By Anne-Marie Sylvester, Registered Clinical Counsellor & Psychotherapist
This was a challenging piece for me to write as I personally relate to it on so many levels. After having undergone a life-changing physical injury, I went through many stages and one of them involved adopting a “fix me” mentality to my recovery.
The “fix me” or “fix this” mentality is incredibly natural and understandable. It serves a purpose in the sense that it can drive us to make certain decisions and actions that can lead to change. However, it can also be detrimental to one’s recovery, if left unchecked. Sometimes this mentality can keep us from taking the most beneficial action. This blog is meant to encourage individuals to be careful around adopting this mentality to your recovery, regardless of the condition you are recovering from.
Here’s why. Dr. Russ Harris (2008) speaks to a phenomenon called the “struggle switch”. He is primarily referring to anxiety, but this perspective can be applied to any unwanted physical, mental, or emotional experience. Basically, when something unwanted occurs, many of us can have a natural reaction to struggle and grapple with it. I like to refer to this struggle switch as the “fix it” mentality.
One may ask what’s so wrong with resisting something that we don’t want? Doesn’t resistance serve the very purpose of helping us to eliminate what we don’t want? In a sense, yes. However, eliminating the problem is rarely an option. I certainly could not eliminate my injury and how it had impacted my life.
Furthermore, Dr. Harris emphasizes that resistance will often add to the suffering that we’re trying to resist. It creates a sense of urgency. This sense of urgency without the solution to the program causes more problems. Then anger can show up because we’re unable to solve the problem, then sadness may follow, and guilt or a sense of shame for feeling sad when we recognize that other people are in “worse off” conditions than us. As mentioned before, many of us share a natural inclination towards this “fix it” struggle switch (I know I sure did), as it’s born out of a space of desperation – “I’ll take pretty much anything but what I’m currently experiencing, please.”
Notice how this sense of urgency to resist and fix actually amplifies your emotions, and how that is causing you more suffering on top of the initial suffering that you were trying to fix in the first place? Simply put, resistance often causes more suffering than it offers actual solutions.
Counselling services can help with this cycle of resistance, struggle, and the “fix it” mentality. Through the lens of Acceptance and Commitment therapy, I invite you to consider shifting from resistance towards acceptance. Let me be clear: acceptance is not about liking, wanting, or approving of the situation. Rather, it is about choosing to no longer invest so much energy into the resistance, and to reallocate that very same energy towards something that will serve you better than the rigid “fix it” approach.
This something else could be a self-care routine; it could be allocating energy towards meeting basic needs that perhaps weren’t previously being met (like in my case, social connection), or it could be put towards life-enhancing activities that you are still capable of engaging in that are in-line with your values. This can help increase meaning and contentment in your life in surprising ways, regardless of the circumstances you are in. Acceptance is an approach that can help us navigate around unwanted limitations that are thrust on us against our will.
If you’re like me, you may be experiencing a response along the lines of “well, there must be a way to get rid of these symptoms; there must be something that we can do other than simply accepting it.” I want to acknowledge that this approach will not eliminate the condition or symptoms that you are wanting to recover from. However, it certainly won’t amplify the suffering, and it can even introduce some extra joy and resilience in your life. Because let’s face it, the “fix it” approach, as tantalizing as it is, does not actually serve us very well, does it?
If any of this resonates with you, know that there are many resources out there that can help support and guide you through these challenging times. At SNPC, our counselling services can offer this very support.
Harris, R. (2008). The happiness trap. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, Inc.