Many who suffer from eating disorders also struggle with perfectionism. From their appearance to their grades, from their personal relationships to their work performance, they expect perfection from themselves. Perhaps you can relate to perfectionism. Do you ever find yourself having thoughts such as these?
If I can’t do it right, there’s no point in doing it at all.
I can’t relax until I have everything done.
Everything I do has to be just so or others will think less of me.
I have to be self-controlled with my eating, my emotions and everything I do.
Even if these statements are familiar to you, you may reason that you’re just a person who likes to do your best or that you’re simply a hard worker. But, how do you know when the drive to do well goes too far? When does it cross a line into perfectionism? Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do you have an all or nothing attitude? Do you see your performance as either great or terrible without giving yourself credit for anything in between?
2. Does your drive for perfection in other areas make its way into trying to have what you consider to be the perfect body?
3. If you aren’t satisfied with something you’ve done, do you tend to be overly harsh on yourself and think little of yourself as a person?
4. Do you expect more from yourself than you expect from others? Do you expect more from yourself than others expect from you?
5. Do you find it difficult, or even impossible, to relax?
6. Do you tend to be performance oriented?
7. Are you afraid that if you cut yourself some slack in one area of your life, that you’ll go to the opposite extreme in that area as well as other areas in your life?
8. Do you tend to set particularly high goals and then berate yourself when you don’t meet them?
9. Do you base your self-worth on how much you can accomplish and on your quality of performance?
10. Do you feel that God is disappointed in you when you fall short of your own expectations?
This is by no means a comprehensive list of traits related to perfectionism. These are just some thoughts to consider.
Perfectionism is a common but tough issue to address in eating disorder recovery. Often, perfectionism has been a part of us for a long time, making our thoughts hard to change. Also, we may have a hard time admitting we are perfectionists since we reason that we’re just trying to do things well. Deep down, though, we know that our drive to do things well controls us as it leads us into unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. What are some things we can do to change our perfectionism? Here are a few suggestions.
1. When you’ve done your best, see it as acceptable. Things may not have turned out quite the way you had in mind, but given your current time and resources, you did your best. Focus on that.
2. Seek help to understand what realistic expectations of yourself should be.
3. Instead of putting yourself down for what you didn’t do, give yourself a pat on the back for what you completed.
4. Catch yourself when you’re engaging in all or nothing thinking. Find some middle ground. When something you’ve done doesn’t quite meet the standard you had in mind, instead of thinking it’s horrible, realize it’s actually pretty close to the way you wanted it and celebrate that.
5. Remind yourself that it’s okay to relax. You need your rest to be refreshed and rejuvenated. Also, realize that this need doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human.
6. If you out and out blow it in an area, don’t let that cause you to think that you’re a bad or incompetent person. Instead, be gentle with yourself and learn from the experience.
7. Look back at things you’ve done in the past that perhaps didn’t turn out as you planned. Note that not every detail is as vital as it seemed at the time. Remember that as you work on future projects.
8. Understand that you’re a work in progress. The Bible even says in Phil. 1:6 that we continue to learn and grow. “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” God doesn’t expect you to have arrived so you shouldn’t expect it of yourself, either. He loves you even when you make mistakes. Today isn’t the end. Give yourself time.
Remember that you’re a person of great worth and value regardless of how much you accomplish or how well you accomplish it. Work through this issue of perfectionism with your counselor and discuss it with others in your support system. As you tackle perfectionism, you may be surprised at how much it will help you in your eating disorder recovery. Be patient with yourself. In the end, you’ll be a happier person for it.
If you struggle with the need to be perfect, you might benefit from the Let Go of Perfectionism lesson in the Christian Eating Disorder Recovery Course.
By Laurie Glass