Everyone is broken in some way — No one is perfect. But when people keep making the same mistakes whose solution seems obvious to you, there is a natural tendency to want to help and fix them. Can you fix someone?
Some people seem to bring trouble upon themselves by getting into bad situations or making poor decisions repeatedly. To them, the world seems chaotic, and they wonder why they have so many problems. To you, it seems obvious how they got into the situation, and you feel that if they just did a few things differently they could be on the track to success.
Maybe they’re struggling with drugs or other kinds of addiction. They don’t see the addiction that is destroying their life, but it is plain to everyone else. Should you try an intervention?
Maybe they are in a destructive relationship and they just don’t see what impact the other person is having on them. Maybe the person struggling is an old friend of yours, a relative, or even a spouse. It’s tempting to want to step in and fix this person, but should you?
In college, I had a good friend who I (and others) felt was entering an unhealthy relationship. All the signs were there, and it seemed obvious to us. So a couple of us staged an intervention where we basically said that we didn’t think this relationship was right for him and named specific reasons. We felt like we had a duty to tell our friend how we saw it, but it resulted in losing that friend forever because he chose the relationship over us. Did we do the right thing or should we have minded our own business, and just remained friends?
When to Intervene
The answer is that there are a handful of cases where intervention is necessary:
- Physical or Emotional Danger: When the person is physically or emotionally endangering themselves or another.
- Long-Term Mistakes: When the person is about to take an action that will have a long-term negative impact on their life.
So there are times to intervene, but you have to be ready for the consequences. You may intervene and try to fix this person, and the only result is that they never talk to you again.
Or you might fix this person for a month only to see them fall back into their old habits the next month. Worse, their negative destructive behavior or attitude could spread to you. There is no guarantee that your intervention will work, but if any of above cases our true, you cannot let the situation continue without at least considering doing something.
Benefits of Failure
Before doing anything, don’t forget that there can be great benefits by letting someone fail and pick themselves back up. Individual failure can often lead to success and confidence as long as people learn something from it and are not fatally hurt in the long term.
People that are continually taken care of often don’t learn to stand on their own two feet and become dependent on others. With each little individual success, people become a stronger person and more in control of their lives.
The Path Forward
So, if you are in a situation where you are considering trying to fix someone here are some options:
- Do Nothing: Sometimes the best answer is to stay out of the situation and let the person conquer their own demons.
- Incremental Progress: It is great if you can structure an environment where someone can fix themselves, by starting with small victories and building on them each day. That way they can see incremental success and create a positive feedback loop.
- Community: Community groups can sometimes be the best way for someone to get help. There is an addiction support group for everything imaginable and the internet makes these groups easier to find. Also, don’t forget your local church or place of worship. Amazing things have happened when people get plugged into the right church community, pastoral support and relationship with God.
- Professional Therapy: If it is beyond what you can do on your own and you have the financial means, professional cognitive therapists are trained to stop destructive behavior by helping people think differently and rewiring them to be more positive. Many studies have validated their benefits and success rates.
Also, in all of your high-mindedness of trying to fix this person, don’t forget about fixing yourself….
Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first. The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior. When our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed. -Marva Collins, Educator