Good Girl Syndrome

I was hooked from the moment I watched the first episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon.   You’re probably wondering how a Cuban-American millennial raised in Miami can identify with a prim and proper 1950s house Jewish housewife from Manhattan. It’s simple: I knew that girl.

I was raised to be that girl – the good girl.

The good girl minds her elders and men, in general.  She’s not supposed to do or say anything that might be upsetting to others regardless of her opinions, which she’s supposed to keep to herself anyway.  The good girl knows what’s expected of her and there’s no room for her to disappoint.  The word “no” has no place in her vocabulary because taking care of others’ needs before her own is just what she does.  Anything else would be selfish and inconsiderate. And most importantly, she does all of this without faltering, in an immaculate outfit, and with a smile on her smile that never betrays how she may be feeling inside.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

You‘d think that the social movements and upheavals of the 1960s and 70s would have eroded these expectations about who women should be and how they should behave from our collective consciousness.  But 40 years later and in mostly Hispanic culture, those expectations were still there, being passed down from generation to the next.  Somewhat transformed, perhaps, but still as constricting as a girdle.  The underlying message?

  • You’re not good enough.
  • And if you’re not good enough, (fill in the blank) won’t love you.
  • Or if you’re not good enough, you’ll be rejected, outcasted, an outsider forever.

That might not seem like a big deal to an adult, but it’s a huge deal to a little girl getting these messages seared in her psyche from an early age.  Kids are entirely dependent on the adults around them, and they’ll quickly learn what adults expect of them in order to survive.

If you were ever told, “Calladita te ves más bonita,” you can probably relate.

Cut to 2 decades later, and that little girl, now a young woman, feels unhappy and unfulfilled in her life.  She resents that others get what they want, but she never does.  She doesn’t know how to express her feelings or assert herself without being overwhelmed by fear of judgment, criticism, and worry about what others will think of her. She’s angry and she doesn’t much like herself.

But expressing any of this would make her a bitch.

The consequences of good (or nice) girl syndrome pervade the all-important aspect of life – relationships.  Whether at work, with friends, at home, or with herself, the good girl will end up in the role of the doormat, pleasing, performing, perfecting, pretending, and proving herself.  All of which leaves good girls psychologically vulnerable to relationships of the enabling, codependent, toxic, manipulative, abusive, and otherwise unhealthy varieties.

So how does one overcome the good girl syndrome?

By changing your beliefs about yourself and how you’re supposed to relate to others. I know, easily said, but much harder to do in practice. So much so that I can’t, in good conscience, offer you “5 easy steps to stop being a nice girl”.  Because there’s no such thing as “easy” what it comes to this.  You basically have to slowly rewire your brain by simultaneously learning and practicing new skills what make you uncomfortable to the point of nausea.

It’s work worth doing, though.

Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL.  Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place.  Each therapist has their areas of expertise.  Not sure who you’d like to work with?  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.

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