“In my early days of parenting I struggled…what I needed wasn’t a fixer…I needed a witness…
The fixer wants to take our burden. The witness gives us strength” Struggle
Question: Any practical thoughts on how to be a strength giver?
My good friend Sean asked me this and this is what I shared with him.
The thing about being the fixer is it’s often a short cut. We see a problem or a need and we jump straight into what we think will solve that problem or fill that need. But in doing that we miss a lot along the way.
We miss the acknowledgement. We go to “here’s how to make it easier” without saying “shit that is hard.”
We miss the empathy and witnessing. “I see you, doing this hard thing.” As a result the person can feel unseen, insignificant. It becomes all about the problem or about the solution, and the person themself gets lost in the midst of that.
We miss understanding of how it looks and feels to them, because we come in with ‘this is how I see it’.
We miss their agency. We say ‘let me take this burden from you’ before we’ve even asked if they want that burden taking away. (Perhaps they’re already handling it, and there’s no need for you to dive in to fix anything?)
In Struggle language, we try to jump straight to ‘Holy Shit’ and bypass ‘Oh Shit’ and ‘What is this shit?’ (or even ‘Is this Shit?’)
So, what are some practical ways we can be a strength giver rather than a fixer?
There was an article I read recently which listed two default listening modes: the problem-solver and the identifier. I’m guilty of both! When I listen with a fixer’s mindset, I’m far more likely to identify issues, thoughts, expressions, observations as problems to solve. And I’m far more likely to jump straight to answer/solution mode, than to stay in curiosity/empathy mode.
This is how I avoid jumping to answers. Keep asking questions. What’s going on for them? How are they experiencing it? What’s hard for them? What’s important? What matters most? What do they need? What do they want? What do they think? Activate curiosity & empathy. Make it about them, not me. Seek to understand.
Acknowledge the strength within them
Observe, reflect, validate. Let them be seen. Sometimes we unintentionally dismiss another person’s strength when we offer help and solutions. When we suggest that they need fixing. What would be different about your interactions with this person, if you didn’t see them as someone who needed your help? Charles Mackesy models this brilliantly:
This is something we can give. And sometimes that doesn’t even have to contain words. A look, a hug, a squeeze, a hand, or as the Pema Chödrön definition of compassion suggests, sitting in the dark with someone without needing to turn on the light. Presence can speak volumes of support, which can be simply received rather than feel they have to say something back.
Not as a solution to a problem, or to make someone feel better, just as love. There’s something very different from: “I can see you’re overwhelmed. Here let me take over.” to “I’d love to cook for you. Can I make dinner tonight?” or even “I bought you this to cheer you up” compared to “I saw this and thought of you”
Come to think of it, is strength even something we can give?
Even when we say ‘give me strength’ what we really mean is ‘give me the fuel / patience / clarity / purpose / meaning / reminder of who I am… to access, harness or grow my strength’ (but clearly ‘give me strength’ is far more punchy!)
What other ways do you know of to ‘give’ strength and be a strength giver? What have others done for you that has called up the strength in you? I’d love to know.