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Helping People Without Trying To Fix Them
I am involved in two ministries that have a rule: do not try to fix people. Some aspects of “fixing” are obvious such as matchmaking or insisting that someone read a certain book. There are other more subtle ways that we may be trying to fix without even realizing the damage we may be doing.
Sometimes there seems to be a thin line between helping people and fixing them. As Christians, we love other people and we long for them make the right decisions and succeed in life. When we see people struggle with major issues such as unhappy marriages, troublesome children, unemployment, chronic illness, being single or being single again, we want to hand them solutions on a silver platter.
When I started struggling with breast cancer several years ago, this situation seemed to bring out the super-fix tendencies in some people. I was told I should drink supersize and gross veggie smoothies. People grilled me about my diet and wanted to fix my eating habits. They insisted that I take certain herbal or homeopathic remedies. They told me about people who had been “cured” because of some magic formula or gross concoction. I confess that all I got out of the fixing was feeling frustrated and annoyed.
Understanding the difference between loving and fixing
As Christians, we want to obey Christ’s command that we love other people as we love ourselves. We long to see our single friends get married, our children to get off drugs, the sick get well, and the depressed person be happy again. We can love and accept them, or we can see the flaws in them and try to fix them. Fixing is not love because it is usually motivated by wrong reasons, such as forcing people to think and act the same way we do, a craving to feed our self-image as generous and giving people, or a drive to manipulate others to do want we want them to do.
We are not qualified to make an informed fix
We do not know all sides to a situation, whether it be a troubled marriage, a rebellious offspring, or a health problem. When I had breast cancer, all kinds of people tried to “fix” me by questioning everything from how I exercised to what I ate. Most of them had no idea what I ate and knew my lifestyle.
The main problem I have with fixers is that their attempts did not come across to me as being helpful and caring. Instead, I felt like they are trying to correct something that is wrong with me. They made me feel bad about myself. I did not eat the right diet. I should not have had chemo treatment. I felt incompetent to run my own life. If the cancer comes back, it is my fault because I did not drink green goop.
Fixing is usually based on assumptions
We assume that the person needs our help and barge in without considering how they may feel about it. When we push ourselves into areas where we are probably not wanted, we can cause damage to our relationships. I did not want information about pet cures or diet tips, and tend to avoid people who were trying to fix me. People seem to jump to the conclusion that the cancer is partially my fault, even though they had no idea of what my diet was. Some judged me because I did not live on rabbit food and veggie shakes.
Fixing is annoying
When people were bombarding me with their "cures" for cancer, I was thoroughly exasperated with them. I have been in a few situations where people who knew my situation would not shut up. They yammered on and on with bad advice and Bible verses.
In one situation, I told a woman I did not know well about my struggles with unemployment at a church event. After some uninformed and downright silly advice, she started throwing Bible verses at me. She would not stop.
I went to the washroom to get away from her and she actually followed me in there. She went into the stall next to me. It took a strong “that’s enough!” to shut her up.
We are feeding our pride
We Christians feel that we have all the answers and allow that to puff us up with pride. Straightening out other poor sinners feeds our already inflated egos. We are doing what we think is a good deed when we are really looking for the praise and accolades from other people about how great we are. At times, our pride and arrogance will drive us to try to take control over them and manipulate them to do things our way.
It takes accountability away from the person
One of my pastors had a definition of fixing that really made me think. Fixing is taking the responsibility of person’s actions from them onto yourself instead of holding them accountable. For example, say that one of us insists that a friend leave her husband after he had an affair. So she leaves him and is very unhappy. She blames the fixer for her unhappiness instead of taking responsibility for her own choice.
How to really love others
There are several ways that we can express love without trying to fix a person. We should not see them as broken vessels that we have to put together again but as complete human beings worthy of our respect and care. Instead, we should pray for them and for the wisdom to truly be
Acceptance: Accept that bad things do happen to people (James 1:2-4). Many people face complex and difficult issues for which there is no quick solution. We do not have the right to judge them or look down on them. We should not feel superior because they are struggling to deal with something that is hard for them to deal with but may not be challenging for us. Those feelings come out of feelings of pride, something God hates (Proverbs 6:16-18).
Listen: When people tell us their problems, we feel the urge barge in with what we see as the answers to their problems. When I told people I had cancer, many responded with impractical and sometimes ridiculous “solutions.” All I usually wanted was a little sympathy and someone who will let me unload. I may sometimes be looking for a few words of comfort, a suggestion, or a sympathetic ear.
Express empathy: When we pity a person who is going through a hard time, we may be looking down on them as lower human beings who needed us to rescue and fix them. Empathy, on the other hand, means that we are trying to walk in their shoes and understand how they are feeling. God has called us to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
Give suggestions, if appropriate: Sometimes, people face difficult decisions and want to explore their options by talking about it. In a case like this, they may want some suggestions and/or our feedback. Suggestions should only be made, however, if people indicate that they are receptive or ask for it. When we give advice during a fix attempt, however, receivers may take it as a blow to their egos. They may interpret our actions as an indication that we think they are not capable of handling their situations on their own, and that we feel superior to them.
Intervene only when necessary: There may be rare occasions where we need to take action, not to fix the person, but to save their lives or help them make their lives better. People who are suicidal or chronically depressed need to see a mental health professional, for example.
When we we feel the urge to fix someone, we need to question our motives.
Do we have a genuine desire to help them or do we want them to fall in line with our own agenda?
Are we looking for the rush that comes from having a person admire us for our wisdom and sage advice?
Do we want to look good in the eyes of other people?
Instead of fixing, we should using more positive ways to be helpful.
The Holy Bible, New International Version
Stop Trying to ‘Fix’ Your Friends, Ashley Abramson
Why You Shouldn’t Give Friends Unsolicited Love Advice, Gwendolyn Seidman Ph.D., Psychology Today
© 2015 Carola Finch