You Can’t Fix People With Duct Tape

I’m a fixer.  By nature, by profession by instinct – I am a fixer.  It has taken me a long time to realize that this part of me is not a curse but rather a blessing – but the struggle is learning how to use it effectively.  Oh, if only you could use duct tape on people – there is nothing that can’t be fixed with duct tape – or a safety pin.  Safety pins are amazing little things.

Normally I write to people wanting to make a change, but there is another side of that – the people that support you.  Often times I will talk to people who want to know how they can help their friend or loved one through a difficult time of transition or progression.  Today is all about the support.

You may think you know exactly what your person needs to do to break through and move on but the worst thing in the world you can do it to tell them to do it your way period.  Not only does it not help them develop the tools they need, the confidence within themselves but it also takes away their hope.  Nothing is worse than taking away someone’s hope – nothing.

It is so hard to see someone we care about struggling and not able to see the entire picture and it is at these times we want to step in and say, “Just do this” or “Stop doing that”.  It might be a quick and easy way to fix the immediate problem and they may get what they want but internally they know they did not do it.  They followed someone else’s actions.  At some point it is very likely that inside there will be a little voice that tells them that they still can’t fix their own problems and are hopeless on their own.

My mother by example taught me a very valuable lesson when I first had my son.  She never offered her opinions or thoughts unless I asked for them.  I’m also a very stubborn and proud kinda girl so often times being so young it was difficult for me to ask; yet she stood her ground and did not offer any advice unless asked.  I learned two valuable things: that sometimes you need to swallow your pride to get help and secondly advice was more easily accepted when given upon request rather than given freely.

When struggling later in life with a very difficult issue I was blessed to have a good friend there by my side who was able to help me at every step by asking me, “what do you need from me?”  Never making judgments as to how I was handling certain situations, how I responded to events or even why I put up certain walls around me – just simply accepting who I was and asking how they could be there for me at that very moment.  One of the biggest things that helped was being able to have someone there who would listen to me without trying to fix it for me.

When in transition or progression your person has a whole range of feelings that they are dealing with and sometimes are not even able to verbalize them for themselves.  Do not expect them to be able to share everything with you or even explain why certain things upset them one day and not the next.  Change is hard and even it if is a good change it is met with resistance – it doesn’t always make sense but there it is.

What your person needs the most is patience, a listening ear and for you to know what works best for them at the time they need it.  Sometimes they need a swift kick in the butt – knowing your person as well as you do you will know when to employ this tactic.  Sometimes they just need you to listen to them without giving the thumbs up or thumbs down.

It is as hard on the support person as it is the person in transition because you only know half the story at best – remember the trouble in expressing all the internal crap?  There is another important aspect that you need to keep in mind too – you do have a voice in this.

Sometimes our people come to us and want our help but they make it impossible for us to help them.  Think about a time when your person came to you and said they are miserable and want to do something and they need your help.  But then every time you talk about it the whole conversation is a pity party or a poor me and any time you offer any words resembling support they shoot it down.  This sucks, and it can suck the life out of you.  This is when you have the right – as your own person – to air your feelings.  It is perfectly acceptable to tell your person that you want to help but you really do not think they want it or you cannot provide the help they need.  If you feel all they want is someone to vent to you can do that but only to a certain point and you can draw the line at when enough is enough.

I had a friend years ago that I adored, she was funny, smart and a beautiful soul.  Unfortunately she still held a lot of anger and resentment from her divorce.  As our friendship grew it the complaining, hatred, anger and pitying became more and more intense and frequent to the point that an entire evening was consumed with her sarcastic or sad commentary on how things should be different.  It got to the point that I had to tell her that as much as I cared about her I could not hang out with her any more.

She wasn’t ready to move forward and I wasn’t ready to go through the emotional war zone every single time we were together.  Within a couple of weeks after we stopped hanging out I could not believe how much lighter my mood was because I was no longer saddled with her crap.  Sometimes people do not want to let go of their crap – that does not mean that you need to take it on and own it.  Sometimes you need to limit it or eliminate it all together.

Be honest with your person because in the end they may not realize that they are clinging to their crap so tightly that they are not allowing anything else to come into their world and your putting limits on it or having to walk away may be the wake up call they need.  It may be the wake up call you need, too.  You have your own stuff you are dealing with in your own world and you have other people so is it really fair for you to take on all of theirs?  No.

It is a fine line between helping, fixing and needing to walk away – the best way to determine which way to go is to be honest with your person and yourself.  Ask how they need you, offer what you can and be prepared to give as much to yourself in walking away if necessary.

As a fixer one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn is sometimes I can help, sometimes I can’t, sometimes I have to walk away and some people like being broke.


Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.

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