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Author Interview

Dr. Jennifer Degler: No More Christian Nice Girl

By Hannah Goodwyn Producer - Psychologist Dr. Jennifer Degler and co-author Paul Coughlin are debunking the myth that Christian women should be "nice girls." In their book, No More Christian Nice Girl, they explain how being "nice" can harm relationships and lead to a less-than-full life in Christ.

Dr. Degler recently spoke with about this new book and how Christian women who are confident and courageous are more Christ-like than the "nice girls". What do you mean by "nice"?

Dr. Jennifer Degler: It is a shocking title, No More Christian Nice Girl. Why would any good Christian woman in her right mind not want to be nice? And if you're talking about kind and compassionate and caring, then yes, women should be nice. But, far too often the niceness that Christian women display is not a true niceness that's motivated by love, it's motivated by fear. It's a plastic pleasantness that you're smiling through gritted teeth because they are afraid of someone's rejection, or not getting somebody's approval, disappointing or angering people, and so they're not being authentic. Your book also talks about peace-making verses peace-faking. As women, how can we recognize the difference?

Dr. Degler: It’s really about what is your heart motivation. If you’re making peace, because that is really what God would have done in that situation, that is His will, then you are a peace-maker. The Bible says: “Blessed are the peace-makers.” But far too often Christian nice girls are peace-faking, so on the outside they’re going along to get along. On the inside, they’re saying “no”. But on the outside, they’re saying “yes”, and Jesus addressed that and said, “Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no, anything else comes from the evil one.” Their outsides don’t match up with their insides, so they’re peace-fakers. What are the signs of a Christian nice girl, and what can we do about it?

Dr. Degler: Well, there’s a quiz in the book that I think is helpful for women, because sometimes you think, “Oh I don’t have this problem.” Some of the items off of there are, when I think “what would Jesus do,” do you automatically assume that He would do something gentile, because He was not always gentile. Do you think anger and conflict are wrong? Do you think they’re sins? When you have something that happens to you that you don’t like, do you smile your way through it and then later groan and complain and fume about it?

Women often times just need to look at, “OK, do my insides match up with my outsides or am I really just pretending a lot of the time? Am I lying?” Really, that’s what it is. When you aren’t speaking the truth in love, you’re lying. And that means they’ve got this Christian nice girl problem and many times what they’re going to find is that they’re not getting the abundant life that Jesus promised; their relationships are not satisfying. What quality should we really be striving for that combats the niceness that we’re used to?

Dr. Degler: Bottom line is Ephesians 4:15, speaking the truth in love. And so a woman needs to ask herself, “Am I speaking the truth here, or am I actually lying by covering up my real needs, my wants, my desires, my opinion? Am I just buying into the nice girl culture that says, ‘if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.’”

Jesus didn’t follow that rule. And we don’t have to follow that rule either. How can parents and influencing adults re-evaluate how they teach young women how to act?

Dr. Degler: There are two different extremes of parenting can produce the Christian nice girl problem. On the one end you do have the over-protective parents who teach their daughters inadvertently that life is to be feared. Don’t ever make a mistake; don’t ever try anything that could in any way set you up to where you might possibly be in the least bit of danger. And in fact, Christian life is supposed to be an adventure. Not that we want our daughters to go down the street in the most dangerous part of town late at night, but we’re talking about in relationships. Being that kind of girl who’s willing to stand up for what is right.

Then in the other extreme, abusive parents who are verbally, emotionally, sexually, physically abusive. They teach their daughters that life is to be feared and you better hide your true feelings. You better numb yourself to your true emotions, and hide and cover up. And you end up growing up to be a fearful woman as well. For married women, where is the line between submitting to their husbands as the Bible instructs us to do and being too agreeable?

Dr. Degler: Every married woman that I have seen in all of my years of practice, if I see them long enough, eventually they ask me the big question… “What do you think it really means to be a submissive wife?”

They want to follow God’s teachings, but they also want to have a marriage that is not something where they feel like a doormat because that just leads to resentment. And so we encourage women: OK, ultimately both you and your husband are to submit to Christ, and so following God and what God would have you to do in every situation, that is what being Christ-like really looks like. Now sometimes, that’s going to line up with what your husband would say, “Yes, this is something we ought to do as well.” Other times it won’t. I have women that I see on my counseling couch, and their husbands are asking them, for instance, “Sign these papers.” And it’s something kind of shady, and he wants her signature on it, so he can do something perhaps in a business that they own, or something with their house. In that instance, if they know that this is something that’s shady, that’s illegal, or unethical, or immoral, their first priority is to submit to God. And if you’re submitting to God, then it’s going to fall into line in terms of submitting to your husband. In the book, you talk about courage as a quality that’s important for a woman of God to hold onto. What are some biblical examples of courageous women?

Dr. Degler: Some of my favorite courageous women in the Bible are Deborah who was a prophet who led Israel at a time when it’s a patriarchal society. I am sure that there were people who looked at her and were very angry at her because she was leading at a time when women were not supposed to lead. She was willing to do that. She spoke very hard words of truth to the military commander of the Israelite army.

Another great example is Abigail, a woman the Bible described as “beautiful and intelligent.” Who would not want to be described by the Bible by those two words? She was married to a fool, and the Bible calls him a fool. Sometimes God’s women find themselves unfortunately married to a man who is not following after God. Her husband endangered her, her family and all of their servants. They were going to be killed by David and his men. Abigail very bravely intervened. She was shrewd and savvy, as Christ tells us to be shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves. She intervened in a very dangerous situation to protect her family and herself. And that’s what God’s good women do. How can a woman who is used to being the “nice” girl step beyond it to become who God wants her to be?

Dr. Degler: It is not an easy thing to do, because you’re talking about facing your deepest fears, your fears of rejection, of disappointing someone. Many women feel incredibly guilty. Now it’s a false guilt. They feel very guilty when they finally begin to say no when they need to say no and to set boundaries. So I encourage women to start out small. Don’t start with your most risky relationship. Pick a real easy relationship, like a relationship with your waiter. You go to a restaurant. They bring you your food. Your food isn’t cooked properly. A Christian nice girl will just sit there and eat her raw steak when she asked for a well done steak and then go home and be real angry about it later. So take a risk. Face your fear that the waiter might get mad at you.

Begin to practice speaking the truth in love in low risk situations and then build up, and practice so that when it is time to say to perhaps your employees that are taking advantage of you, and you’ve been a pushover at work, and they come to you once again and say, “We need some more time off,” or they show up late for the 10th time in a row. Instead of you laughing it off, you actually look at them and say, “You’ve been late ten times in a row. If this happens again, then don’t bother coming back in.”

You begin to speak the truth in love. Over time, if you will do that, it’s amazing how your relationships will transform. They will be more intimate. You will have the abundant life that Jesus promised. But you’ll never have that if you don’t really follow the real Jesus. He spoke the truth in love even when it cost Him.

Hannah GoodwynHannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.

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