The Demolition of Love: Why Your Need to Fix Isn’t Actually Helpful
Most of us who have survived trauma are used to having to do hard work on ourselves and patch up the pieces of us that got damaged. If you tell us we missed a spot, we are often eager to fix that. The assumption remains that we are fundamentally broken and will always need more fixing.
The “I need to fix myself” mentality combined with someone else’s flaw-finding “You need to fix yourself” mentality is a terrible duo of trauma-driven mindsets. They’re so compatible that they’re incompatible.
So who are we without our flaws? More importantly, who are we without other people’s flaws?
Everyone will always have stuff to work on, but what does it look like to enjoy life and love anyway? We don’t live long enough as humans to ever become these paragons of ultimate balance that we seek from ourselves or others. How can we navigate this impossible predicament?
1. Starve the ego to feed the soul.
Deconstruction doesn’t always lead to construction. If we dissect ourselves and each other enough, we will be disturbed to find that there is nothing at our core but ego and the drive to survive — no immutable “self” or sense of immoveable identity. You are just a culmination of experiences and firing neurons — a great ape burdened with the luxury of overthinking.
As someone who’s been exploring who I am without my traumas, I find this reality to be both terrifying and liberating. It’s helped me realize that I could benefit by taking a page from the life of David Bowie (a self described Buddhist, unsurprisingly), who constantly reinvented himself because he realized that we can, in fact, deconstruct ourselves down to relative nothingness. Absurdly, we have an equally powerful ability to decide who we are, and I’m learning to take comfort in that.
Still, it’s common for trauma survivors to assume responsibility for disharmony and to base our understanding of ourselves on who we don’t want to be; even if we get defensive, deep down it is the stance many of us take by default:
“If I change x or y thing about my behavior/personality, I can have control over external chaos so that I can eliminate it.”
It’s because we have learned to take it upon ourselves to act as a counterbalance to environmental upset. If I own the responsibility for the upset, that means it is in my power to change it. That’s how I make myself the arbiter of conflict.
This is an egotistical view of one’s own influence within the world, because those of us carrying around this presumed god-like power have an internal belief that we’re holding everything together. This belief often manifests as the tendency to be a “fixer.”
For one person, this might look like keeping others from falling apart by pointing out problems and “helping” — often to the point that they need to be needed and identify with this so strongly that they don’t know who they are without it. For another person, this fixing may be self-targeted as described above. Whatever the case may be, both personalities will end up exhausted and wondering who they are outside of these roles.
2. Don’t fix for the sake of fixing, just so you can get your fix.
Picture it: One person in a relationship is convinced that those in the outside world need their help seeing problems that need fixing— a perspective often brought on by having too much childhood responsibility — and the other is convinced that they will never be fixed enough. Voila! There you have it: the perfect recipe for never-ending, finicky, nitpicking relationship work. Once one obstacle is tackled, get ready for the next one.
This queue, contrary to what the people involved think, doesn’t end.
I felt better about myself as a person before my most recent relationship than I do now. Not because my partner was abusive or mean — or because I’m a bad person — but because he was actually quite loving while simultaneously pointing out all of my flaws- and for someone like me, that’s a call to action. We were both running a “fix it” script that meant each of us got a hit in our rewards system that gave us a sense of false resolution each time. Now, I’m left with the unsettling feeling that I’ve picked too long at some emotional scabs when I should’ve just let them heal.
Often, fixers are drawn to each other. In this case, neither of us knew that about ourselves until it was too late. There is still more to learn, and I know that I still have blind spots regarding my own patterns.
3. Know that you will always have blind spots and that nothing will ever be certain.
We will never have all the data we want. We can never be fully prepared for living.
We can search high and low through our mental landscapes, and we can flip over more rocks and cut down trees until the ground is devoid of flowering things; flowers, after all, obscure our view. Cut them down and you might be able to see more clearly, right?
What we find when we mow down the gardens of our minds — bear with this metaphor for just a moment longer — is that yes, after having deconstructed and torn everything to shreds, we can now see the truth: the simple truth that there will always be spots that we miss as long as we are living.
Relevantly, knowing where your personal growth ends and someone else’s (or your own) need for perfection begins is a healthy contribution to your well-being.
Mr. Rogers always told us to look for the helpers, but how far into martyrdom and resentment does the helper persona extend before it’s not actually helpful?
People who need to be needed are often unaware that they’re codependent:
I hate to use that C word, because I don’t want anyone to think that they’re broken. I’m not, and you’re not. Awareness of our patterns is key for personal growth.
However, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my former partner’s sudden need to flee intersects with a turning point in my own life: I’m now financially stable, and aside from the breakup, emotionally stable, so there are fewer and fewer things to find for me to “work on.”
I had been under the mistaken impression that if I worked on enough things, then I would’ve accounted for all variables, and I could hold onto that love. You know, if I earned it. (Hello again, childhood.)
Even with all my stars aligned, that’s just not the case.
4. Even if you were perfect, please understand that it wouldn’t be good enough.
What you’re striving for is unattainable. You will never be good enough for them, but that’s not because of you. Let them go.
I’m exhausted. After everything, I’ve learned that nothing I do will be good enough, despite all the abundant love and amazing experiences and shared values we’ve had along the way. (Yes, allow me to pause to say that aside from both of us being flawed humans and both running a fix-it script, this was simply amazing, out-of-this-world love.)
Alas, it doesn’t matter that I became part of his family or that we are both specifically:
intellectuals, outdoor lovers, into health and fitness, science nerds, gamers, digital nomads, atheists, sci fi geeks, travelers, outside the box thinkers, non-patriots, analyzers of the human mind and society, prefer cats over dogs (probably the rarest trait on this list), laugh at the same things, hold the same values about people and places and ideas, love talking philosophy after a brainy film, and still agree to this day that this is the best relationship of either of our lives.
Look at my other articles to see for yourself that I am not afraid of hard intrapersonal work, and I’m not in denial about the ways my traumas have affected me. I didn’t run because I’m uncomfortable with the idea that I have a multitude of flaws. I’m not, and in fact, I didn’t run at all. I simply ended the torturous limbo created by a partner who, in one fell swoop, told me “I know for a fact that I could stay with you indefinitely and be happy,” while also informing me that he has to go “find” himself and can’t do that while with me.
(The description of the person he’s seeking in his dating profile is exactly me- but the more ethereal me who’s out there somewhere, alluring in her mystery. After 2.5 years, I’ve lost the love of my life to some nebulous potential woman who, frankly, could never live up to me. I’m pretty great.)
5. Life is about the journey, not the destination.
Is it necessary or even productive to look past our enjoyment of Now to chase the illusion of knowing some ultimate truth? Listen, I love knowing things and am data-driven, but based on how I posed this question, I’m betting you’ve gathered my opinion on the matter. I do not advocate burying one’s head in the sand, for the record. I’m just talking about enjoying living.
If we’re in motion, we can smell those roses rather than stopping to pick off the thorns. If we drown in analysis paralysis, we will get stuck in noticing that there is always more to improve, and there are always more weeds to pull.
When someone is never satisfied, you can hand them the world on a platter and they will look past it to focus on what they don’t have. You can be the love of their life, but they will still be itching to find the answers to… something, somewhere…else.
You have to let them go.
Ironically, it is so often those same people who are afraid of missing something who also end up missing all the best stuff. If they’re shown a rosebush, they’ll point out how it needs to be trimmed down, and then they’ll claim their goal in life is to enjoy rosebushes while they can. I’m losing the metaphor, but the point remains clear.
This paradoxical garden of the mind is what drives people to look past the present and focus on what isn’t there. Their future focuses blocks their present, and they prefer it that way. They see it as a laudable sacrifice.
It’s this same thought process that makes it so easy for them to zero in on your flaws even if you’re everything they claim to be looking for.
Do you have things to improve upon? Absolutely. Are you extending yourself beyond what’s reasonable for you to accommodate someone else’s needs (no matter which side of the “fixer” coin you may be on)?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is one person constantly trying to fix themselves to make the other happy?
- Is the “fixing” one-sided, or are both people willing to acknowledge and work on their own unavoidable humanity?
- Once something’s been fixed, does the dissatisfaction cease, or is it just replaced by something new?
- Were you abused in the past? Did you end up internalizing responsibility for your traumas, and are you on some level trying to compensate for disharmony by controlling it and owning things that aren’t necessarily yours?
- Does your partner view themselves as exceptionally Virtuous™? Do you view them the same way?
- Do you carry around guilt for having experienced trauma?
- Do you allow yourself to be taken care of, or are you always the caretaker? Do you distance yourself from those closest to you when you’re experiencing conflict?
- Do you conceptualize your identity as it relates to other people and/or how it relates to your past?
- Do you intellectualize problems in order to feel more in control of them?
If you answered yes, you’re in good company, and you just need to remind yourself that you’ve created these mechanisms because they worked for you at one point (probably as a child), so there is absolutely a method behind the perceived madness (but you’re not mad).
There is logic behind emotion. For me, this internalization of chaos led to severe OCD, something with which I struggle to this day. I believe that understanding this internalization is key in defeating those hard-wired patterns.
In my case, cerebral is my comfort zone. I want to not need that protection like I needed it as a kid. The absence of fear is a funny thing: If we manufacture it on our own, it isn’t real. It’s an illusion of comfort. If we find it alongside someone else in shared vulnerability, its power has the ability to give our hearts and minds proof: proof that we don’t always need to control everything, and proof that we are loveable as we are.
Allow yourself to love and be loved, and know that some people cannot do both with you. That isn’t anyone’s fault; it’s because everyone carries around open wounds. Most of the time, we don’t mean to hurt each other; we’re just trying to protect ourselves. It doesn’t mean that love isn’t beautiful, and it doesn’t mean there are villains and victims.
“One of the hardest lessons in life is letting go. Whether it’s guilt, anger, love, loss or betrayal. Change is never easy. We fight to hold on and we fight to let go. If you’ve been hurt until it breaks your soul into pieces, your perspective in life will definitely change, and no one and nothing in this world could ever hurt you again.” -Mareez Reyes