If you feel like you are constantly striving and doing everything right but always feeling as if you are getting things wrong, you may be experiencing Good Girl Syndrome.
On my Instagram account last week, I posted a cozy dose of inspiration that I thought up during my own softer moment.
“You can be weak. You are not coffee.”
The post was very popular — easily one of my most liked and commented on.
And the comments were RELIEF and GRATITUDE.
Among the comments were two women who were sidelined because of health issues that forced them to stop, rest and rely on others to do all the things.
If it weren’t for a hip surgery or both wrists being broken or sprained these women would not have stopped giving all of themselves to others.
This is why this series — The Politics of Languishing — is vital.
The truth of the matter is this: Striving for perfectionism is literally killing us.
The overworking and overdoing that is exhausting us needs to change.
The perfectionism that we expect of ourselves and each other needs to change.
And, now today, I’m breaking down another big cause of our languishing … Good Girl Syndrome.
Listen to this article as a podcast episode here:
What is Good Girl Syndrome and How Do You Know if You Suffer From It?
There is no doubt that from the time we are born, being a Good Girl is instilled in us. It’s in every conversation and every parenting guideline.
We move through the world teaching girls to be good. (Boys as well, but under a different set of oppressive Good Child expectations.)
This is a fine line in parenting but as you grow up and become an adult it’s easy to feel the Good Child conflict within and it may be showing up for you more and more as you get older and start to see how being The Good Girl is exhausting and driving your perfectionism stress.
Here’s some characteristics that I’ve seen showing up in myself, my friends and clients when we are trapped by Good Girl Syndrome:
- You are overly responsible.
- You are overly positive and cheerful in order to keep everyone else happy and uplifted.
- You are always saying yes to things you do not really want to do.
- You give too much time, energy and money to others.
- Your own needs are constantly not being met.
- You try to look perfect and your best at all times.
- You stay quiet so you don’t rock the boat.
- You go with what others want all the time.
- You go above and beyond even when it’s not necessary.
- You strive to prove your worth to the point of exhaustion.
- You rarely challenge the status quo.
- You care more about pleasing other than yourself.
- You worry too much about what others think of you.
- You try to stick to a hardcore routine and disciplined life and if you don’t you feel guilt or shame.
But, Good Girl Syndrome follows us everywhere in our day through everyone of our choices and decisions and it can show up in the strangest of moments in our lives.
- What your wear and how your wear it.
- What you do with your food waste and where you will send donations.
- How you spend your money — and on what.
- What you do for a living — or not.
- How you mother and parent with high expectations for your children.
- How you show up as a partner or friends.
- How what you do and don’t do for others or to serve others lives in your mind.
- Just how good of a person you are if you do or do not support a cause or attend an event.
- Taking care of the earth and being stewards of the environment.
Being a good human being is noble. We love givers when we benefit from them. But if you are sacrificing your own wellness, health or dreams it may be time to run your choices through the Human Giver Syndrome filter.
Is Being a Good Girl a Part of Human Giver Syndrome?
Good Girls do Good.
Good girls give generously.
Good girls serve others without complaint.
Good Girls sacrifice their dreams for their children or their partners’ dreams.
In the book, “Down Girl: the Logic of Misogyny by moral philosopher Kate Manne” defines a world where there are two types of humans — those who have a moral obligation to be their full humanity where they are free to be as competitive, entitled, and motivated as they wish to be in order to be their best selves — and then there are the human givers, which are those who have a moral obligation to GIVE their full humanity, meaning they feel they must give away all of their time, their attention, their energy, their love, their needs, their hopes and their dreams to others for the good of others.
The Nagoski sisters — who I mentioned in my last piece in this series for their book Burnout, gave this a name: Human Giver Syndrome.
After reading about Human Giver Syndrome, I realized it’s very much connected to Good Girl Syndrome.
In their podcast, Feminist Survival Project 2020, The Nagoskis talked about these women who are extreme givers.
Amelia Nogoski said specifically that “it’s not just women who are the category of giver. It’s all people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, people who don’t speak English as their first language, (in the ) United States), trans people, poor people, gay and queer people, anyone with disadvantaged or marginalized identities expected to behave themselves to perform to conform with a roll of service to the people with advantage to make sure nobody ever feels uncomfortable and nobody has that person’s needs imposed on them. Because it’s a moral duty. If a human Giver falls short of their obligation or if they dare to ask to have a need met, they deserve to be punished. Which is where human giver syndrome starts to get really dark.”
“They’ll be punished by human beings and givers who do not conform to the expectation to be givers will be punished by other givers, because how dare they how, dare they when all the other givers have to do this,” Amelia said. If one giver says, “Nope” and goes ahead and has a need of her own, she’ll be punished by other givers and if there is no one else around to punish her she’ll go ahead and punish herself if she’s internalized this moral obligation.
And, as with Good Girl Syndrome, human givers are expected to deny their own needs so that you are giving more than you can rest, more than you can complete your own stress cycle, and giving so much that there is absolutely never any time for ou to pursue your own passions or purpose in life.
“Just give, give, give,” Emily Nagoski said on the show.
So if we know we should put on our own mask first but encounter guilt over doing so, that is absolutely the Good Girl Syndrome taking over — and that means FEAR is taking over as well.
The Fear Factor behind Good Girl Syndrome
Every day, we put on masks.
Good Girl masks.
The mask hides everything that is inside of us that is messy, chaotic, imperfect and exhausted.
The mask hides the fears.
- Fear of losing friends and upsetting others.
- Fear of being not good enough.
- Fear of pushing people away.
- Fear of missing out.
- Fear of judgement.
- Fear of rejection.
- Fear of being a fraud.
- Fear of being labeled.
- Fear of disappointing others.
In my work as a Brave Yes Living & Leadership Coach, I work with women creatives, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are ready to play with being more courageous.
And that means that sometimes the Brave Yes choice is to the opposite of what your inner Good Girl is saying.
And that means embracing all the parts of you — including your chaos and inner messy parts. In fact, celebrating all of you is how you reach a feeling of wholeness.
In my coaching work, I work with my clients on identifying and transforming the fears that are holding you back from living your Brave Yes Life — a life where you feel free to create, lead, speak and stand out with more boldness, more courage.
On Being Whole-Heartedly You — Even and Especially when It Seems Selfish
“One of the most painfully inauthentic ways we show up in our lives sometimes is saying “yes” when we mean “no,” and saying “no” when we mean “hell yes.” I’m the oldest of four, a people-pleaser – that’s the good girl straitjacket that I wear sometimes. I spent a lot of my life saying yes all the time and then being pissed off and resentful.”— Brené Brown
When we good all of the time and give all of ourselves — our time, our energy, our resources, our love, our gifts — and leave nothing left for ourselves to chase our own dreams and tend to our own inner longings, a few things happen.
First stress and burnout take over. Giving endlessly and always being the good girl is not a sustainable way to live.
Next, you enter the Land of Bitter and Sour.
And then the fallout really begins.
This is when you feel a sense of languishing, of emptiness, of feeling lost and scattered.
When our your needs or inner longings are ignored or pushed aside for others, and you lose your sense of Self.
And yet doing what feels good for you is a part of being resilient and strong in mind, body and spirit.
Your wholeness can only happen if you are listening and acting on your own inner longings. And to make time for what matters requires space and time.
Sometimes when we speak up, use our voice, ask for our needs to be met we will encounter resistance and friction from others.
We may even be disliked.
And that’s OK.
That’s how change happens.
How to Liberate Yourself from Good Girl Syndrome — And should you?
“I love saying ‘yes’ and I love saying ‘please.’ Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying ‘please’ doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission. ‘Yes please’ sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman.”— Amy Poehler
I would call myself a very good girl who is just done with being good for the sake of being good.
There comes a time in our lives when we give and conform to the point of exhaustion and resentment and we finally just emotionally burst and explode and all of our fragile parts scatter and the process of picking up the pieces is just too hard. So we start giving less.
Most of us will never shed our Good Girl Image entirely.
But we can work to lessen it, we can do small Brave Yes actions to design a more sustainable, joyful life and career for ourselves.
When I work with women who are ready to say YES to their dreams and living into their full potential, the first thing we almost always have to break down is finding the time to do the work.
If you are giving all of yourself to others it’s hard to give yourself the time and space to find out what you love and what brings you alive and healing all at once.
And so here are some questions to ask yourself if you think you might be caught up in Good Girl Syndrome:
- How can I make this more playful and fun for me?
- What will I sacrifice by saying yes — and is it worth it?
- What boundary do I need to set here?
- What do I need?
- What do I want?
- What am I trying to avoid?
- Is this worth losing someone or something over?
- What would really happen if I drop this ball?
- How can I be kinder to myself?
In my Brave Yes Living Tips, I offer a few more radical ways to live for yourself and chase after your dreams for this one lifetime you are experiencing.
There is no time like right now to start living for yourself.
And those who stick with you as you disrupt and challenge the status quo will be your people.
Offering a Liberating Future for Our Girls — and Boys — and Ourselves.
“Teach her to reject likeability. Her job is not to make herself likeable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.”― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
As a mother of teenage daughters, I have struggled with the Good Girl Syndrome very much.
Just like every parent, we have taught them to be nice. But I find myself telling them often not to be too nice.
I want them to be compassionate and kind to ALL people AND I want them to have boundaries AND to not be assholes to others and I find this to be tricky, tricky ground to walk on.
Because I also know that when you have too many boundaries in place, you can inadvertently put up too many barriers between you and others, creating a sense of loneliness and isolation. Sometimes we have to let our boundaries drop to let others in.
We can begin to form a more liberating future for our girls — and boys — by not shaming them into being good by our own standards but rather helping them decide what Being a Good Human is for themselves.
A good girl is not to sit quiet and look pretty — unless SHE decides that’s what it is for herself.
A good boy is not one that is tough and manly — unless he decides that is what he wants for himself.
When we stop defining perfect as good we will be liberated.
When we start to see our mistakes and imperfections as good enough, we will be liberated.
When we start playing with feeling alive and chasing our dreams and not feeling guilty for it, we will be liberated.
When we start accepting and embracing everyone’s imperfect humanity, we will be liberated.