Lies Girls Believe: Dannah Gresh
What are your daughter's emotions telling you about her inner world? Author Dannah Gresh chats about the lies our girls believe, the powerful emotions they face, and how to deal in healthy ways with both.
About the Guest
- Connect with Dannah at dannahgresh.com, and be sure to catch to her podcast.
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- Intrigued by today's episode? Think more about the lies you might be believing in Dannah's blog post, Are You Believing Lies about Media?
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What do your daughter’s emotions say about her inner world? Author Dannah Gresh chats about healthy ways to deal with feelings—and the lies girls believe.
Lies Girls Believe: Dannah Gresh
Lies Girls Believe: Dannah Gresh
Ann: Recently TIME Magazine published an article about the epidemic our teen girls are facing in the United States, and even our pre-teen girls. Are you ready for this?
Dave: I don’t know. I don’t think I want to hear it.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app. This is FamilyLife Today!
Ann: These are the findings that came from the CDC which stated that teen girls are now in crisis. One in three girls considered suicide in 2021. Let that just sink in. One in three girls considered suicide.
Dave: Are you sure this is accurate? That’s so high.
Ann: This makes me teary, reading it, thinking of my granddaughters. And it said that’s a 60 percent increase since 2011, and it also said more girls are feeling so sad and hopeless that they can’t even engage in normal activities. I’m not kidding. I’m teary right now, because—
Dave: You’re thinking of—
Ann: —our young women—
Dave: Olive and Autumn.
Ann: Yes. And I’ve talked to so many moms of teen girls and preteen girls that are at their wits end. They don’t know what to do, because their daughters are believing a lot of lies, and our culture is speaking lies and telling them lies. And we as women think, “We want to go to war and battle for our daughters,” but we’re not always sure how to go about that.
Dave: So today we have hope.
Ann: We do have hope. We have Dannah Gresh with us today. Dannah, I’m so glad that you are here!
Dannah: I am so glad to be here. You are already stirring my heart up.
Dannah: I’m getting on my soap box.
Ann: Oh, good. You just get right up on it, because I want to talk about it. We’re going to talk about this, and what an appropriate name for your book called Lies Girls Believe. I think many of our listeners have probably read Lies Women Believe. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wrote that book, and I went through that. I bet a lot of women have gone through that.
Dave: Dannah, you do a podcast with her.
Dannah: Yes, I do. Revive Our Hearts™. I’m her co-host.
Ann: How long have you done that together?
Dannah: I guess we’re going on three, four years now. I’m not quite sure, but we’ve done stuff together since 2008. I wrote Lies Young Women Believe for teen girls because about 1.5 million women have been set free through the pages of Lies Women Believe.
Ann: You have that documented?
Dannah: Yes. It’s probably closer to two million by now. That would be—several years ago it was 1.5 million. Incredible freedom, and many of them said, “Well, my lies started when I was a teenager,” or “My lies started when I was ten years old.” So we’ve been working to kind of just bring that truth to girls in an age-appropriate way, because the crisis you’re talking about, that number doesn’t surprise me, because in the years that I was writing this book, right about that time, right before 2021, we were seeing the number of E.R. visits for poisoning, burning, self-harm for nine- to thirteen-year-old girls rising.
Ann: Nine to thirteen.
Dannah: Nine- to thirteen-year-old girls! And the average girl in the nine to seventeen range scored so high in an anxiety test that in 1957 they would have put that girl in in-patient treatment for mental health care.
Ann: Come on.
Dannah: But today it’s so common, we just think, “Oh, that’s pretty normal. That’s normal for teen and tween girls, so just keep going.” But normal is not okay when it’s that.
Ann: Yes, that’s not normal. So Lies Girls Believe, and the Truth that Sets Them Free is for the age of—
Dannah: Seven to twelve.
Ann: Seven to twelve.
Dannah: Eight to twelve, yes. Somewhere in that range.
Dave: What do you think is going on?
Dannah: Well, here’s what Nancy identified, is that lies always have two evidences. One evidence is sin, right? The very first sin ever committed, we read about it in the book of Genesis, Satan lies to Eve in the form of the snake, and she believes the lie. Because she believed the lie, she acts in disobedience against God. So sin is one evidence of a lie. But the other thing that we don’t really notice in there, but there’s a lot of insecurity in there.
She thinks, “Wow, really? God’s withholding something good from me? Because Satan’s saying, ‘Hey, listen. God knows that if you eat from this tree you’re going to be just like Him.’” She has emotions that are not written about on the page, but we can kind of read between the lines and know she had to feel some insecurity to believe that lie. “Well, maybe that’s true. I’m doubting God. I’m feeling insecure and inferior myself, so I’m going to eat.”
So the good news about that is that before our daughters sin because they believe the lie, they’re going to give us the tell-tale sign of what I call “sticky emotions.”
Ann: I thought this was genius. Listen up. This is really good.
Dannah: Okay, if you think it’s genius, you need to know that it was actually my husband’s idea.
Ann: There we go! We knew we loved Bob.
Dave: Hey, you know what? We’re going to edit that out. [Laughter] Just own it. It’s yours.
Ann: We love Bob.
Dannah: I asked, “What do we call this, for the eight- to twelve-year-old girls, when an emotion is unhealthy?” But a sticky emotion is an emotion that sticks to you and it won’t go away, or you’re not sure why it’s there, because emotions are a good gift from God, right? When He created the world, He looked at the world and said, “It is good.” That included our emotions, our joy, our happiness, our hopefulness. Even our anger and our sadness can be good when used in the right way, because emotions are a message.
They’re a message from God, and when those emotions are not fun ones, like stress, for example, that sends you the signal that, “Oh, your daughter is stressed out.” If you do less, if she’s not in before-school activities and after-school activities and travel soccer team on the weekends, and she does less, that emotion will depart because the message was read and responded to and it’s not needed anymore.
But I think all of us have been on vacation, eating bonbons and have a piña colada and our feet up, and we still feel stressed out. That’s probably because something is really out of order in our life, and it might be because we’re believing a lie about our life, about ourselves, about God, about our world.
So if we can teach girls how to identify those sticky emotions and recognize them as an evidence of a lie, and then trace them to see what that lie is and replace them with truth, we can help them experience freedom in Christ.
Ann: This is one of my passions, for not just young girls, but women.
Ann: It’s amazing how many women are living with lies every day. They’ve been doing it so long, they don’t even recognize it as a lie.
Dannah: If you can help your daughter learn how to understand her sticky emotions now, you’re not just helping her behave better today and not sin tomorrow, but you’re helping her thirty years down the road—
Ann: To be a healthy woman of God.
Dannah: Yes, yes. A healthy mom, a healthy wife.
Ann: Free, living in freedom.
Dannah: Living in freedom.
Dave: And in some ways, you’re stopping a legacy.
Dannah: Yes, a lot of times.
Dave: If a girl grows up and is a mom, she’s not going to pass it to the next generation. If she doesn’t, or he doesn’t, we pass it.
Ann: What are some of the warning signs for moms, if they’re listening, as they think, “My daughter is actually ____. Her stomach’s upset before she goes to school.” Are there things that moms and dads should be looking for in our kids that maybe our girls are believing lies?
Dannah: Yes, I think any time there’s a chronic negative emotion that either doesn’t go away, no matter what you do. For example, a girl who’s fearful even when she’s completely safe or you don’t understand why it’s there. Again, she’s fearful, doesn’t know why. I was just in Colorado Springs a few weeks ago and heard about a True Girl—that’s the name of my ministry for tween girls—who was having trouble with sleeping.
She was terrified that someone was going to sneak into her bedroom at night and steal her. This wasn’t rational at all. Now, the funny thing is, the mom was a trauma therapist, a Christian trauma therapist, and she said, “I don’t know how to help her.” Can you imagine how horrible that must feel as a mom?
Ann: And I think for other moms, like “Wait. If she can’t help her, who can?”
Dannah: And here’s the thing: sometimes the person we’re least objective with is our own children, right?
Ann and Dave: Right.
Dannah: So I was able to go to her. This is a weird thing, but I had Covid 18 months ago and since then I’ve had chronic anxiety at night. It’s physiological. The doctors say it’s a melatonin problem. I’m almost asleep, and then I wake up fearful. So I have had to be like, “Okay, this is a physiological thing. It’s not even an emotional thing. It’s completely medical,” but I’ve had to go to the Word of God.
I memorized Psalm 91. Whenever I wake up—in the beginning I would wake up and for two hours I would be terrified in my bed at night, because I would think, “Something’s really wrong.” I don’t think I was having panic attacks, but I was having something like that. And now I’m waking up and quoting Psalm 91.
Ann: Can you quote some of it to us?
Dannah: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘My Rock and my Refuge, My God.’” And if you go on, it says, “I will not fear the terror of night. I will not fear the terror of night,” and I can do the whole Psalm, but I just start to recite that in my mind, and I fall asleep in five or ten minutes.
So I go to this girl and I say to her, “I hear you’re having a hard time sleeping.” Because I say to the mom when I meet her, “Where’s your daughter?” It was a snow day in Colorado Springs, so I asked, “Is she at home today because it’s a snow day?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “We’re going to pray for her. Take me to her.”
Ann: This is the warrior in women that comes out. “I’m going to protect my girls.”
Dannah: My husband is looking at me, because I am not Miss Spontaneous, not like he is, like “We’re going where?” I said, “We’re going to go pray for that girl.” So I just tell her my story. I say, “Listen, there was not truth to my fear. Is there truth to your fear? When you’re afraid somebody is going to steal you, has that ever happened?”
Ann: What a good question. And you’re not saying, “There’s no truth to your fear.” You’re asking her.
Dannah: I’m asking her, “Is there truth to your fear?” She says “No.” I asked, “Has anybody ever come into your room and stolen you?” “No.” “Have you ever known anyone that’s been stolen?” “No.” “Have you read about it in the news?” “Well, not really.” I said, “Well, because it could happen. It has happened, but it’s probably not going to happen to you. Does your house have locks on it?”
“Yes.” “Does your house have an alarm system?” “Yes, we actually have video cameras.” “Okay, so maybe, like me, your emotion isn’t telling you the truth.” She said, “Ohhh.”
So I invited her to learn Psalm 91 with me. This is a nine-year-old girl. I prayed with her, and several weeks later her mom said, “She’s memorized Psalm 91, and she’s sleeping like a baby every night.”
Dannah: That’s just how it works. That’s a simple example of it. Sometimes it’s a lot harder because there is a real fear or there is a real hurt, but it was interpreted in the wrong way.
Ann: But you’re right, Dannah. I have sexual abuse in my background, and so I can remember one time that it happened, my mind twisted, and I thought, “Something must be wrong with me. This must be my fault. This is something that I do.” So you don’t even realize that just becomes this lie of unworthiness and shame. And then you just carry it into adulthood, and now I’m having consequences of these lies that I’m hearing in my head over these years.
So if we can get our girls to identify and talk about the things that they’re hearing or the lies that they’re dealing with, what a freedom.
Dannah: What a freedom. And even something like that, such a severe trauma, such a severe pain, the Word tells us we can have victory over that.
Ann: Yes. And I have found freedom and victory.
Dannah: Praise the Lord. Amen.
Ann: But it’s taken work, too.
Dannah: Sure. It does take work. But Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” He said, “If you’re truly my disciples, you will abide in My Word, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Let me ask you this: Was some of your work getting in the Word and saturating your heart with the truth of the Scriptures?
Ann: Dave knows this. I could not exist without the power of God’s Word. It’s not that I should read it; it’s my food every day. It sets me free every day. It reminds me of God’s goodness, His grace, and His unconditional love, and His power that has set me free. So the answer is yes.
Dave: So that’s truth replacing lies. Is that what you’re saying?
Dannah: Yes. We have to take what is true in the Word and replace it with whatever emotional sticky feelings we have. Now, not all the time is the sticky feeling a lie.
Dannah: But a lot of times we are allowing the emotion to become the boss of us, rather than using it as a messenger.
Ann: That’s a good way to put it.
Dannah: And saying, “Okay, God has given me stress,” or “God has given me guilt. What is He trying to tell me through this?” And you go to the Word and you learn what it’s for, and then the emotion goes away. That’s how it’s supposed to work. We should feel guilt, we should feel anger, we should feel fear. When a bear is chasing me, I want to feel fear, right? Because that’s what makes me respond to it.
But when we just feel and we don’t do anything about it, that’s when sometimes they can settle in and become lies. If you don’t deal with that lie when it’s small and manageable, it does grow and become far more damaging in our lives.
Ann: And it spills into every area of our lives.
Dave: So is a seven-year-old, ten-year-old girl or boy able to identify the lies on their own, or do they need somebody to help them?
Dannah: They do need help. That’s why we wrote the book, and that’s why we wrote A Mom’s Guide to Lies Girls Believe, because we want Mom to be the one to help her.
Ann: This book is beautiful. I wish all of you could see it. I hope you’ll all buy it, because it’s a workbook, and it’s beautifully written and illustrated, and there are great questions. I like that it has a theme of Zoe. Now I realize that’s your granddaughter.
Dannah: Well, I didn’t know I was going to have a granddaughter named Zoe when I wrote the book. She was born a year later, and named Zoe. That’s kind of cool.
Ann: Ohhh. Why did you decide to use this little girl named Zoe?
Dannah: Well, Zoe shows up at the beginning of each chapter, and it’s kind of just a story-form chapter book type writing.
Ann: Let me read the introduction to Zoe. “Meet Zoe.” She’s so cute. She has a little picture. “She’s a girl whose name means ‘life.’ She’s going to join us as we explore these sticky feelings, the lies they reveal, and God’s truth. And we’re going to start with the very first woman who believed the very first lie. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started.”
Dannah: Yes. So Zoe shows up at the beginning of every chapter. There’s a cute little drawing of her. She has a problem, and the girls have to help solve that problem by telling her what the truth is. There are pages at the end of the chapter that say, “Zoe has believed what lie?” and they identify the lie. “What Bible verse do you think Zoe needs to meditate and think about truth?” And they write in the Bible verse that they would have found in that chapter.
But what we’re doing is we’re putting them in the driver’s seat of being the counselor and the advisor, because sometimes it’s a little easier to be objective and learn the process when it’s not your own lies you’re identifying. And then hopefully at the end of the book we do give her the tools so she can start establishing that habit and practice for her own life.
Ann: How many truths and lies do you have that Zoe deals with?
Dannah: The book deals with twenty. We surveyed 1500 church-going tween girls, because we wanted to make sure that the lies that we introduced in the book were lies that they really were struggling with. And then we narrowed that down to twenty that were really popping up pretty consistently, lies like “It’s not that great to be a girl.” “Boys and girls aren’t that different,” was not the predominant lie, but we were alarmed when roughly just under ten percent of the girls were saying, “Yes, I believe that lie.”
These are seven- to ten-year-old girls five years ago, and that’s gotten worse in five years, very rapidly.
Dave: Yes, I was going to say, if that’s five years old—
Dannah: The survey is five years old.
Dave: Would you jump into gender dysphoria today?
Dannah: We do jump into it in there. We knew it was coming. I’ve been studying that. I was part of a think tank on binary 15 years ago, before it was in the news, binary and non-binary language.
Dannah: And so I knew that this was coming fast and furious. We don’t talk about the lies in there. We don’t talk about transgenderism or pronouns. What we do talk about is that sometimes almost all of us are like, “It’d be nice to be a boy because boys seem to be stronger athletes. It’d be nice to be a boy because boys seem to get—”
Ann: “—they can go to the bathroom outside.” [Laughter]
Dannah: That is never a thought I ever had, but I’m not going to ask you if it’s a thought you’ve ever had.
Dave: It’s one she said.
Ann: It’s what my granddaughter just told me. “Oh, I wish I could do that.”
Dannah: This is so normal, right? To compare ourselves, right? But with the culture telling all these other lies around those really normal feelings that girls have had for centuries, it can lead to really some scary lies. So we went ahead and said, “Let’s talk about why it’s so great to be a girl.” There’s just some really basic theology in there about God chose two genders, and here’s why. Let’s go back to Genesis 1:26-27, where He says, “In the image of God, He created them; male and female He created them.”
Now listen, there are so many things that are God-like about us, right? Our language proficiency, the ability to defy gravity and fly to the moon, our creativity, that we can compose sonnets and create great works of art—these are all very God-like qualities. Even the way we have emotions. I’m an animal lover, so I believe animals have emotions. I think they’re adorable and I love them, but we have them in a much more complex, sophisticated way, right? And a much more purposeful way.
So there’s a lot of things about us God could have mentioned when He said, “You’re in my image,” but He says two things: maleness and femaleness are what display My image in this very critical, foundational verse, and so it must matter that God chose you to be a girl. I like to tell moms one of the most important theological sentences you can say to your children right now is “It’s great to be a girl,” or “It’s great to be a boy,” or “God chose you to be a girl,” “God chose you to be a boy.”
Again, you don’t have to study the counterfeit to plant the truth, and that’s just one of the lies we deal with in the book.
Shelby: Dannah has some encouragement for moms here in just a second. But you don’t have to study the counterfeits to plant the truth. That connects with me so well, because I feel like so many times I have to study everything that’s going on in the culture and I’m just overwhelmed by it. But no, what we really need to do is just study the truth. Study the truth, plant that in our daughters’ hearts, and that’s what’s actually going to grow, end up being the solution there. It’s just being dedicated to the truth.
I’m Shelby Abbott and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Dannah Gresh on FamilyLife Today. Dannah has written a book called Lies Girls Believe. There are a ton of things that our daughters face today that are challenging, that the previous generations didn’t face, things like huge anxiety, bullying on social media, and tons of other stuff. I have two daughters, so I think about this quite often, and what I want to do is equip them with the truth.
That’s what this book, Lies Girls Believe does. It helps them understand the truth in order to be able to set them free. You can find a copy of it at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329.
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Now back to the conversation with Dannah Gresh, and some encouragement for moms.
Ann: As we step away, encourage moms right now who have those daughters between those ages. Why is it so important to talk about these things?
Dannah: I think one of the really important reasons we’re going to talk about it is so they can have that long-term freedom. One of the first girls that I mentored believed the lie, “Everyone leaves.” She was in high school; I was in my 20’s. She was just always fearful that I was going to abandon her. Her youth pastor had left her, and then she gets married, she goes away to college, she comes to see me. She’s 25 now, and I’m like, “You’re still struggling with that, aren’t you?”
She said, “I’m terrified my husband is going to leave me.” And we began to pray, because by then I had learned you can know the truth and the truth will set you free. I said, “Let’s try to figure out when you started feeling that way,” and we spent about two hours that night praying. Her lie was attached to her parents’ divorce. She was in sixth or seventh grade, and her mom and dad divorced, and she said, “From that night on, I had panic attacks that everyone would leave me.”
Well the truth is that people will fail you, so where do we go in God’s Word? Well, the verse that God brought to her heart as we prayed for her was “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Being able to be anchored in that changed her forever. One of the ways it manifested was she could never really sleep alone. She had a twin, so she always had a twin in her room, roommates in college, husband. That night she drove 18 hours to go home, and got tired on the way, stopped in a hotel room, never even thought to be afraid, and slept like a baby. That’s how powerful truth can be.
Ann and Dave: Yes.
Dannah: If we can give our daughters that gift so that they don’t have to go through ten or fifteen years of believing a lie like “everyone leaves,” but they can live in the security of the truth of God’s Word. That doesn’t mean her life is going to be easy and perfect and there aren’t going to be heartaches. It means she will thrive through them.
Ann: She will thrive through them. That’s what we want, women and our daughters, and men and boys—
Dave: For sure.
Ann: —to thrive in the freedom that God brings, through the cross, really.
Dannah: Yes. It’s all through the cross.
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