With Apologies to Humpty Dumpty: The Myth of Fixing People
It takes an extra long time for a psychologist/social worker/psychotherapist or “savior” type person (code for codependent) to realize that you can’t really “fix” anybody. You can help them and you can be compassionate but whatever psychological, emotional or spiritual illness or drug/alcohol problem they suffer from….that change process has to start and finish with them. In fact, trying to fix them and using too much of ones energy, time, emotions, resources or money in an effort to “force” healthy thinking and behavior on somebody is a different kind of disease and one likely to end in rebellion, misery, frustration, exhaustion, and resentment.
Unless you are Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama, which I am not, such a savior scenario (quite often on a unconscious or subconscious level) typically results in not just utter failure but a very counterproductive rugby match of resentment in which both sides push and pull against one another while thinking they are just representing their own “truth” or higher power (true self). The obvious implication is that there also exists a “lower self” (psychological shadow) and while the nice or virtuous parts of ones personality attempt to communicate, broker peace, understanding and progress in a relationship, the shadow parts (like the smiling Japanese diplomats in Washington DC during the surprise Pearl Harbor attack) are often plotting rebellion and pandemonium. Just why this is so is open to debate but is at least partially explained by physics (Newton’s Third Law about action and reaction), human nature, ingrained defense mechanisms and individual reflexes like “don’t tell me what to do…even if it’s good for me”. People get used to what they are most familiar with even if it might seem obviously self-destructive or counter-productive to everyone else. Changing or “doing better” certainly has its rewards but can also feel very uncomfortable. The anxiety of uncertainty and the pressure to succeed and improve (among a lifetime of previous losses, disappointments, failures and poor decision making) can lead people to return to jail, return to drugs, and even return to pathological, abusive or toxic relationships. Finally, some psychiatric problems like bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, complex PTSD, depression, and character pathology like Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Disorder are tumultuous and destabilizing by their very nature and can be extremely challenging to live with both for the sufferer and for their often frustrated or shell shocked loved ones.
Bottomline: There is an important difference between attempting to fix broken people and broken pottery. People who are psychologically vulnerable or struggle with mental disorders or addictions (just like the people who have a strong need to help “fix” them) have complex egos and personal expectations that can end up getting in the way. Broken pottery normally does not resist ones efforts to fix, be fixed or made whole. Perhaps even more important, broken pottery does not carry within it a strong and wholly legitimate human desire to be loved and accepted just as one is, cracks and all. Therein lies the rub….for some of us compulsive people fixers.