I thought my goal in being in business was to make a difference and make a living. Turns out the real goal has been to simply be a good person.
This may sound like a nice and noble cause, but in reality it’s crushing to discover, especially for someone with this dreadful affliction!
I was talking to a friend this week. She’s thinking about making a big change in her life. She’s been thinking about it off and on for quite some time, and yet stays in uncertainty.
Each time she grasps a thread of clarity and plans to pull the trigger on the change, something will happen to create a seed of doubt. And the seed grows, and it plays on every story shame she’s got buried deep within her. And she stays put.
She’s got Bad Person Syndrome.
I just decided to coin a phrase for it because I’m seeing as a crusher of dreams across the planet. And naming something seems to take away its power.
What’s Bad Person Syndrome?
It’s the constant, incessant fear of being a bad person. It’s instilled early in life, generally by a parent, who shamed behaviors they deemed “bad” and constantly reminded you that being “good” is the only way to go. This may have been directly in words, but more often it is developed through a manipulation of emotions, and a giving and withdrawing of love based on behavior.
More specifically, in business, an entrepreneur with “Bad Person Syndrome” might exhibit these behaviors:
- Ensuring their business is focused around helping others, often to the point that they are not honest, or they are not really running a for-profit business.
- Struggling to recognize their greatness or to accept compliments.
- Undercharging, because only bad people are in it for the money.
- Working harder than necessary because good people work hard, and they might look like a bad person if they are taking time off to enjoy life.
- Feeling responsible FOR clients rather than responsible TO them.
- Staying in scenarios – with team members, networking groups, personal relationships, client relationships, etc., longer than is healthy as leaving people has a ‘bad person’ air.
- Struggling to delegate and ask for what they really want from a team member because being demanding or having high expectations could be deemed bad.
- Not making changes that are unique or innovative because they haven’t been proven out by someone who is a ‘good person’ therefore, they risk being a ‘bad person.’
- Perpetually waiting to start or launch something because of the need to do it perfectly.
- Find themselves saying frequently, “I feel bad because…” and the because could be anything from doing, having, or being more than someone else, to bumping into someone in the Starbucks line.
My Own Inner Bad Person
As I’ve begun to study I see I’ve spent the last 15 years giving up pieces of my own Bad Person Syndrome, from the year I spent in 2008 practicing being selfish, the time period in which I was committed to doing whatever seemed crazy, to being willing to leave a marriage that wasn’t working for me even though I had a stepson and I didn’t want to hurt anyone. These were all steps toward letting go of the need to not look like a bad person.
In business it’s looked like letting go of feeling responsible for my clients and carrying the burden of their success. The more I’ve let go, the more responsible the clients I’ve attracted. It’s also looked like putting things out when the urge strikes, whether or not it’s done perfectly. It’s also looked like becoming OK with leading a team, giving direct feedback, and making more money than others I work with. I’ve had to learn to prioritize putting money in my pocket rather than having it all go back out the door. These things have all been tough as they stirred my fear of being bad.
The Evil Cousin – Good Child
As I sat down to write this article and give this thing a name, I googled “Bad Person Syndrome,” just to see if anyone else had named and started talking about it. It didn’t come up, but I did find something related – “Good Child Syndrome.”
Good Child Syndrome is developed when a parent insists that a child be ‘good.’ This can often be directly – showing examples of bad kids and judging bad behavior while telling the child to be good, or indirectly – if mom or dad gets so stressed out when you cause problems that you internalize not to be ‘bad.’
Al Siebert, PhD points out that a “Good Child” is established as:
- Not complaining
- Not angry
- Not selfish
- Not dishonest
- Not self-centered or prideful
- Not rebellious
This is great, but the issue comes in when we don’t really know how to discern these things and we’re so convinced that we can’t be that that we can’t see when we ARE that, or when it serves us to BE that.
For example, being selfish can often be healthy for us and those around us. If we serve ourselves, we don’t need others to take care of us. We are responsible for our own happiness. This is fantastic! But if we’re afraid of looking like a ‘bad person’ then anything that involves putting our own needs first will slip by.
If we are told not to complain, and not to give voice to our anger, it makes complete sense that we’d be uncomfortable giving a team member feedback about what works or doesn’t in their results and holding them to a higher standard.
Dr. Gerard C. Bomse writes about “Good Kids” and refers to those who have been told to be good over honoring their own inner “sun” or inner knowing as “moon kids” He says:
“When the child learns early in life that anger, a natural part of its life, is bad, it must learn to conceal and bury something that was part of its sun side. The child gets the message that what it feels, what it thinks, what it wants doesn’t matter. Now, the child must make a major sacrifice. Since it cannot survive without the parent and since expressing its sun side is threatening and unacceptable to that parent, the child must relinquish the sun side of itself. It will develop a set of antennae with which it will have to tune into the needs and demands and expectations of the parents. In other words, the child has given up its sun side and has become a moon child.
“Good kids” are generally moon children. They become super attentive to what is expected of them. They need to be liked, admired and praised. They learn to be charming, ingratiating and pleasing. They are generally very responsive to the needs of those about them. They do the “right” thing and try not to make waves. They try to be good students, athletes and hard workers in order to get the praise of others. They need constant reassurance that they are “good kids”.
There is one very, very big problem, however. Giving up the sun side of itself and becoming a “good kid-moon child” comes with a heavy price. The child must sacrifice its ability to retain a connection with itself.”
In Business to Be “Good”
I remember when I left my first corporate job to become a high school math teacher, I felt like a good person. I knew I had the degree and the talent and ability to be a corporate engineer and make great money. Instead I was choosing to give myself to these kids, and take a big fat pay cut. That thought should have been a clue to me that my intentions were not entirely pure.
Now I did want to make a difference. I’d learned so much about human behavior and I wanted to be a part of something that would put that to use for the good of society. That was actually true and real. And a bigger part of me was just looking for the gold star. I had to be a good person rather than take money for work that wasn’t making a difference in the world.
Many entrepreneurs who are in business to make a difference fall into this martyr-like scenario. I can’t tell you how many people I talk with who, when I ask them what they most want, say they want to make a difference, or to help people. When I ask them what they want for THEMSELVES, they often don’t know, or they downplay their desires. “Well, it might be nice to travel a bit.”
They can’t own it because they are in business to be ‘good’ and having a selfish desire may look bad.
No Self Expression
When an entrepreneur is suffering from “Bad Person Syndrome,” they are so focused on doing the things that make them look good that they forget to see themselves as a unique human being with a host of desires and interests and preferences that make them who they are. They shut down their self-expression.
By the way, people with intense bad person syndrome would not want to admit they had it, because that would really make them feel bad!
People want to buy from you because you’re YOU. When you shut down who you are in favor of pleasing them, they won’t really get you.
Businesses that create a tribe of raving fans, or magnetize their right clients in every room, do so because they be themselves. They follow their own internal compass and honor the Truth of who they are. It may be messy, they may not be perfect, they may act on some crazy ideas. But people will appreciate it, because they sense when something is real.
If a business owner is afraid to let people see them. I mean all of them, even the parts mom and dad would have deemed “bad,” they’ll suppress themselves and hide from the clients who just may be ideal.
If you know you’re struggling with “Bad Person Syndrome” and you want to come out of your shell, I’d love for you to attend my upcoming “Captivate” retreat where we’ll practice being ‘bad’ and becoming whole with who you are so you can move people powerfully into action.
Here’s the link to learn more and register: https://retreatandgrowrich.com/captivate/