"Fix-It" Syndrome

Fix-It Syndrome is when a non-personality-disordered individual frequently puts themselves in the position of a caretaker who is responsible for compensating for their personality-disordered loved-one's behaviors, cleaning up any messes created by their actions and fixing any problems arising from their mental health issues.

A large number of Chosen Non-PD's are fixers, rescuers and well-meaning individuals who try to use their own ability to bring about change in others through the power of influence, persuasion, coercion or charm.

Examples of Fixers & Rescuers

  • A fiancé whose future spouse explodes in a fit of rage, but who chooses to go ahead with the wedding, thinking "I can change him/er after the wedding"
  • A husband in an abusive relationship who decides to "love her through the pain"
  • An abused wife who decides not to seek out professional help, preferring to "try harder to work on herself".
  • A partner in a relationship who tries to keep the peace through making everything "perfect" for their partner at home.
  • A parent with a personality-disordered child who seeks solutions by being a better parent.
  • A child of a personality-disordered parent who tries to win their favor through academic performance.

The Attractive Role of a Fixer or Rescuer

Fixers & rescuers often engage themselves in supremely noble activities. Like martyrs, they often sacrifice their own goals and hopes for the sake of the other person. There are a number of possible reasons why many of us, as Non-PD's cast ourselves in that role.

Nobility - This kind of self-sacrifice is sometimes encouraged by popular cultural and religious beliefs. There is a strong cultural narrative that teaches us that it is more noble to give than to receive and that those who adopt this philosophy will prevail in the end. Many of our cultural heroes are people who martyred themselves or sacrificed themselves for a cause. Some of us, while we are suffering in silence, privately hope that we are winning the admiration of friends and family for doing so.

Action - Sometimes, when the world around us seems to be imploding in a world of crazy destruction, it can seem foolish to do nothing. At least if we are hacking our way through a jungle we have something to do and a task to focus our energy on. It can be therapeutic to take our frustration and confusion out on a project and sometimes the extra adrenaline we get from frequent conflict with our personality-disordered family members can be channeled to give us a kind of "super-human strength" to accomplish amazing things.

Latent Justice - Some of us, especially those with a strong religious conviction, view the universe as a place where all will be made equal in the end. Like some kind of emotional bank account, we deposit our efforts and sacrifices believing that we will reap what we have sewn.

Guilt & Pride - Some of us, while we are working hard on ourselves or on "the relationship", harbor a hidden vengeance and secretly plan for the day when our loved-one will "See the light", "come to their senses" or "pay back what is owed". We may secretly imagine our loved one coming to us, acknowledging all that we have done for them, and asking or pleading for our forgiveness.

So What's Wrong with Being a Fixer?

The problem with adopting a "fix-it" or "rescuer" attitude towards dealing with personality disorders is that personality disorders are real mental illnesses, with their roots buried deep in the neurology of the people who suffer from them. Just as you can't cure someone else's infection by taking an antibiotic for them, you can't cure someone else's personality disorder by changing your own behavior, or compensating for them. You can't rescue them, no matter how much you, or they, might wish you could.

Unfortunately, people who suffer from personality disorders are not able to fix themselves either. There are no known cures for personality disorders. What does exist is treatment programs to manage the symptoms, which can lead to a dramatically improved standard of life for those who suffer from them, and for those who live with them. However, just as a recovered alcoholic will always still consider themselves alcoholic and can never relax their commitment to sobriety, so is a recovered person who suffers from a personality disorder is still a person who suffers from a personality disorder and will always be in recovery - not finished recovery.

This is not written to cast judgment on those who suffer from personality disorders or on those who have worked on recovering from them. There are many who have worked hard to recover from personality disorders and shown great strength to prevail over their conditions. Some of them are friends and members of Out of the FOG and we salute them.

This is a reminder of the futility of taking someone else’s prescription. You can’t cure a personality disorder in another person. What you can do is learn what does work.

Some ideas are given in our sections on Setting Better BoundariesLearning how to effectively respond to Common Traits and Behaviors or Working on Ourselvesand our own personality.