Breaking the Bondage of the “Good Girl” Habit for Good

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“Little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice …”

From the day you were born, you were everyone’s darling.

The frilly dresses. The cutesy toys. Daddy adored your dimples and Mama fussed about your hair. As you grew older, they bragged about what a “beautiful young lady” you were becoming. They applauded all your accomplishments and went to great lengths—perhaps even personal sacrifice—to ensure you had what you need.

Or perhaps your experience was the opposite. Maybe you knew everyone else’s needs st home came before yours. Maybe you spent a lot of time propping up other people’s emotional insecurities. Maybe you had to keep it together, at least on the outside, because no one else could have coped if you really, truly needed something.

From all this attention, or lack thereof, you learned one thing early, and one thing only:

Being a good girl was the best and most reliable way to make sure you had a good life.

“Survive” might be a strong word. But let’s face it: the human brain is wired for survival. Perhaps you never went hungry or felt like your physical safety was truly at risk. But there were still emotional risks in your home. A lot of them.

Maybe it wasn’t really as happy on the inside as it seemed from without. Maybe you watched your mom “perform” for your dad in order to get acceptance and attention. Or perhaps their relationship was truly great—but as strict disciplinarians, they made sure you knew that you had better comply.

Whatever the reason, the verdict is clear. You were a certifiable Good Girl for most of your life.

The problem is … did you really ever stop?

The “Good Girl Complex” is common. If you identify as someone who has shaped her identity based on the needs and wishes of others—what makes them happy and therefore keeps you emotionally safe—you are not alone. And indeed, being a woman of integrity who follows God and brings joy to others, as much as she can, is an admirable goal.

But the Good Girl Complex is so much more than that. It’s not about a heart overflowing with gratitude to God. It’s about a performance based on what other people want. If you’re stuck here, you already know it. You don’t need me to give you 25 more signs to help you decide if that’s you.

The biggest clue is really this: can you say with 100% confidence that you are who God made you to be … Or would you have to admit, instead, that who you are is really more whom you allowed others to shape you to be?

If you are experiencing this peculiar (and insidious) form of emotional bondage, you know exactly what I am talking about.

  • The endless stressing about what others think of you.
  • Striving to meet impossible goals for your body, love life, family and career.
  • A perfectionistic obsession that drives you to insane levels of achievement—without much sense of fulfillment.
  • The constant shaping of your words and actions to accommodate what you think other people want to see and hear.

I can only write this article because, for much of my life I was a Good Girl, too. I learned very early that the way to get love in my house was to comply. Without compliance, there would be no affection. And the older I got, the more my compliance earned me.

I complied at home and got adoring parents.

I complied at church and got adoring friends.

I complied at school and got adoring teachers.

I complied in my marriage and thought I had an adoring husband–but this is where all my masks ultimately fell away, when I realized how unhappy he was with (among other things) living with my masks.

By the time I was 30, I had built up what looked like a really great life … but inside, I had absolutely no idea who I was. I and felt it. I lived constantly with this sneaking suspicion that I was not even half of who I was meant to be, but who was that even? Would I even know the Real Me if she walked up to me on the street corner—and slapped me in the face?

For many years nothing changed. But when I decided that I would no longer tolerate being someone other than who God made me to be, everything shifted.

This was a big moment for me. I came to a point where I was sick of my own compliance, sick of saying ‘yes’ when I wanted to say ‘no,’ sick of looking and acting and sounding like ‘someone else.’

So for perhaps the first time in my life, I decided I would do … not simply what others wanted me to, but what God truly desired for my me and my life.

This was the shift that changed everything.

Now please understand: I am not advocating AT ALL that you simply blow off your spouse or significant other, family and friends, and leave on a world tour just because you feel like it. There is a VERY fine line between self-discovery and selfishness.

However, all those caveats aside, most of us as women don’t really know ourselves or who God made us at all. As a result, we can’t possibly love ourselves by basking in His love for us. Our lives and relationships suffer deeply because of it.

When I decided to do what I wanted for a change, I wasn’t simply looking into my own selfish heart and chasing whatever I found. Instead, I asked God to show me the desires HE had placed in my heart, that I was completely ignoring. 

Psalm  37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

I had always loved this verse, but I never really understood it until I made that big decision. It wasn’t that God would give me everything I wanted, if I delighted in Him. It was that by delighting in Him, I would discovery all the desires He had already tucked into my heart.

THOSE desires are not the selfish desires. They are the ones He has given us for big, real, awesome purposes because of the plans He has for us.

And I can pretty much guarantee you: those plans are the direct opposite of what your inner Good Girl thinks you should do. And probably the direct opposite of what people in your life are expecting you to do based on past experiences, and the unwritten “code” of how your relationship with those people operates.

Now, I wasn’t able to make this switch overnight. Mostly because I had been so busy pleasing other people for so long, that I had no idea what I really wanted anyway. First, I had to ask God to strip away all the layers of detritus so I could actually find those genuine, godly core desires.

When I asked Him to do what He said He would, He delivered more than I ever could have thought.

Of course, this shift also totally rocked the life I thought I had. It showed me all the ways I had built my life on a false foundation of other people’s expectations—not on who I really was in Christ. Now, I was stepping into my true identity in the love and purposes of God. And that was, essentially, like taking a jackhammer to the foundation of everything I thought I had built.

I’m no engineer, but even I know, under those circumstances, the structure in question is destined to fall.

So I’m not hear to tell that if you lay down everyone else’s desires, Good Girl, and start chasing the ones God has purposed for you, that it’s always going to be easy.

It might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

But if you know the pain and emptiness of being a Good Girl who’s really just a shell of the YOU God created to you be … you know that sometimes, as Anais Nin says, “The pain of remaining tight in a bud is greater than the pain it [takes] to blossom.”

You can break your Good Girl habit, my friend. But only when you drop what everyone else has handed you and ask the living God to help you open your hands and let Him fill them.

The Good Girl Habit may feel safe, but it’s really just the long, slow death of your beauty, joy, passion, prosperity and purpose.

Break that habit … and quite possibly, you’ll lose your life as you know it.

But run to Jesus, and you will find the life your soul craves.

 

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