Relationship Connection: Fixing other people’s problems

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Question:

I feel like I own everyone’s problems and even end up apologizing for stuff I didn’t do just to keep the peace. I’m tired of living like this, but every time I try to stop, it seems like I get sucked back into the same pattern. Do you have any ideas on how to get out of this?

Answer:

I want to first commend you on the progress you’re already making on this concern. Your ability to recognize that there is even a concern in the first place is a good sign. Awareness is critical when trying to end any harmful pattern.

It may seem oversimplified, but notice what happens to you when you catch yourself starting to play out the same pattern. You will see that just your awareness will start to influence the pattern for good. Many times, harmful patterns are obvious to others, but not to us. So, good work getting started.

I want you to consider how you view other people. Do you see them as weak or strong? Do you believe other people have the strength to work through their problems? Or, do you believe that people aren’t able to handle what is presented to them?

These beliefs are important to identify. When you are confronted with a situation where someone expects you to fix it for them (and, many will, as you have taught them that you’ll jump to the rescue), you can go back to your basic belief that “people are strong and can do hard things.”

Your desire to alleviate the suffering of others comes from a genuine and compassionate place. You don’t want to lose that part of you and become indifferent. Instead, you want to feel people’s pain, struggle, and suffering. They need to know you feel their pain. And, most importantly, they need to know someone is there to be with them in their struggle. We can face the dragon so much better when we have someone to face it with.

Another possibility that may keep you stuck in this pattern is that you feel like you lack worth and value and the only way to feel like a good person is to be indispensable and fix everyone’s issues. Naturally, you’ll only feel worse over time, as you can’t really fix everyone’s problems and experience regular failure. Healing your own shame-based beliefs is a great thing to work on in individual counseling with a therapist who knows how to treat shame.

My favorite book on the topic at hand is “I don’t have the make everything all better” by Gary and Joy Lundberg. It’s full of down-to-earth advice and helps readers understand how they can stop trying to fix everyone’s problems.

You have a good heart and want to help others. The best thing you can do for them is stay with them in their struggle and offer your understanding and support.

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