The Damaging Effects of “Being a Good Girl or Boy”
When you were a child did one or both of your parents say to you, “Be a good girl” or “Be a good boy” in a consistent and authoritative manner? Was the answer to every problem or the basis for every solution for you to be compliant, quiet, without thoughts or opinions, without needs, or downright silent? Did you feel that the people in your family had needs or expressed behaviors that received more attention than yours did? Were you supposed to somehow take care of others or be the wise adult when you were just a child or teen? Were your feelings minimized or ignored to make room for someone else’s? If and when you expressed an emotion, need, or made a natural mistake that was uncomfortable for those around you to deal with, were you punished, shamed, neglected, or abused? Did you feel controlled by primary caregivers in order to be loved?
What were the messages you received about being good, bad, or about being yourself?
If you said yes to any of these questions you were raised in a lopsided, unhealthy, possibly narcissistic, alcoholic or drug-addicted home forcing you to disengage from your authentic self without proper guidance and care. This type of early environment creates fear and lack of trust in others and in ones self. This learned pattern can also make the recipient vulnerable to overly trusting controlling and abusive people because it is expected and familiar. This renders a child emotionally dependent upon limited, unhealthy caregivers who cannot support the child fully because in most cases the parent cannot implement adequate self-care or acknowledge their own destructive patterns. Essentially, it sends the message to never truly feel strong enough to be ones self or to be safe in relationships.
When assigned a role that impedes individuality and expression, it is as if the air has been let out of one’s spirit until the desire to be seen, heard, and understood resurfaces.
You may have detached from using your voice, forfeit your rights and boundaries, and instead learned to silence your authentic self and vulnerabilities to please and be loved- by being obedient to the influence, comfort, and lead of others. This type of family dysfunction can be reversed with intention, love, and doing good work if not in your family of origin, in your life and family now.
If you remember being told to, “Be a good girl” or “Be a good boy” as a primary mantra, more times than most anything else you heard or felt, you are not alone. You lived in a climate that was unhealthy, breeding interpersonal dis-ease and co-dependency. You were taught that your role was to cater to the needs of others and to diminish your own. That “normal” pattern set you up for future harmful co-dependent relationship patterns in late childhood and adulthood because that was reinforced as “normal” for you. You learned how to tolerate one-sided relationships and the implications of the expected compliance is a message stretching beyond the right to simply be yourself. Co-dependency patterns can be flushed out and with good work and support can be healed.
If you remember and still feel the effects of being raised to be “A Good Girl” or “A Good Boy” based on the responsibility shifting attitude and behaviors of your parents, you may be struggling with being yourself in your life today. You may find yourself succumbing to the whims and demands of inconsiderate or abusive partners. You may have difficulty seeing or hearing your children or setting limits with them. You may have loose boundaries with your friends and colleagues putting up with inappropriate behaviors and keeping your feelings to yourself, rather than speaking up and taking care of yourself. In all likelihood, your self-worth may be damaged and show up as perfectionism, self-doubt, discounting feelings, and displaying behaviors that indicate an inordinate need for approval and attention or self-shaming.
You deserved to be yourself, be accepted and loved for who you are, and be raised to be a good person. It was not your fault that unhealthy recurrent messages diminishing your personhood were delivered to you, especially by the caregivers who were designed to help you let your light shine. You have the power now to empower yourself and tell your truth while forgiving your parents for doing their best as you live in love and strength from now on. If you are a parent, your children also deserve to be themselves in all of their simple complexities and have you cheering them on!
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