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05
Jun
2011

What’s Wrong with Nice Girls?

Jennifer Degler, PhD

“What’s wrong with nice Christian girls?” I asked Jennifer Degler, a clinical psychologist and author of the book No More Christian Nice Girl. She answered by describing many women I’ve known throughout my life. The wife of the youth pastor who left her after 15 years of marriage. The church secretary who always had a smile…until she had a nervous breakdown. Even, at times, my own family members.

These are women who work too hard to please others. Women who unwittingly allow others to take advantage of them in the name of kindness. Women who focus on being nice instead of being good.

“Many women are nice,” Dr. Degler writes, “not because they truly care about other people, but because they fear conflict and rejection. That’s not peacemaking. That’s peace-faking.”

Ouch.

How do you know if you have fallen into this trap? The most common signs are frustration, anger, burnout, depression and a loss of purpose. In a male-dominated culture, it’s easy for women like this to fade into the background. For men, it’s easy to overlook or ignore. After all, if a woman is always smiling and eager to please, she must be happy, right?

“Many times we find that women get a pass on not being courageous,” Dr. Degler says. “We want to call that ‘having a gentle and kind spirit,’ but really it can be timidity or fear that’s holding us back.”

Three misconceptions can lead to this condition. First, an incomplete view of Jesus Christ. He was gentle and kind, but he was also forceful and truthful. Second, the cultural pressure of “sugar and spice and everything nice” that urges compliance and the suppression of true feelings. All of us should be gracious, but we should also be genuine. And third, a false standard of perfection. While we serve the One who is perfect, we must admit that we all make mistakes. Instead of denying or fearing our imperfections, we should learn from them and move on.

The self-examination for this damaging “nice girl” syndrome comes down to being honest about motivations. It requires a woman to look at the part that God looks at – the heart.

“On the outside, it can look like you’re being nice out of love, but you know on the inside, if you’re doing it because you’re afraid that the other person will be disappointed , be mad at you, or reject you, you’re doing it out of fear and fear is not of God. So women need to always check their heart first. What is their real motivation for saying ‘yes’ in a particular situation?”

Before you can be honest with others, you must first be honest with yourself. Once you hear the truth of God’s Word and admit the truth about your own motivations, you can then speak the truth to others.

“I spent a lot of years trying to make people happy,” Dr. Degler confesses, “and making myself miserable in the process.”

She is not alone. Women that live this way usually end up hurting themselves, as well as those they care about the most. They suppress their anger and frustration, though it can come out in ways unrelated to the real issue, and allow the pressure to build. The alternative is not contention, combativeness or meanness. It’s not about creating unnecessary conflict, but dealing with necessary conflict.

“It is non-negotiable for you to speak the truth in love,” Dr. Deglar says. “If you are going to be free of this, you have to do the very thing you are most afraid of: speak the truth and risk that the other person might get mad. What you will find is that conflict is the price you pay for intimacy. On the other side of people getting their feelings hurt is authenticity and true intimacy in a relationship.”

When you learn to be one of “God’s good women,” by seeking to please Him more than anyone else, you will find freedom that is refreshing and exhilarating. It’s the freedom to make wise decisions (like saying “no” to people), spend time on personal growth, face conflict with confidence, and be everything God created you to be, not merely what you believe others want you to be.

Adapted by Randy Robison from the LIFE Today TV interview with Jennifer Degler, PhD. Book quotes are from No More Christian Nice Girls (Bethany House)