Since I keep running into the same issue, it seems that my need to fix people and situations is still a big deal in my life. Last week, while visiting my family, I kept catching myself trying to fix someone or at least help get rid of their hurt and pain. Each time, my awareness came after the fact, some within ten minutes and others within a day. I was so disappointed when I saw what I was doing, because I know the importance of being a reflector and not a deflector. A reflector takes the opportunity to listen with care and compassion and just be present to someone’s pain, while a deflector steps in and tries to change the person’s mind about what they are feeling. Oyvey.
Fixing others seems to come natural to me and I think it’s because it helps me to me feel worthwhile. There’s something to be said about the experience of feeling like a hero. When I think back on my life and the different jobs I’ve held, I realize that most of the jobs I was drawn to and subsequently hired for, involved fixing something. Every management position I held dropped me into a situation of finding many bookkeeping errors that had been unnoticed for a year or two. As I look back on those jobs, I clearly remember the excitement I felt knowing I’d get to go back and examine records looking for errors, which once found, would grant me the satisfaction of fixing them. When I wasn’t working for someone else, I had my own management consulting firm. In that job I went to doctors’ offices, went through their records, observed their processes and procedures, and found what was not working to their advantage. Once that was done, I’d get to make suggestions on how to fix it all.
I realize there’s a difference between fixing bookkeeping mistakes and fixing people’s lives. There’s also a difference between helping people in need and trying to diminish people’s emotional pain. If someone is hungry, I’ll feed them, if they’re naked, I’ll clothe them, if they need a roof over their head, I’ll take them in, and I’ll bandage their wounds and take them to a doctor if they’re hurt or ill. That’s part of being humane and being my brother’s keeper. But what I’m clearly seeing, is because I can often see the root of others emotional pain, I have a tendency to try to remove the hurt. Instead of reflecting back to others what I see and hear, I sometimes want to deflect their pain, thereby robbing people of their personal healing process. I also rob them of being heard and having someone just acknowledge their truth without trying to change their life for them. It’s okay to sit with pain and let it be. In most situations, part of the healing process is being willing to let the pain in without making it wrong.
While in La., one of my family members told me about the anger and shame that was permeating his life and pulling him down. Another family member told me about feeling unloved and ignored by one of her siblings and how angry and hurt she was about it. What happened when I heard these stories is this: my own sense of shame over some of the choices I’ve made in my life, and my own anger and pain about being ignored and feeling unloved by family members was activated. Because these are big issues for me, and because I still have not completely healed these wounds, it was hard to allow my loved ones to express their shame and anger. I know the necessity of being able to face my pain head on. I also know that until I can feel my own stuff, I won’t be able to support others in feeling their stuff. So I’m seeing that what I do when someone is sharing their hurt, and it happens to be the same hurt I’m dealing with, because my discomfort level is activated, I try to take their pain away. It’s like a parent offering a child a cookie to help the child forget about his/her hurt and/or pain.
In the adult world, trying to cover my pain or helping you to cover or undo yours, is akin to covering a cake of crap with chocolate icing. Because of the icing we can all pretend and hope we’ll forget that the cake is crap. The truth is, the cake still tastes like crap, because it’s made of crap. If we just eat the chocolate that covers it, we may forget for a while that we have a crap cake. In fact, we can keep covering that cake with chocolate for the rest of our life, but it’s still a crap cake . It’s such an injustice, when we finally get to the point where we’re ready to look at what’s present in our life and bravely tell someone what we’re feeling, and that someone is a fixer who will deflect the truth by putting chocolate icing on the cake. And that’s what I did last week.
It hurts to see and acknowledge how I handled my loved ones truths, but I’m grateful for the insight. I don’t want to be a fixer and I don’t want to be a hero. What I want is to be a listener who is filled with mercy and compassion for others, one who has the ability to let the truth be and not try to take it away from someone. I forgive myself for trying to spread chocolate icing on others’ cakes, and I’m committed to continuing to heal my own pain so I will no longer find it necessary to deflect others pain. I’d rather be a reflector instead of a deflector.