12 Ways Girls Give Their Power Away

Raising Daughters | Power Away


Girls often cage themselves within their own circle, unafraid to venture out of their comfort zone and remain stuck without a chance to grow. Why do they let this happen? Here are 12 ways girls give their power away and how it costs them.

Dr. Jordan explains reasons why girls and women give their power away, including good girl conditioning, risks she faces if she speaks out and advocates for herself, and the numerous mixed messages that confuse girls.

Listen as Dr. Jordan shares lots of real-life stories about how girls give their power away including: not asking for what they want, make decisions so others will like them or not be disappointed, make everyone happy and put everyone else’s needs above theirs, compare themselves to others, give up parts of them to fit in, not handle conflicts directly, allow words to hurt them, and not trusting their intuition.

You will also learn how these habits cost girls in terms of confidence, self-esteem, happiness, and success.

For more information on this issue, read dr. Jordan’s latest book, She Leads: A Practical Guide for Raising Girls Who Advocate, influence, and Lead

Listen to the podcast here


12 Ways Girls Give Their Power Away

Mostly, I came out with episodes about trying to help you understand girls in a different way and about how you best support girls as parents. The topic I’m going to talk about, I think you will resonate with. As you know who have tuned in to this show for a long time, I work with girls in a number of different ways. I’m a developmental-behavioral pediatrician. I council girls as an office practice a couple of days a week. I work with girls in our school program. It’s called Strong Girls Strong World. I was sitting in circles with girls in their classrooms to help them create a more caring community.

I’ve been running weekend retreats for girls for 32 years. I have listened to and worked with girls. One of the things I found common with girls is how they give their power away. I work with girls all over the US and several times in Europe. These issues are universal. I published a book about a year or so ago called SHE LEADS: A Practical Guide For Raising Girls Who Advocate, Influence, and Lead.

A lot of moms who read the book told me that one of their biggest takeaways was their increased awareness about how they also have been giving their power away all these years. They connected with the stories in the book. This is not a new phenomenon. It’s been around for a long time. As much as I see young girls in grade school, middle school, high school, and college giving their power away, I think their moms oftentimes do the same. I know that because I’ve given many talks. I’ve asked the moms in the audience, “How many of you do these things?” Almost always all the hands are raised.

Let’s talk about some of the different ways that girls give their power away. I remember a couple of years ago, I saw a mom and her daughter. The mom related a story about how she had a parent-teacher conference with her daughter’s teacher when she was in third grade. This little girl went to the conference and was sitting in the back of the classroom. She overheard the teacher tell her mom that she was being too bossy and that if she didn’t change her ways, she was going to end up with no friends.

This little third-grade girl took that to heart. It hurt her feelings. She said, “I remember distinctly just shutting down from that point on. I didn’t ask for what I wanted. I tried to keep my voice down. I didn’t put myself out there. I was afraid of bothering people, annoying people, or being too bossy with people.” Now I’m seeing her in high school and she’s depressed.

Why Girls Give Their Power Away

I’m going to give you an example of some ways that girls give their power. First, I want to talk a little bit about why I think girls give their power away. One of the biggest things that happens to girls is even in this day and age, girls are still expected to be “good girls.” In my weekend retreat with middle school girls, I had them make a list of the qualities of a good girl. I did the same thing with a group of sixth-grade girls in a classroom. This is almost always the same.

These are some of the things that the girls usually write about what a good girl is. A good girl is the kind of girl that all your parents and teachers want you to be. Some words that they say are things like being perfect, not too loud, not too out there, polite, almost polite to a fault, selfless, put others’ needs before theirs, a pleaser, obedient, follow the rules, don’t stand out, don’t make waves, and wait for your turn. They should have friendships without any disagreements or any conflict, and be passive. There’s an old quote that says, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down. I think a lot of girls take that quote to heart.

Girls even today are still expected to be good girls. In a lot of ways, good girls give their power away. There are some risks that girls take in this day and age. It’s that if they speak their mind, there are some risks of some negative consequences. They’re afraid that, “If I speak my mind, I will displease other people or disappoint other people then they won’t like me and they’ll go away.” Girls get worried, “If I’m out there and if I’m myself, there are risks of being rejected or ostracized. I might say something wrong. I might be unpopular. I might not fit in. If all those things happened, then I’d be alone, lonely, and isolated.” Nobody wants to feel that.

“If I speak my mind, if I’m out there, or if I’m being myself, no guy is going to be attracted to me. What if I’m wrong? What if I fail? What if I look stupid? What if I get persecuted and judged for being different?” All that stuff goes rattling around in girls’ brains when they’re trying to decide, “Should I put it out there or not? Should I set a boundary or not? Should I speak my truth and advocate or not?” It’s also true that girls get a lot of mixed messages in this day and age. They’re supposed to be smart, the best students in the class, get straight A’s, and go to top colleges, but not too smart and not too opinionated. Otherwise, they’ll be judged.

They’re supposed to be confident, but not too confident. They’re supposed to speak too openly but not too silly because they might cause conflicts. They might cause other people, especially other girls, to be jealous if they’re too confident. They were used to describe as being all that. They’re supposed to be a leader, but mostly quietly behind the scenes, not out front, not loud, not aggressive, or not assertive, but just in the background. They’re supposed to be nice, but they’re also supposed to be competitive, assertive, aggressive, and willing to step on people to get to the top. Huge conflicting message.

Young girls are supposed to be nice, but they are also expected to be competitive, assertive, aggressive, and willing to step on people to get to the top. It is a huge conflicting message. Click To Tweet

They’re supposed to be something but not too much. They are supposed to be powerful and out there, but if they’re too out there and powerful, they’re going to be judged as being bossy or later on in life, being a bitch. They are supposed to be liked, accepted, fit in, and be popular but they’re also supposed to be themselves and to be authentic. Sometimes those don’t match up in girl’s minds. They desperately want friends. They want to be included but they’re also supposed to stand up for themselves which sometimes creates waves. They’re supposed to take care of themselves and do self-care, but they’re also supposed to put other people’s needs before theirs or put other people’s needs first.

They get a sense of, “You can be whatever you want, but you can’t be yourself. You got to be a good girl before anything else.” Those mixed messages are confusing for girls. They also get confused about the difference between being assertive and aggressive. I’ll do role plays sometimes in my retreats, summer camps, and school programs. I have girls role play where a girl sets her boundary with a friend who’s overstepping their bounds or doing something that the girls don’t like.

If they play it out like they normally do, and the girl speaks up and says, “I don’t like that. I feel upset when you do that. I wish you would stop,” most of the girls will label that as being aggressive. Setting boundaries is being aggressive in their minds because they haven’t learned the difference. The other thing that happens is that they see a lot of female leaders out there or any leaders out there. Leaders tend to be judged and criticized a lot. Look what happens at election time in this country, when there are debates and things. Everybody is negative and critical. Girls who might want to go out there are like, “Why would I want to put myself in that situation where you get put down, criticized, and judged all the time?”

1. They Act Like They Don’t Care

Finally, one huge reason why I think girls give their power away is their mom’s role modeling. With moms who have read my book, SHE LEADS, they became aware of how many places they give their power away. Girls are watching all the time. Those are some of the reasons why girls get in the habit of giving their power away. Let’s talk about a dozen ways that girls do give their power away. One of the most common ways I see girls giving their power away is they act like they don’t care when they do.

If someone asks, “Do you want to go to dinner tonight? What movie do you want to see?” A lot of girls’ automatic response is, “I don’t care. Whatever you want.” They do it not just once or twice. They’re automatic. It’s their go-to. I tell them that what they’re teaching people if they always do that is that what they have to say and what their needs are, are not important. Therefore, they’re not important. They’re always teaching people how to treat them.

It’s a bad habit not putting out there what you want because it oftentimes leads to feelings of resentment and unhappiness. If I ask adult women in a crowd, “How many of you do that? How many of you have an automatic responsive saying, ‘I don’t care or whatever you want?’” almost everybody’s hand goes up.

2. They Don’t Ask For What They Want

Another way, similar but different, that girls give their power away is they don’t ask for what they want. I saw a teenager one time who was not setting boundaries and not putting herself out there. This is a very sensitive little girl. When she was seven, she was annoyed and pestered by a boy at school who kept bothering her. She told him to stop on lots of occasions the best she could. She finally went to her teacher because he wouldn’t stop. Her teacher’s response to this little girl is to mind her own business.

This little girl felt dismissed and unimportant. Her needs weren’t important. From that day forward, she stopped raising her hand in class. She stopped asking people for what she needed because she did not want to feel that way again. She’s a high school girl and she doesn’t know what she wants. She spent many years not asking for what she wanted and she’s forgotten, “What’s my truth? What do I want?”

3. They Make Decisions So Other People Won’t Be Mad At Them

A lot of girls also make decisions so that other people will like them or in reverse, they’ll make decisions so other people won’t be mad at them. The female brain is wired differently than the male brain in a lot of ways. One of the ways it’s been wired is to avoid conflict. Way back in prehistoric uncivilized times, if women were part of a group and they were included in a group, they and their offspring had a much better chance of survival because they took care of each other. If they did something and got kicked out of the group or the tribe, they didn’t survive. They died. Being outside of a group feels like death. It did feel like that thousands of years ago, and it does today.

4. They Are Too Invested In Making Everybody Happy

Their female brain has been wired to avoid conflict to maintain social harmony, which makes it hard to set boundaries. They’re afraid of being kicked out, people being mad at them, people being disappointed, losing a group, and losing friends so they don’t get their needs met, and resentment can settle in. For a lot of girls, I see depression and unhappiness. Another way girls give their power away is that they are invested in making everybody happy to their detriment.

I saw a girl. I’ll call her Abby, who was about fourteen years of age. I saw her at a retreat one time. She had a younger brother with Down Syndrome. Her young little brother with Down Syndrome almost died 3 or 4 times. He had heart problems as a lot of Down Syndrome kids do. The family needed to put a lot of focus and time on his needs. Abby was a sensitive girl. She noticed what was going on in her family. She didn’t want to upset her parents because she was afraid that it would tick them over the edge. She developed a belief that other people’s needs were more important than hers, and even that she shouldn’t even have needs.

Raising Daughters | Power Away
Power Away: Young girls tend to develop a belief that other people’s needs are more important than hers.


She became great at taking care of other people but not herself. At fourteen, she was her friend’s therapist and mom. She was the one they all went to, but most of her friends didn’t reciprocate. She was spending so much time taking care of everybody else. She did not take care of herself. That’s a common way for girls and women to give their power away.

5. They Worry About Other People’s Judgment

Another common behavior I see in girls I work with is they worry so much about other people’s judgments. I saw a girl. I’ll call Lauren, who when she was in seventh grade was in the orchestra and she loved it. She joined that year a new group. They’re popular girls. She lost her group at the end of sixth grade. She was desperate for friends. This new popular friend group told her that cheerleading was much cooler than orchestra. Because of her worry about what those girls are going to think and because of her worry that she may not be able to fit into the group, she gave up the orchestra and started cheerleading.

6. They Compare Themselves To Other People

A lot of girls do that and they become controlled by other people’s judgments, real or imagined. Sometimes the judgments that their peer groups or their peers put out there are not actual judgments. Sometimes it’s just what goes on in girls’ heads. They worry about, “Are people judging me?” Oftentimes, it can affect how they dress, how they talk, or who they hang out with. It can affect, like that girl Lauren, what activities they choose to do. Anytime they compare themselves to other people, girls are also giving away their power.

Young girls worry about other people’s judgment. This affects how they dress, how they talk, who they hang out with, or which activities they choose to do. Click To Tweet

I saw a girl one time in my counseling practice. I’ll call her Sarah. She was thirteen years of age. I remember her telling me that one of the reasons why she was anxious and had some depressed feelings was because she hated the way she looked, especially when she compared herself to her friends. She told me at my office that her nose was too big and her face was too wide. She hated and obsessed with her fingernails. She felt ugly and weird.

This is her exact quote. She told me, “I feel like a single Fruit Loop in a bowl of Cheerios.” That’s how she feels when she’s around other people her age. That’s not uncommon for girls and women to compare themselves a lot. Anytime I ask girls if they do that, I always get the affirmative. At camp sometimes, we’ll make a list of er’s like, “I feel like my friends are smarter.” This is the way they compare themselves to their peers. Things on their list of er’s are things like, “My friends are smarter, prettier, hotter, more athletic, more popular, taller, thinner, funnier, stronger, more outgoing, braver, more attractive, or more talented.”

I remind girls that when they are stuck on all those comparisons, it’s a bad trap because, in their own minds, you’ll always find someone who is something er than them, prettier, smarter, more outgoing, etc. I remember I saw a girl. She is a little 7-year-old who was in 2nd grade. She came in because she was refusing to go to school and she wouldn’t tell anybody why. I was talking to her by herself. She told me that she was at home one day and was looking at a picture of her and her sister. She told her mom that her sister was beautiful and she was ugly.

When I asked her about that, she remembered that when she was in kindergarten, two years earlier, somebody in her group, another girl, told the whole group that this little girl was the ugliest person in their class and this sensitive little girl took it to heart. She felt ugly and started comparing herself to her sister, which compounded it. That’s why she refused to go to school. It’s common for girls to do that. Because of it, they start changing themselves, how they look, trying to fit in, trying to be as good, which is a nightmare because they always find people who are better in some way than them. It’s an endless struggle with no resolution.

7. They Give Up Themselves To Fit In

A lot of girls, especially the ones who have lost friends, been ditched by friends, or lost their group, will give up themselves to get another group to fit in. I saw a girl Christina who had lost your best friend group in both 5th and 8th grade. When she started high school, she started wearing a lot of makeup, acting cool, and hanging out with the popular racy kids. It worked for a while because she got into the group, but when I saw her she told me that she was feeling depressed and out of integrity with herself. She knew it wasn’t her and she was feeling out of integrity. I can’t say any better than that.

It’s hard for girls to resist the pressure of giving up parts of themselves to fit in and to be accepted during times when they feel the most insecure. When they’re starting, middle school, new school, or high school, even when they leave high school and start college when they go anywhere, where there’s a transition starting a new team, and they feel a little insecure. They start to have some self-doubt. Those are the hardest times it is for them to keep true to themselves.

8. They Avoid Conflicts

It is more true if they’re vulnerable because they’ve lost friends or they are lonely and don’t have a friend or a group. A huge way that girls and I think women give their power away is that they avoid conflicts and don’t handle their conflicts with people they feel upset with. They’re afraid of losing a friend and ending up alone. They’re afraid that, “If I speak up or handle the conflict, they’re going to be mad at me and they’re going to diss me. They’re going to tell the whole group stuff about me and then not only will I lose them as friends. I’ll lose a whole group and I will be alone.”

A lot of times what happens is somebody will say something to a girl and they’re upset or they’ll do something and they’re upset, but instead of handling it, they just stuff it or they act like it was no big deal. They may avoid the other person. Because they don’t handle it, it doesn’t go away. Those bad feelings hang around and fester. When you have a lot of those old feelings inside of you, it ends up causing trauma. They avoid people, roll their eyes at people, and spread a rumor about somebody, all because of unresolved stuff.

They are not standing up for themselves. A lot of times, girls with those conflicts will apologize when they’ve done nothing wrong because they’re trying to salvage the friendship. If you’re in a group, you survive. If you get kicked out of the group, you die, which has been thousands and thousands of years old issue for girls. To salvage the friendships, they don’t stand up for themselves. They don’t solve or address the conflict. They don’t set boundaries. They don’t speak their truth. A lot of girls tend to air on the side of being liked versus making waves or working through a conflict. I don’t think that stops when they become adults.

9. They Allow Words To Hurt Them

I read a book a couple of years ago called The Likeability Factor, which goes into that and what happens in the workforce of women. Another way girls give their power away, and I dress this a lot, especially with younger girls, is they allow words to hurt them. If someone teases them, spreads a rumor about them, gossips about them, or says something about them, they allow it to affect their feelings. They let words hurt. It may cause them to feel frustrated or angry. It may cause them to react Any time they do that, they’re giving their power away.

Raising Daughters | Power Away
The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams

They are in essence telling other people, “You’re in charge of my feelings. I walked into school today. I was in a great mood. I was doing great. You said one thing. All of a sudden, I’m angry and sad. It’s all I can think about. You are in charge of my mood and my day.” I remind girls of a famous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt who said that nobody can make you feel anything unless you give them permission.

There’s an old Aesop fable about a fox who’s walking down the road. This fox is hungry. He sees a bunch of birds up on a tree limb and he gets an idea. He says to these birds, “I’ve got a deal for you. I’m willing to go and dig up a big old worm for you and give it to you. All want in return is one of your feathers. The birds huddled up and they were talking like, “I don’t trust him. He’s always trying to trick us,” but one little bird who we will call Emma said, “I’ll do it. You dig up a worm and bring it to me. I’ll give you one of my feathers.”

That’s what the fox did. He went off. He dug up a big old fat night crawler worm. He put it on the ground. Little Emma flew down, plucked out one of her feathers, gave it to the fox, grabbed the worm, and ate it. She thought, “That’s not bad. Good deal.” The next day the fox brought another worm. Emma flew down plucked out one of our feathers gave it to the fox, grabbed the worm, flew off, and said, “This is great. It’s like a free meal.” This went on every day for a couple of months until one day Emma had plucked out many of her feathers that she could no longer fly. The fox jumped on her and ate her up. The end.

I tell girls, “Don’t give up your feathers. Every time you compare yourself, give up yourself to fit in, avoid a conflict, apologize when you’ve done nothing wrong, or act like you don’t care, you’re giving up a feather. If you do it once, it may not be that big of a deal, but if you do it regularly, you lose your ability to fly. You lose your self-confidence and your ability to be true to yourself and to take care of yourself.” Remind your girls, “Don’t give up your feathers.”

Don't give up your feathers. Every time you compare yourself, give up yourself to fit in, avoid a conflict, apologize when you've done nothing wrong, or act like you don't care, you're giving up a feather. Click To Tweet

10. They Do Not Let Their Buttons Be Pushed

It also includes not letting their buttons be pushed. There’s an old quote that says, “She pushes your buttons because you let her install them.” A lot of times girls will allow themselves to get mad or react to their parents, siblings, friends, boys, and teachers. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You’re always responsible for your feelings and your reactions.” No matter what they say or do, you’re in charge of what you do about it. You’re in charge of your emotions and reactions.

11. They Are In A Power Struggle With Adults

I oftentimes see girls who are in a power struggle with adults around them who they think are too controlling, micromanaging, and aren’t listening to them. For example, because their teacher is a jerk, they decide they’re not going to turn their work in. The parents get upset and frustrated. They will threaten to take their phone away. They will micromanage. The teacher gets frustrated. Everybody’s frustrated because they can’t make her do her homework. I tell them, “You’re getting a little bit of power from that. You might feel like I’m in control. They can’t make me. That’s probably true. This is important. The reality is you’re still giving them your power because you are doing or not doing your schoolwork to show them. It’s still about them.”

Anytime you do something to show people or do a power struggle to try and get some power in that way, in essence, you’re not doing your life for yourself. You’re not doing what’s right for you. You haven’t stopped and said, “Is that in my best interest to turn this work in or to do well in school? If it is, I’ll do it. If it’s not, then I won’t.” They’re doing that or not doing it to show other people. They’re not living their life for them. That is a sneaky way that they’re giving their power away.

12. They Do Not Trust Their Intuition

Let me give you one final example. There are many more, but these are the ones I thought I’d focus on here. One more example of how girls give their power away is by not trusting their intuition. They can be so focused on pleasing other people or not disappointing other people. They may be so focused on fitting in or being liked. Their self-doubt can lead them to make decisions or reasons other than what’s right for them. They end up learning to ignore, not trust, and not act on their own internal intuition, which can tell them their reasons for doing things are not doing things.

Not trusting your gut, not listening to your heart, and not taking that quiet time to do that is the way they’re giving their power away because they’re not living their life for them. They’re doing it for or against other people. I’m going to in a subsequent show, give you a bunch of ideas about how girls can keep their power. I don’t want this show to be too long. I think girls do this and this would be a good episode to tune into with your daughter and lead us some discussions about maybe some ways that they give their power away and what they want to do about it. For you, moms and dads, to also share ways that you think you give your power away and why you think you do.

A Story About A Former Supreme Court Justice

Before I give you this final story. Let me remind you, that the book SHE LEADS: A Practical Guide For Raising Daughters Who Advocate, Influence, and Lead would be a good book for you both to read together because there’s a chapter in there about giving away and keeping your power. It’ll give more examples and insight into this issue. Let me finish with this story about the former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She’s passed away former Supreme Court Justice.

Raising Daughters | Power Away
SHE LEADS: A Practical Guide For Raising Girls Who Advocate, Influence, and Lead.

She was unanimously voted in to become the first woman on the United States Supreme Court back in 1981. Her story is interesting. She grew up on a cattle ranch. She learned to shoot guns and drive a truck before she reached ten years of age. She became tough and self-reliant, a good listener, and also a girl and then a woman who had a great understanding of people. Her dad was a rough and tough cowboy who was described as being tough, rough, and harsh. Her mom was described as being elegant and tough in a different way.

Sandra’s mom learned to deal with her husband by not taking the bait as she didn’t allow herself to be bullied by him. She learned how to not take it personally and she learned how to set boundaries. Sandra learned a lot by watching her mom’s modeling. She ascended to a career in law at the time it was a man’s world, but she had the ability to not take things personally, not give her power away, and to give out as much as she received.

Like Justice O’Connor, kids can learn more by what we do and what we say. Her mom’s role modeling was important for her, not just as a kid but also as a Supreme Court Justice when she was an adult. Be sure you’re modeling that you’re keeping your power. Through this show, if you have become more aware of places where you are giving your power away and modeling that, make sure you clean that up. Thank you so much for stopping by here. I do appreciate it. Share these with your friends. Look at our website for information at ww.DrTimJordan.com. Thank you so much for tuning in. I will be back here with you.


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