Good Little Girl Syndrome

Last week, Therapydoc posted about a fourteen year old girl who is “physically violent, verbally abusive, self-centered, infantile, and ALD, A Little Different, although I think my friend’s exact words were, ‘She’s very weird.'” (Read more.)

Something about the description of this girl struck a nerve. As a child or teen, I was none of the above. I rarely raised my voice, I didn’t use bad language, I was praised by my teachers, and I don’t think I was considered very weird. Maybe a little different.

So why the struck nerve? This girl gets to have Therapydoc as her therapist! At the age of fourteen! Maybe if I had yelled, said bad things, acted out, behaved so nobody in my family wanted to be with me, I would have been able to start therapy four years earlier and not had to get more and more depressed, and not had to bear more years of gloominess, not have to end up feeling absolutely black and bleak by the time I was eighteen.

I call this the good-little-girl-syndrome. It’s the girl who does as she’s told, sits at her desk with her hands crossed, answers the teacher’s questions, does her homework, doesn’t act out or do drugs or overeat or undereat or swear. But her feelings may be really, really down, at the same time. And of kids who feel bad, she’s the one who’s least likely to get the attention.

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Last week, someone posted this on one of Frumhouse‘s posts:
Why do these stories keep getting swept under the rug? The frum community has a substance abuse problem. Wake up and address it!

Or is everyone waiting until it happens to MY child?

I happened to be walking home from shul with my friend who is an addiction therapist. She specializes in people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. She agreed with me that addiction is a problem in every community. But in the more right wing religious communities, there is a big problem of denial. No one wants to admit the problem exists. She told me she was asked by our rabbi to be on some kind of task force. In addition to other rabbis, there were psychologists and social workers. But she was the only one had training in addiction. She said the first thing one must do in cases of addiction is to take away the addiction.

One of my therapists once said that people who take drugs or alcohol are self-medicating. In other words, the painful feelings are there, and they are masking those feelings with some substance.

In my own reading, I get the idea that some families have a gene for addiction. For example, some families that have members who are addicted to sugar often also have members with a tendency toward addiction to alcohol.

My gut, layperson instinct is there is not a consensus among professionals on treating addiction.

I read this: Girl that Overdosed Passed Away
Interesting, that the title calls her “a girl”, when she was 28. But perhaps at heart she was just a little girl. I know nothing about her, but the article calls her “kind-hearted”. Why does the good-little-girl-syndrome come to mind?

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24 thoughts on “Good Little Girl Syndrome

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. It is true that when we see a “good little girl” we don’t focus on her. We think she has the social codes so she is ok. Yet it’s also difficult to assume that everybody isn’t ok. The question, from my point of view, is how can we reach out to the “good little girl”?

    Talking about the very frum community and “issues”, the following story was related to me by a trustworthy friend. A child was abused by a member of their shul and when this happened:
    – the mother was told by the rabbi that “one doesn’t sue another Jew”,
    – if you had had more “emunah” and didn’t own a tv set, this would not have happened to your child.

  • Ilana-Davita, good point, how do we know someone is a good little girl who is having a hard time vs. someone who is just a good little girl who is doing fine? I think part of the answer lies in real emotional training for 5-year-olds. A five-year-old who has permission to say “I’m sad” or “I’m angry” is going to be healthier than one that isn’t even aware her feelings exist.

    I only know how to raise my own kids. I’m clueless on the rest of the planet.

    And I certainly don’t know how to deal with the very frum community.

    Maybe at some point we can discuss programs like DARE and how effective is that program? Both of my boys completed DARE.

  • I had never heard of DARE. I always wonder how kids and teenagers can be efficiently warned. It too often seems they know more about addictions than we did but are less “wise”.

  • DARE is a anti-drug program for fifth graders. But if someone has underlying depression or other mood problems, DARE doesn’t address that aspect. My guess is the kids who get addicted 1)have mood issues not being addressed and 2)may have a gene for addiction that makes quitting difficult. But learning in school that drugs and alchohol are bad and talking about ways to get around peer pressure can only help.

  • Mother in Israel, thanks for reading. You would have to know my parents to understand. My father, I love him dearly, to this day is not always very good at understanding anyone’s emotions other than his own. And my mother had her own difficult issues. When I did get to the point of literally screaming with pain, when I was 18, my parents did all they could do get help. So I am forever grateful to them for that.

    One has also to look at this in a 1960’s perspective. Most people didn’t understand emotions and how important they are in shaping a child. And mood disorders…I was one of the first psychiatric guinea pigs in the early 1980’s. Lay people didn’t know about mood disorders back then. “Cheer up,” I was often told.

    Feel free to ask any more questions, if it helps to clarify.

  • “But learning in school that drugs and alchohol are bad”

    in high school (YofF) we had programming about alcohol and eating disorders (for the girls only?). i don’t remember about drugs. our bio teacher also spent time talking to us about tobbaco and there may have also been programming for this. i have no idea how effective any of this was.

    “But she was the only one had training in addiction.”

    i have a friend who is a psychologist. he used to go to conferences for frum mental health workers, but he got so disgusted because so many of the people working as “therapists” in the jewish community lack appropriate training and credentials. this can be worse than sweeping the problem under the carpet.

  • Lion of Zion, thanks so much for reading and commenting.
    Yes, the adults involved need training in mental health issues. That would certainly help the next generation.

  • Leo, most bad kids don’t get therapy, either. It’s a real phenom of “privilege” and if there were better education, better resources, sure, and better therapists, it would be a better world. But we make do, ya’ know?

  • Therapydoc, thanks for reading…and unfortunately, you are right. I am one of the privileged! But among families that do support giving themselves or their kids therapy, the “act-out” kids tend to get noticed first.

  • I grew up in a semi-observant home, and was the daughter of a recovering alcoholic. When she told her parents that she had a drinking problem, my grandma said, “Jews aren’t alcoholics”. When I was 18, I became anorexic. When it became evident that I was sick, my mother did and said nothing. I was finally hospitalized, and the doctor asked my mother if she had noticed anything. My mother said, “I thought she was getting skinny, but Jewish people don’t really have anorexia”. It seems that denial is a common response.

  • Rochel, I’m sorry you had to go through all that. I’m glad you wrote about it here. I hope you can find others to talk to about your pain. I’m happy to “listen” anywhere on my blog.

  • Leora,

    We spend so much time analyzing our kids’ grades, diets, and morals. If only we spent as much time listening to them, too.

    I’m glad you were able to find your voice, and that it was eventually heard. This is an important post, especially coming from you, because you radiate emotional health in your writing.

    The myopia of “good little girl” syndrome seems similar to the blindness of “it can’t happen to me/us.” In one case, the facade is put up to mask the pain from inside, while in the other, the community erects one to hide the pain from getting out.

    It’s as though the sufferer and the community conspire together to keep up appearances. If only that effort went into solving the problem, rather than hiding it.

  • I remember seeing this a little while ago. Then today something happened that made me think of this. I think I had the good girl syndrome. Where I was always good and did everything I was supposed to. So I didn’t get much attention for it. I see now later, I’m still the “good girl”. Then sometimes things happen where I feel I’ve been wronged. But because I’m the good girl, I feel like I’m not allowed to have those negative feelings, and that I would be bad if I would get upset or angry about stuff.

  • Jewish Side, a lot of us were raised to think of anger as a negative. Instead, it just is. It doesn’t mean you should take it out on someone else, but if you do get angry, it’s important to feel the anger and not internalize it.

    I’m still working on this (and I have been all my adult life!).

  • I *think* the injunctions against anger refer to something different than what we understand today as “repressing anger.”

    It’s one thing to feel angry and control it, looking for alternative explanations, looking to control one’s reactions, etc. as our tradition exhorts us to do, and another to feel worthless and not entitled to feel outraged when our rights are infringed upon.

    Someone trying to control her anger is engaging in mastery of herself, not repression. I think the healthy response is “I’m so angry, how do I get past it, how can I diffuse it, divert it to a healthy pursuit?”

    The other (not healthy) response is “I feel bad, but it can’t be angry, because angry is bad, so I must be doing something wrong, or I must be bad, or something is wrong with me….” This is a position of powerlessness.

    I *think* the former is a very Jewish approach: something is happening – identify it and deal with it, trying to bring out the positive. The latter involves wallowing, blaming, denying, etc.

    Maybe it’s the difference between anger as an activity vs. anger as an emotion?

  • Juggling Frogs, yes, differentiating actions one takes from feeling the anger is important.

    Unfortunately, that is rarely the way it is taught in Judaism. I’m hopeful that teachers can learn the value of feeling the anger and not internalizing it. Eating disorders, to give one example, seem to be growing too much in the Orthodox community. If feelings can be externalized for girls in a healthy way, that is one step toward not internalizing emotions; an eating disorder is one symptom of internalized emotions.

  • Leora: right, so I suppose its ok to acknowledge it, but not to let it out on others.

    Juggling Frogs: Interesting point. I see the difference between the two.

    Leora: Interesting about internalizing and externalizing. What would be an example of externalizing it?

  • Trying to think of an example:
    How about this…
    Student X is punished by teacher because Student Y,Z and Q misbehaved. The teacher takes it out on the whole class.

    Student X could internalize it, and think, oh, if only I could somehow have gotten those other students to behave I wouldn’t have been punished. Or just, I must have done something wrong, too.

    Alternatively, Student X could come home to Good Active Listener. She says:
    Teacher made us do such and such, and I really think only 3 students misbehaved.
    Good Active Listener says: you must feel angry at the teacher for punishing all of you instead of just those three students.
    Student X: yes, I think that’s it. I feel a little better somehow. Thanks for listening.

    Unfortunately, when Loshon Hara gets taught, good communications skills are rarely included. If Student X did not have an Active Listener at home, she might instead experience: “Don’t say anything at all against your teacher.” But then what does Student X do with her anger?

  • Leora: Now I understand, thanks so much for taking the time to explain it to me.

    But then about the Loshon Hora part, I think in this case it would be allowed. Because you are allowed to vent, to express your feelings, and to communicate in this way.

    But I could see where a child will be told not to say anything about the teacher because its L”H, and that’s very sad. I’ve actually seen that happen, and always felt bad for the child.

    I think L”H would allow a child to express what happened, and to speak about the teacher. Even if it’s bad, cause this way the mother can listen and possibly do something about it.

  • I cringe at the thought of “doing as she’s told” being part of what is considered good, especially in a girl. How about less emphasis on obedience and more on independent thinking? I’ve been a rebel since birth as well as a major drama queen, but I never did drugs or any of the really dangerous stuff not because someone told me not to but because I understood the health consequences. Also, I’ve found that a person is accepted as a rebel, he or she is given a lot more freedom to express emotions without being judged. I thank my parents for sending me to acting and gymnastics classes, where expression of all emotions is encouraged and valued.

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