The “Fix It” Mentality and How it Leads to Caregiver Burnout

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I have a question for you today and the only person you have to be honest with is you:

When you became a caregiver, did you take it upon yourself to FIX everything that is wrong with the person for whom you are caring?

I suffered from the "fix it mentality" and I understand how easy it is to fall into that role. As new caregivers, we were not able to get our head around what our role is. When we get into that downward spiral of fix, fix and we don't really fix anything, that's when we get frustrated and that's when we get really exhausted, and that's when burnout happens. The problem is that when you become The Fixer in Chief, you very quickly lose control of your own life.

It's a funny thing about caregiving: when we begin the journey, it all seems so altruistic and loving and, in actuality, it is. We feel needed, wanted, and valued…and in the beginning we are needed, wanted and valued, but something happens when we come in and take over someone's life and we try to fix what we perceive, to be wrong. Because one day we wake up and we realize that we've fixed nothing, not because you didn't try, but because you can't fix what is wrong. And then we realize that we're not so valued anymore and somewhere along the way, with all of our good intentions, we lost our life.

The beginnings of burnout

I've coached enough family caregivers to know that this is what happens. And this is also the time when the beginnings of burnout happen. It's when our emotions begin to surface. (You know those emotions that you just stuffed and didn't pay attention to.) It's when we resent the person for whom we are caring because "Thank You" is no longer part of the dialogue. This happens because we've allowed it to happen. This happens because, for whatever reason, we needed the approval of a parent. It felt good to be needed. It felt like the right thing to do.

And it is, but the other side of this scenario that most people don't want to look at, is how the "fix it syndrome" takes away someone's independence. What becomes clear is that as someone feels his independence is being taken away (all with good intentions), the person becomes cantankerous. (Ever notice this?) And then when the bad behavior becomes futile, your loved one gives up and says, basically, "To hell with it and with you. I'll do what you say, but I'm not going to like it."

This was never your intention was it…but this is exactly what happens. If you can learn to control your urge to fix it, and become an advocate on behalf of your loved one, your role will be so much easier to manage.

Tips for avoiding "Fix It Syndrome"

Let go. Let go of that fix it mentality. Set it free. Be the very best you can be. Know that the service you are providing is magic. Know its appreciated even if the person never says thank you.

Define your role. Your role is not to fix what's wrong. Your role is to advocate for someone who can no longer do it themself. You role is to keep someone safe, and clean and well-cared for.

Trust in yourself. Trust that you are enough. You are perfect just as you are. Accept you are good enough and what you are doing has true value.

Your job is not to fix what's wrong. You can't fix someone who is ill or has a chronic illness. Get out of the "fix it mentality" and get into the "I'm enough" state of mind. Today I will do what I can do.

Cindy Laverty is a Caregiver Coach and Founder of The Care Company, an online support website for family caregivers. Through programs, coaching and products, Cindy is dedicated to empowering family caregivers.

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41 Comments

Reading this made me realize that this is exactly what I have tried to do. I've done it for my mother's approval, to repair what was broken in our relationship (and in her life) and all in an attempt to fix things to the point that I will have no regrets when she is gone. And it hasn't worked and I've lost patience with it since I feel such a failure at it. But if I look at this caregiving role in a different light, I have been her advocate, she is safe, she has no financial issues, she has medical care and physical therapy that she was unable to manage on her own and a list of other things that I've done that I have devalued in my disappointment that I cannot make her happy and well.

I will try to focus on that instead of agonizing over the areas where there is no solution.
Wow! Needed this. I'm going to bookmark it so I can reread it over and over and over again.
I've learned after 3 years of caregiving that I need to respect my mother's standard of living and not impose my own. I've also learned to do what I can do and not neglect my own immediate family because I am "needed" elsewhere. I have also learned to accept that my sisters who are very uninvolved with caregiving for my mother (and slightly handicapped sister) have chosen their path in life and will live with the consequences of their actions/inactions, if any. I have to love what is.