The Art of Internal Chaos: Stop Fixing Everyone Else’s Problems
Were you even asked to fix someone’s problem?
As a social worker, counselor, coach and CEO, I am a problem solver. I thrive in the chaos of a problem and use my high Executive Function to create a million possible solutions in a split second and quickly determine the best possible scenarios. I am at my most confident when I’m in a session with a client and roll through action plans that will guide them towards healing and change. I love that feeling of my neurons firing and finding the solutions in my professional life. It’s why I’m good at my job, and good at so many professional roles.
So why does this fail every time in my personal life?
Typically, it’s because no one has even asked me to fix their problem. I jump into problem solving mode without even knowing I’m doing it, because this is my best and favorite coping mechanism to stay disconnected from feeling uncomfortable.
Here’s a reframe for you: fixing problems is all about control. So many of us are super successful in our professional lives because we are paid and expected to fix problems. We get to control our work world by fixing… all… day…. long. But, in our personal lives, the people we are most connected with don’t typically ask us to fix their problems. It’s a default mode. The results? Disconnection, frustration and resentment, on all sides.
What does it look like? Here are a few examples:
“I keep offering suggestions to his problems but he just keeps doing the same things!”
When a friend said this to me, I must have smiled slightly because she stared at me and said, “What?”. I smiled because I recognized the control in the action of “suggesting”. You can dress it up in different words, but this is a fixing problem, which is ultimately a control problem. I also smiled because I had said these same words to countless coaches and therapists over the years until I was ready to change the control issue.
“I have told my kid that he needs to <insert college, job, etc.> a million times and he just won’t follow through.”
This form of fixing through control is really about our own fears. If my kid doesn’t get the job, get into college, etc., then he will be homeless, never get a job, live with me forever, or whatever other fear is causing you to tell the future and react to that pretend scenario. We can be really sneaky with this type of control too. Leading questions in the direction you want your children to decide instead of allowing their decisions and then allowing them the confidence building activity of failing. I’m a master at subtle control conversations with my kid. Offering choices, but only the choices I want him to choose, keeps him from finding the confidence to choose for himself. We do this with our spouses, friends and others in our lives too.
There are a million ways we try to fix other people’s problems. At the core of the fixing is control: wanting to control an uncomfortable environment so you don’t have to feel the confusing emotions. It’s your brain’s coping mechanism to keep you safe. However, it keeps you disconnected.
What are some ways to take control of the fixing problem?
Is this your problem to solve?
This is an essential question that I regularly ask my clients, and myself. In the beginning of being intentional with asking this question, it can be confusing because this tactic also requires emotional boundaries. The core of this question is: does this belong to me? Your friend is having problems with a family member? Not your problem to solve. Your partner is having issues at work? Not your problem to solve. Your pre-teen is having problems with a friend? Not your problem to solve. In the end, the only problems that you need to be solving are your own.
Did someone even ask you to solve the problem?
Fixing is a response to emotional triggers. This is important because your brain goes into survival mode, and you react instead of being intentional about action. 90% of the time, no one even asked you to solve that problem. “But I’m so good at it!”, you say. Yes, but it’s not your job to solve other people’s problems. Instead of jumping into solutions, try saying “How can I support you in this?”.
Here’s the cool thing about that question: it meets your need to do something, but it provides the other person an opportunity to feel heard and tell you what they need. AND, it forces your brain to stop and listen instead of trying to solve all the problems in your head while the other person is talking.
Not your circus, not your monkeys.
This is a tough one. Any type of emotional chaos sends me into reactionary mode, and I start trying to fix everything. I become the mediator, counselor, coach, and fixer. But the emotional chaos that has been created is not my circus, and the people involved are not my responsibility. When we are raised in emotional chaos, it’s what our brains know. As soon as we recognize it in others, the coping mechanism of fixing lights up and we’re off to the rescue. Before doing anything, ask yourself if this is your responsibility.
Is this your job?
While this is similar to asking if the problem is yours to fix, specifically for leaders, this is a critical question to ask yourself. Successful leaders do not do other people's jobs for them. We lead them to success, instead of fixing all of their mistakes. Why? In the end, it’s good leadership but the fixing makes our jobs much harder in the long run. Move this leadership knowledge to your personal life and it will make all the difference in the world.
Mattie Cummins, LCSW, is a neuro-social worker, coach and counselor with over 25 years working with people with anxiety, neuro-diversity and life transitions. She is the owner of Cerebrations, LLC, a coaching and consulting business that specializes in empowering people to tap into their own internal strength and beauty to step boldly into a life of intention. Connect with Mattie by booking a free consult call or emailing her at email@example.com.