Tuesday 25 October 2016

Getting your fix... The urge to advise people can become addictive

Published 26/07/2016 | 02:30

Wowing your friends with tips from Good Housekeeping may not be the answer
Wowing your friends with tips from Good Housekeeping may not be the answer

Do you know what you should do...? I used to start at least a dozen sentences a day with these words, doling out unsolicited advice to anyone unfortunate enough to come into my orbit. Do you know what I should have done? Kept my mouth shut.

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Unfortunately, I only came around to this way of thinking in later years. I was previously oblivious to the clenching of fists and tightening of jaws that my advice used to elicit.

Thankfully age has since taught me that while people want to be seen and heard, they don't necessarily want to be guided and told. More to the point, if they want advice, they'll generally ask for it.

You probably know a fixer. They have a piece of cut-out-and-keep wisdom for every adversity, a solution to every challenge and a cure for every ailment.

They're the people that send you emails about college courses, job posts and upcoming seminars and have opinions on where you should be living, who you should be dating and what you should be eating.

It's even worse if they happen to be older than you - in this scenario they believe it is their God-given duty to mentor and advise.

Before long, the compulsion to fix people's problems can become an involuntary response, or worse, an addiction. Helping people releases endorphins and leads to a phenomenon known as 'helpers' high' and I'm convinced chronic fixers are compelled to mend situations in order to get their daily fix of feel-good hormones.

Indeed, for many people, fixing can become the habit of a lifetime - but that doesn't mean it can't be kicked.

I recently came across a quote by the late psychologist Carl Rogers that appears in the book A Way Of Being.

"One of the most satisfying feelings I know - and also one of the most growth-promoting experiences for the other person - comes from my appreciating this individual in the same way that I appreciate a sunset," he writes.

"People are just as wonderful as sunsets if I can let them be. In fact, perhaps the reason we can truly appreciate a sunset is that we cannot control it. When I look at a sunset, as I did the other evening, I don't find myself saying, 'soften the orange a little on the right hand corner, and put a bit more purple along the base, and use a little more pink in the cloud colour'. I don't do that. I don't try to control a sunset. I watch it with awe as it unfolds."

This wisdom applies to just about every interpersonal relationship as much as it applies to the fixer's tendency to remedy every situation. In many ways, the need to fix, change and control people is an inability to live in the moment, or appreciate the sunset.

Just as you would watch a sunset, it's better to be present with people when they share their problems. Assume they just want their hardship to be acknowledged rather than resolved and remember that a heartfelt 'you poor thing' goes a lot further than 'have you tried reiki?'.

Try to actively listen and focus on what they are saying rather than what you're going to say next. Lead by example rather than brute force. Or, as the saying goes: 'Meet them where they are.'

If fixers are truly honest with themselves, they try to mend situations to avoid negative emotions and emotional intimacy, to assert their superiority and to gain a sense of control.

It also gives them an opportunity to wow people with folk wisdom, natural health cures and handy stain removal tips that they read in Good Housekeeping magazine.

If fixers are even more honest with themselves, they may concede that the more they feel the need to offer guidance, the less faith they have in the direction they are taking in their own lives. Life is messy and chaotic - for everyone - so why do we think we can put someone else's life in a tidy box with a neat little bow on top?

Pema Chödrön puts it better in When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice For Hard Times: "We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.

"Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."

It's also worth asking how helpful you're actually being. By coming up with solutions to other people's problems, you are stunting their personal growth and depriving them of the ability to think for themselves.

By doling out unsolicited advice at any given opportunity, you lead people to second-guess their actions and hesitate over their choices.

By encouraging someone to "look on the positive side of things", you suggest they're dwelling on the negative.

"We are not here to fix, change or belittle another person," writes Marianne Williamson. "We are here to support, forgive and heal one another."

Neither are we here to validate our sense of self by helping everyone we encounter to solve their problems. If you're a chronic fixer, do you know what you should really do?

Back off.

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