How I Learned to Stop Being Such a Good Girl

Renata almost lost herself trying to be a good girl and fulfill other people's expectations of her—until she realized that her desires mattered too.

Like many women, I was raised to be the Good Girl and to not disappoint family, friends, or bosses. For most of my life, it never dawned on me to think about myself. Ignorance was bliss.

Eventually, that bliss faded as responsibilities turned into burdens and my helping turned into enabling. Eventually, this Good Girl had enough!

My family came to America to escape Eastern Europe and the Communism that ruled there. Like everyone else who made the pilgrimage, they had their hopes and dreams.

One of my mom’s was to have a baby girl and so, a year after they arrived, I was born. Mom always said she had to come to America to have a girl!

Within a few years, my family became the embodiment of the American dream: a house, jobs, and eventually a family-owned local business. Their dream continued into early retirement for my dad and a move from New Jersey to a brand new house in Arizona.

I was the only girl and the youngest (which has its own set of rules and expectations). In an Eastern European household, the stakes are higher with more rules and expectations—some spoken and some unspoken—of what a girl should be. Some of these rules didn’t become apparent to me until years later, well into my adulthood, when I realized that my behaviors and reactions weren’t working anymore and, for my sanity’s sake, I had to take a deeper look into why.

I traced it all back to that Good Girl of my youth.

I always knew I was different from the other kids and I always did everything I could to fit in. My parents were much stricter than my friends’ parents and their rules were infused with “In Europe, we did it this way,” despite pleas that we’re not in Europe anymore!

To make fitting in even more difficult, Hungarian was my first language. I learned to speak English by watching Sesame Street. Thus, I was only as fluent as Bert and Ernie would allow!

The seed that grew into my Good Girl identity firmly took root on my first day of grade one.

In Europe, there was no such thing as Kindergarten, so when they got to the States, it didn’t occur to my parents to send me there. Instead, there I was, the new kid, standing in front of all these boys and girls who already knew each other from Kindergarten. Chubby and wearing an itchy pink dress my grandmother had knitted and sent over from Yugoslavia—because my parochial school uniform didn’t get delivered on time—my first grade teacher kept asking me my name.

Whether she didn’t want to or just couldn’t, this teacher could not pronounce my name. She said every variation possible. Scared, embarrassed, hot, and itchy, and after standing for what seemed like hours in front of all these strange kids, I just nodded in agreement to whatever name came out next. Renee? Yes, I could be Renee.

That day, I made a deal with myself that, no matter what, I would never feel that way again. I promised myself that I would do whatever it took to fit in and be accepted. The Good Girl was born. I became Renee to make my teacher happy and I became the Good Girl Worker Bee at home to make my parents proud of me.

Though I eventually returned to using Renata instead of Renee, my independence from the Good Girl didn’t break through for another 30 years. In the meantime, I continued to do what was expected of me in my family, relationships, and jobs.

Being born as the first generation here in America carries with it a different and higher level of expectation than those whose families have been here for a few generations. Every parent wants a better life for their child then what they had and my family took that to the next level. I watched them make many sacrifices—no family vacations, working two to three jobs, and my mother making my clothes to name a few. How could I not see that the least I could do was be a Good Girl as appreciation for their sacrifices?

Eventually, I realized I was losing myself to other people’s expectations and the cognizance of this became the game changer when I realized—I had terms too. Maybe it was getting older, or maybe I was just getting tired, but this role just didn’t feel right to me anymore. I was tired of leaking energy.

I decided when, if, and, to whom I was going to invest my energy. I began to separate and voice my own opinions. I stepped away from the family routine and questions of “Can you make money from that?” or “Why would you want to do that?”

“Girls don’t take jobs like that.”

“We raised you to be better than the other kids here.”

“You need to work hard.”

My mother grew into her role of crone and steadfastly tried to hold me to the role of European daughter. My father had long since passed away and my brothers were engrossed in their own lives. It came down to the powerful mother/daughter relationship.

My journey of transformation began with that relationship. After over a year of disagreements, hang-ups, call-backs, tears, and apologies, my mother and I finally agreed to disagree.

Alas, no one told me that the Good Girl had a sister named Guilt, which now began a whole new series of conversations!

I once eagerly accepted the responsibilities of the Good Girl, because that’s what you do. You aren’t supposed to say no. You just soldier on and deal with it the best you can.

I used to wear the badge proudly showing the world everything I could do and handle, but in my exhaustion I began to question who I was doing all this for. What was I trying to prove?

Nothing. Like a virtual V-8 slap to the head, I realized I had nothing to prove—not to the world, not to my friends, and not to my family. It was such a relief to see this. On a deep level, I sensed my higher self smiling and nodding.

“Now, she gets it.”

The bars around the cage of being the Good Girl were starting to break.

Separating from the role of the Good Daughter, Good Wife, and Good Worker was only the beginning. I knew I needed to go deeper. I realized that I needed to ask: “Who was I really disappointing—others or myself?”

I began to care more about my physical and emotional well-being, making it a priority. Big changes start with one small step. I still remember, one day, wanting to go for a walk in the park, unsure if I was going to go. For the first time in my life, I realized I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t go.

The magic here is that I was learning to care enough about doing something that had a direct correlation to my well-being. Not someone else’s, mine. A-ha! This was huge!

I still get caught up in the Good Girl conditioning, but I’m taking small steps and I’m making headway. I’ve learned to care for myself in healthy, loving ways.

Our bodies and souls crave nurturing in the forms of good food, body movement, and artistic expression. This nourishment can be tapped into by any of us, by all of us. Being a good girl doesn’t feed us. Being authentic and a good person does.

 

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Renata Butera

Renata S. Butera is a writer, yoga teacher, and artist and lives in Northern New Jersey with her husband and the local bear community. She is a contributing writer for Wild Women Community at and has a blog called LilyPadHeart. She is also working on her first novel, Paper Hats and Tin Foil Hearts. She is also a member of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, and is a Shamanic practitioner. Renata is a firm believer in the necessary balance of our natural selves, spiritual selves, and real-world selves and is at work on this balance every day!

3 Responses

  1. This is an absolutely breathtaking story. I can relate on so many levels. For me, it was grade 3, a silk shirt with a big bow in my hair, and the first thing I heard was “Oh, not another immigrant!” I rebelled against the Good Girl early on and, quite accidentally, became a very Bad Girl!

    Some will resist the prison cell and some will submit to it. Both roads are pure suffering.

    Hopefully, with inspiring stories like yours, we can all break ourselves out without guilt and with plenty of self-love.

    • Renata says:

      Thank you Vironika. Yes, I saw that road too and went on it for a bit but the good girl wouldn’t let me go far! We are survivors you and I and look at how creative we’ve become by coming through to the other side. Congratulations to you my friend, for creating this very special world!

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