I have this problem — maybe you have it too? — I like to fix stuff.
It seems like a great problem to have, right? Who doesn’t want to fix things? Broken = bad, fixed = good! Surely there is nothing simpler.
In my family, here were the two possible models for dealing with the world:
- Retreat into your cerebral ivory tower and forget to think about yourself and also forget to come down for dinner, or
- Do stuff and clean stuff and fix stuff so you don’t have to think about yourself, ever, besides that would be selfish and nobody likes a selfish person.
I’ve become remarkably good at both those strategies. I’m soooo good at it [insert smug self-congratulatory grin here]. But! This was another Rally-related revelation recently: what if the thing I’m good at is not good for me?
Maybe I’m making it too obvious. Duh, it’s not being selfish, it’s self-care! Also, dinner is important. Yum.
Sure, sure. But it’s still all very complicated.
I’ve figured out just recently that sometimes this fixing instinct springs from fear. Not from a generous love of helping others or self-care (though I’ll try to convince myself both of those are true–because I genuinely do feel better when I fix things), but from a genuine terror of what if I don’t fix it. These are other people’s things that I am fixing. Not my own, even though my terror is connected to it.
Figuring out that the easy thing is the same as the fear-based thing is hard. As Mish and I were talking about yesterday in the comments of her Type X Livin’ post, it is possible to be really, really ridiculously good at getting good grades without actually being happy about it. In fact, I bet a lot of us were raised like this. Good grades are…good! Intrinsically, right? So therefore pursue them, forever, hooray, happiness and fulfillment for everyone!
Except this nagging damn idea that keeps coming back to me: what if the thing I’m good at is not good for me?
Originally the context of this idea was the realization that just because I am good at my job and like it, doesn’t mean it is the best thing for me-as-a-whole-person. I am a grantwriter at a small liberal arts college. I have my masters degree in this stuff. And yet, writing (in this job) is all about sitting in front of a computer, day after day, staring into the screen and cultivating terrible posture-related back pain issues because of aforementioned sitting. Is this good for me? Plainly, no.
And that’s a hard thing to face up to.
Even harder: this whole fixing thing. Fixing other people. Fixing my family, most particularly. It is an instinct so carefully inscribed in my habits and character that it makes me so very, very uncomfortable not to follow that instinct. Even when I’ve talked to myself about how we’re not going to go fix that thing that happened for all kinds of good reasons (like: sanity!) there is still the panicky little child in my soul who says: but if I don’t fix it, no one will.
(Oh, it hurts to write that.)
All week I’ve been going around thinking I need to fix this thing, but how? without realizing that the very instinct to fix it was part of the problem. There is nothing broken to be fixed. The “brokenness” that scares me is actually my own wholeness, my ability to set a healthy, sovereign boundary and enforce it for my own safety and sanity. The very fact that I thought this was a broken something says much about the broken set of rules that arose out of my family.
This is one of those times I have to bring in the self who understands the need for gentle self-parenting. The zen Buddhist who knows that the self in pain must be nurtured and comforted before anything else can happen.
The first thing to do is notice it: this crazily urgent need to fix what’s wrong, to apologize because I’ve broken the invisible rule. It’s okay to feel this way. This is an old, old pattern and we’re working on it. But we’re still going to let it stay broken. It’s not ours to fix.
Because hey–the thing about sovereignty is that it is the best thing you can do. Better for yourself, better for others. The better path is to explain that I wanted to fix it but that I recognize that is motivated by fear, not by love and trust.
Fixing other peoples’ stuff is, in the long haul, not good for me. Or at least, not in the context of my family’s model, wherein I fix You and neglect Me until assorted nervous breakdowns and divorces result from it. (This isn’t really about other kinds of Fixing/Helping which actually do bring pleasant feelings and mutual goodwill to many people; I’m talking about the kind of fixing done in true Yankee Puritanical self-negating cat o’ nine tails and a hair shirt on Sunday style. Just in case that wasn’t clear.)
Anyway, loving myself while also ignoring the fixing instinct is my challenge this week. Noticing my desire to fix the broken thing and letting it stay broken. Sending love and understanding toward the terrified girl who has taken on too many responsibilities and thinks she has to fix it, and reminding her that we are creating a place of safety. Understanding that the gift of sovereignty is the freedom to trust that others will create their own sovereign kingdom, too.
(Maybe this is all old-hat to you. It feels big to me this week, right now. There are plenty of loud voices telling me I’m stupid for writing it down in the first place. But I think writing about it is another way to gently confront the fear and learn how to parent myself. In a good way. With the good voices and allies, not the sad scared fixit voices.)