Lessons For The Emotional Handyman

My Dad is and always has been a fixer. If anything broke in our house, he fixed it. If anything came off of its hinges, he’d fix it. If a nail popped out of some hole, he could tell you what painting it was holding up, who painted it, and in what style and era. He fixed everything.

When I was a little kid, I used to think, “Wow, my Dad can fix anything. I want to be like that. I want to fix things!” But my mother bought me a kitchen set as a little girl and not a tool set (gender is a social construct) so I couldn’t fix things with hammers and screwdrivers.

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Since I couldn’t use my Dad’s tools, I had to use tools of my own. And with those tools I became an expert at fixing things, but not the things my Dad was fixing: toasters, door frames, roofs and the like. No, with a different set of tools I decided to fix different sorts of problems. I became an emotional fixer.

I was very good at being an emotional fixer. Too good in fact. SO good, that I’d often put myself behind at least three other people to make sure that they were getting what they needed. I whipped out my tools quickly whenever people approached me as an emotional fixer-upper. Patience? You got it. I’d whip it out. Time? Of course! Endless amounts. And I’d whip that one out. Regular compliments and stories to make you feel good about yourself? Right here in my tool belt! If you had a problem I was the one to fix it, no questions asks, no wait time, 24/7.

But as the years went by and the longer I dabbled in being an emotional fixer, I found myself getting worn out and tired. I started to ask questions like, “Why am I always ready to give someone an emotional jack when I can’t find someone to help me move an emotional box from one part of my brain to another?” “Why am I available 24/7 for emotional service when I can’t seem to find anyone to help me during normal business hours?” “Why do I care when people ignore the appointment cards I leave them or don’t ask me to help when I can tell they’ve got an emotional chip in their paint?” I was a fixer, but my hobby seemed to have become a job, one that I was getting tired of performing. Yet at the same time, I couldn’t seem to give it up. I’d still get up when my phone rang, pick up my tool kit, do my job, then come home and sulk. And when your hobby starts to feel like a job, it might be time to get a new hobby.

The fact is I like helping people, especially those I care about, but it’s taken me a long time to realize that it isn’t my job. It is not my life’s work to fix everything that goes wrong with the people around me. I can’t. It’s impossible. Things are going to go wrong. Their feelings will get hurt. They’ll get insecure. They’ll get sad. But it is not my job to run for my emotional tool belt and fix them.

I never realized it, but I was learning a lesson when I would ask myself why others didn’t seem to make as much time for me as I did for them or when I would talk to someone and they wouldn’t pay me as much interest or give me the reassurance and hope that I would do my best to give them. I was learning that sometimes, you just can’t. You should make time for the people you love and you should do your best to help them, but you can’t always drop everything to do that. And you shouldn’t. Because you are not at anyone’s beck and call. And you shouldn’t feel like you’ve done something wrong because someone isn’t coming to you for help. It is not your job to be someone’s emotional repairman and when they start to see you that way, you’re the one who ends up frustrated and worn. You deserve peace of mind too. You deserve a chance to think to yourself, without having to worry about what’s wrong with someone else. What’s good with you? How are you doing?

So it’s okay to hang up your emotional tool belt for a day or two. It’s okay to tell someone “you’ll talk to them later” or to say you aren’t available right now. It’s okay to see someone having trouble but they don’t want to talk to you about it even though you asked. All of that is just fine. You aren’t selfish. You aren’t a bad friend. You don’t have to wear that fixer hat every day. You were not chosen by your loved ones because they assumed you would fix all of their problems. After all, let’s face it- we all have those loved ones that are impossible to fix…
You were chosen because they wanted to be around you – the person you are without that fixer hat. And it’s okay to just want to be that person. It’s okay to just be that person. It’s okay to take off that tool belt (or at least take a few breaks).

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