Good Girl, Party Girl, Tough Girl

We’ve been thinking a bit about the good girl/bad girl divide and this is something that Dan Allender explores in a fantastic book called ‘The Wounded Heart’.  The book has been written for survivors of sexual abuse, but has application for all areas of pastoral theology. I think it’s brilliant.Allender argues that survivors tend to fall into three types – ‘good girl, party girl and tough girl’, each with different strategies for managing pain.

The good girl is kind and gentle, very giving, but not especially passionate or outgoing.  She  struggles with her sin – not with a healthy conviction, but with deep self-hatred and shame. She then beats herself up for feeling angry and sad – but hates confrontation of any kind, which in turn makes her feel worse. She pours herself into doing things to find identity and approval, but will burn out before asking for help. She doesn’t feel that she has the right to express her emotions and is always apologising, but from a low sense of self worth instead of real sorrow. She feels she can’t do anything right and hates to impose on others.  As a result she can be lonely and depressed, channelling her anger and pain towards herself.

The party girl is completely unpredictable.  Out for a good time, her moods change from one moment to the next – from genuine and honest to fake and deceptive, fragile and vulnerable to confident and dominant.  She makes and moves on from friendship to friendship – making those in her circle feel that she needs them, whilst holding them at arm’s length (often using humour).  She is enchanting and mercurial, but deeply frightened of relationships and handles this by minimising her own needs.

The tough girl sees herself as someone who can take charge and get things done.  She views feelings as weakness and refuses to depend on others – often lashing out at them in anger when they awaken her desire for relationship.  She can come across as arrogant and busy and she will do whatever it takes to ensure she is never hurt again.  As a result she is feared and respected, but rarely liked.

These aren’t hard and fast categories.  I can see bits of myself in all three.  And probably everyone’s a mixture.

Eating disorders (and any number of other addictions) provide an ideal outlet for all of these types.  They are ways of making yourself small, holding others at arm’s length and relying on self so as not to be hurt again. It’s perhaps easiest to see how the anorexic relates to the good girl model (often a perfectionist, finds identity in helping others, struggles with having emotions etc), but the swings of the party girl may parallel those of the bulimic, who both starves and stuffs.  This may be reflected not simply in eating patterns, but in other areas such as spending habits, sexual behaviour and frequent risk taking.

How do we respond to this?

I wonder if all sin is parasitic, in other words it takes something that is good and distorts it.  Perhaps the enemy targets those parts of us that the Lord intends for most blessing. One of my best friends is a gorgeous girl who pours her heart and soul into caring for others – who comes alive in relationship and has a gift for getting alongside people and being honest with them.  Her biggest struggle is with the issue of singleness – and when this threatens to overwhelm her, she feels the need to withdraw and to close up. The Lord has given my husband a real gift for preaching and leading, but when he feels bad, he questions exactly these things, feeling ineffectual and useless.

Redemption, however, is not sweeping aside every aspect of our good/partying/tough personalities but making us more of our true selves not less.  The good girl who wanted to be “sweet” and “nice” is now a true blessing because she has the courage to be strong as well as kind.  The party girl who was “wild” now knows the fulfilment of her drives in Christ’s love as her passion for life includes and infects others.  The tough girl who closed down and drove forwards has a new softness as she recognizes that her dependence is part of what makes her a genuine leader.

Can you see these ‘types’ in yourself?  What would the redemption of those patterns look like?

5 thoughts on “Good Girl, Party Girl, Tough Girl

  1. Very interesting observation concerning “types” and the need for redemption.

    I most definitely can identify with the good girl.

    But, I know I’ll never be good enough. There are always people who are nicer, or more caring or whatever. And what I’ve noticed so frequently is that the centrality of “me” as a motivator to be good is a sandy foundation which eventually will collapse. Being strong enough to be able to risk vulnerability in my interactions is definitely not “of” me.

  2. Hi Heather

    You’re right, even as a wannabe good girl, I’ll never be good enough. But ironically, that’s precisely where my hope begins. If I could find satisfaction and identity in my own goodness, then I’d also be enslaved to it. Instead, as I recognise the futility of my own efforts, I’m forced to look beyond myself – to Christ. And as I am captivated by Him, one of the fruits of His Spirit in me is an understanding and acceptance of myself.

    On a slightly different tack it’s also interesting that the standard of goodness by which we judge ourselves is based on other people! As you said, ‘there are always people who are nicer or more caring or whatever’. I think this is a big issue for women, or maybe it’s just me! One of my friends is very beautiful and confessed recently that if another good-looking woman enters the room, it has the power to ruin her entire evening. There are many areas where I feel threatened by and compare myself to other women in just that way.

  3. Hi Emma,
    Thanks for a very thought-provoking post – hope you’ll excuse the long reply but I was pondering the things you wrote and all this just came out! I was going to just not post it, but in an attempt to not get sucked into this cycle of self-reliance I’ve written about I’ve decided to share it!
    I can definitely see elements of all three types in my life, and the more I think about it, the more I see this persistent need to be independent at the root of my thinking. I try and not be a burden to people or get in the way because I feel I should cope on my own. I don’t work hard at deepening relationships with others because I’m afraid they won’t like what they see, so I try and convince myself I’m alright on my own. I resist any kind of dependence on or relationship with others because I feel like I need to sort myself out.
    But really I know there’s no hope at all if it’s all up to me. I know what I’m like, and being left with just my own resources all the time is exhausting- I know there’s only weakness and sin inside- why would I imagine there’s any hope within me??! When I think about it now it sounds absurd! I mean, Jesus says it clearly – it’s from the heart that all my problems stem. How deceptive sin is… telling me to look inward for a solution when there’s no chance of finding one there.
    So if inside there’s no hope, I must look outside my self… the scary thing is that I can’t do this without opening up to someone, and it’s terrifying to think that I could let God see what I’m like and then know that he could justly turn away from all that sin and condemn me… I don’t deserve to be helped, as I’ve already turned away from his kindness. But gloriously, wonderfully, astonishingly that’s not what God is like! He is so patient, so gentle, so loving – Jesus shows me that the kind of LORD I’m coming to isn’t one who is spiteful or reluctant to forgive… No! He’s gone to the greatest lengths to draw me to Himself, so that I can depend on Him, I can give up this farce of finding all I need within me and joyfully depend and rely on Him. I can be weak and feeble and feel empty and He fills me in Christ with all good things…! Have I got this right? Can it really be this good?! I still don’t remember this all the time, and I still struggle to apply this to relationships with others in particular, but I’m learning that knowing Jesus and growing to love and trust him more gives me greater confidence in the fact that I’m still a sinner, but slowly being changed, and allowing others to see that isn’t weak, it isn’t failure, it isn’t something to be ashamed of or hide away but it’s the best news ever, because it shows what kind of God we know.

  4. Hi Emily

    Thanks for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking response. And especially for your honesty. It’s such a relief to be able to discuss these things – and what a loss if you’d dumped it in the trash can! Don’t you dare…

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