Understanding the Need to be Good I would like to explore the good girl syndrome closer and delve deeper into how some of us ended up being so “good”. Remember, I am not saying you have to stop being a good person, not at all! The good girl syndrome puts you in a place where you feel compelled to be a “good girl”, often going against your nature. The good girl syndrome can have a few different roots or ways of developing in you. Each of which are more complex than what I can cover in a short blog.
So in this blog, I will share an overview of 3 possible ways.
1. Social conditioning:
Social conditioning can be develop overtly or covertly. We mostly learn to be good from our caregivers. This often happens in the process of them doing their best to create decent human beings out of us. Yet, how many times have you been told to be “good girl”? 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 socialised, but I hear from plenty of men who also feel boxed in by a similar “nice guy” label. Whatever message you received, as a little girl, you wanted your caregivers’ love and so followed their requests or demands.
Here are some common messages we learnt we had to follow:
- Be a good girl.
- Do as you’re told.
- Don’t talk back.
- Good girls are seen and not heard.
- 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?
2. Family Dysfunction:
For others, the good girl syndrome can be traced back to growing up in a household where there was disfunction. Growing up in a dysfunctional family can leave you emotionally scarred and set you up for a lifetime of issues. A dysfunctional family is a family with multiple ‘internal’ conflicts conflict; Anything from domestic violence, mental illness, single parenthood to addiction, or a family where the adults have not matured enough to love an honest life. As a child, seeing your caregiver’s pain, anger, loneliness or grief may have brought you to want to make things better for them by being “good”.
Examples of responses to dysfunction include:
- “I hoped that by caring for their needs, they might care for mine.”
- “I never showed my true feelings in order not to create more upset in them.”
- “I was scared to speak up or make them angry, in case they got angry at me.”
Most severely, your need to be good can come from trauma and abuse. This is closely related to point number 2, but is even more severe. The term “complex trauma” describes the experience of multiple, chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, eg, sexual or physical abuse, war, community violence.
You may have heard of fight flight freeze, these are the most well-known responses to trauma. However, there is a fourth possible response, the so-called fawn response. The fawn response involves immediately moving to try to please a person to avoid any conflict or abuse.
Examples of fawning include:
- “I could not show my true feelings for fear of retaliation.”
- “I always walking on eggshells; I never knew when they would explode”
- “I had to shift or transform myself depending upon their mood.”
As you can see, these are not simple roots. However, as I know from personal experience, there is every possibility to move beyond the disease to please and find back to a more true and authentic way of being in the world! It starts with acknowledging your situation and being honest with yourself that it is not working any more for you. Ideally you will seek the support of a professional to guide you through what could easily be a grieving process. Letting go of a persona that is not you and also grieving not having lived your truth in your life.