Let go of good girl syndrome, perfectionism, and people-pleasing and rediscover yourself!
Be a good girl.
Do as your told.
Don’t talk back.
Wait your turn.
Don’t make trouble.
Just sit here and be quiet.
Smile and look happy.
Don’t make your father angry.
Where are your manners?
How many times have you been told to be “good girl” or “good boy”? From an early age, the expectations were clear – you were to follow the rules, be quiet, and think of others before yourself.
Certainly, the “good girl syndrome” is particularly strong for women given how we’re socialized, but I hear from plenty of men who also feel boxed in by a similar “nice guy” label.
Are you suffering from good girl syndrome?
- Do you worry about offending or bothering people?
- Do you pride yourself on being thoughtful and helpful (even when it’s inconvenient for you)?
- Were you labeled a “good girl” or “good boy” as a child?
- Are you a perfectionist or overachiever?
- Do you have to do all your work before you allow yourself to rest or have fun?
- Do you have trouble speaking up for yourself or asking for what you want?
- Are you a stickler for rules (even minor ones like never wanting to be late, cut in line, or jaywalk)?
- Are you a people-pleaser who’s uncomfortable with conflict and afraid of disappointing or hurting other people’s feelings?
- Do you crave predictability and get anxious about unexpected changes?
- Are you overly responsible — aways needing to organize, track, and schedule things?
- Do you see a bit of yourself in Hermoine Granger from the Harry Potter series?
Isn’t being nice a good thing?
It would certainly seem that trying to make others happy would be a good thing. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Here’s what I wrote in the chapter about people-pleasing in my recent book:
“Most of us are taught the be agreeable and charitable and to care about other people’s feelings and help them out in times of need. These are wonderful qualities. The problem is that when our self-worth is dependent on making people happy, we will repeatedly compromise our own needs to please others, and we often care more about other people’s opinions and values than our own.” (The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism, page 32-33)
Consistently putting other people’s needs ahead of our own isn’t sustainable. We have to take care of ourselves – and doing this adequately necessitates legitimizing our own needs and sometimes saying “no” to other people. Essentially, if you give and give and give, you’ll have nothing left for yourself and you’ll end up sick, exhausted, and resentful.
The good girl role forces us to conform, concede, and play it safe.
The other problem with being a good girl or guy is rigid and limiting. It doesn’t allow us to fully be ourselves.
The good girl or nice guy role feels safe. We think it insulates us from criticism, rejection, conflict, and failure. And it’s true – when we keep ourselves “small” and always do what other’s want, we’re less likely to experience criticism, rejection, conflict, and failure. But we’re dramatically limiting ourselves.
We don’t allow ourselves to try new things (especially things we might fail at or things that would displease others).
We don’t speak up when we’re mistreated or when we have a new idea or differing opinion.
We end up doing a lot of things out of obligation, to meet other people’s expectations, rather than because we want to do them or they align with our goals.
We put tons of pressure on ourselves to be perfect, nice, and good all the time. And when we fall short (which we inevitably will because our expectations are unrealistic), we criticize ourselves relentlessly.
The good girl role forces us to conform and give up important parts of ourselves (ideas, beliefs, goals, interests, values).
We live in fear of judgment – fear of not being enough, fear of being wrong, fear of rejection.
How to break free from good girl syndrome.
So much of what we do and think is based on unconscious beliefs and ingrained behavior patterns. This is why awareness is so important in the change process. If you want to change something about yourself you need to be aware of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it – not so you can beat yourself up about everything you do, but so you can explore different ways of thinking and acting.
When you notice yourself playing the good girl or guy, ask yourself some of these questions to see if you can identify alternatives and make choices that allow you to be more authentic.
- Am I meeting my own needs?
- Am I being true to myself?
- Am I doing this out of obligation or desire?
- What do I want?
- How much stock do I want to put into his/her opinion of me?
- What feels right to me?
- Can I politely and kindly state my opinions or ideas?
- Can I tolerate having someone be disappointed or upset with me?
- What would happen if I’m just a little less rigid and controlled?
- Can I see any benefits in having more fun or taking more chances?
- Will people hate me, disown me, or put me down if I stand up for myself — or am I imagining the worst?
- Can I remember that conflict is normal and usually not catastrophic?
- Do I want to be around people who don’t value me for who I am?
- What will happen if I keep playing the “good girl” or “good guy” all my life?
- Is it okay for me to do things for myself?
- Do I have to earn my self-worth by helping and pleasing people?
- How can I be kind to myself in this situation?
- What do I believe in? What matters to me?
Beginning to take more chances, set more boundaries, and prioritize yourself isn’t going to radically shift you from a good girl to a selfish, inconsiderate rebel. With awareness, practice, and an intention to get to know yourself better and be more self-compassionate, you’ll incrementally shift from this pre-determined, rigid good girl role that you’ve been playing to a more authentic, fulfilled, and emotionally healthier version of YOU.
©2019 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo by Edward Cisneros on Unsplash.com