Beyond The Good Girl Jail
This is the second article of two that focus on the “good girl jail,” that place that so many of us lock away our true selves as we try to live life to satisfy everyone except ourselves. Author Sandra Felt has written an insightful message in “Beyond the Good Girl Jail” about how to recognize if you are like so many women who live with these self-imposed chains. And, how to move forward in more positive ways. The first article is found here.
What follows is an interview with the author. It gives some wonderful insights into finding your keys to get out of the good girl jail and start living life in a whole new way.
What is the Good Girl Jail? I’ve never heard that term.
Believe me, I was once a very good girl. I know this one well. I followed the rules, I kept my mouth shut, I waited patiently in line, I got good grades, I tried to like everybody and be kind. I believed that being good would take me to living happily ever after, but it didn’t. It took me to running out of gas, feeling empty, confused, frustrated, and divorced at the age of 32.
“Good-Girl Jail” is the term I developed to describe that paralyzing emotional state that results when a woman spends her energy trying hard to live by the rules and expectations of others and yet never seems able to be good enough to please everyone. Living in the Good-Girl Jail is a painful way of existing rather than being fully alive that leaves us feeling empty inside, exhausted, discouraged, and alone—and wondering why there isn’t more to our life. There is nothing wrong with being a good girl as a child, but when we keep being a good girl as a grown-up, we simply run out of gas and end up empty. Trying to do everything that is expected of us is truly impossible, and living that way takes a terrible toll on a woman.
How would a woman know if she was living in the Good Girl Jail?
First of all, the Good-Girl Jail is not punishment for doing something wrong. In fact, it is the result of trying hard to do everything right—according to the expectations of others.
If you feel empty, exhausted, discouraged, and alone as you struggle to climb through your to-do list every day, you are stuck in the Good-Girl Jail. Fear of disapproval, doing your best to be in control, and especially a desperate emptiness that others never seem to fill are the primary clues.
Many of us set aside our true self somewhere along the way and no longer fully live our own life or listen to our innate inner guidance. Some of us have even forgotten that our true self exists and don’t realize this has happened. It seems to sneak up on us.
The natural pattern of our true self is to gradually emerge and grow, becoming increasingly more solid and specific as the years pass. It is present when we are born and can be either nurtured and reinforced or suppressed and even damaged by our environment, but it can never be destroyed. Instead, it tends to go into hiding and becomes covered by multiple layers of protection in response to the expectations of others. The gradual transition of peeling off these layers of no-longer-needed protection and reclaiming our true self is what takes us Beyond the Good-Girl Jail. In one sense, it is an easy transition, because it is a return to what has been previously known and what is already there. Our guidance comes from within.
Tell us, how does a woman get out of the Good-Girl Jail?
Beyond the Good-Girl Jail describes that path step-by-step. First, we need to re-learn to recognize that true self we put away for safekeeping long ago. It is always still there and shows up through what I call awakening moments. Awakening moments are the language of the true self, and when we listen at this deeper level, we hear a deeper truth—a deeper true self. By this simple act of listening inside, we grow to Recognize our true self, Reconnect with it, Rebuild it, and ultimately Return to live consistently from it when we are ready to do so. Those are the 4 R’s in the book, the 4 steps toward growing Beyond the Good-Girl Jail that are available to each and every one of us. They are our free ticket out of jail.
This book describes simple and specific ways to notice and listen carefully to our innate need for safety, our body, our feelings, our time alone, the choices we make, and our core beliefs. It describes vividly how differently it feels to listen to our true self and how much easier life is when we do.
To grow Beyond the Good-Girl Jail means to shift the reference point from which we live toward listening to our natural internal guidance system that will always take us toward living in a way that fits our own values and integrity. The ultimate result is that we feel fully alive rather than shut down, full rather than empty, and free to be who we are rather than merely existing to please others.
How would a woman recognize her true self when she starts to listen?
We recognize our true self by how we feel when we listen to it and connect with it. When we start to listen inside, some of us just hear the critical voices that instantly tell us what we are doing wrong. While these voices may be strong, we feel tense when we hear them and don’t want to listen.
When we listen to that other voice inside, our true self, however, our response is different. Something inside seems to click into place. What we are hearing fits us and feels right. We can breathe more easily. Our body relaxes. Sometimes we sigh. We often feel relief and “just know” what we need to do. When we listen in this way to our true self, we gradually come to claim these things that fit us and let go of that which no longer is suitable.
Doesn’t paying so much attention to our true self like this just make a woman unbearably selfish and self-centered?
No, it does not. Some people follow their impulses even when doing so hurts others, but that is not what I am talking about. When a woman learns to listen to her true self, she naturally also recognizes and listens to the true self in others. She thus becomes more respectful of the needs and feelings of others in addition to respecting her own needs and feelings. There is room for all of us to meet our needs when we learn to focus less on merely trying to please others and more on trusting and living from our true self.
You put “dare” in the title. Does it take courage to grow and live Beyond the Good Girl Jail? Is it actually risky?
It is risky. It’s not that growing Beyond the Good-Girl Jail is physically dangerous, at least for most of us, but it can feel very risky to be real. After all, we are breaking those rules we once learned we had to obey. We are in new territory and don’t yet know what to trust or what will happen when we change at this deeper level. We often feel afraid that others will leave us or criticize us. Still, for many of us, it is less risky at this point in our life to live from our true self than it is to remain stuck, shut down and empty, in the Good-Girl Jail. So yes, daring to live Beyond the Good-Girl Jail takes some courage, but it is a much easier, more alive way to live. Come on, be real and live from your true self. I dare you!
What does it mean to “live from your true self”?
Beyond the Good-Girl Jail teaches us how to “be there” for our self in the way we have always wanted someone else to be there for us and with us. That means that we quit trying so hard to focus on the needs of others and instead become aware of our own needs, feelings, choices, and behavior. When we honor our own needs, life has more meaning, and we become more comfortable relating to others. We can play, be creative, and be expressive—fully alive, as I like to say. We can dance in the daffodils. That is my own image and the feeling I get when I am living from my true self.
And imagine… if you can. If each one of us lived life from a solid centered self, aware of who we are, quietly meeting our own needs, and relating to others from our core instead of from either a place of power and control or trying hard to please others. Imagine how kind and respectful we would be to our children. Imagine how capable we would be to develop deep and honest relationships of all kinds. Imagine how much easier it would be to heal from life’s misfortunes. Imagine how different psychotherapy could be if therapists focused on strengthening a client’s true self. It could be a grassroots revolution! The possibilities for you in your own life are endless.
Why would a woman want to read Beyond the Good Girl Jail: When You Dare to Live from Your True Self? Is it worth learning to grow in this way?
The number one regret of the dying is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” (Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying). It can be quite painful to never feel good enough, to feel empty, invisible, alone, and lost. It certainly is difficult to go through life feeling exhausted all the time. So, while growing Beyond the Good-Girl Jail might sound like a big project, I assure you it is rewarding every step of the way. Feeling alive always feels good and right, even when it might also feel scary. Beyond the Good-Girl Jail: When You Dare to Live from Your True Self offers simple places to start and also describes what it feels like each step of the way. It gives the reader permission to become who she already really is and encouragement to keep growing. I freely share my own struggles, the detours I have experienced, and the poetry I have written along the way, as well as numerous examples from the clients in my private practice. Overall daring to live from your true self is a delightful journey inward, and I think the book is specific enough to be a very helpful guide. It lights the path, so to speak.
So, does this mean you have now grown Beyond the Good Girl Jail?
Well, yes and no. In general, I have grown Beyond the Good-Girl Jail, meaning that I now consistently listen internally to my true self. Still, however, life happens, and people and events come along that distract me away from my true self. I slip and slide at these times, as we all do. But it is much easier to return to living from my true self now that I know how much better it feels and now that I know how to return to my true self when I want to. This book provides fifteen questions to ask during these times that guides me back to my true self—questions like, “What am I feeling right now?” and “What would help me feel safer right now?” There are situations like family gatherings, high school reunions, and everyday crises that quickly take us back to our old ways of deferring to others, so it is helpful to have these questions to guide us back home to our true self when we need a little help.
I see that Joan Borysenko describes Beyond the Good Girl Jail as “a seminal book for both therapists and clients.” Can you comment on that?
Joan Borysenko is the New York Times bestselling author of Minding the Body, Mending the Mind and other books. By “seminal,” she means that this book provides a basic truth upon which specific therapy techniques and other theories of therapy will likely build. To me, shifting to live from our true self is the underbelly of all psychotherapy. It is the heart and soul of healing from trauma, grief, and addiction. It’s what we start with and where we return to for overall stability and integrity.
To heal from anything, we need something solid to return home to, an anchor. When we have something real to anchor us, we can much more easily let go of past trauma, a relationship, a child leaving home, our health, or a loved one who is dying—and choose to go on with our life. Much of psychotherapy is about letting go of things we cannot control. This model that I call “living from our true self” is a developmental approach. We step in at the point we stopped growing our true self and begin to grow once again. Life is considerably easier in all respects when we Recognize, Reconnect with, Rebuild, and Return to live from our true self. All else follows from that basic premise.
True self matters. It always matters. And that is my website: TrueSelfMatters.com. For those who are curious, there is a free questionnaire there to assess how well developed your own true self might be, and there is a link to order Beyond the Good-Girl Jail: When You Dare to Live from Your True Self.
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