What we find amusing in this cartoon is the blatant arrogance of a person who believes that they can “fix” some one else, especially in the context of a friendship. What kind of friendship is built on the foundation that, “I’m superior to you.”? There is a big difference between a friend who is willing to help when you need it and a relationship with someone who needs to fix you. With the former, the friend responds to your need and leaves you with the feeling that you are still in charge of your life; that you can say no, or accept only some of what is offered. The inner experience we have is that the friend is there for us in what ever way we need. In the latter case, the other person has a need for us to be inferior, “one down”, so that they can feel superior. This allows them to feel better about themselves – unfortunately at our expense. We are being used so that the other person can feel strong and in charge. These people seek relationships where it is understood that they are superior and the other person is inferior.

In its milder forms a friendship like this isn’t necessarily harmful. Often times these people have a good heart and can have many other good qualities that make them a good friend and companion. The occasional annoyance of their superiority is out weighed by the rest of their personality. But in moderate forms these relationships can, over time, cause difficulty for the person being “fixed”. The constant message that one is less than the other erodes self esteem and confidence in one’s judgment. When this occurs, especially in the context of a marriage, and over a period of years, the helped person gradually becomes depressed. The depression then contributes to low self esteem and a general sense of uncertainty about one’s self. What began as a realistic accommodation to the spouse’s need to feel superior becomes set in both the marriage and the person. The more the “stronger” spouse attempts to help, the worse the “weaker” spouse feels.

I have worked successfully with a number people in these kinds of relationships. As you can imagine, it is always the “weaker” person who has the courage and strength to seek counseling. Gradually these people find their own voice and the ability to rebalance their relationships.

In its extreme forms these relationships are dangerous. The “stronger” person feels contempt for the “weaker” and seeks to impose their will over them in nearly all aspects of their life. At this point the “weaker” person has become so depressed that they are immobilized and accept abusive behavior from the other. Their self esteem is so low that they are terrified to be alone, and, simply put up with what ever is done to them to avoid the terror of being alone. Occasionally, we hear a news story about a woman whose child was killed by a boyfriend and wonder how this could possibly happen. These tragedies occur in the context of one of these relationships where the mother is unable to tolerate the idea of being alone. The other danger is when a “weaker” person gets strong enough to leave this kind of relationship. When discovered by the person in the “superior” position, they are in great danger of being physically harmed or killed.