“Nice Lady Syndrome”, also known as “Good Girl Syndrome” is a term that refers to a set of behaviors and attitudes often exhibited by women who feel the need to be overly polite and accommodating, even at the expense of their own needs and desires.
Other ways that this might show up in your life are in people-pleasing or perfectionist tendencies: needing to appear as a good friend, good wife, good daughter, good mother, a good employee, or boss. But when we have to fulfill all of these roles (for fear of being judged for not being good enough), what happens is that we prioritize other people’s experience of us over authenticity, and what we want.
This thought process and behavior directly impact our health because when we’re putting other people’s wants before our own needs for fear of how we’ll be perceived, our self-care becomes demoted among the many things that are on our to-do list.
Hey, are you a nice lady? Of course, you are! On today’s podcast, I am talking about something called Nice Lady Syndrome.
You are listening to the Done With Dieting Podcast. The podcast for women who are experiencing perimenopause and menopause symptoms and want to feel better like they did before their body started changing. I am your host, Elizabeth Sherman, Master Certified Health, and Life Coach for women in menopause and perimenopause.
I’ve helped thousands of women manage their symptoms, get off the diet rollercoaster, and change their relationship with food, exercise, and stop fighting with their bodies. And I do it through a feminist lens, which means exploring how we are socialized as young women and how it impacts our current relationship with food and exercise. Our bodies, health, and ourselves.
What’s different about this podcast is that we’re exploring your health from all sides, not just food and exercise. We also address the mindset shifts that will make you happier and lead to better health. My goal in this podcast is to illustrate that the reason that diets don’t work long term is because your health doesn’t exist in a silo.
Your health and your weight are a symptom of other parts of your life and how you show up. I want to help you to feel good and live the life that you desire from a 360 degree approach, body, mind, and soul.
Welcome. Let’s get started.
Hey everyone, welcome to the Done With Dieting Podcast. Podcast, episode number 115. And you know what? We are just going to dive right into the topic because I really don’t know how to frame this other than what we are talking about today is the need to be perfect and people pleasing. So, these are two totally separate ideas, but they go along with one another, and they get intermingled.
So, one of the things that I really talk about with my clients, and I’ve talked about here on the podcast as well is how our need to make other people happy will interfere with our own health. And I’m going to get a little bit more into why that occurs today on this podcast.
Because I think that when we can really connect the dots between how we’ve been socialized as women to make sure that everyone else is okay at the expense of our own needs. Then, what can happen is we can start to see that dieting, buying programs that only tell you what to do are really just a waste of time and energy.
Because quite frankly, we all know what we should be doing. We all know we should be eating vegetables. We all know we should be drinking water. We all know that we should be moving on a regular basis, getting enough sleep, managing our stress. But that stress piece, how we see ourselves in relation to other people in our lives, not wanting to let them down. That’s really where a lot of our stress occurs and how a lot of us not taking care of ourselves happens.
So, let me give you a little bit of backstory here. The question is how did I get to what we’re going to be talking about today. And just like all of you, I am a 53 year old woman, white woman. I was raised in the United States, and I was raised in a very middle class family. And I was taught, ‘socialized to please others.’ I was taught to make sure that I didn’t make a lot of waves. And I was taught that children were to be seen and not heard. I was taught to be the good girl.
And when we’re raised that way, I’m not faulting my parents here. My parents wanted to raise children who were polite and kind and didn’t get into trouble. And so, as a result though, I grew up constantly seeking validation for my own needs to tell me that I was okay, right? I needed other people to tell me that what I was doing was all right.
I grew up not really having a big internal compass not knowing, yes, I knew the difference between right and wrong. But I really don’t know that I had a good sense of like socialization and what was considered like how people made friends and how people, became lonely, right? And so, I looked to other people and based on their responses to me, I acted in one way or another.
What that started to do was it started to cultivate the people pleasing in me. Because when I did something and someone clearly did not like it, immediately my little brain was like, oh, being that way is bad. Even if it was something that I wanted. So, what happens is we all grow up and we get these messages from society about what it means to be a woman.
Now, back in December of this past year, I was actually getting coached from my own coach, and I was having some problems where I was really not leaning into the leader that I needed to be in my business. And I was not leaning into what I needed to do in order to lead my clients, lead my employees. And what came about was that I was really afraid to ask for what I wanted and to correct.
And here’s, why. Because I didn’t want to be labeled a b*tch. I was afraid to ask for what I wanted. Because women who ask for what they want are considered b*tches. That’s the story that I had in my head. That’s what we’re taught, right? That we let people run over us. And when we finally had enough, and we put up a boundary that what we have to do is we have to become angry in order to uphold that boundary. Right?
So, when we’ve gone so long without creating boundaries in our lives, and we don’t create boundaries because we are taught as women that saying no is not available to us. We’re not allowed to say no, we have to say yes. And if we don’t say yes, then we’re immediately questioned about why we can’t do the thing that’s being requested of us. We’re taught that everyone has access to us and our time.
And so, what happens then is we have no time to do anything and we’re running around trying to make everyone else happy, when we are not happy. Because we aren’t getting our basic needs met.
Now, in my coaching, what I came to was that I can actually ask for what I want and need. And I can be kind at the same time. And that piece right there is actually really super important. Because I’m going to be talking about it again a little bit later in the episode. But kindness, we can ask for what we want, and we can be kind at the same time. We can have boundaries and be kind. And in fact, I am going to suggest that boundaries are actually created from a place of kindness.
Now, kindness was not an attribute that I considered for myself. And when I looked at my life, one of the attributes that I really, really wanted people to describe me as was being kind. Like when I thought about the version of myself who exists in the future, I want to be known as kind.
And so, for 2023, my word is kindness. Now, shortly after the new year, someone suggested that I read. And this book is amazing. It’s called “White Women, Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to do Better,” I will link to it in the show notes.
Now, a caveat, if you are not comfortable with your own racism, do not read this book. If you are not of the mind that as a white person living in the society that we live in, that you automatically uphold white supremacy. Do not read this book because it is going to make you mad. And even if you do subscribe to the idea that as a white person, there’s no way that you cannot be racist, it’s still going to piss you off.
But it is such a good book. And the very first chapter in this book is called Your Niceness is Killing Us. And it really made me realize that as white women, we are socialized to be nice. And they talk about it in this book as well. So, I highly recommend the book, but be aware that it may trigger you.
But if you can handle it, if you can read it with an open mind, I think that you can get a lot out of it. And become an ally for the women of color. So, if you can read it with an open mind, I think that you can increase your allyship for women of color.
Now, when I was reading this book, what I realized is that so many of us, and I don’t know if this is specific to white women or all women. But we all have this innate need to be good. We want to be the good wife, the good sister, the good friend, the good employee, the good boss, the good daughter. And we do this because we’ve been taught that way.
When we want to fulfill all of these roles, ultimately what happens is we become the best supporting actress in the movie of our own lives. We put everyone else’s needs in front of our own because we want to avoid being judged for not being a good enough wife, for not being a good enough sister, for not being a good enough friend, for not being a good enough daughter, for not being a good enough boss.
We’re doing all of this good stuff so that we can avoid judgment from other people. We are nice, but we are not kind. When I looked up the word nice in the dictionary, you wouldn’t know what it said? The dictionary describes nice as being agreeable, quiet, contented, eager to please, pleasant, agreeable, and satisfactory. I do not want to be satisfactory. I want to be exceptional.
When we are being nice, we do not have each other’s backs. This is something that I felt for a really long time, and I don’t know if this is a generational thing. Being 50, I feel like this is something that I grew up with. Women that I talk to who are just a little bit younger, don’t seem to have the same experience that I do. But I don’t feel like we as women have each other’s backs.
So, for example, we gossip when one friend isn’t around, she becomes the topic of conversation and what’s wrong with her or the way she parents or her marriage or the way that she’s doing something. We constantly throw our friends under the bus, and we do it to deflect judgment. We deflect our goodness with well, she made me do it. Right?
I recently had an experience where I was not in charge of something, I was not in charge of a gathering. And a close friend of mine was not invited to the gathering. And she messaged me after she found out about this gathering and said, Hey, why wasn’t I invited, or You did this without me. And a sad emoji.
I had texted it all out. I was like, Hey, this wasn’t my decision. It was someone else’s decision. And then, I stopped myself there for a second and I was like, no, I need to accept responsibility for that. Anything that challenges our quote unquote goodness, we will automatically deflect because it doesn’t feel good. We all want to be good people. There’s nothing wrong with that.
And so, it can feel really bad when we don’t live up to our own expectations of our own self-identity. Women judge other women all of the time, and we’ve probably heard it from our mothers which is why we perpetuate this same behavior. So, like, oh, she’s so full of herself. Or who does she think she is? We do it with other women with their parenting.
Women cannot get a break. We are all doing it wrong. Someone is always going to have an opinion about how we are doing whatever it is that we are doing. Work, parenting, our relationship.
And here’s the thing is when we judge other people, we are also judging ourselves. We don’t have other women’s backs because we don’t have our own. And what I mean by that is when we make a mistake, our inner critic is right there just telling us how terrible we are. That we should have done better. That we don’t deserve whatever it is that we’re doing.
And when that inner critic shows up, we believe her. We believe all of the lies that our inner critic is telling us about how we’re falling short. How we’re falling short for our families, how we’re falling short in our marriages, how we’re falling short in our work. How we’re not doing enough for our parents, and our children, and everyone else in our community.
So, I want to give you a few examples of what it means to be nice. How being nice shows up in our lives. So, an example might be ignoring it when your husband’s boss says something inappropriate. That’s happened to me. Laughing politely at a holiday dinner or at a dinner when your uncle says something sexist. Maybe not asking for clarification when your sister says something racist. Saying yes, when being asked to make cookies for the bake sale, even though you don’t want to.
Those are all ways that we are being nice, but we are not being kind. And again, we do it because we’ve been socialized to be nice. This is our culture. And we’ve witnessed situations when someone speaks up to the boss. And then everyone turns on that person. Right?
So, Uncle Larry says something racist at dinner, and when someone confronts him, then the person who’s confronting racist uncle Larry, all of a sudden gets all the vitriol, right? They’re the ones that all of a sudden is a bad person for confronting it. We’ve all seen it happen, and we don’t want that attention turned onto us.
Because when that happens, all of a sudden, we’re being told that we’re too sensitive. Or no, it really didn’t turn out that way, we’re being gaslighted, and we’re being told that we misunderstood. And what that does is it creates self-doubt in us. Like all of a sudden, we’re like, oh, wait a minute. Did I misunderstand that? Maybe I did. But no.
When we can really trust ourselves, when we can really tune into what we believe and stand up for ourselves, that’s when we can have our own backs. And actually, be kind to ourselves and truly be kind to the other people who are in the room.
Niceness is harmful because again, it’s not being kind to ourselves or others. It’s not genuine. And we’re lying when we do it. When we’re doing the nice thing over the kind thing, we’re not being nice to ourselves. We’re not being genuine. Ultimately, what we’re doing is we’re people pleasing, right? And people pleasing is manipulation.
What I mean by that is when we are doing something to people, please, we are doing it so that that person thinks something of us. We think that by acting in a certain way, we are going to change or alter someone’s opinion of us in a positive way. But what ultimately happens is when we people please, we lose pieces of ourselves. We people please with our health all the time. I see it with my clients. I saw it with myself when I was in this journey.
So, an example is eating when we don’t want to. Because other people want to eat or eat at a specific place. One of my clients, she makes dinner or she’s about to make dinner. And then, her partner comes home and is like, oh, I thought we’d eat pizza today. And then, she abandons her plans because of course that feels better. Who doesn’t want pizza? But then, she feels terrible about herself.
We do it when we have plans to exercise, but then we get a text from our boss that says, Hey, I need you for this. And so then, we do that thing and then we run out of time to go exercise. Or our kid calls us and says, Hey, I need you to bring my band uniform to school because I forgot it this morning. So, then we don’t want our kid to get in trouble, so we rescue. Right?
Like these are just some examples of how we people please and how we are being nice to others. We are prioritizing others emotional experience over our own.
I decided that in 2023, kindness to myself was going to be top priority. Now, that does not mean selfish. It means that I’m considering what the commitment or what I want first. And then, others second. Being kind to myself does not mean that I’m not being kind to others.
I want to make that really super clear here. That when we’re talking about kindness, we’re really talking about how can I be my best friend?
And so, this year, I actually for the first time was able to put together a list of values that I have for myself, and I have for my business, and I want to share them with you. So, the very first one of course, since we’re talking about this is kindness. My second value is personal development and growth. So, always learning and really striving to be a better person.
And what’s encompassed in that is also having compassion for myself. When maybe I’m not being that good person that I really want to be. Because we cannot always be good, right? There are going to be multiple people who are going to ask things of us, and we’re going to have to prioritize which one is more important. And someone’s going to have an opinion when they don’t come out on top.
And so, being the good employee versus being the good partner, or being the good mother, or daughter, those may be in conflict with one another. And when they are, how do we reconcile that with ourselves? We have to reconcile it with kindness.
My third value is relationship and community. As I’ve gotten older, I so realize how important being around a community of other women is so incredibly important to me. It’s one of the reasons why I started the Feel Good Sisterhood, which is my small group coaching program.
And the women in there, 100% we have Sisterhood. We support each other in whatever everyone else’s goals are. Not everyone else in the group has the same goals. Some women are getting stronger, some women are trying to lose weight. Some women are trying to improve their body image. Some women are just trying to hang on and practice self-kindness themselves.
And so, regardless of what their goals are, I think that having community with one another is so incredibly important. And here’s what’s really super important. When we can have our own backs, when we can support ourselves, when we make mistakes. What happens is we can then support other women as well. If we don’t have our own backs, if that inner critic shows up and tells us all of that BS that our inner critics do, when someone else falls down, we can’t have compassion for them. We can’t have compassion for ourselves.
My fourth value is having agency over our own lives or what’s also known as self-determination. And so, what that means is being aware that everything that I do is my responsibility. And that I can have agency and make decisions and have responsibility over every area of my life.
It’s really super important because so many of us have such self-doubt. We don’t have confidence. We look to other people when we’re looking for answers. Not realizing kind of like Dorothy and the Ruby slippers that we have been able to make our own decisions all along. We have been able to advocate for ourselves this entire time. And that ties in with the last one, which is having responsibility for ourselves and safety.
So, in closing, I know that this has been a different kind of episode, but how can you be more kind to yourself? What can you do to just be kind. And remember that when we’re talking about kindness, we are not talking about believing your own excuses if that’s where your mind is going right now. Well, Elizabeth, if I was kind to myself, then I would eat cookies all day. No, you wouldn’t. You would go out for a walk because that’s what kindness is.
Anything that you would not do for your child, that’s what kindness is. Where do you prioritize others’ feelings and experiences over your own? And where can you at least put your own feelings and experiences at the same level if not more important. Because in truth, this is your life. No one else can suffer the consequences or reap the rewards.
And when you truly take responsibility for all of the experiences that happen in your life, you will no longer be the best supporting actress of your life.
That’s all I have for you today. Have an amazing week, everyone. And I’ll talk to you next time. Bye-bye.
Hey, if you enjoy listening to this podcast, you have to come check out the Feel Good Sisterhood. It’s my small group coaching program where we take all this material, and we apply it. We figure out what works for us, and we don’t ever look at another diet ever again. Join me over at elizabethsherman.com/groupcoaching. I’d love to have you join me in the Feel Good Sisterhood. See you there.