My brother was the rebel. From failing school, to smoking dope in his bedroom (“They’re Camel mom, that’s why they smell funny”) to having a secret weekend flat in Hillbrow (at age 16) to some incident that involved bullet holes in the microwave (?) to weird clothes and weirder friends, this was the boy all my school friends were in love with.
It might have been his beautiful ice-blue eyes, the intriguing salt and pepper hair (yip, at age 16), or his incongruous love of art that appealed to them, but I think it was simpler than that. They loved him because he was bad.
Research shows that bad boys are captivating, brave, independent, audacious and fun. They have an authenticity and self-reliance that’s not only attractive, but an essential skill when navigating the rigors of adult life.
On the other hand, I grew up believing that to be liked I needed to be what other people wanted me to be. I wanted my parents to love me, my teachers to acknowledge me and my friends to share their secrets with me. For many years, it worked.
Then one day I discovered that being the good girl comes with psychological consequences – a dark downside to constantly being well-behaved. It manifests in:
1. Completely irrational behaviour – doing weird things like going on a binge, dancing on a table, or inappropriate hurricane-like rage.
2. Inexplicable grief, depression or anxiety – a sneaky companion when you’re constantly trying to hold it all together.
3. Finger-wagging inner voice – the parent you’ve internalised who judges and criticises your every move, even as an adult.
4. The ever-present simmer of resentment – usually around other peoples’ expectations of you.
5. Relationships without depth – especially if you’re both nice, which makes your engagement non-confrontational but horribly superficial.
Not so good, hey?
So what’s the reward for living the anxiety-driven life of being good?
We don’t have to get in touch with how we really feel,
We don’t have to exercise our courage muscle to speak up,
We don’t have to risk not being liked.
In other words, we don’t have to risk that people will hate us and the world will fall apart.
This is much, much safer.
Until we get sick,
Or we get sick of not really living.
How about you?