Sunday, January 24, 2021

Tools for your Tool Box- In Need of Repair: Perfectionist Thinking and Doing

Tools for your Tool Box –

In Need of Repair: Perfectionist Thinking and Doing

Not feeling good about yourself often leads to the quest for perfection.  The need for perfection is to establish value or disguise feelings of worthlessness and often woven into the cloth of most eating disorders.  This quest has many pitfalls in particular the inevitable, “All or nothing syndrome.”  We often hear: I am either 100% on my program or I’ve totally lost it.  I cannot finish something unless it’s perfect.  I only did two hours on the treadmill, or I will never eat anything with fat.  Driven by the fear of failing and of being unworthy, the pursuit of perfection stops you from completing a paper, finishing a painting, dancing in front of anyone, wearing a bathing suit, going out socially, loving your thighs or accepting yourself.  If I am not the best, the thinnest or the most perfect than I open the door for that moment of doubt followed by the discovery that I am truly not good enough at all—a fraud.

Perfection keeps you from completion, judgment and failure, and protects your low self-esteem from exposure.  It keeps you stuck, unable to accomplish your goals or experience your potential.  How many masterpieces, poems, communications, dinners, and gifts have been abandoned because they were not perfect, not good enough?  How much genius and creativity have gone to the grave because perfection was unattainable?

Relinquishing the need for perfection allows for the presence of feelings.  It creates uncertainty, fear, risk, and doubt.  There is no longer black or white but gray, all different shades, intensities and textures.  Perfection feels safe while the gray can be unpredictable and scary.  People with eating disorders need to strive for the gray, the uncomfortable, the middle, in spite of the fear and discomfort.  Once again this signals risk, one well worth taking.

Thinking and Doing:

Start a list of things you have not done because of your eating disorder or because of the inability to get it perfect.  You may make several lists of different categories: social, financial, professional, creative endeavors, pleasures, or just one master list.  Set aside a week of time outs devoted to making this happen.  Keep adding to the list(s).  Notice how many things you are not doing because they wouldn’t be done perfectly or according to a standard currently unattainable.  Spend some time becoming aware of how this feels.  Remember awareness is the first step toward change.  Work diligently on these lists becoming aware of how many times you hear: I wish this, if only that, or someday I’ll get this.  Keep listening and observing how often you stop yourself by one justification or another.  Do not give up this process.  Just doing it may move you to change.

Next, relax your standard of completion from 100% to 85%.  Choose one item on the list that you could complete just as you are now.  For some of you this may be hard to even hear or comprehend.  Practice thinking less than 100% or doing less than your 120%.  Walk for five minutes less. Clean out one less closet.  Don’t rewrite the letter for the fifth time.  Find one thing you have not been doing because you didn’t think you could do it perfectly.  Do it without being perfect.  Do it 85%.  Think about what it would be like doing other things at 85%.  Let yourself off the perfection hook.  Do less!  In this case you may find that less is more.

As always, approach this with kindness and compassion.  Remember that perfection may be the enemy in disguise and the reason why so many creations are never born.

By Sondra Kronberg, MS, RD, CEDRD /

Sondra Kronberg, MS, RD, CDN, CEDRD is the Founder and Nutritional Director of the Eating Disorder Treatment Collaborative. Author of the Learning Teaching Handout Series Manual produced on CD.  Sondra is a media spokesperson and  speaks nationally on the treatment and the collaborative approach to eating disorders.

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