Sunday, January 24, 2010

Question # 15: Perfectionism

I've finally resumed! The next question is from Veggie. She asks:

"What do you think about the role of the perfectionism in EDs? (Moreover, in anorexia?)
Have you got some tricks to be not overwhelmed from perfectionism? I've asked this because I'm a 'perfectionist' and I've got some problems to split the 'healthy perfectionism' - which is part of my character - from the 'anorexia perfectionism' - which plays a great part in the maintenance of my anorexia..."

GOOD question. I actually did a YouTube video called "Perfection & Imperfection" seven months ago. I'm going to put that video here, so if you don't want to read through the post, you can just watch me talk sternly at you in my smiley, perfectionism-is-crap, Arielle-ish way. But for Veggie's sake I've taken the liberty of writing out the majority of what I say in the video, since I know English isn't her first language and I understand how hard it can be to understand someone in a video when you'd prefer to just read their words at your own pace. I'm also aware that I have a fair number of other viewers who don't speak English as a first language, so I figured this way the words are below the video as well.

So many people, eating disordered or not, are just so engrossed with this topic of perfection and imperfection. And it can really become an obsession, whether it's body image related, beauty related, achievement related. You can even go as far as "grade" (referring to school) related. There are so many things to be obsessed about where flaws are concerned. And it's a really unfortunate thing that people are obsessed with this, because it takes away from living your life.

I was extremely obsessed with being perfect in a wide variety of categories. I had your typical perfectionist, anorexic mindset. That's a little stereotypical, but it is very true that eating disordered people tend to be perfectionists or at least have somewhat of an obsessive mindset.

Not only does everyone have imperfections, but everyone has problems, issues... If you feel that you're the only one, that's where you're going to run into that fear of being imperfect. You can learn to embrace your imperfections if you don't think of them as imperfections. "Imperfections" sounds like such an ugly word and sometimes just stereotypes or stigma around a word can really change our perception about it.

So how do you come to terms with not being perfect? Honestly, it can take a while. There are definitely still days when I don't like something about myself, the way I did something, or when I wonder what other people think... but I've come a long way from where I used to be and I'm so much happier because of it. Letting go of this "having to be perfect" attitude is going to really, really benefit you. But you have to stick with it, because this question--at the heart--is "how do I come to terms with not being perfect?" That's where any of my "tricks" would come in. The only way to "not be overwhelmed by perfectionism," as Veggie puts it, is to accept our imperfections and realize FULLY that no one is perfect. No one. And our imperfections don't have to be something NEGATIVE.

You have to remember that nobody's perfect, and I know that's such a typical, cliched statement, but it's so true. Nobody is perfect. Perfect does not exact. (Yep, you heard me.) And imperfections are so much more beautiful than perfection is. (Okay, now you're thinking I'm crazy... but it's true! I really believe this!) In order to come to terms with not being perfect, you have to really embrace the good qualities you have. You have to really learn to love all the good things about yourself. And once you've done that (which even THAT can take a while), then you have to start to embrace your flaws. (Sounds thrilling, doesn't it? But hear me out...)

That's not to say that you shouldn't continually be trying to make yourself a better person; I think that's something that everyone sort of strives for in their lives. I mean, they know that they're not so great at something...or they know that they could change their attitudes about something... and they want to make themselves better... and that's very good and very commendable...AS LONG AS THE GOAL, ultimately, IS NOT PERFECTION.

Perfection is not achievable, so essentially, you're setting yourself up for failure from the get-go.

You need to let go of that whole perfection thing.

Perfection is a fallacy. Next, you must learn to accept your own imperfections as normal...because they are normal. And I'll tell you why. No matter how alone you might feel about a certain flaw or imperfection that you have, you're not alone. Just think how lonely having an eating disorder is. And think how alone you felt at certain points throughout your struggle...or even how alone you still do feel. But are you alone?

I mean, I made this video for a recovery collaboration that has over 600 subscribers and even more viewers. If you're reading this, you are among hundreds of visitors to my blog. And that's just a tiny microcosm of the world. There are A LOT of people with eating disorders out there. And even though at one time or another we might feel alone because we have one, we know we're not. You have to remind yourself: YOU'RE NOT ALONE.

Put the same strategy towards perfectionism. Use logic. Whatever your imperfection might be (today, tomorrow, 5 minutes from now), whether it's about a body part--being too big, too small, too this, too that--somebody else out there (and most likely, MANY, MANY other people) have that same imperfection.

And to be quite honest with you, who's to say it's an imperfection? I mean, especially if lots of people have it. And maybe, if by some major miracle, you are in fact the ONLY person who has that particular imperfection...isn't that more special? More unique? Think about it.

And I know all imperfections people worry over have nothing to do with the body. Maybe you wish you were smarter, prettier, tanner, taller, shorter...the list can go on and on. And chances are if you really sat there and thought about all the things you wanted to change about yourself, you might have a pretty long list. But again, remember: Everybody out there has SOMETHING they don't like about themselves. Everybody out there has an imperfection, or many.

You have to tell yourself to cut the crap sometimes. And just stand there in front of the mirror and say to yourself (sternly): "I'm not perfect...but I'm fine just the way I am."

From one (recovered) perfectionist--haha--to another, the role of perfectionism in eating disorders can be huge, but you can accept and grow, and soon your imperfections won't seem like a bad thing anymore.


Veggie said...

Dear Arelle, thanks a lot for your reply to my answer, and for writing down everything...
It's true, what I really want, in fact, is not perfection... what I really want is to be happy about who I am and how I look like. It's one of the reasons that let me slip into anorexia, as I thought it was a way to be more confident with my body and some parts of my character that I didn't like.
Maybe I only have to remember - and, moreover, to ACCEPT - the thing that I am not the person I wanted to be. I am not as special as I wanted to be. I'm only a girl. And I can't change the way I am, anorexia will not help me doing this, simply because it's impossibile. So, I only have to find what is good inside of me, and try my best to work on it.
I have to think that I am the change that I've been needing, even if yet I'm still feeling powerless to make that change; I am the difference, my own miracle... But I'm still waiting for someone to rescue me
from me... and it can be only myself.
I don't know why I need this feeling of "perfection" and why the rain drops fall so hard on me and I don't know if I will reach the sun in time to see it rise... But I will not just lay down, no, I will not be defeated from anorexia: I'm gonna open up inside and be the air I can breathe... without perfection,I'll be the air I can breathe.

Arielle Bair (Becker) said...

Veggie, as you do learn to accept and find the good things in yoursel, you will realize that you ARE special. You can't see it now, because anorexia and perfectionism are very, very good at deceiving even the smartest of us - but you are special. ANd you will see it. Keep reaching for that sun. :)

Anne Briggs said...

Arielle, what a wonderful post! Perfectionism is definitely a balance of positive and negative behaviors, with eating disorders an example of extreme perfectionism. We are all perfectionists to a certain degree. This month, I am asking my readers to make a perfectionism diary, which you might be interested in reading.