Charlotte was eight years old when she heard the words that would kill her spirit. She overheard her 3rd grade teacher describing her to her mother in words that hurt her soul.
“The kids don’t like playing with Charlotte because she is too bossy to everybody, and she always has to have it her way.”
From that day forward, Charlotte became overly careful about every word that came out of her mouth. She worried about making people mad, displeasing people, and overpowering peers for fear that they would reject her. Charlotte apologized even when she had done nothing wrong, and she developed a high sense of self-doubt and insecurity. And she felt sad a lot.
Charlotte came to me for counseling at age 18 because she was tired of being so indecisive and also of being used by friends. When friends asked her what movie she wanted to see or which restaurant to eat at her automatic response was; “I don’t care” or “Whatever you guys want.” Her indecisiveness came from not wanting to look stupid, make a mistake, be judged, or make people mad. She stopped advocating for herself, and she no longer stood up for herself when being mistreated by friends. That’s how fearful she was of overstepping her bounds or appearing too bossy.
Too many girls in our culture are still absorbing messages that tell them: stay quiet, don’t disagree or make waves, wait your turn, not too high, not too loud, not too out there, be a leader but don’t stand out. Girls are told you can be whatever you want, but you can’t be yourself. These mixed messages make girls confused and hesitant to step out. And far too many of our most powerful girls get criticized and labeled as being bossy, bullies, or bitches, causing them to dim their light. That’s exactly what happened with Charlotte.
Understanding the connection between her teacher’s criticism and her present day difficulty making decisions and advocating for herself was a revelation for Charlotte. It allowed her to see that being such a powerful and strong-minded young woman was a gift and not a detriment. She started making steps to reclaim her power by: catching herself before her knee-jerk “I don’t care” answers and instead asking for what she wanted, by setting healthy boundaries with friends, by being willing to disagree, and by asking for support when needed. She quickly gained confidence and her happiness and spark returned.
The world needs spunky female leaders who have a strong voice and can effect change. Watch out that you don’t dim an influential girl’s light by thoughtless labels and judgments.