My chest seared, heat radiating through my body and turning my cheeks pink. A lump formed in my throat so large I wasn’t sure I’d be able to swallow. My eyes darted back and forth from my partner to the two guests who had joined us for dinner. Guests we hoped would be new, lifelong friends. Both of them stared at me with a look of shock, fear, and dismay on their faces. I could feel their energy penetrating me, watching me: simultaneously wondering how I would handle such an explosive situation, and pleading with me to keep it cool.
My guests didn’t have to say a thing. It was clear what their expected response was: one of softness, one of compassion, one of apology. My preferred retort would have been sharp, cheeky, defiant. Matching the intensity and venom of this stranger’s shot at me, fired from across the restaurant. I felt an absolute need to put her in her place, defend my views, and express very loudly and clearly how wildly inappropriate her comment had been. And, at the same time, I felt utterly panicked in standing up for myself in the company of two individuals who clearly would not accept such an energy from their dinner guest.
The resulting response was a total freeze. I hit a deep level of cognitive dissonance; two powerful desires warring in my heart: The desire to stand up for myself, and the desire to appear perfect to the company I was entertaining. I sat silently as tears welled in my eyes. Eventually, one of my guests broke the silence: he apologized for my behavior, and vowed I would behave more “appropriately” for the remainder of the dinner.
As you’re reading, your immediate response might be to choose sides. Draw conclusions. “I need more facts to determine who was right in this situation” you might be saying to yourself. The truth is that what I was saying at that moment isn’t relevant. Whether I was right or wrong isn’t important. What matters here is something I see all too many women struggle with today: the need to meet other people’s expectations is circumventing and overriding our natural expression. Silencing us completely.
This is the pinnacle of a “good girl” moment. A moment in time where we actively choose to let somebody else’s view of reality supersede our own common sense. Where we lose dignity and respect for ourselves in servitude of another.
A powerful example, yes. But the Good Girl Syndrome can be much more subtle. She leaks into every part of our lives; a silent and provocative killer of our dreams. Stopping us from asking for help, voicing our concerns, demanding a raise we know we deserve. Little by little she shifts our persona from the powerful, empowered woman we once were to the quiet, shy, and “perfect” woman our partners, coworkers, and society expect us to be. The one who is easy to get along with. The one who doesn’t ruffle feathers. The one who is always nice, charming, pleasant, and polite. The woman who smiles at you while you proverbially slap her in the face.
Perhaps you’ve heard these phrases before:
“I like a woman who’s chill and can kick it with the guys”
“Why does she always have to be such a diva?”
“That woman’s a real bitch”
“She’s too demanding to have any real friends”
Or maybe you’ve silently shunned or judged another woman for being “too much”, “too loud”, taking up too much space, or being the center of attention. Maybe you, like the stranger in the restaurant, are so affronted by another woman speaking her truth proudly that you choose to silence her.
Oftentimes the biggest advocates of the Good Girl Syndrome are our fellow women.
We belittle and silence each other because we, ourselves, have been silenced. We shun the light in others because we, ourselves, have been dimmed. We shout from across a restaurant at a complete and total stranger because what they are saying is a level of truth we personally are not comfortable with.
And in every moment, we reinforce the Good Girl Syndrome. In ourselves, in our partners, in our fellow sisters, in our children.
It’s important to ask yourself – is this the type of life I desire to create? Is this the type of life I desire to live in for myself? Is it the life I would wish for my children, nieces, and nephews?
Let this serve as a powerful reminder that we create our own reality. Nobody can truly silence us – we choose to silence ourselves. We choose to prioritize the needs, emotions, and feelings of others over our own wellbeing. And with this choice, we affirm the reality we are creating – one of servitude and obedience.
If this is not the world you desire to create for yourself – then it’s time to choose differently. Tiny personal changes every single day lead to a global impact over time.
A simple question one can ask themselves any time the Good Girl Syndrome is being triggered: “If I wasn’t worried about the feelings of the people around me, would I behave differently?”
This is not to say that we blindly throw all empathy and societal norms out the window and become an inherently hedonistic wild child (unless, of course, that’s what you want – then go for it!). The exercise here is to bring your awareness into the present moment. To provide a checkpoint for yourself. To offer you the opportunity to recognize when you are operating from outdated programming that likely doesn’t serve you, and to consciously choose how to respond.
With awareness and self responsibility, tiny step by tiny step, we choose to stand in our power. We choose to speak up when everyone expects us to sit quietly. We pave the way for a new tomorrow full of embodied and empowered women living their dharma. We serve as examples for each other, and for the leaders of tomorrow. When you choose differently, when you opt for authenticity over societal programming, the world notices. And, perhaps most importantly – YOU notice.