Eating Disorders and Striving for Perfection

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Perfection as Safety

In early recovery work I see my clients struggle with their perfection issues. Regardless of the particular disorder (bulimia, anorexia, compulsive overeating or binge eating) the desire for perfection is usually present.

When a person is anxious and frightened at such a deep level that she needs an ever present eating disorder to soothe, numb and distract herself from her suffering, perfection can be perceived as the ultimate place of safety.

It may be natural to want to improve yourself, to be good or wonderful or the very best you can possibly be. But seeking perfection is an exhausting way of life that can blind you to opportunities for joy and satisfaction.

How Perfection Relates To Eating Disorders

Perfection is a state where criticism is impossible. Whatever is perfect is flawless. Perfection is better than the best.

The best is a comparison with lesser quality. But the best apple in the basket could still have flaws. If you are the best with underlying insecurities, your position is not stable or secure. Feeling you are better than everyone else and even having awards to prove it, may seem to be a safe position. Yet you are still anxious and driven to seek perfection. If superiority were the goal, achieving that goal is temporary. Someone could become your equal or surpass you at any time. You still have flaws that someone else could better.

Striving for perfection and believing perfection is attainable is not necessarily a competition. You aren't looking to be better than everyone else. Your goal is not to be superior. Your goal is to be perfect. Others can be perfect too. I think that's why pro ana people support each other's starvation. They are not in competition with each other. They are all striving to reach the mythical state of perfection. Then not only will others not judge you or find fault with you. You will stop the critical voice in your own head.

When you reach the state of perfection you will be safe. Nothing can hurt you. You can rest and simply be perfect. You have no fears or concerns about flaws, vulnerabilities, weaknesses or judgments from others or yourself.

But no one can reach that place. Perfection is not attainable. And that means ultimate and perfect safety is not attainable. It also means that striving for perfection leaves you feeling sad, defeated, frightened and desperate.

Genuine safety comes from health, internal sturdiness and wisdom. To attain that the you have to gradually give up your eating disorder and move into real recovery.

This takes a lot of courage. To give up striving for perfection may feel like you are surrendering to imminent catastrophe.

Yet, over time, it's a relief to give up the pursuit of perfection and be your own wonderful and imperfect self. It is then that you are capable of having rich relationships with other imperfect and wonderful people. It is then you can build a happy and satisfying life.

Joanna Poppink, MFT, Los Angeles eating disorder recovery psychotherapist 


0 # I sort of had this discussion the otherPTC 2010-01-12 05:52
I sort of had this discussion the other day. I feel like a lot of people see me as being the "perfect" person and therefor I kind of have to play that role. I always get the "I hope my daughter grows up to be just like you." I always think "really, you don't." Well, I think I'm a good person, just not perfect, like others think I am.

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