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When Someone You Care About Is Hurting, Don’t Try to Be a Fixer

When someone you care about is hurting, don’t try to be a fixer.

If you’ve ever been in a dark place, emotionally speaking, or gone through tough times, was there someone who really came through for you and made a difference? Do you ever wonder why that one (or if you’re lucky, more than one) person’s actions were/are so helpful and another person’s irritated/irritate the heck out of you?

I could be wrong, but I would guess the person you’ve found to be most supportive during difficult times was the one who refrained from trying to be the Fixer.

Am I right?

When a person is grieving or has been handed a cancer diagnosis or is going through any sort of life-altering, difficult experience, they probably aren’t looking for a Fixer.

Some pain cannot be fixed.

Suggesting to someone who’s hurting that she should be strong when she’s feeling anything but, is not a good idea either.

Offering platitudes in general just isn’t that helpful.

People who are in pain don’t need Fixers or platitudes.

You might want to read, The Unspoken Half of Those Platitudes.

They likely do need Listeners.

I just finished reading the book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler. Bowler was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at age 35.

In her book, she addresses this topic of Fixers and platitudes, too, saying:

These are the three life lessons people try to teach me that, frankly, feel worse than cancer itself. The first is that I shouldn’t be so upset, because the significance of death is relative. I like to call the people with that message the Minimizers…A lot of Christians like to remind me that heaven is my true home, which makes me want to ask them if they would like to go home first.

I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard from the Minimizers, am I right?

The Minimizers often resort to those annoying “at least” comments too.

Nothing minimizes your experience more than hearing something like, at least you got the good cancer or at least he’s in a better place now. Ugh…

“At least” comments make me want to scream!

Bowler shares about life lesson number two that another set of cheerleaders often insist upon:

…the Teachers, who focus on how this experience is supposed to be an education in mind, body and spirit.

(As a former educator, it pains me a little to call this group the Teachers.)

This type of cheer-leading really grates on my nerves – as you likely know by now! Pushing back, is THE basic premise behind my memoir, Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person.

I’ll say it again and again. And again:

Cancer is a horrible disease NOT an enlightenment program.

And the same can be said about grief.

Who needs a degree from the University of Cancer or Grief?

(That’s supposed to be sarcasm.)

And the third lesson is mostly about attitude about which Bowler says this:

The hardest lessons come from the Solutions People, who are already a little disappointed that I am not saving myself. 

Yep. The tyranny of positive thinking. No need to say more.

People who are hurting don’t need Fixers, or Minimizers, or Teachers or Solution Givers.

What they likely need is just the presence of someone who cares, shows up (doesn’t even necessarily have to be physically) and listens.

Sitting with someone and listening is sometimes the best way of all to help. Silence can be very validating and comforting. Hugs can be as well.

Bowler’s wise words near the end of her book say it so well:

The truth is that no one knows what to say. It’s awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward. People’s weird, suffering bodies are awkward. But take the advice of one man who wrote to me with his policy:  Show up and shut up.

So, when someone you care about is hurting, don’t try to be the Fixer. That’s not your job. 

What is?

Show up and shut up. 

Perhaps it is as simple as that.

Sure, sometimes the latter is hard to do. But it just might be the most important and easiest way to help that dear one who’s hurting.

Because sometimes silence isn’t silent at all.

If you want to read more articles like this one, Click Here.

Share about an encounter you’ve had with a Fixer, Minimizer, Teacher or Solutions Giver. 

How do you try to help others who are hurting?

When you’re hurting, what do you appreciate most from your supporters?

If you like this post, please share it. Thank you!

When Someone You Care About Is Hurting, Don't Try to Be a Fixer #grief #loss #cancer #family #relationships #mbc

Linda Catanzaro Boberg

Friday 18th of June 2021

I don't know if I thoroughly agree with this.I don't want to be interfering, but sometimes I'm forced into a situation with my mentally ill daughter when I have to be there, almost in an enabling capacity, because someone has to do something! It's be great if listening to her worked, but sometimes it does not. for myself, I had one 'fixer' and I quickly cut that down. You can't fix MBC and if you think you can - which she did - you're uneducated. But I was fierce in my response to her and it stopped.


Friday 18th of June 2021

Linda, You make excellent points about dealing with mental illness as a parent. I can see how sometimes listening is not enough and you do have to step in. With grief and cancer though, people aren't really looking for or in need of Fixers. I'm glad to hear you cut that Fixer down that needed to be educated. Sometimes, we have to be fierce! I'm wondering if you still communicate. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

Evelyne Carson

Wednesday 24th of April 2019

Dear Nancy, I want to thank you again for your website, for your work to find all these articles and to put it all together. Your books were a great help and many of these articles still are. I so love your approach to cancer! Straight forward, direct and so emphatic!


Thursday 25th of April 2019

Evelyne, Thank you so much for your kind words.

Beth Gainer

Thursday 18th of April 2019

Hi Nancy,

I am so glad that I was able to show up for my friend Faun time and time again. Even toward the end, when she was dying, I sat quietly by her hospital bedside reading while Faun was sleeping. I just wanted to be present for her.


Friday 19th of April 2019

Beth, Thank you for your beautiful comment about your dear friend Faun. I'm sure she was comforted greatly knowing you were there. And those memories, though difficult, have to be so precious. And it's great to hear from you. xo

Cate Pederson

Wednesday 17th of April 2019

I have a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer. It came back once already, and looks like it is coming back again. I have had 3 surgeries since August 2017. Luckily, it has not progressed to stage 4. My most recent surgery was January 2019 and it took a long time to recover. I had GI complications post surgery that knocked me on my butt for 4 months. Just starting to get back "at it". My mom means well, but she is a a bit of a minimizer, and definitely a Solution Giver. I get emails and texts telling me to "join a group" or "practice mindfulness" and "my friends so and so had cancer and they are doing great now". The net effect is that I feel like I cant every really just tell her how I am doing, or be able to vent, because she well then offer a "solution". A huge part of going through this is trying to figure out what my personal "solution" is - what my new "normal" is. And this is something only I can figure out for myself. I do wish I could just talk to her and have her listen, not offer suggestions.


Friday 19th of April 2019

Cate, I am sorry your mother is too much of a Minimizer and Solution Giver for your liking. Have you tried telling her how you feel and what you'd like her to do (and not do)? Sometimes a person needs to be quite frank with loved ones and others too. I hope there's someone you can talk openly with who does more listening that suggestion offering. Thank you for sharing and my best to you.

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