Here’s a big reveal: Perfectionism can lead to an eating disorder. It’s a serious disconnect that often hides in plain sight and it can turn perfectly deadly.
Certainly, in our competitive world, being a perfectionist is often viewed as a positive trait. We’re encouraged to be hard workers, intense, disciplined, focused – all good habits.
But for the perfectionist, there is a negative slant – as the effort is obsessive, and can interfere with relationships, with our mental health.
What exactly is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is, essentially, a person’s attempt to be flawless. Perfectionists work toward achieving perfection in work, school, every aspect of life, believing that will make them happy. Deep inside, many are driven by an intense fear of failure. They never feel a sense of satisfaction. There’s always the feeling “I need to do more.” Friendships get pushed to the side; there’s just not time for them.
That’s very different from goal-oriented people, who also work hard – but are not obsessed. They simply work to improve their lives, and feel great with every stride they make. Unlike perfectionists, they don’t let relationships suffer; they roll with life’s challenges, and make time for family and friendships.
How does perfectionism lead to an eating disorder?
As we’re all aware, the pursuit of the “perfect body” and “perfect look” permeates social media and society. For the perfectionist, this can fuel an obsession with appearance and weight.
A perfectionist sets very specific goals, like reaching a certain weight or working out a specific number of hours daily, weekly, monthly. They reach those goals, but there’s no sense of accomplishment, and life doesn’t feel any better.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you’ve made it to the gym three times every week. You’ve lost the 10 pounds you’ve been aiming for. But that’s not good enough when you’re a perfectionist.
You think, “If I do THIS, life will be better.” However when you reach 120 pounds, you realize life is not better. You believe that by working harder, and losing more weight, you will feel better about yourself. That’s the pattern of anorexia nervosa, and it can have deadly consequences. That’s the price of perfectionism.
Easing the burden of perfectionism
Perfectionism is a type of addiction and effective counseling can change this negative obsession. As with any addiction, it’s critical to get to the root of the problem – the event that set this pattern in motion. With this, we can help guide the individual toward a healthier perspective on life.
With counseling, the individual can be released from the burden of perfectionism. They begin to realize their inherent self-worth, their value, their lovability – their innate perfection, strengths, and goodness. They can learn to set goals that simply make life better, and allow time for family, friends, and enjoyment of life.