consequences without judging or threatening and also give the other person recognition for having needs and feelings that you are aware of.

3. Escalating Assertion

When the other person does not respond to a basic assertion or request, it is sometimes necessary to escalate the assertion by changing words or tone of voice so that the individual who is denying your rights will be forced to consider them. An assertion is escalated from a simple request to a demand if the request is ignored.


I have asked you to please make an effort to get to work by eight o’clock. You have been late three times this week. You will have to get to work on time. I cannot make any exceptions unless there are unusual circumstances.

4. Confrontive Assertion

The confrontive assertion calls attention to discrepancies between what the other person said they would do and what they actually did do. It involves:

  • Describing (not judging behavior):
  • What they said they would do.
  • What they did do.
  • What you want.


  • I was supposed to be consulted before this report was submitted. You sent the report to Mr. Jones without the September figures. I want it retyped with this added information. I want to see it before Mr. Jones gets the revised version.
  • I thought we agreed that we would make no changes in the budget without another meeting. I want to discuss these figures with the other department heads before I can approve that increase.

5. Feeling Assertion

A feeling assertion is sometimes necessary in order to preserve or improve a working relationship. It involves some degree of risk taking but is indicated when a working relationship or a personal one is subjected to strain because of conflict in style, values expectations or needs.

A feeling assertion:

1. Describes your reaction.

Ex: I am frustrated, concerned, angry, disappointed, etc.

2. Describes behavior.

Ex: You did not finish the work I assigned you. You gave me the responsibility for getting that job done but you did not give me the people I needed in order to complete it. You did not give me enough time to complete my research.

3. Describes consequences.

Ex: I will have to find someone who can do the job. I cannot take the responsibility unless you will support my authority.

4. State your wish, demand or requirement.

Ex: I want to know in advance if you cannot complete a project.


Characteristics of Non-Assertive, Assertive and Aggressive Problem Solving


In their book Your Perfect Right, Alberti and Emmons describe a continuum of non-assertive, and aggressive behavior. As they explain, “The assertive individual is fully in charge of himself (herself) in interpersonal relationships, feels confident and capable without cockiness or hostility, is basically looked up to and admired by others.”


Is allowing other people to treat you, your thoughts, and your feelings in whatever way they want without you challenging them. Non-assertiveness is doing what others want you to do regardless of your own desires.


Is thinking and acting in ways that stand up for your legitimate personal rights. Assertiveness is giving expression to your thoughts and feelings in a way that defines your own human perspective without subtracting from the legitimate human rights of others.


Is standing up for what you want regardless of the rights and feelings of others. Aggression can be either physical or verbal.


  • Avoid the problem
  • Relinquish your rights
  • View the rights of others as superior to yours
  • Establish a pattern of others taking advantage of you
  • Let the other person guess how you think and feel
  • Hope goals will be achieved
  • Let others choose for you
  • Build anger/resentment
  • Respect other person
  • Lack confidence
  • Hope (for favors, etc.)


  • Attack the problem
  • Claim your rights
  • Recognize the rights of others as equal to yours
  • Establish a pattern of respect for future interactions
  • Let the other person know how you think and feel
  • Work toward goals
  • Choose for yourself
  • Deal with anger
  • Respect both other person and self
  • Are confident
  • Request (favors, etc.)


  • Attack the person
  • Claim your rights
  • View your rights as superior to other’s rights
  • Establish a pattern of fear & avoidance of you
  • Let the other person know how you think and feel
  • Work toward goals
  • Choose for yourself and others
  • Act out anger
  • Respect self only
  • Are cocky, hostile
  • Demand (favors, etc.)

“No” is a complete sentence.