Can We Fix It? No We Can’t!: 5 Good Questions for the “Fixer” to Ask.

I have a confession to make: I’m a Fixer.

On the surface, this sounds good.

It’s great to want to fix things, right? It’s good to want to help people!

Look at Bob the Builder. He’s always fixing stuff. He seems cool, right?

4gyqqe_h

Well, there’s an important difference between me and Bob here. He can fix whatever comes his way. I can’t. Because a) I am not a construction worker, and b) this is reality.

The truth is, the things I usually try to fix are precisely the same things I don’t have any control over, or any business trying to fix, solve or change, mainly:

  • Others’ Emotions: Instead of just feeling things with people and entering into someone’s challenge, hurt or discomfort, my knee-jerk reaction is to make those negative feelings stop by “making them feel better”. This inhibits my ability to empathize appropriately and may keep them from exploring and learning from what they are feeling at their own pace.
  • Others’ Circumstances or Situations: Again, this comes from what is probably a very normal feeling: not wanting others to experience pain or difficulty, wanting to protect people I care about, etc. But I too often get it twisted and jump in with unsolicited advice or plans that may not be what that person wants or needs.

Both of these can- and usually do- create an unhealthy dynamic of codependency.

I have been a “Recovering Fixer” for years, and it is a tendency I still have to do battle with daily. When it is at its worst, this compulsion to “help and fix and make better” leaves me feeling confused, and under an immense amount of pressure.

lol-gif

Thankfully, my former therapist gave me some great advice, which I try to use anytime  someone I care about comes to me with a problem, a difficult emotion, or a need for input. She said, instead of giving advice right away, ask questions. This will help the other person take the lead without you making their choices for them, but it still puts you in a position to help in an appropriate way.

The questions she suggested are written on an index card, which I carry in my wallet to use as a reference. This way I don’t have to rely on my memory in the heat of the moment.

They are:

  1. What are your options?
  2. Which option seems best to you?
  3. Can I help you?
  4. What Do you need from me?
  5. How can we get through this together?

I have found these questions- and similar ones that flow naturally from the answers to these questions- to be an immense help. They put my loved one in the driver’s seat, keep the friendship healthy and not too one-sided, and still allow me to help in almost every case.

lqqw8

I have by no means “arrived” when it comes to this struggle. I still find my well-intentioned yet bumbling, knee-jerk responses to the difficulties of others trying to take over almost daily. But I am committed to practicing ask first, advise later (if needed), and so far it has made a big difference.

I would love to hear from you.

Are you a Fixer, too? If so, what strategies help you?

Advertisements

Reaching for Paschal Joy

thomas_01

Yesterday was Pascha (Easter) for Orthodox Christians. The Crown Jewel of the Church year, it’s a truly joyous experience that gives the soul a foretaste of heavenly banquet. Pascha is a night full of ancient, elaborate rites followed by a decadent meal that kicks off  luxurious week of feasting.

In some ways, this year was like others have been: a challenging Lent, an introspective Holy Week, and a Pascha surrounded by friends and family.

There was one important difference.

Last night, while out celebrating, I had one of my first anxiety attacks in months.

In a matter of minutes, I went from pleasant chatter to crippling fear, hyperventilating, shaking, and uncontrollable sobs. . . in public. Luckily I was with my husband and one of my best friends, who faces similar challenges. They both talked me down, and I ended the evening with peace of mind and gratitude for my amazing support system.

But I couldn’t shake my sense of shame and embarrassment, not to mention how isolating and joy-sucking a very public anxiety attack can be. All throughout today, I had a rough battle with sadness and despondence. But then I remembered Thomas.

The first Pascha ever, Christ appeared to the disciples, but Thomas ran late. He had to have felt despondent and isolated. He had to have been frustrated beyond belief.  But a week later, he has an amazing experience.

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” – John 20:24-29

Below: My nephew Parker watches his Auntie Beth sing a Paschal hymn.

Pascha_2016

No one is without struggle and weakness, especially not the Saints of the Church. The thing I take from Thomas is not that he doubts, but that he presses on. And of course, the true beauty of the story is that he got to reach out and touch Love Incarnate in the hour of his greatest need.

I’m still feeling drained, sad,  and vulnerable after last night’s episode.  It’s a constant struggle against worry and guilt when depression and anxiety are at the reins. But that’s okay. I had a really imperfect Lent, but that’s okay. Even Pascha was challenging in some ways, but that’s okay. The Apostle Thomas reminds me that Paschal joy lasts a LOT longer than one night. And no matter what, Christ can meet me where I am: His Love is always within my reach.

One More Thing (on Social and Political Change)

charles-darwin-sssshh-ofset-to-right-of-frameBecause of its tendency to polarize and alienate people, and how easy it is for online “discussions” to lose control to third/fourth/fifth parties, I have resolved to no longer engage in emotionally charged social and political discourse on Facebook (or social media in general).

This doesn’t mean I don’t have strong beliefs and opinions, or that I don’t care about voting or community activism. It doesn’t mean I don’t think speaking one’s mind is important. I think there are many people who are gifted at political discourse, activism, organizing and social theory, and they continue to share those gifts.

I have simply come to the conclusion that it is more beneficial and fruitful for me to have these discussions in an environment that is controlled, peaceful, and personal. It is way too easy for me to dehumanize  another when we use machines to communicate.

If I share something, I want it to be in the spirit of sharing what I learned, how something helped, edified, or challenged me, not as a means to shame my detractors.

(I have not “arrived” or perfected any of this. I’m writing this- all of this- for the same reason I write anything down- to hold myself accountable; to preserve my commitment for posterity.)

Beyond that, I don’t feel it’s my prerogative to make sure an online acquaintance changes his mind, or that a friend changes her opinion and votes for the same person I do. I am not obligated to answer for their choices.

The best I can do is set a watchman for my conscience, my feelings toward others, and my own behavior. I think the best way for me to change the world is to change it around me, through interacting with people and with my community at large.

quiet2bplease

Some will disagree with me and take the big picture approach. Some will see things more the way I do. Both have their benefits. Both can and do have positive outcomes. One is just a better choice for my own peace of mind and relationships than the other.

With some professional guidance, I realized that If I focused the same energy I expend trying to convince others to see my way, if I channeled that into action, big or small,  my relationships and my community would transform. [Wow, I thought. What if all people had this approach.]

With all that said, it would be hypocritical for me to tell you who to vote for, how to voice your opinion, what to protest, how to act. When it comes to choosing your candidate, your cause, or your way to take action, there’s only one thing I can ask people I care about to do.

And it’s the same thing I’m asking of myself:

When you make your choice, do it with intention. Doing one small thing that you know will have an effect changes more than sitting idle for hours, stewing in anger and contempt. If your conscience tells you that something (or someone) is morally repugnant, align yourself elsewhere.  If you want to change a social or political reality, take an action that answers the call of your conscience. Whatever you choose to do, do it to strengthen your community, not to tear down someone else. While it’s always nice when others join you, sometimes they won’t. Don’t lose heart. Act in a way that leaves you at peace and doesn’t betray yourself. You can act big, or small. The important thing is to act from kindness, in earnest, and with empathy.

Here’s hoping.

One Thing is Needed: Thoughts on Mary & Martha

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’s feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”- Luke 10:38-41

https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3908/14587866208_a4edccdcca_b.jpg

Sometimes, if we only glance at it, Jesus seems to be picking on Martha in this Gospel reading. So it is good to remember that, along with their brother Lazarus, Mary and Martha are both saints. Each was a servant to Christ and remained devoted to him throughout their lives. No doubt, he loved everyone in their family dearly and equally. Like any sisters, Mary and Martha probably had a little bit of a rivalry. But the variety in their personalities meant that each brought different strengths to the way they related to and interacted with the Lord.

Notice that Martha welcomed Jesus into their home, and was dedicated to serving him and making everything the best it could be for him as their friend and guest, as their Lord and teacher. In addition to her gift for showing hospitality, she is clearly a woman of action. Action and diligence are certainly keys to a faithful life. With all these things considered, there is much to imitate in Martha’s example.

Martha was right to want to use her talents to prepare for Jesus and his visit. Her issue was never her service. It was that she became distracted and troubled with the many things on her plate. It was that she fell into the trap of comparison. And in the midst of the blessing she had been anticipating so greatly, she had not paused to enjoy and be thankful for the present moment. And who can’t relate to Martha? I compare myself to others constantly, often miss out on the [very apparent] gifts in my life, and can hardly be awake without being anxious and troubled about many things.

So Jesus was not so much making an example of Martha as helping her gain perspective. One thing is needed. I have often puzzled over this. Mary was doing several things. She was present with Jesus. She was focused. She was listening to his words. What is the one necessary thing she was doing?

77-perfection-gregory-nyssa

Rather than falling into the traps of distraction, comparison, and worry, Mary had chosen friendship with Jesus. Martha certainly loved him, and no doubt she was motivated by at least in great part by her love to make the house ready for his visit. But somewhere along the way, she seemed to forget the material point: he was already there, in their midst, waiting to spend time with her and her family.

I was once  lamenting my difficult grasping a teaching of the Church related to Mary, the mother of Jesus- and I was going round and round with my priest about the hows and whys and what-ifs when he looked at me and said in his typical, matter of fact way, “She is a person, not a theological concept. Get to know her as you would a person.”

The same, of course, is true for Jesus. It’s very easy to throw around the phrase “relationship with God” or “relationship with Jesus” without actually cultivating one. Like Martha, I become so focused on my checklist, on getting to a place where I am “good enough” or “ready enough” to pray or go to Church that I forget it is possible to pray at any moment. I treat Jesus like a theological concept for me to understand the ins and outs of, without contemplating what he is like, what makes him happy, what hurts him, or the unique gifts with which he fills my life on a daily basis.

We have the friends we do not because of fear, obligation, or because we have reasoned our way to an understanding that the friendship is the correct choice. We are friends because of the bond we share with them. The love that we experience with our friends is what keeps us coming back to one another. We want to get to know them, we ask them questions, we tell them thank you, we give them the gifts of our time and attention. We are not quick to doubt them, and we are certainly not afraid that at any moment they will leave or abandon us. We trust them. And when we are having trouble with that trust, we talk through it. We don’t walk away at the first misunderstanding. And the more loyal and loving a friendship is, the more we are willing to do to grow and nurture it.

Mary had the one thing that was needed, a desire to be friends with Jesus that she put into action. Her contribution was a small one, but Jesus recognized the beauty in it. And he held it out to Martha, not to chide her, but as a gentle reminder that her company was wanted and valuable.