Two Obstacles to Raising Resilient Girls

Ellen Duffield

August 24, 2022

When we lack resilience, we are more likely to become overwhelmed and seek out unhealthy coping strategies. As I shared in a previous article, people with resilience have learned to tap into their support systems and strengths. This is important because, as psychologist Lisa Damour, PhD says, “The ability to persist in the face of difficulty may be as essential to success as talent or intelligence.” We can cultivate resilience in part by recognizing the obstacles to building resilience.


One of the biggest hurdles to gaining resilience is our arch-enemy, perfectionism. If we persist in thinking we must be flawless, we will be debilitated when we make a mistake or are found out as having an imperfection. This fear of anything less than eternal excellence undermines our ability to take risks and creates such a huge burden to carry that girls may feel drained as a result!

Discussing this anxiety with our daughters is important, and the language we use is important. Sometimes saying, “That is exactly what I was hoping for” may be better than “That is perfect,” because perfection is nebulous. In some cases “I would love to see what we could learn by trying this” may be better than “You will rock this” as it lowers the expectation of immediate success. And, perhaps most importantly, modeling keeping short accounts and asking for forgiveness for mistakes teaches a freeing way to navigate life.

Research by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman found that the percentage of girls who felt they are not allowed to fail rises by 150% between age 12 and 13!

Overfed on unrealistic messages of perfection, our girls are experiencing what one mother called “anorexia of the soul.” Every day they look in the mirror and see the flaws. We have trained them to do so. By age 7 many girls believe their looks are more important than their character.

Yet children with a stronger sense of the importance of their character are more likely to have a stronger sense of self, be more caring to others, and feel ready to stand up for what they believe.

By age 9 their confidence begins to decline. Among other challenges, this decline can contribute to lower risk taking, fear of failure, rumination about the past, higher levels of anxiety, depression, and Imposter Syndrome.

Psychology professor Jean Twenge argues that smart phones have radically altered the nature of social interactions, and consequently mental health. Her 2020 findings suggest that youth who spend five hours a day on social media are almost 4 times more likely to also demonstrate depressive symptoms.

Another study found that heavy use of screen media was linked to shorter sleep duration, longer sleep latency, and more mid-sleep awakenings.

One of the most critical windows for girls’ social media use is age 11-13. and the best things we can do for our girls are to teach critical thinking skills (“How much do you think this picture has been touched up to look like this?”); and provide healthy boundaries and alternatives to screen time.

People Pleasing

Some of us struggle more with perfectionism’s twin sister—people pleasing. This shadow side of our relational strength can quickly create a destructive firestorm that is difficult to recover from if left unchecked. Everyone expects you to meet their expectations. But that's an impossible trap of fulfilling conflicting wishes. Learning how to disappoint people with grace, courage, and confidence is key.

The pressure to be nice is stifling. People who base their self worth on what others think report higher levels of stress and subsequent lower academic scores and higher levels of drug abuse and eating disorders.

In one interesting study 86% of female college students said that they remembered being told to be nice. Only 56% recalled being taught to take a stand for what they believed in.

Think about the childhood stories we tell, of pretty princesses who depend on others to rescue them, Chicken Little worriers, and little girls with curls right in the middle of their forehead who were only either “very, very good” or “horrid.”

Cultivating self-compassion

Compassion is a much more holistic and healthy way to think. We know that girls who develop self-compassion are more likely to demonstrate compassion for others. Dr. Kristin Neff is a global expert on self-compassion. She describes it as “treating yourself the way you would want to treat a friend who is having a hard time.” We can help our girls with this by teaching them self-awareness, self kindness, self-forgiveness—alongside awareness of others, kindness to others and how to forgive others.

When we do this we are modeling not only what it means to be human but also what it means to be made in the image of God. For, as Psalm 145:8-9 reminds us that, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love…he has compassion on all he made.”

About the author — Ellen Duffield

Ellen is the author of BRAVE Women: Building Bridges to Transformation, The BRAVE Way: Where Will Your Brave Take You Today? and a BRAVE Girls Curriculum. She is currently working on a BRAVE resource for boys and men. [email protected],

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