I have never found myself so accurately portrayed in a book before I read Emily P. Freeman’s Grace For The Good Girl. I tweeted as much in the midst of reading it and Emily responded with an apology. It made me laugh, but it was indeed a reminder that being a good girl isn’t always a good thing.
You see, what I was meaning as a compliment to Emily spoke more than appreciation for her writing and message. I had unintentionally admitted how much I struggle in my good girl identity. Finding myself in every word of her book meant that I still desperately cling to perfection. I’m still seeking value from other people’s perceptions and base my worth on living up to an impossible standard.
One of the most encouraging things about this book was discovering that I’m not alone. I certainly don’t wish the stress and anxiety of being a good girl on anyone, but I spent many years wondering if I was the only one who felt shackled to an image that didn’t necessarily portray reality.
I believe being a good girl is part nature, part nurture. It’s one thing to be inherently sweet, thoughtful, and compassionate; but it’s another thing when you surpress normal emotions, desires, and needs to appear that way.
My natural good girl tendencies became my own enforced norm when I discovered smarts and an illusion of perfection could get me attention. Little did I know that a dangerous pattern of internal pressure was developing. When my natural good girl failed, I had to kick my nurture good girl into high gear or I wouldn’t feel good enough. My classmates wouldn’t like me as well if I didn’t get an A on that chemistry test. I wouldn’t be the apple of my Sunday school teacher’s eye if I didn’t find Malachi 2:5 first. No guy would ever ask me out if I didn’t stay a size 4.
Of course, I didn’t begin to recognize this corrupted train of thought until a few years ago when my circle of friends grew into a community of honest and authentic sisters who weren’t adverse to showing their brokenness.
Emily reveals that same brokenness in Grace for the Good Girl. She is honest about the time her husband found her curled on the couch sobbing because she felt inadequate, how she felt like less of a woman because she had c-sections instead of natural births, and how she is sometimes crippled by anxiety.
I felt as if an invisible good girl was following me around wherever I went, showing up without permission to shame and blame and scold. She was omnipresent, like a pretty little goddess in a pink, shadowy corner. She embodied the good girl version of my current life stage and shamed me accordingly; good student, good leader, good wife, and good mom. She represented the girl I wanted to be but didin’t know why. I felt the heavy weight of impossible expectations and had the insatiable desire to explain every mistake. My battle with shame was constant and hovering.
Instead of recognizing my own inadequacy as an opportunity to trust God, I hid those parts and adopted a bootstrap religion. I focused on the things I could handle, the things I excelled in, my disciplined life, and my unshakeable good mood. These masks became so natural to me that I didn’t even know they were masks.
Emily P. Freeman ~ Grace for the Good Girl
Even in those broken moments, Emily offers hope and encouragement for all good girls no matter where on the spectrum they land, whether they are recovering or still covered by the mask of perfection.
Emily also wrote a second book, Graceful, geared toward younger women. When it launched in September, Emily encouraged people to write letters to their teenage self. Mine sheds light onto my good girl history and explains more about Graceful.
Find more of Emily on her blog Chatting At The Sky.