I've been thinking a lot about perfectionism lately. We talk about it all the time in groups because perfectionism is pretty much a prerequisite to developing an eating disorder. It's funny, people tell me that I have perfectionistic tendencies, but I find it sort of hard to believe and I always get a little frustrated when I hear that. When I think of perfectionists I imagine most of the girls I went to High School with- rich, pretty, thin, and ivy league-bound. They took all advanced placement classes and got straight A's, maintained social lives, sports and extra-curriculars. I was most definitely NOT that girl. I was (and still sort of am) the freaky chick who ate lunch either alone or with one friend in the hallway or on the basement stairs, who skipped midterms and took easy classes so I wouldn't have to try- I needed all my free time to focus on weight loss anyways. No, I am most certainly not a perfectionist. Although, it's pretty safe to say I'm not the same kid I was in High School. I got into an awesome college and did really well there until I had to go on medical leave. My point though is this, you do not have to BE perfect to be a perfectionist. Look at the following characteristics. A lot of people are like this, and if you have an eating disorder, chances are you will relate to the following:
-belief that perfection can and should be attained
-self worth being almost entirely measured in terms of productivity and accomplishment
-mistakes as evidence of unworthiness
-preoccupation with fear of failure and disapproval
-standards often beyond reach and reason
- all or nothing thinking (which I'm sure you're all familiar with). There are no excuses for fucking up. There is no middle ground, there is no in between. You either suck or you've had a job well done.
Now THAT sounds like me. Even at my very worst, bingeing round the clock, at my heaviest weight, in my weakest moments, I still stay stuck in the mindset of a perfectionist. If I'm thin, I can do anything. If I'm not, I am worthless so I'll remove myself from the world and just indulge the behaviors. I suppose if that's not perfectionism I don't know what it is.
Here's the truth, I do kind of wish I could be perfect. It would be so wonderful to get everything right and never wind up looking stupid. But, and this is a big but, not only are there very few people like that out there, but if there are, they're probably incredibly depressing and uninteresting to be around. I mean, even the brightest and most life changing people in history had mishaps and less than desirable oddities. Virginia Woolf was institutionalized for mental breakdowns, Albert Einstein had to take the 5th grade over again, Martin Luther King plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation, and don't even get me started on the royal family. Think about some of most famous and well-known characters in literature! Do we love Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy because they are perfect?! No. We love them because she is a know it all smart ass and he is kind of jerk for the first half of the book. Do we love Emma Bovary because she's perfect? Hells no. We love her because she is delusional and selfish and it's interesting to watch her whole life crumble around her. You catch my drift on this rant, right? Let's give ourselves a break and thank our lucky stars we're as screwed up as we are. We probably have a better shot of making history or winding up in a book someday :)