• Tiffany Skidmore

One guaranteed way to suffer less (for fixers)

This week on a walk, I came up to a tree that was buzzing with activity. Two birds were circling and squawking. I watched from a distance, then moved closer as the birds, obviously agitated, stayed in this tree.

As I got about ten feet from the tree, I noticed a fat squirrel sitting in near a nest eating something. With a pang in my stomach, I noticed what was in the squirrel’s paws — a small, blue egg. These two parents-to-be were circling, making all sorts of noise, and actually thumping the squirrel as it methodically ate all of the future birdlings.

My jaw dropped. My first instinct was to judge this as “wrong” and stop the squirrel. But, I slowed myself down and moved into "watcher mode". (I had pulled an oracle card that morning reminding me of the power of observing and releasing attempts to control.)

I noticed all my feelings as they came through.

I felt the frantic energy of the birds.

I felt sadness.

I felt fascination and interest.

I got curious and asked questions.

I wonder if this often happens in nature?

I wonder how birds protect their eggs from squirrels and other animals?

Do I really know if this is right or wrong?

Maybe this just is.

Maybe I, as a human, take the best action by observing rather than intervening.

So I did. I observed the animals. I observed myself and my inner state. And I practiced allowing and being curious, choosing NOT to believe I have the answers.

The reason this was so poignant is because this scene points to a big piece of my “life’s work pie”.

You see, I’m a recovering fixer.

Ever since childhood, I have unconsciously and automatically taken responsibility for every person and problem I see. If a family member is sad or mad, I want to fix them. If something is going poorly at work or elsewhere, I take it on as mine to fix.

Through therapy, I was able to identify the “why” and root of this default mode of mine.

I also began to notice the weightiness of this choice. Since it was always my norm, I have only in the last 5-7 years begun to experience glimpses of how it feels when I allow each person to take responsibility for themselves, and only be and feel responsible for myself.

(At this point, I must add that this is an ongoing practice of awareness and shifting into a new way of being. It is not an off-on switch. It takes time, energy, and a willingness to feel a lot of discomfort as I shift out of the familiar.)

Coaching is the space that has allowed me to build on the insight I gained in therapy, and regain more and more of my power and resources by handing others' stuff back to them.

For a long time, I resisted this. Feeling like I was the one best suited to fix the problems. Feeling like if they won’t do it, I have to. Feeling like I was selfish by not showing up the way I always have.

What I realized eventually was how much of a disservice this “fixing” is to my loved ones. If I step in to “fix them” (meaning make them feel better or influence them to do what I think is best for them), I’m actually stealing their opportunity to do their own work.

Because here is THE TRUTH for everyone:

Discomfort is an opportunity for transformation.

Pain is a chance to see where we want our lives to be different.

Feeling bad is not bad.

Hard times are a normal part of life, which is a perfect mix of positive and negative.

Knowing this, I have a practice of reminding myself of my intentions:

  • I give each person the dignity of their own path, their own timing, and their own choices.

  • I let go of the notion that I know what is best for others, and release thoughts (judgements) of the rightness or wrongness of others’ choices.

  • I choose curiosity over judgment.

  • I focus on my own path and my own growth.

  • I only give from a place of love and generosity, never obligation or other’s expectations.

  • I give myself permission to disappoint people. (When not disappointing them means compromising myself.)

  • I support my loved ones by listening and reflecting back what I hear. I share my thoughts if they are open to hearing them, and only if my thoughts don’t feel urgent or evaluative (meaning: me knowing what’s best for them).

So, the guaranteed way to suffer less?

Be the watcher.

Observe others, with more curiosity and less judgement.

Observe yourself, with more curiosity and less judgement.

Wrap yourself and others up in a compassion blanket.

Release attempt to control anything outside of yourself.

Remember that the only things you can control are your own thoughts, feelings, actions, and results.

You will still feel negative emotions when hard things happen.

But you can reduce your own suffering by not trying to control others and being disappointed/frustrated/angry when it doesn't work.

You can reduce your own suffering by not evaluating others as right or wrong, good or bad.

You can remove the optional layer of pressure, failure, and judgement off of the challenge underneath.

How to do this, practically speaking?

First, slow down.

Next, notice what thoughts and feelings you are experiencing.

Then, decide -- do these thoughts and feelings align with how I want to show up?

Lastly, allow. Allow the circumstances and other people to be as they are.

Tell yourself, “this is ok, this belongs”.

Notice what happens inside you.

With this practice, you will begin to notice the weight of responsibility for all the people and all the problems lessen.

You will be more able to be present for others, and not lost in your own thoughts and opinions.

You will build more compassion for yourself and others.

All of this equals a much more grounded, open, expansive, loving experience of all the ups and downs in life.

I’m in. Are you?

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