steamrollerOver the last few posts, I’ve been talking about the tricky subject of being a Florence Nightingale who uses fixing/healing/helping as ‘loving’ because she needs to feel needed. A difficult subject, especially for those of you who don’t want to give up your nurses uniform and shift your position, the reality is, if you’re in this role, you’re reliant on there being varying levels of drama in your relationship so that the ‘need’ can be created.

As Florence Nightingale, you need your partners to be dependent on you for help, whether it’s that they say they can’t manage without you, or you decide they can’t manage without you and you position yourself as their ‘helper’. I’ve spoken with/met several Florence Nightingale’s recently and aside from all being over-understanding, over-compassionate, over-forgiving, and heavily invested in the extreme makeover and the potential, the relationships were all one-sided and/or co-dependent.

One-sided – You’re there even when he’s not there and you’re using the glimmers of good times and their ‘good points’ and covering up the remainder of the time. The relationship may be casual, it may not even be a relationship, or it might be, but he’s realised that you’re not listening and you’ll be there anyway. Check out my post on Yo-Yo Girls and boomerang relationships.

Co-dependent – You’re basically mutually dependent on one another in an unhealthy manner and one enables someone’s destructive behaviour and/or their addiction.

Either way, these are seriously unhealthy characteristics for any relationship.

You can find out everything you need to know about a person and your relationship by taking off the fur coat of denial and the rose tinted glasses and paying attention to their actions (or lack of them) and what they say (and don’t say) and recognising when they line up, or where there are disconnects. However, in order to be real about what you’re involved in, you need to be listening and watching, plus you also need to be honest with yourself about your own behaviour. Florence Nightingale has no time to be listening or watching as she’s too caught up in her ideas about how she thinks he can be, how she’ll feel etc.

But…you’d think that when these people you’ve chosen to fix/heal/help become healthy that you would be happy, but more often than not, you’re anything but happy. Why?

If you fix/heal/help someone and you have not resolved the very issues that drive you to choose these relationships, you’ll get left behind, your own issues will seem more obvious, and if you persist in not being willing to change to the same extent that you expect of him and others, you risk also being a sore reminder of the unhealthy or ‘broken’ person that they were before.

I have women tell me, ‘I want a man who is open to change’ or ‘I want someone who is open to personal growth’. Do you know what they’re really saying? ‘I want someone who is open to being moulded‘.

Invariably, the very people who say that they want partners who are open to change are resistant to change themselves. By choosing partners who they perceive to need changing, they take the focus off themselves and put it on other people because they believe their problems to be bigger than their own.

If you stick to your Florence Nightingale role and show a resistance to change, it shows a distinct lack of authenticity and a disrespect of the very people you profess to love.

When we seek out partners, we need to choose people who share common primary values and anything that we are seeking in others are values that we ourselves should possess.

The trouble with being a fixer/healer/helper, is that the role expects the people who you make your cause to put you on a pedestal and whether it’s consciously, or subconsciously, you end up having a superiority complex. This may also mean that you don’t see your qualities or contributions to relationships accurately because by choosing ‘broken’ partners, you’re assuming automatically that what you bring to the table is bigger and better, when in actual fact, you may be ignoring real issues that are counterproductive to you forging healthy relationships.

If who you want to get involved with, is dependent on you perceiving them to have more problems than you that you can fix/heal/help and hide behind, you have some big problems and a very unhealthy basis for starting a relationship.

But, in spite of the unwitting superiority complex, in a strange twist, you may also put the object of your fixing/healing/helping on a pedestal, betting on potential, being too compassionate, too understanding, and ‘loving’ without limits – yep, little or no boundaries.

The thing is, ‘broken person’ or no broken person, putting someone on a pedestal and focusing your efforts on what you believe them to be or what they could be with some help from you, means you end up blowing smoke up their bums and have an unrealistic relationship – yep, illusions.

They’re like Play Dough or clay and you’re not seeing the real person in front of you and having a real relationship – you’re seeing who you think someone will be and what they will do with your influence.

You also need to be careful of being an enabler. It may seem like you’re being ‘understanding’ and caring, sharing, and loving like a Care Bear in unconditional love land, but you may actually be adding to the problem, trying to split their dependency or switch their dependency, and in the worst of situations, not really understanding the extent of the problem so minimising it, or taking it into disaster zone by actually taking on the problem yourself. Again, I hear from women who have ‘acquired’ drink and substance abuse problems in a ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ mentality…. In other instances, you may be bulldozing into their life, in effect demanding that you take the priority – prove how much you love and care about me and choose me instead of the problem.

When you’re involved with an addict for instance, the priority, if they want to deal with their addiction, is to focus on dealing with the addiction, not to give you an opportunity to be needed so that you can get validation. It may be overwhelming for them to be dealing with an addiction and feeling the pressure and weight of expectations from a ‘well meaning’ Florence Nightingale.

It is one thing if you have been involved with someone in a relatively healthy relationship for a few years or even many, and they end up going through personal difficulties – you have a basis and a foundation to your relationship – you actually have evidence that they have consistently been a particular way for a long time and are currently struggling.

But choosing to be with someone because of the opportunity to be ‘needed’ or seeing red flags from the outset of the relationship or early on and deciding to stay because of your need to be needed and seeking validation through getting them to change, is unhealthy and at times, downright dangerous.

Often where there is one boundary crossing/red flag, there are others, so someone can be physically abusive, cheating, drinking, stealing – It’s rarely just one thing. How can we even think to solve all of these problems? Don’t you think you deserve better than this?

Remember: if people don’t believe that there are consequences to behaving in a certain way because no matter what they do, there are always people there championing them and sticking to them like glue, making them out to be great relationship partners, where is the impetus to change?

If a woman will decide to love and be with you, without having any real knowledge of you, or meeting you as a walking bundle of red flags and still think you’re a hot catch, why change? Remember, a lot of guys work off, “Well if I was really that bad, she wouldn’t be with me!’ or ‘If there was something wrong with me, women wouldn’t be falling all over themselves to be with me’.

There are men all over the world who’ve had a Florence Nightingale weave her way into his life making herself indispensable and coming up with suggestions as to what he should do and how, and trying to show him love. He might start out flattered by the attention and even believe in the potential that she sees, and then he’ll start to feel panicked at the pressure. Or he’ll start to feel resentful by her lack of acceptance and when he moves on to someone else, often an improved version of what he was with her help, it’ll be because she accepts him as he is.

For others, they’re the ambivalent guy who has shown that they’re not interested or have no desire to be different, but she won’t take no for an answer because she thinks she knows better and that he’s just ‘not in the right frame of mind’ because of his problems. She sees his wounded little soul and decides it’s the issues he has, not the fact that he doesn’t want a relationship with her, why they’re not together.

And for some guys, they’ll take advantage of the fringe benefits because she’s just one in a long line of women who see way more than he does. He may even tell himself that the ‘right woman’ will cause him to change his ways, even though I should stress, he’s deluded, because the impetus to change his ways has to come from within him. Which one of these women are you?

There will be some of you that have read this and my other recent posts on Florence Nightingale and feel galvanised to make a change and quit the relationship insanity (doing the same things repeatedly and expecting different results), and there will be others, who hear me but are not listening because they the need to be ‘right’ and to be made the ‘exception’ and to avoid being in charge of their own happiness (even though they still will be).

Everything in life is a choice, and while it may seem like it’s them that has you caught up in this situation, that’s giving them just far too much credit and power. Even though it may make you miserable, you are actively making this choice because this familiar uncomfortable works for you, albeit dysfunctionally. You could choose different but you’re afraid of the ‘unknown’ and it’s easier to focus on Other People’s Problems. You can say it’s him, but we’re 100% accountable for where we are and we can always choose differently.

You are free to stay where you are fixing/healing/helping but when you end up in a limited relationship with limited results with a limited person, remember you made a limited choice. If you stay, be accountable for where you are and focus your energy on fixing/healing/helping yourself, and if after all that, you still want to stay, go ahead, although I doubt the relationship will be attractive. If you go, you still need to address your issues so that you don’t repeat the cycle and remember, you can empathise with someone without trying to leap in and provide and/or be the solution.

Your thoughts?


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36 Responses to Florence Nightingale: Why needing to fix/heal/help in the name of love is unhealthy (P2)

  1. riviera says:

    I can relate to this article so much it is scary.

    I spent 9 years (24-33 yrs of age) with a man 11 yrs older than me who was sexually abused for years by his dad’s best friend when he was a kid.
    When I met him I immediately saw him as someone who needed help. He was self-destructive, bipolar, couldn’t keep a job, alcoholic, etc. But at the same time he was charming, friendly, interesting, a magnet for people like me… He was a victim. I reinforced his behaviour by being compassionate (great mistake!!).
    The 2 first years were good, we were in love and although there were problems, our relationship was still healthy, with boundaries. Then his dad died and he just fell into a big depression. ANd that it is when “my battle ” to save him started. ANd it lasted 7 years. I still cannot believe I stayed for so long. It was a case of me, someone with a great and healthy childhood, feeling “responsible” for his well-being. Besides I love a challenge so I took it as “I will help you to find happiness” . Yeah, you can say it cause I think it too… a huge superiority complex! I did everything! I was obsessed trying to help him “heal” … He eventually got better but since our relationship was based on victimism and co-dependency, me being the “helper”, he being the “needing help”, when there was no more of this, there was nothing left. We broke up.

    I am naturally compassionate, loving and caring, but even though I had the best intentions it all went against me in the end. I lost a lot of me during those years. But I also learnt a big deal about me and how important is to always be “number one” for yourself! NOw I am very happy in a healthy and equal relationship with someone who is psychologically stable :)

    • NML says:

      I knew of someone in a similar situation to you – she ended up feeling almost guilty for having a good childhood so it was a bit like ‘giving back’ when you are well off. This sounds like a very painful relationship and although you had a good couple of years, it only accounts for 2/9th of the duration of the relationship (I think you’re saying you were together 2+7 yrs). You tried your best and I’m glad that you moved on to a happier place. Take care

  2. JJ says:

    Building my Wings

    You are so right if we think that single is a bad thing then we are definitely willing to settle for anything that’s less than what we are worth. I guess that’s why its so very important to be happy with yourself first. Don’t be afraid to be alone for a while and work on you cause if you don’t you wind up running into the same emotionally unavailable narcissists ass clowns all over again. I so tried to fix my ex but soon that wore off and something clicked in that a narcissists can’t be fixed. First off they don’t want to be. Even an exorcists couldn’t fix the one i was dealing with.

  3. Building My Wings says:

    There’s one thing you’ve alluded to but haven’t really said straight out: often, we’ll choose a wounded bird of a man not because we feel superior to him, but because we believe we’re unlovable and a man who actually has his s**t together wouldn’t give us a second thought. And if we also believe being single is the worst thing in the world, it’s just a short step to deciding that if we can’t be loved, we’ll settle for being needed.

    • riviera says:

      In my case it was a personal challenge in the search of external approval. I used to be like that in my professional life too… A chronic challenge-seeker, and achievement-addict. My friends used to give me hell cause they could not understand why I was seeing him when I could have had anyone I wanted.
      ANd I agree..The root of this was my huge fear of rejection…

      • NML says:

        It’s a real mind screw – how can a man like *this* not realise how great I am? Hmmmm…maybe there’s something wrong with me.

    • Cathy J says:

      Yes, for sure. And the more on the outside a beautiful young woman has everything together, often it means that no-one will ask her out ie apart from the losers… and as she has been single so long – there may be big pressure from family and close friends who say “You are too fussy.” or why didn’t you go out with X, he was so in love with you – forgetting all the while, they never asked!

      It can turn into a very destructive downward spiral. What I would love is to see the world say it is okay to be single until the right one comes along!

      • Used says:

        Cathy J–

        And if the same woman asked out the man who was/is “so in love with her” and who does have his act together otherwise, what will he become? YES, an AC/EUM…though he worshipped her moments before, once she becomes attainable/attained, he becomes distanced!

        Then again, those tend to be the same guys who use their friends to find out whether the woman is interested, and, once they do find out, they don’t hAVE to ask the great woman out anymore–they know she is “on the hook” and will accept a date WHENEVER HE WILL FEEL LIKE ASKING HER OUT, which means basically NEVER. So they were EU all along, really.

        Aren’t I right, NML?

        So, ladies, next time you find out that someone is interested in you, or “likes” you, through the grapevine instead of his own mouth, the best way to handle it is:
        1. Don’t let him or his friends know you are interested. Don’t answer friends’ questions, don’t throw signs out;
        2. Show that other men want you. The only way to get through to these types of guys who are so much “in love” with you is to show them that OTHERS are, too. That’s when they will make their move.

        The only men who will like you for you are the ones who have been around the block and who know quality when they see it and who are ready for a real relationship. Otherrwise, to me, any other man is EU.

        • NML says:

          Well that may be a tad harsh. Only a certain type of guy who likes a big ego stroke gets off on knowing someone is interested after asking about it, but then doing nothing about it.

          My man asked one of my closest friends about me after we met at an event. He didn’t ask if I was interested in him – he asked if I was single. They go back a long way. She gave him my details, he called, we went out. The rest as they say is history.

          • Used says:

            Nothing wrong with them asking about you, including as to whether you are single. It’s when they do it a certain way that gets to me. I guess that, in my past, I knew A LOT of that type of “certain guy” (read: insecure guy!)who needed a big ego stroke! Explains a lot!

    • Trinity says:

      Agreed, I’ve worked out my pattern to be picking unhealthy men (baggage,wounded,what ever). Men that in turn because if their baggage couldn’t really be a healthy partner or accept love or happiness in their life. In turn drama would start and I’d panick. I would desparetly try to help, exhaust myself, the would leave and I’d relive my abadonment issues because no matter how wonderful I was they would leave. They had to, they had issues and it would never work.
      My goal is to work on the abadonment stuff and choose a man healthy enough to love me back.
      It’s scary but I’m happy I’ve learnt this sbout myself.

      • Trinity says:

        As a side note the great thing about learning this is finally realising I’m not unlovable, quite the opposite in fact the only one really abadoning me and not loving me. Was me. Through trying to right a wrong from the past. I kept putting myself in situations I could never win. Even though I have a way to go, learning this about myself, I feel kinda free, less burdend with thoughts of being rejected and unlovable, less trying to be perfect to be accepted, no more over giving, no more over understanding and no more over forgiving.
        I’m starting for the 1st time in my life to see myself , my friendship, loyalty and love as a precious asset, to be protected by only allowing those that truly deserve it in my life.

        • NML says:

          “As a side note the great thing about learning this is finally realising I’m not unlovable, quite the opposite in fact the only one really abadoning me and not loving me. Was me. ” Excellent comment and I’m so pleased that you are learning to love yourself and see you in a positive way. Hugs!

      • NML says:

        Amen! Fear of abandonment ends up being reflected in men who have a tendency to leave, especially when they feel like they’re being expected, needed, and wanted more than they’re prepared to be. Personal security is extremely important in relationships because relationships filled with insecurity create more insecurity.

    • katty says:

      I am not so sure about the word “we choose” Because at least in my case, my bird didnt come off as a “wounded bird” . He came off that way only after the lip service he gave me so I could fall for him and finally make it difficult for me to leave since I was already emotionally invested. It not so much that I chose this on me, This was only after I found out he was one wounded bird is that I realized I had to get out and needless to say the painful position I put myself through.

      • trinity says:

        I understand what you mean Katty.
        I dont think any person sits back and thinks, hmmmm i think id like to date someone who is emotionally damaged so i can relive some sort of old nightmare and try to repair the old damage.
        What we want is to be happy but there may be something driving inside us that attracts us to people who will help us to see those issues.
        My X also came across as being wonderful and someone id never imagine in a million years causing so much devastation. I thought finally at last ive found him. Wrong !
        His real bad stuff did not come up until i was emotionally invested also BUT that was still only 6 months into the realtionship and if i had already learn my lesson, had boundarys and so forth i would have made the call to leave.
        Instead my old hurt from the past caused me to try to stay with someone clearly emotionally unhealthy and unworthy of me and what i had to offer. Someone who could not see past his own pain, issues and baggage to be in a healthy relationship.
        When you look back in hindsight there is usually red flags at the beiniging, there was for me. But i tried to help him with what appeared to be “small” issues.
        We dont choose to want to be hurt or unhappy but we will keep dragging it into our lives if we dont work out why we keep finding ourselves in these situations, learn, grow and toughen up :)

        • NML says:

          Let me clarify, when I say ‘choose’, I don’t mean it in the same way that you choose which pair of shoes you put on or whatever. But you choose via your behaviour, your boundaries, your values, your judgement etc and as individuals, we are 100% accountable for ourselves and where we are, and everything we do is a choice, even when we don’t see it as a choice. It’s important not to portray ourselves as victims – it doesn’t mean they’re not the assclowns they are, but it does mean that we can empower ourselves to make different choices by being conscious in our relationships.

      • NML says:

        I think in situations like this rather than focus on whether you ‘chose’ him, look at what you were attracted to and what behaviours fitted into the dynamic. For instance, were his actions matching his words, if you play back the early part of the relationship in slow motion in your mind, what do you see now that you didn’t see then? When you did find out, why were you still emotionally invested in the illusion? This isn’t for you to give you a hard time – it’s so that you recognise where a guy like this sees an opportunity and maximises it. We cannot do anything about them but we can about ourselves. I’ve been with lip service guys – I was not living in reality. They could have told me anything.

    • NML says:

      The whole being unlovable issue is a fundamental part of why women go out with Mr Unavailables and assclowns – these men seem ‘easier’ because deep down we know they have issues but convince ourselves that a ‘broken’ man of this type will appreciate us and not be so judgemental…which of course is not the case…

  4. Vanna says:

    That itself is an addiction.

  5. Cathy J says:

    “I have women tell me, ‘I want a man who is open to change’ or ‘I want someone who is open to personal growth’. Do you know what they’re really saying? ‘I want someone who is open to being moulded‘.”

    I disagree. When people are not open to change, they will be rebelling their whole life and not get very far. Oh, did I say also quite exhausting and negative to be around. The whole nature of life is that it is constantly changing.

    Personal growth is about constantly learning. We all need to learn – lifelong, ongoing learning – especially in the area of relationships ie learn how to be in a relationship and have regular refreshing courses to stay up to date!

    Do you know anyone who is having a great relationship who does not also constantly learn by reading books, listening to or attending talks/sermons, has confidants/accountability people around them (either professional or on a friendship level) who actually do know what they’re talking about either through experience or training?

    • madeamistake says:

      Life doesn’t have to be full of constant change–it only is if you want it to be. I agree with NML–too often we get caught up in changing/moulding someone because it gives us control. It’s not about them changing, it’s about “us” changing them and the “control” we have by doing so.
      Change is not all it’s cracked up to be–there is a lot to normal, routine, consistent, etc. that makes relationships great! By the way, I know a lot of couples who have never read a relationship book in their lives or discussed their relationship with “someone who knows what they are talking about” who have great relationships after years and years of being together. Relationships are not something you have to study or get a PhD in to be successful.

      • juli says:

        I see both sides. If you are in a relationship with someone who has EU tendencies, and they express that they will do whatever it takes to make it work, and then you provide them feedback on what you think would help, you are participating in working on your relationship and supporting your partner as they attempt to be a better relationship person. I see no problem with that.

        It is up to each person to dig deep to discover their true motive. I am guilty of some of the selfish aspects of “fixing” and I had not realized that. Good to know because I truly do want to grow. Though our conscious motive may be selfless, sometimes the true driving force behind that is actually selfish whether we have realized it or not.

        • NML says:

          Absolutely and it’s knowing the difference between the two. This is why it’s important to have an honest conversation with ourselves and be authentic – at least then we’re conscious about what we’re doing.

      • Trinity says:

        I see both sides, there has to be a nice balance. I’m a learner, crave growth and have learnt to love change.
        However my last partner was constantly worrying, tweaking, changing, fixing “now we should be this, now that, now this” it was exhausting !!!! And I’m all about change but this was to much. ” I ended up saying something like ” 4 god sakes will you let me just breathe and live and catch up” he was very manic, all good or all bad, overly happy or miserable, I was perfect and amazing or all wrong and dumped. How can anyone feel happy with no routine or consistancy or constantly being judged and nit picked. As with everything, a dose of healthy balance is the key.

        • trinity says:

          I also think that someone who is constantly unable to keep still, has to change, has to keep moving forwards, has to , has to ,has to ,has to worry about everything etc. Shows their own internal state of happiness, chaos and emotional lack of balance. Everything is an issue or a drama.
          A healthy balance of change, growth and forward moving is great but i think there is a real difference between that and someone trying to stop from keeping still because they are terrified of what they might find out about themselves.
          Its exhausting being around people like that and they end up making you feel bad about yourself or uncomfortable and on edge.

          • MaryC says:

            trinity…you are so right. It is exhausting being around people like that and they are terrified of what they might find out about themselves. We must of dated the same person.

            • NML says:

              I have a friend with someone like this. He seems constantly dissatisfied and he is. When he runs out of things to try to change, he starts blaming her for why he’s not feeling so great. He’s always second guessing the relationship, saying stuff like ‘I think we should be here and we’re not, so maybe this isn’t working’. He’s a headwrecker!

              • Used says:

                What type of guy does this? EU? AC? What label? I know A LOT of guys (married ones!) like this!

              • trinity says:

                Hi NML , That completly describes what i was saying above but your wording has it in a nutshell. Almost like constantly looking for error or possible wrongs? who knows but it was exhausting and no matter what, you couldnt win.Im glad to be rid of it :) I was then blamed, then left. It was a hard pill to swallow.
                My revenge is growth, learning and how much ive changed/moved on and i can see that he hasnt, not a drop . And thats fine, what this simply means is our core values were completly different. I really do see that now.
                Take care.

          • Cathy J says:

            I like this dialogue!!

            Yes, constant change for some is buying a new car every twenty years on top of having three children with totally different personalities in which case a partner who is similar will suit.

            Constant change for others could be doing contract work in different countries.

            Yes, many years ago people did not read the self help/development or relationship books although many did go to places of worship or there were still solid values around whether they came from the military, school (back when respect and discipline were the norm), family…

            So I totally agree with Natalie if you both have similar values and live by them with integrity (rather than no boundaries) and have a combined vision of the future – woohoo the sky is the limit!

            Also I believe over the years our expectations are so high and unrealistic which leads to disappointment.

      • NML says:

        I agree and I think it’s important not to over intellectualize personal development. I don’t want someone to control me with their requests for change no more than I want to control someone with my requests. Those types of relationships are tiring. I like living!

    • NML says:

      I think in the wider sense, many people are into personal growth, but in this context of fixing/healing/helping, wanting someone to be open to growth is about them being open to the growth that *they* prescribe. It’s nice to have people rooting for you, but I don’t *need* someone to develop me – personal growth is personal. It’s good to have a running mate, not a fixing/healing/helping ‘coach’.

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