“The Good Girl syndrome ” How to get out of it

More and more often I am dealing with people (usually women, but not necessarily) who are experiencing what is called “good girl syndrome”.

Characteristics of those who suffer from “good girl syndrome” are as follows:

It is these people who have accommodating behaviors, trying to adapt to external demands (especially the family), they overshadow their own desires, giving more value to the needs of others.

I am thinking, for example, of a woman who ran a store at the family level and who, although she was abused by her brother-in-law and sister still did not react and also took responsibility.

Emotions of those experiencing “good girl syndrome

Usually, when you are in this dynamic, there are two dominant emotions:

Anxiety: an emotion that rises when the other person seems critical, “sulky” or distant. Anxiety is often accompanied by questions such as “what did I do wrong? The response that follows is often self-critical: “Maybe I haven’t spent enough time with him/her”; “Maybe I haven’t paid attention to …”. Anxiety is also related to the frustration, often unconscious, of acting on others and not on oneself. It is not uncommon for panic attacks to result.

The feeling of guilt: a great classic that comes into play when you “dare” to give yourself more space. I remember one girl who was working abroad. She had no way to get back to Italy for Christmas because of work-related problems, and she had received messages of disapproval from her relatives about her behavior that was unattractive to her parents. While the girl on the one hand has clear reasons, needs, and emotions that guide her choices she cannot help but listen to the inner voice that says: “you are selfish and indifferent”. It is clear, however, that this little voice does not carry as much the message of a real need as it does the message of a strong judgment.

The choices of those living the “good girl syndrome”.

What often happens is that the person who acts on this dynamic makes choices that are more conditioned by how others perceive him rather than by his own inclinations. These are people who have learned 3 things in the course of their lives:

No dissent is expressed much less anger. Disobedience in the family of origin was forbidden or dissent was a weakness or a problem, it was ridiculed.

People believe that what others say is truer than what comes from their own feelings. “They tell me I’m single because I have a bad temper, but they’re right; they tell me I don’t care about my mother because of my work, but maybe it’s true and I don’t notice it. Everything happens as if the others are considered more impartial and therefore more reliable “judges”.

When someone becomes angry or detached, we act in such a way as to make them change their mind about us; sometimes even impetuously. “It’s not fair that you think I’m a reckless person, you don’t understand that I’ve always done everything for my mother”. A sentence like this seems to be related to self-assertion, in reality, it is always in the dysfunctional logic because it aims to convince the other person that we are a good person; that someone might have a bad opinion of us is not considered acceptable.

So how do we get out of this dynamic?

Usually, the dynamic unlocks itself in about 12 individual or group sessions.

The first step is to “unlock the dynamic” so that people realize their role in feeding it. Often, these people feel victimized by others or feel guilty about it. The key is to recognize how I am feeding the dynamic without realizing it to my detriment. Here we get out of the situation of powerlessness and enter the logic of changing strategy.

The second step is to understand your needs without the filter of judgment. Easy to say, but it is the most difficult phase because the two parts of the self-come into play automatically: the one that wants to assert itself and the “voice that judges”. It is easy to become discouraged at this stage and to think that adapting may be less tiring. It’s a choice that doesn’t bring much well-being.

The third step: learning how to express dissent effectively and constructively. Here, too, there is a need for intense work by the person because it involves breaking old habits and creating new ones through completely different communication.

The fourth step: the most difficult phase of all but a necessary one: accepting that the way we assert ourselves does not please others, and for this reason, we may receive criticism and judgments.

Asserting ourselves and pleasing others does not travel the same path. The great advantage, however, is that the people who choose us do so because they accept us as we are and not as they would like us to be. And also, we will finally be free.

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