How to stop playing the good girl and be more assertive

Are you always second-guessing your actions and worrying that you didn't behave in a certain way? Natalie Lue advises being yourself instead

Natalie Lue

Playing the ‘good girl’ is something I can relate to: I used to be her. I was socialised and self-taught to worry about upsetting or offending, and I had to run everything I did through this filter of whether I was being ‘good’ and ‘pleasing’. The result, at times, was nothing short of agonising for me. Being good, ironically, doesn’t feel very bloody good at all!

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A lot of my work involves helping women recognise that ‘no’ is not a dirty word, and it’s also not rude/dramatic/ uppity/mean or anything else they’re conflating it with.

As a result of fearing how we’ll be perceived, women often inadvertently dedicate their lives to trying to influence and control other people’s feelings and behaviour – which usually isn’t as successful as we hope and leaves us in a great deal of pain.

As little girls, we’re taught to be good and kind; meek and mild. Be good and you will please your parents/your teachers/the church. Work hard and you’ll get the grades. If you’re bright, make sure you’re well-behaved for the teachers. Don’t make waves. Don’t talk about your talents, accomplishments or achievements because you’ll look like a show-off.

Make people feel good about themselves even if it involves saying yes when you really want/need to say no. It’s not very ladylike to raise your voice.

These messages are used to create our own personal rulebook for how to live. This rulebook is jam-packed full of shoulds— false obligations and fake rules – that we see as a safe way of achieving everything we want.

Relinquishing the role of the ‘good girl’ is about remembering who you really are and investing yourself authentically in everyday life

However, as we move into adulthood, we start to realise that playing this ‘good girl’ role blocks authenticity and prevents us from forging intimate relationships.

We learn that real life isn’t a meritocracy environment, and that there are no brownie points, gold stars or medals. We see people break the so-called rules and get what we want. They lift their heads above the parapet at work and soar.

After we’ve sacrificed ourselves in a relationship, they’re the person who our eventual ex settles down with, much to our chagrin. They say no and even if they do feel uncomfortable, they trust their own boundaries, not someone else’s. We wonder where the reward is for all of our efforts. We ask why we are being passed over in their favour. It’s not fair!

We begin to believe that there’s something inherently wrong with us because nothing is ever ‘enough’, even when we play by those rules that we’ve been taught. If you’ve ever felt this way, it isn’t confirmation of your unworthiness.

Instead, let it be a battle cry for you to wake up and let go of being the ‘good girl’, so that you can make way for the real you.

Woman looking thoughtful
Unsplash/Hai Phung

How to stand up for your needs and ditch your baggage

You’re doing good things for the wrong reasons and this is blocking you from what you need, desire and deserve. It might be hard to come out of character at first, but small changes to the way you think about things can release you from your role.

Acknowledge the baggage behind the role. It’s not about blaming others (or your past self) but instead compassionately acknowledging your journey. What was going on that made you think that being ‘good’ in this way is how you had to be? Whose attention, approval or love did you want the most and how do your good girl habits reflect this?

For example, if you learned to be ‘good’ by always agreeing with your father’s opinion and staying out of his way, replicating this in your adult relationships will likely cause some problems.

Recognising where you’re trying to meet unmet needs from the past by playing this role will liberate you from it. Was/is what you’re doing truly necessary in order for you to be worthy and loved?

Choose authentic over good. You can only truly be ‘good’ when your actions don’t have to involve breaching your boundaries and integrity. Match how you act with your intentions and how you really feel and be authentic instead.

Doing something because you want to feels entirely different to something that you emotionally blackmailed yourself into because you were afraid of looking like the ‘bad’ person.

And equally, doing something to try and make others do or feel something that you want them to doesn’t work either. They definitely won’t feel the need (or desire) to pay you back for your good deed, so don’t do things based on reward. Or if you do, be upfront about it.

Switch off your default reply setting. Note anything you do automatically that then results in you feeling rubbish, such as saying yes to requests and then feeling trapped and overloaded. Turn off that autopilot and learn how to gently decline when you know it’ll have a negative impact on you.

Be mindful, too, with what you do say yes to. Before you commit, be honest with yourself about your true motivations. If you’re saying yes because you genuinely want to help, then that’s great – go for it. But if it’s about being liked by a certain person, or to be seen in a certain way, think beyond the immediate gratification of saying yes and consider what the true consequences are – and whether they’re worth it in the long run.

Halt your inner critic in its tracks. If you’re worried about appearing needy/too sensitive/dramatic/selfish when you act in a real way, these concerns are a code red alert that you’re ignoring yourself.

Evaluate the situation and then talk back to yourself: ‘No, I’m not being needy by doing _____, I deserve it’. It’s important to forgive yourself as you relinquish the role of the ‘good girl’.

However you got there, you became her for a reason and she helped you to cope in the past. Thank your younger self, while acknowledging that you are not that person anymore.

You don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater and hate being ‘good’ though – it’s about remembering who you really are and investing yourself authentically in everyday life.

Natalie Lue has been writing her blog www.baggagereclaim.com for 12 years and is the author of five books aimed at helping people pleasers and overachievers to break unhealthy relationship patterns and harmful habits. Follow her on Insta @natlue.

How to stop being a people pleaser podcast with Natalie Lue

In this episode of the In The Moment Magazine podcast, we talk to Natalie Lue about why we tend to please others and push our own needs aside.

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Listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Acast.

This article was originally published in In The Moment Magazine, issue 9. Discover our latest subscription offer, or buy back issues online.