There’s that stereotype about what happens when you complain to a man versus a woman. The joke is that a woman will listen and offer sympathy; she’ll tell you how awful your situation is. The man will offer you obvious advice that oversimplifies the situation.
We always complain about how annoying it is to complain about something and receive advice. Obviously, we’re venting to get it off our chest and have people recognise our struggle; why would someone try to fix it?!
Well, I’m guilty of exactly that. When someone comes to me with a problem or vents about something happening in their life, my instinct isn’t to sympathise, and it isn’t to suggest how they could fix it, it’s to start thinking of ways that I can fix it for them.
Somewhere along the way, I learned that it was my responsibility to fix people. My mind will immediately begin racing with ideas and advice I can offer. Whatever problems I have myself are instantly tossed aside in favour of their struggle. I’ll carry the weight of their emotions even if it runs me to the ground.
If someone I love is struggling with an issue, then I am failing not only as a friend, but as a person. My job is to fix everyone’s problems, and it is exhausting, to say the least.
In my case, this likely stems from my Borderline Personality Disorder. I’m terrified of losing people, and so my fear of abandonment pushes me to go beyond my means for people. I see this as a way of earning my worth and trying to catch up to the pedestal I’ve placed everyone else on. Another symptom of BPD is chronic feelings of emptiness, so I think it’s almost a way of filling myself and getting a sense of purpose.
For many of us, this need to fix people (also known as fixer syndrome) likely originates from our childhood. As children, your only emotional burden should be your own, and if all is well, that should be a light one. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. People who struggle with this forced emotional responsibility were probably put in positions far beyond their age, handling the emotions of caregivers. They could have been pulled into arguments between parents, given too much responsibility or constantly pushed to be perfect. Somehow, they learned that they are in charge of other people's feelings, which isn’t the case.
This forced emotional responsibility has always been a huge weight on me. It’s caused me to push myself past my limits and consistently place my own needs second. I feel like everyone is my responsibility, so when they struggle, I am failing. As someone with already unstable moods, this can be detrimental.
In my last relationship, I placed myself in the role of a caregiver. I made myself responsible for everything and then resented my partner for the pressure. I placed their mental health needs above my own. But we were both drowning, and I wasn’t even trying to save myself anymore.
During my last course of therapy, I shared this sentiment with my therapist. She specialised in trauma and personality disorders, so she said she had heard this a lot before. She then asked me a question that I’ve never forgotten.
“Why do you think you’re so important?”
She was Dutch, so the direct nature kind of comes with it, but even then, this one hit deep. I remember gaping at her and waiting for her to explain how this question wasn’t intended that way. She knew I struggled with self-worth and thought very low of myself, so why would she ask this? But she didn’t say anything else, instead she waited for me to reply, as if genuinely curious.
So I stopped and actually considered her question… why did I think I was so important? Why did I think I had any right to other people’s feelings? Why did I think I could cure everyone of their woes?
She was right. Despite having low self-esteem, I was walking around thinking I carried the keys to a successful life. I thought I knew better than everyone around me when I didn’t have a clue. I could barely function in my own life, so what right did I have to influence others?
Through her blunt question, my therapist highlighted that I couldn’t help everyone else, but also that I don’t have to.
I won’t pretend that this one question fixed all of my issues in time for a beautiful credits scene, but it got the ball rolling. The urge to fix other people still arises whenever I’m told about a problem. It’s rooted in good intentions, in my love for the person and a need to make people happy, but I finally understand that I can’t always help them. I don’t have the answers. I’m not a trained professional. But what I can do is be there for them. I can listen and offer sympathy. I’m limited in how I can help, which has freed me from the responsibility.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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