Exhausted from Being The Good Girl? Read This.

“I’ve always been the good girl.

I try so hard to do everything right and not screw up.

Caroline, do you know how exhausting that is? I think you do; that’s why I’m writing to you.

I’m a grand perfectionist; I’m never worthy enough. I am super hard on myself, with very high expectations. I feel guilty about so much of what I do and say.

All my life I’ve been good at offering help to others, but I don’t want to ask for or accept help myself. If I am able to do it on my own, then I should, right?

But I’m so tired.

good girl perfectionist

I can put on a fun-loving front some of the time, but lately it’s getting harder.

If I’m honest, I don’t think I am worthy of love or companionship. Secretly, I think that I am a disappointment to my family and friends.

I have had enough of living this way. I have a daughter who I hope does not turn into me.

I want more for her than just going through the motions. I want her to live freely and without regrets. But how?”

Sincerely,
The Good Girl*

***

Dear Good Girl,

The night of my dance recital, I had a sparkling sequined costume and a belly full of butterflies. For an elementary school girl, it was pretty much heaven.

At one point, I was having so much fun on stage that I added a little improvisation.

Instead of just pushing myself up from a kneeling position like I’d practiced, I wrapped my hands around a silver microphone stand and sang my heart out.

That moment was golden. I felt like a star.

But afterward, a grown-up used a critical tone to say something like, “What were you doing up there with the microphone? You just had to do it your way, huh?”

I tell more of the story in my forthcoming book, but suffice to say, the shame I felt at hearing those words cast a pall over that bright evening.

And I decided that I would do everything in my power never to feel that way again. I would get everything right, and I would be safe.

There were some problems with this plan, such as intense stress. When I thought I’d received a bad mark in the first grade, I had what amounted to a panic attack.

Good Girl, getting to the roots of perfectionism means going way back.

You have spent so many years believing in your own unworthiness that it seems true on a fundamental level.

When confusing things happen to us as kids, we create stories to make sense of them. But our brains aren’t fully developed yet, and neither are our narratives.

One of the most popular stories is: “If anything bad happens, it is all my fault.”

good girl shame story

Your perfectionism was (and is) a way for you to have a little control. It’s an attempt to keep yourself safe. That’s all.

It doesn’t mean that you’re hopeless or bad. It means that you’re human, and at some point you were hurt.

As this insightful post puts it:

“The secret sorrows – and future difficulties – of the good boy or girl begin with their inner need for excessive compliance …. Their goodness is a necessity rather than a choice.”

When you were hurt, the good girl role became your refuge, your necessity. Given what you knew and believed at the time, it was the best that you could do.

But how do you move forward now, as an adult woman?

It starts with treating yourself as your own beloved child.

It starts with looking into your daughter’s eyes and deciding that – for her sake – you’re going to do the work of learning to accept yourself.

Your mind is telling you that you’re a failure, that you should never have worn the sequined costume and risked the stage.

But the good news is, you don’t have to believe your thoughts. You can let your mind yammer on while you find a picture of yourself when you were little.

Really study it. (Here’s one of mine.)

Caroline Garnet McGraw

Imagine that this child is your child. Imagine that you are her parent. Do you despise her for doing what she did, for making the choices that she made when she was scared and lonely?

I don’t think so. I’m guessing there’s at least a glimmer of compassion, a flicker of empathy.

If that’s too much of a stretch, get a picture of your favorite animal. Maybe it’s a dog that leaps with exuberance at the sight of you, or a cat that curls up with you when you sleep.

It’s probably clear to you that this animal is good, simply because it is itself.

So ask yourself: What if the same is true for me? What if I am whole, even when I feel broken? What if my deepest reality is light, not darkness?

I am whole even when I feel broken

It’s so tiring to hate yourself, honey. And do you know why that is? Because it’s exhausting to believe a lie.

Every loving thing that has ever happened to you was real. Everything else is just illusion.

Go for the real thing.

***

Could you relate to “The Good Girl”? Join the conversation in the comments section below!

*This email represents a compilation of real comments sent in by blog readers.

***

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16 thoughts on “Exhausted from Being The Good Girl? Read This.

  1. Lovie says:

    I’m so very, very, very tired Caroline! This is such a timely piece and it just jabs at my heart and pulls its strings! I know my worth and I know how to feel good about things; I simply let others’ opinions and thoughts (that I may simply only think they have) win almost every time! I’m at war with myself and know deep down I don’t have to be… Not a pity party – just real feelings seeping through…

    • Lovie, I hear you loud and clear. I wish that I could pull up a chair for you and just say, “Hello friend, come and rest here awhile.”

      Thank you for your honest and vulnerable words. The struggle is real. And yet, what a powerful awareness you have about your own thoughts and patterns. Hats off to you for recognizing that you have a choice as to who gets the decision-making power in your life.

      Your comment made me think of this classic Wait But Why post, Taming the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think. It makes me laugh and is pretty insightful, too.

      Thinking of you today Lovie and grateful for your readership.

  2. Thank you so much for that inspiration to let go and to learn to embrace imperfection. It’s really the only way, isn’t it? Perfectionism creeps up on us and grabs hold, but it ALWAYS holds too tight and then we squirm. Thank you for writing about the squirm and for encouraging us all to break the hold perfection has on us. It’s time.

    • Dawn, your comment made me choke up (in a good way) when I saw it in my inbox this morning! Thank you for the affirmation; it means the world to know that the post came into your life at the right time. May your heart be strengthened today. <3

  3. Peta says:

    Lovely Caroline, this is my story too, all of it and I’m finally allowing tears to flow on reading these words of yours. I’m so tired of fighting myself, my thoughts, expectations and all the lies that my inner little girl started to believe so many years ago that were said by a critical church elder. The voice has never left my memory.
    For the last 17 years I spend my days in service to precious elders and give all that I can, yet inside me I feel like I am never, ever enough. The perfectionist in me doesnt seem to be silenced.
    Thank you for being so honest about your good girl struggle. My good girl doesn’t feel so lost now, as you’ve shown me that I’m not alone. Blessings. xo

    • Dear Peta, thank you so much for sharing from your experience. I wish that we could meet for a cup of tea and rest together in the knowledge that it’s finally okay to stop fighting ourselves.

      It sounds like you’ve listened to that critical inner voice long enough, friend. I know what you mean about the harsh words that linger. (Since my love language is Words of Affirmation, words have special power in my life and heart.)

      The good news is, it’s possible to tune into different voices, to strengthen different neural pathways. We’ll probably always be able to play back those old, spiritually abusive tracks, but they don’t have to rule our lives.

      Blessings right back to you, Peta. You are definitely not alone, and I’m so very glad that you’re here.

      • Peta says:

        Caroline, thank you for being the inspiration that you are. I’m sharing your blog with fellow recovering perfectionists who I’m sure will share in our sentiments.
        I absolutely adore your real essence, honesty and integrity. Know that you make such a positive impact on your readers hearts and this world. I’d give you an enormous hug if I could!
        Love from your biggest Aussie fan. xo

        • You are most welcome, Peta! It’s wonderful to hear that you’re sharing the blog; it’s so cool to be able to connect with kindred spirits across the world. Thank you for the encouragement to keep going – I will return to your words when I need motivation to carry on. In the meantime, I’m sending you a big hug across the miles. 🙂

  4. Really beautiful thank you! This most definitely resonates with me, especially this week when I’m coming home everyday and collapsing in bed out of sheer exhaustion because I’m studying so much for all these final exams I have. Even if I nail every single one of them, it still won’t change the damage to my physical and emotional state.
    It’s so hard to get out of that “Good girl” role that’s been so well trained and feels so natural! But your creative work and blog helps so much! I will try to find my most adorable 5 year old picture and do the same…

    With love,

    • Issa, thank YOU for reaching out during a tiring time! I’m sending you a small infusion of strength and wishing you the very best of luck with your exams.

      Consider this a virtual “permission slip” to take care of yourself as much as possible in this time.

      I definitely know what you mean about breaking those ingrained patterns – it feels so impossible at times! – but you’ve already taken a brave step forward by noticing the role you’re playing. Just observing that the Good Girl role is separate from your essential self is big, so congratulations on that.

      It’s wonderful to hear that the blog encourages you; I will keep writing and sharing while you go find that photograph. <3

    • Sweet Rachel, I’m honored! Thank you so much for reading and for letting me know that the post spoke out to you.

      It also dovetails with the post you just published, This Will Prepare You. I really like the idea that all of the time and energy that I spent trying to be “good” wasn’t wasted. Instead, it was preparation for the writing I do and the life I lead now.

      So thank you for writing what you wrote, and most of all, for just being you. You inspire me daily! <3

  5. Melanie says:

    Once again, Caroline, you’re right on target! I have gotten so much clarity on some of my life choices and the motivations behind them. Playing it too safe. I just didn’t realize that I have allowed that critic to be a such a large part of my life. I really appreciate the analogy of the beloved child, because we would be appalled to hear someone speak to a child the way we allow our inner critic speak to us and totally know how off base that person is and let them know that they are. This has given me notice to be more conscious of how I speak to myself. I also realize that what the critic elder said to me is more of a reflection of how they feel about themselves rather than a reflection of who I am or was. Thanks again!

    • Melanie, that’s great to hear! Kudos to you for doing the work of examining your own belief system and taking a closer look at that inner critic.

      I love your insight that the critic’s words are much more about them than about you. It’s such a game-changer to notice that, isn’t it? It’s that whole “When we’re scary, we’re scared” concept in action.

      And by the same token, when we speak harshly to ourselves, it’s because some part of us is afraid … and as such, what we actually need is a kindness and compassion to help us feel safe.

      Of course, this is all very clear to me now; when I’m in the self-critical monologue, it does not seem obvious at all! But like you, I am learning to be more conscious of how I speak to myself. Just waking up to it is powerful.

      Thank you for being you and for being here!

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