The Tyranny of Being 'Good'By Dr. Margaret Paul
December 06, 2021
You might have learned to be 'good' as a child to get approval, but this doesn't work as an adult, because of the difference between 'good' and 'loving.'
Many of us grew up in households where our needs for love and safety were not met. We could not feel safe and loved in the face of disapproval, criticism, rejection, abandonment, smothering, engulfment, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect. We did not feel safe when there was yelling, fighting, violence, or substance abuse.
We had to do something to feel safe
Some of us figured out that we could have some control over our parents' or other caregivers' behavior if we were ‘good’ - if we attempted to do everything ‘right.’ We figured out that if we disconnected from ourselves, from our own feelings, and stayed acutely tuned in to the feelings of those around us, we could have some control over getting some approval and avoiding what we feared. We learned to feel a degree of safety by being a good child.
The problem is that, while we may have had some success with this strategy in our childhood homes, this same strategy is now causing problems in our relationships at work and home. When we disconnect from our own feelings, we become invisible to ourselves. Others end up treating us the way we treat ourselves, so we become invisible to others as well. As adults, we end up bringing about the very rejection we are trying to avoid, because we are rejecting ourselves.
My client, Teri, gave me the idea for this article when she said, "I'm trapped in the tyranny of having to be a good girl."
Teri is struggling with her relationship with her boss, Tanya. Teri works as a trainer and is excellent at what she does. Like so many people who learned to control others through being good, Teri is a high achiever. She has also been very compliant with Tanya, changing plans and scurrying around to fulfill her boss’s demands and expectations. However, she frequently ends up feeling stepped on and used by Tanya, as well as unseen and unappreciated. She has had the same problem with the men in her life, having given and given to the point of exhaustion while not receiving the love and acceptance she always hopes for.
As long as Teri is tuned into to Tanya's needs and feelings and not aware of her own, she will continue to be invisible to Tanya and others. Teri needs to learn to take all the consciousness she developed over the years regarding others' feelings and needs and apply that same consciousness to her own feelings and needs. This is a difficult challenge because she has been practicing tuning into others while ignoring herself for her whole life.
I had this same challenge…
It was such a shock to me to discover, years ago, that, rather than being the loving person I thought I was, I was attempting to control how others felt about me by being 'good' and 'nice.' By putting myself aside and doing what I thought others wanted me to do and being what I thought others wanted me to be, I was trying to control getting love and approval and avoiding disapproval. The result was that I was anxious around others who were important to me, always fearing that I would say or do something wrong and experience the rejection I so feared.
When I finally realized that being loving meant being loving to myself as well as to others, I turned my eyes inward and started to practice Inner Bonding, practicing becoming aware of my own feelings and needs. Instead of making others responsible for defining my worth and lovability with their approval, I took on the responsibility of defining my own worth and lovability. Through my Inner Bonding practice, I developed a strong connection with my spiritual guidance, which helped me to see the truth of who I really am. I learned to be an advocate for myself, seeing myself and speaking up for my own feelings and needs rather than making others responsible for seeing me.
I am no longer a 'good girl,' no longer doing everything right to please others and gain their approval.
I am no longer 'nice' as a form of manipulation. That's not to say that being loving to others is not a high priority - it is. But now I include myself in the equation rather than expecting others to love me to feel safe, adequate, worthy and lovable.
Teri is also learning to love herself rather than control others. At one point, she wanted to leave both her job and her relationship, but she realized that she would just continue the same patterns in another job or relationship. By staying and learning to see and speak up for herself, her relationships with Tanya and her boyfriend are improving.
Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships."
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What is your first reaction when someone is harsh, critical, sarcastic, angry, judgmental, attacking? Do you attack back? Do you withdraw and get silent? Do you defend and explain? Today, honor the feeling in your body that says "This doesn't feel good" and either speak your truth without blame, defense or judgment and open to learning, or lovingly disengage and compassionately take care of your feelings.
By Dr. Margaret Paul