This post expands on the good boy / good girl theme from my previous article, “Learning to Forgive in a Step-by-Step Way. Though this post stands alone, I’d recommend reading the other article as well for additional context.
At a very young age, I adopted the belief that I had to be a good boy to be accepted and liked by others. In terms of my family and the church I was raised in, being a good boy made it easier to fit in and be loved. As I grew up, the good boy evolved into the good guy or nice guy and became a persona I hid behind. But despite helping me be liked, the good boy caused many woes.
Wanting to be liked meant that I had to be nice, easy going, agreeable, not say what I really felt, not be firm and direct with people and not show anger. It meant that I was supposed to just let it go when others did hurtful things, crossed my boundaries, or were selfish, rude or uncaring. The nice guy didn’t stay mad or remind others about their wrongdoings. The good guy turned the other cheek, forgave, forgot and moved on. And outwardly I did, but inwardly there was a roiling mass of emotions simmering at the edge of my awareness.
A lot of people I’ve interacted with as a coach, teacher and trainer have shared similar stories. There are many of us in the world who adopted the persona of good boy or good girl early in our lives. It was just a role, a coping strategy, driven by the need to be accepted or liked.
Maybe you have been or are still cast in that role. Perhaps you know what it’s like to push down your true thoughts and feelings and follow the good boy / good girl script. Maybe you know what it’s like to have your blood boil, to feel that slight queasiness in your stomach and the prickly, tenseness in your body as you once again force a smile, take a deep breath, look someone in the eyes and tell them something like, “Oh, it’s okay, I don’t mind. I know you didn’t mean it.”
Under the sway of the ‘nice guy’, I held back and did what was expected of me. I said the words, “Oh, no big deal, that’s okay.” or “I forgive you.” or “No problem, it’s fine.” and such things. The words propped up my ‘good guy’ persona so that I’d be liked. But, I didn’t like myself very much. I knew that there were things I’d rather say instead, things like, “Stop it you inconsiderate, selfish bastard!” or “Kiss my ass you manipulative bitch!” When I was alone, I’d sometimes play those conversations out in my head; I’d say the things I and set the boundaries that I didn’t dare to otherwise. But face to face with the people I most needed to be clear and straight with, I’d put on the trusty nice guy persona and lie to them time and again.
Like so many others do, I felt inauthentic. But I didn’t know how to escape the pattern and express what was real and true. After so long the good boy / good guy was my default setting and the lines and actions emerged automatically. As a child the pretense had helped me be accepted and get by more easily with others. However as an adult the good guy act had long since outlived its usefulness.
The good boy / good guy was a liability, defining my relationships and limiting my choices and behaviors in practically every situation. I had type cast myself and didn’t know how to break free into something more powerful, effective and fulfilling.
I thought that if I changed people wouldn’t like me any longer. I didn’t have the internal strength and confidence to deal with that possibility. Further, I thought that if I weren’t a nice guy, then I’d have to become a ‘jerk’, ‘angry and controlling’, a ‘selfish asshole’, ‘manipulative user’ or something else that I judged as being bad or wrong.
As I shared in the previous post, with a nudge from a workshop I finally broke free of the confines of the good boy / good guy persona. The journey to freedom required compassion and forgiveness of myself and others. Breaking free of the good boy / good guy persona, doesn’t mean that I’m always a ‘jerk’, ‘angry and controlling’, a ‘selfish asshole’, ‘manipulative user’ or anything else like that. In fact most of the time I’m pretty nice and easy to be with. But the difference is that I now get to choose how I interact with others. I’m not driven into a single way of being and behaving. I can be easy going, caring and relaxed, or act in ways that might have some people consider me to be mean, uptight or an asshole.
For example, the other day I was out for my morning walk at a local park where lots of families come to relax and play. A woman from an RV parked on the street had brought her dog out onto the broad expanse of lawn to do its business. The park has signs stating that owners must clean up after their dogs, and little bags are even provided.
Strolling by just as the dog finished, I saw the woman furtively look around then begin to casually walk back toward the RV with the dog. There it was, a steaming pile of crap in the grass just waiting to ambush someone. So I called up the ‘righteous asshole’ part of me and in a firm voice, loud enough so that others nearby could hear, said, “Hey, you need to clean that up!” She turned around, looked a little sheepish and said “Oh, I was just going to get something for it.”
She may or may not have been telling the truth, but I suspect that she would have left the poop-mine laying there if I hadn’t spoken up. Regardless, confined to the old good guy persona, I wouldn’t have been able to call someone out like that. I would have ignored it externally, but on the inside I’d have gotten worked up and fumed for hours afterward. This time though, once we’d had the exchange I sent the righteous asshole part of me off duty, and went right back to enjoying the clear, sunny morning.
How does this relate to forgiveness? As I mentioned earlier, forgiveness enabled me to break free of the ‘good guy’ persona and gain access to an authentic range of behaviors and characteristics. I forgave myself for living in that limited role for so many years. I forgave my family and their church for training me in restrictive belief systems and creating the environment that had me develop the good boy. I forgave myself and others for all the times that I was used, taken advantage of, hurt or made wrong because of my inability to use my power, set boundaries and say what I wanted to.
I also know that if I can break free of a smothering persona and restrictive belief systems, you can too. Forgiveness will pave the path to your liberation from any sort of limitation, anger, hurt, or burden of the past. Forgiveness opens your heart, frees your mind and gives you access to the clear, focused, joyful and powerful you are authentically. If you find yourself confined and defined by the good boy, good girl or any other persona, then you too have something – many things – to forgive.
The good news is that it’s easy to get started and set off on the path to freedom. You can have the experience of a completely new, more authentic and fulfilling reality – not only for you, but for those around you too. Imagine how much more fun, creative and powerful you might feel! Imagine how much more open, exciting and real your interactions and relationships will be when you break out of your old persona!
To get started, take a few minutes to sit down and make a list of the people and situations from your past that caused you to adopt your persona. Then make a list of the ways in which you’ve limited, betrayed, or hurt yourself as a result of being confined by that persona. Everything on these two lists you can forgive to start to set yourself free! Some items can be forgiven and let go collectively, others may need to be processed and forgiven individually. But I promise, doing so will lighten your heart, brighten your outlook, unlock your creativity and give you access to more confidence and self-love than you’ve experienced in decades!
If you’re not sure how to forgive and feel like you need help, enter your name and email on the form to the right, and download the free “Forgiveness Jump Start” kit. It contains worksheets and a simple process to support you in stepping onto your path of forgiveness. If you need more support, check out our Forgiveness Coaching page. But whatever you do, get started today. You’ll be glad that you did.