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?