When you have grown up and survived a childhood of abuse and torment, it is my observation that you acquire a skill set trying to play the role of “fixer” throughout your life. Fixers are usually the eldest or first-born in the family. As the first born you have seen the most, suffered the most, and the roll somehow falls to you by osmosis to become the “fixer”. If you have never endured the pain of living day to day, just fighting to survive, then you would not understand this process. If you have gone through this, then it is very familiar to you.
It first starts out with a deep yearning to fix the immediate situation in your family. You become The Peacemaker, you take on the role of parenting your younger siblings, and you put yourself in the middle of raging wars within the family to save others who cannot fend for themselves. Sometimes this may even be a parent such as my mother when she was an alcoholic back in my childhood years. During her blackouts, incapable of removing herself from my father's wrath, I would hide her under my bed or blankets thinking he could not find her. You see yourself as stronger, more capable and unfortunately more used to being the object of the brunt of the abuse.
When you are this person, those who are the more vulnerable ones, the ones who are weaker or in severe neglect and trouble are drawn to you like a magnet. Unfortunately, you find yourself drawn to those who seem to be incapable of fixing their own lives. There is a certain feeling of power and control that comes with being the fixer. Behind every action or reaction, there is a reason or a feeling as to why we put ourselves in a particular role in life. Those who are used to playing the martyr, the victim, the helpless, cling to that role to define them just as much as the fixer clings to theirs.
I have heard it stated before that if you put a random group of people in a room, the victims find the fixers and vice-versa every time. This occurs as a supernatural magnetic attraction that is inherent in the spiritual realm. There is a strong pull between the two types of personalities. Sometimes fixers can find themselves surrounded by groups of victims. This is a very dangerous and out of control situation when it occurs, but I have found that it occurs more than not in families where abuse has taken place.
My name is Alice Pirola, and I am a recovering fixer. They say the first thing is to acknowledge the fact that the problem exists. There are certain hidden benefits that come with being a fixer, such as not having to look in the mirror and deal with your own life. Not having to fix your own problems when you are so embroiled in fixing everyone else's around you. There is a high one gets in having a ‘savior complex’. Those of us that play this role may have huge chunks of our lives that have been strictly devoted to trying to run or control the lives of others.
My precious daughter is an only child and therefore the role of fixer fell to her in our family dynamic. She has had to face this dilemma head-on recently. Young, smart, capable, beautiful, charismatic and yes very strong-willed, she has held this role since her childhood. When she and her husband moved away from her father and me for a little over a year, she found herself thrust into what I have come to term as a ‘mirror moment’. She woke up to the fact she had not really lived her life but rather used her life to prop up those around her, especially her father and I and our marriage. She was so used to doing it that she did not even know who she was as a person. She did not know how to take care of herself or what her true likes and dislikes were. All that made Niki who she is as a person jumbled within her trying to be the person that fixed everything and everyone around her. I was her biggest project.
Our daughter is lucky that she was able to confront and address a situation of this magnitude early in life. Most people in the role of fixer go to the grave with it. It becomes so entrenched in their lifestyle that they can see no way out. Such is the same for the victim.
Various words used to describe these situations in the psychiatric world, consist of things such as enmeshment, enabler, being codependent. If you have the guts and the courage to look at which role you play, the number of lives enmeshed with yours, it is enough to take you over the edge. That's why most people choose not to go there. They just continue in the role and such is their life.
I said I was recovering from this role, as is my daughter. My husband is also attempting to disentangle himself from the effects of years of codependency with me. The first place you start in a situation like this is with boundaries. There is an awesome book titled Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It is a life changer. If any of this is resonating with you, get it today and read it cover-to-cover.
Since coming out with my story living through an abusive childhood and consequently suffering from various forms of mental disorders, victims draw to me like moths to a flame. It is just the natural progression when you live this lifestyle. Another conundrum is that you can play the role of both victim and fixer at the same time. For instance, I am a fixer in my family when it comes to my mother and brother, yet Niki and Joe have always played the role of being my fixers. It becomes complicated and messy when you start to get into it.
I have been diligent and trying to practice boundaries on both ends of the spectrum over the past two years. First, to allow my daughter and son-in-law to have their own life and marriage, I have had to release her from being my fixer. Next, in order for me to build a better life for my husband, and myself I had to release myself as the fixer for my immediate family. Do not think that is easy, simple or that it won't rip you into a million pieces. It is very hard to disentangle yourself from either roll. You must be prepared to have your own mirror experience and understand why you do these things and the benefit of the behavior to your psyche. Whether it is the victim or fixer role, benefits exist on both sides. You will have to give up titles and ways of reacting to people ingrained in you for many years. For some of you, this may be impossible, and that makes me sad.
You have to realize that, whether you are a victim or a fixer, there is no blame. There is no finger pointing. You did what you did and you are who you are, to have survived what you went through. Our personalities morph and emerge into places that we are often not cognizant of while we are going through an abusive situation. It is only on the other side that we realize the damage done and now we either deal with it or live that way the rest of our lives.
As a leader in Mary Kay cosmetics and having women on my Team that I trained and helped them to develop their cosmetic business, turned into a world of blurred lines for me. When it came to my role as their mentor and director in Mary Kay versus the fixer in their life, I would often take over as the fixer. I was with the company for 25 years and it gave me ample opportunity to apply my fixer skills to a vast majority of the women who came into my group. Is it any wonder that I saw everybody as needing to be ‘fixed’? Is it any wonder that the role bleeds out into manipulation, coercion, and control on my behalf over these people that looked to me for guidance in the business arena? Is it any wonder that I took advantage of crossing the boundaries of mentor and Mary Kay Director enmeshing myself in the lives of those on my Team? For many years I had not realized I done this and for those that tried to get out from under my manipulation and control, it didn't end pretty.
Having Borderline Personality Disorder did not help in the inability I lacked to separate my emotions from business. It led me straight into a prison of personal hell as far as my emotions were concerned. If one of my Consultants chose to leave Mary Kay, they were abandoning me. I took everything personally. It was a gut-wrenching experience for me to try to handle the rejection in sales with customers and training situations with my Consultants when I had no boundaries or lacked the skills to disengage myself from my role as a fixer.
When I look back at the relationship damage I caused, and bridges burnt, I could cry a river. Keep in mind my proper diagnosis didn’t come until I was 44 years old which also prevented me from becoming aware of these actions sooner. Still, it pains me to think of my actions during that time and the torment I put my family through in trying to build my Mary Kay Empire. I do not blame Mary Kay Cosmetics for any of what transpired. One of my therapists during this time was a former Mary Kay Consultant. She understood the world I was in with Mary Kay and how dangerous a place it was for someone like me. She prompted me many times to leave my role as a Director of the company and yet I dug my heels in even more and refused to disengage from the path I was following.
These days when someone comes to me with a severe issue, I find myself thrust back into the role and temptation of becoming their fixer. What is different now is that I have educated myself as to what the real gig is. I have had my mirror moment up close and personal and I take it very seriously. I deal with people who are suicidal, addicted, who are suffering the consequences of bad parenting later in life, all types of situations. The difference is I have a construct now from which to work. Let's go there.
First and foremost, I try not to engage and drag my family into my newest project. Second I am up front as to the boundaries and how much I will give and I know now when to disengage. I discussed this with the person up front in our relationship. I realize I am not Holy Ghost Junior. There is only so much I can do and some people are bound and determined to follow the path to their own self-destruction. This is a very difficult thing to swallow. That there are some people that no matter how hard you try, they are on the path to destruct and refuse to change. In order for me to work with somebody now, they must work back. This is in terms of returning phone calls or text messages, showing up for appointments or meetings, responding and acknowledging their role in the relationship.
I recently worked with a young woman abused sexually and physically since the age of 4 by a family member. Most of this trauma shoved down deep inside her psyche and never dealt with. In her early twenties, she started to live the way one would who have lived through such a situation. The addictions were there, the unwanted pregnancies and abortions were there, the low self-esteem was completely entrenched along with the ability to manipulate others into feeling sorry for her and trying to bail her out of her messes on a day-to-day basis. I am never afraid to go in. I've seen too much and I'm not afraid to go smack dab in the middle of the situation, and yes, I can get you out and back on the journey to a healthier life. The difference is I know boundaries now and I use them. The problem was I paid for and set her up with a therapy session, which she never attended. I spent quite a few hours with her in person and via the phone with her pleading with me to help her out of her self-inflicted hell, where again she responded by not showing up when we were supposed to meet. She also tried other ways to manipulate me in. Finally, I gave her an ultimatum. I would try one more time to pull her out of the cesspool she had created for herself. It was to no avail. She quit her job, deleted her Facebook page and dove headfirst deeper into her mess. My husband marveled that I gave her an ultimatum. I explained to him that I absolutely had to. She was taking me with her back into that role and I could not permit that.
Another dear friend shared with me the upheaval, emotional turmoil, and damage done by her daughter's engagement in relationships with men who were not only narcissistic but one is Borderline Personality Disorder/Narcissistic as well. This mother has done everything from supporting her daughter's family monetarily to trying to disengage her daughter from this lifestyle and behavior. Unfortunately, her daughter's poor choices of men are now bleeding out into the lives of my friend's grandchildren. This is where I really draw the line. I know what this type of lifestyle and behavior will bring into the lives of those young innocent children cast into the center of the hell and turmoil. Turmoil brought about by their mother's inability to accept responsibility for her actions and take the appropriate steps to change. I have no choice but to distance myself from this, as I know where those children will end up. I am one of them. I had to tell my dear mentor and friend that I could no longer engage in discussion with regard to her daughter and the situation.
There is a huge movement today in living a healthy lifestyle, which can involve everything from taking essential oils, vitamin supplements, eating gluten, dairy free or being a vegan. I have watched people pride themselves on eating clean and going to the gym 5 times a week, only eating organic yet their family and/or marriage is in total disarray. The lack of ability to disengage themselves from a life of denial from their problems, only to cover themselves up with props such as this living and eating healthy lifestyle is such hypocrisy. I am not against them working out and eating healthy. I just hold the opinion that for some it has become a cover for not having to deal with the real issues or to have that mirror moment.
I have to make a choice every single day I awaken to this world around me as to owning my behavior. I must work on improving myself as a person. I need to confess and be real about the damage I have done and can continue to do because of the disorder from which I suffer. I don't make it every day. Some days I hide in the bed, afraid to face the big bad world out there and myself. Other days I take it by the cajones and tell it who's boss. To help me with this process, I have set in place a team of doctors and family, as well as certain friends that hold me accountable. I allow management of myself in certain areas where I know I cannot conduct myself appropriately. One such example is my husband watching over my daily medication. He does not necessarily love the role but he knows the consequences of my not taking it.
I encourage you today to have that mirror moment. Accept responsibility for the side of the fence that you are on... fixer, victim or sometimes both. When you own it, then you can start the healing process. Take a true and honest reflection and accounting of your actions in relationships around you. Do what you can to disentangle yourself if you are playing the role of fixer. Allow people to find their way without you trying to play God in their lives. If you are the victim, it’s time to step up to the plate and take responsibility for things you have allowed by not setting appropriate boundaries for how people treat you. Educate yourself on both ends of the spectrum and see which role you play in certain relationships.
It is not easy, never will be, but it is so beneficial and healthy. God be with you. As I Am With You on the Journey, Alice