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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Minnikin

What is good girl conditioning?

You've been following a set of unwritten rules that dictate your every move from the moment you were born. It's as if society whispered in your ear from day one: "be quiet, be nice, smile, be a good girl."

This is what we call good girl conditioning.

Think back to your childhood and all the times you were praised for being obedient and punished for speaking your mind. Young boys are called boisterous, loud, or energetic. This is good girl conditioning telling you early on where your place is.

Or your teenage years, when you were told to take boys being mean to you as a compliment and simultaneously to take grown men catcalling you on your walk home from school as a compliment; 'don't complain about a man showing you some interest, it's what you're here for.' This is good girl conditioning telling you that a man's desire trumps your right to a peaceful walk home.

Or at work, where you're called emotional for setting boundaries or making perfectly reasonable requests, like Nicola Hinds, who was recently successful in her claim of discrimination at work—this is good girl conditioning telling you your needs and feelings aren't important.

The subtle influence of good girl conditioning is everywhere. It quietly shapes your behaviour and stifles stifling your self-expression. Society has long-held, inherited beliefs of what a woman should be and how a woman should behave, and no matter how much we may talk about equality, those beliefs are still there. Those beliefs are in our DNA. They're unconscious. A refusal to admit or examine those beliefs is usually born out of fear. Fear is the reason you might hear things like, "Oh, you can't say anything to women anymore." 

The impact of good girl conditioning is profound and pervasive, shaping the trajectory of women's lives from childhood onwards. 

Whether it's the pressure to maintain a certain appearance, conform to traditional gender roles, or suppress their voices to avoid conflict, the effects of good girl conditioning are far-reaching. It's a subtle yet powerful force that can limit women's autonomy, dampen their self-confidence, and impede their ability to pursue their aspirations and dreams.

Where did Good Girl Conditioning come from?

Good girl conditioning is more than just a catchy phrase; it's deeply rooted in historical and cultural contexts that have shaped our society for centuries.

Throughout history, women have been assigned specific roles and responsibilities based on gender, often reinforcing the idea of the "good girl" as someone submissive, nurturing, and compliant.

Traditional gender roles have been and continue to be enforced by many institutions, such as religious practices, education settings, legal frameworks, and day-to-day conditioning through the media. Things we encounter daily all play a role in perpetuating this conditioning.

Media representation is crucial in reinforcing the ideals of good girl conditioning. From fairy tales to advertisements, women are often depicted in limited roles, reinforcing stereotypes and expectations about how we should behave, appear and even what we should expect for our future.

Whether it's the damsel in distress waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her or the perfect 1950s housewife managing the household wearing a smile and heels, these portrayals reinforce the idea that women should prioritise others and suppress their own desires. If we can just "be good", and follow these rules, we'll win the ultimate prize…a man.

What does good girl conditioning look like?

There are loads of ways good girl conditioning shows up in our lives; some of the most common are: 

  • People-pleasing behaviour. You might prioritise the needs and desires of others before your own, leading to reluctance to assert boundaries, difficulty saying no, and a fear of disappointing others.

  • Perfectionistic tendencies: You will feel pressured to excel in all aspects of your life, striving for unattainable and unrealistic standards of success and achievement. This perfectionism can result in feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and a fear of failure or criticism.

  • Challenges in relationships: You may struggle with assertiveness and communication. Women often prioritise harmony and avoid conflict, suppressing their own needs and desires to do so. This can hinder the expression of true feelings and the establishment of healthy boundaries.

  • Distorted self-perception: Because of this conditioning, women might need to seek external validation and approval to feel valued and accepted. This can manifest as feelings of unworthiness or imposter syndrome, impacting your ability to embrace authenticity and pursue happiness.

Impact on Self-esteem and Identity

Good girl conditioning can profoundly impact women's self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

As we prioritise the needs and opinions of others over our own, we can increasingly rely on external validation and approval. This need for approval erodes self-esteem, as we start to believe our worth is contingent on meeting others' expectations. We may internalise feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, constantly striving to meet society's unattainable ideals of perfection.

In researching the book, I also saw examples of good girl conditioning influencing identity formation. We may struggle to develop a strong sense of self as we are encouraged to suppress our desires, opinions, or interests to conform to societal norms and expectations. 

This pressure to be a certain way limits exploration and self-discovery, as women may feel compelled to mould themselves into a predetermined "good girl shape" rather than embracing their true selves.

Good girl conditioning powerfully influences women's self-esteem and identity, shaping their beliefs about their worth and place in the world. 

Recognising and challenging these ingrained patterns is essential for women to reclaim their self-worth and forge a path towards authentic self-discovery and empowerment.

Overcome good girl conditioning with Good Girl Deprogramming

My book, Good Girl Deprogramming, takes you on a complete journey of good girl conditioning, outlining all nine traits and how to challenge each one. 

But, here are five steps to get you on your way.

Become aware of it.

Once you become aware of it, you'll see this stuff EVERYWHERE! From subtle social cues to ingrained behaviours in your own life, Good Girl Conditioning permeates various aspects of our daily existence. Start by actively noticing when you conform to these expectations and then question their validity. Cultivate a critical eye towards societal norms and expectations, recognising how they may influence your thoughts and actions. Awareness is the first step towards liberation.

Surround Yourself with Supportive Women.

I couldn't have written the book without my book wingwoman, Ceryn Rowntree. She started off as my ADHD coach and ended up being my editor, helping keep me sane while I was writing Good Girl Deprogramming.

Who are your supportive women? Those women who are radiators, who give you warm feelings and leave you feeling energised. Walk away from the drains immediately. 

Surrounding yourself with supportive women who uplift and empower you is essential in challenging good girl conditioning. Seek out those who understand your journey and provide encouragement, understanding, and solidarity. Together, you can navigate the path towards self-discovery and liberation, bolstered by the strength and camaraderie of your tribe.

Stop saying sorry. Seriously. Stop Apologising.

Women apologise SO more than men. Why?

From a young age, girls are taught to be more cooperative and accommodating, and we are socialised to prioritise the needs and feelings of others and avoid conflict or confrontation. 

This includes apologising, which is often seen as a way to smooth over social interactions and maintain relationships. The other day, I found myself apologising for being at a shelf where someone else wanted to be in a supermarket aisle. Why???? There's no need, Michelle!

Breaking the habit of over-apologising is crucial in challenging Good Girl Conditioning and reclaiming your sense of agency and assertiveness. Recognise when you're apologising unnecessarily and practice asserting yourself without feeling the need to apologise for your presence or actions. It's time to unapologetically occupy space and claim your worth without seeking it from others.

Try daily tracking to see how many times in a week you apologise for things that a) aren't your fault or b) don't even require an apology. And then the next week, apologise less!

You simply do not have to be exceptional. Give yourself permission to half-arse it.

When I'm flying at work, I'm neglecting things at home. When I'm focused on the home stuff, the work stuff slips. When I'm on a health and fitness kick, the whole world around me caves in. 

You cannot be exceptional at everything. And the people who say you can usually have a great deal of privilege they're not telling you about! Don't be tricked by the phrase "we all have the same 24 hours in a day."

If someone has childcare for the day, a car and doesn't need to take the bus, is in perfect health, and has internet access (1.5 million UK households don't, by the way!), are their 24 hours the same as those of someone who doesn't? Of course, they aren't.

Give yourself permission to half-arse things. We all have so much to do, and it cannot all be perfect. Some of it could be 'good enough'. And that's okay. 

Let go of unrealistic expectations of perfection and allow yourself to find balance and fulfilment in prioritising your well-being and happiness.

Embrace the Stories of Liberation.

I've heard so many interesting stories from women who have read Good Girl Deprogramming.

One that stands out is from a woman who, after reading the book, did something she'd always wanted to do but could never quite muster the courage.

You see, this person hates Christmas. She doesn't enjoy the family drama, the expectations, the overwhelm, the turkey.

Luckily for her, Good Girl Deprogramming came out in November; she read the book and immediately put it into action for the festive season.

She opted out of the traditional family Christmas and took herself on a two-week cruise around the Caribbean.

All by herself. And had the best time! 

Embracing stories of liberation like these inspires and empowers us to challenge good girl conditioning and live the life we choose. 

Remember, breaking free from good girl conditioning is a journey of self-discovery and empowerment, and every small step you take towards reclaiming your authenticity is a massive victory - so please celebrate that.

The world is yours for the taking! 

Want to go further with Good Girl Deprogramming?

Do you have questions? Would you like to know more? Would you like to share your own version of the Caribbean cruise? I'd love to hear from you in the comments or on LinkedIn.

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