A major cause and fuel of my eating disorder was my perfectionism, and it was the hardest cycle for me to break. These are the 4 types of perfectionism I’ve experienced, and how I dealt with them.
- Being Scored
Throughout school, sports, testing, applications, and more, many people spend their lives being scored. Since I was 6 years old, at least once a day I received a grade back in school. Whether it be a 63% or a 99%, I knew that there was a goal, that goal was 100%, and I missed the mark. While I may have been happy with my score, there was always be a part of me that thought I could have done better, therefore preventing me from being proud of myself. In addition to school, I receive scores and placings in horse back riding, a sport that takes up the majority of my free time. Even if I won first place, I would always think, “Well this is only the 3 foot jumpers, it would mean more to win if I was jumping bigger.” Throughout my eating disorder, I continued these perfectionistic tendencies concerning scoring and began to form a competition with myself, in which a number, whether it be calories, nutritional facts, weight, or exercise, was deemed perfection. I assigned a number for myself to reach, creating a fatal internal competition surrounding one number. What I came to understand after years of beating myself up for not reaching “the perfect score,” was that less than “perfect” does not mean failure. Whether it be sports, school, or weight, a number does not determine your value. No one can assign a number to perfection- everyone must set their own healthy goals for themselves without the pressure to reach an exact value.
- External Expectations
In cases where precise numbers are not applied, such as my levels of independence, kindness, or maturity, I often turned to the expectations of others in order for me to perfect my behavior. For example, my parents always want me to focus on my education, while balancing a social life and sports, because they know how important it is for me not to put too much pressure on myself academically in order to avoid my perfectionistic tendencies. Ironically though, when my parents and treatment team asked me to balance myself more carefully, my perfectionism viewed it as another competition with myself – how can I be perfectly balanced, and therefore the happiest? This twist appeared in other parts of my life as well – my friend asked me for help, how can I be the perfect friend? My sister wants advice, what’s the best advice I can give? I had managed to compile all of my teachers, parents, friends, and trainers points of view, as well as my own ideas, and morphed them into impossible goals for myself. I twisted the requests of others into a necessary objective for me to complete – if I failed, I would disappoint them. Something I recently came to terms with, and still struggle with often, is the idea that I do not have to please everyone, as long as I am trying my best. All that others can ask of me is that I try, and all I owe my loved ones is that. I do not owe it to anyone to be perfect. If I promise perfection, I will always feel as if I failed and disappointed myself.
Similarly to external expectations, I often observed my friends’ and familys’ behaviors and actions and used them as a scale to perfect my behavior and actions. Not only would I compare my body, weight, and appearance, but also my personality, humor, kindness, and intelligence. In contrast to external expectations though, I was the one that forced myself to latch onto certain people I admired the most and use them as my goal of perfection. This pattern, while clearly unhealthy, was and continues to be hard to break. I admire the people I surround myself with, so initially I was able to rationalize wanting to be similar to them. The issue though, was I did not simply want to be similar to them – I wanted to be exactly like them. Because if I wasn’t, I was not perfect and therefore failed. What I eventually came to realize though, was other people cannot be my idea of perfection. By placing my friends on a pedestal of perfection, I was forcing myself to become smaller and weaker. It is vital to see others as differently beautiful, not the only beautiful. This allows for 7 billion different forms of beauty, all of which are created through individual experiences and successes.
- Internal Expectations
Internal expectations that I set for myself were the hardest obstacle to beat. While I am still unsure where I received the initial pressures for perfection, I am sure that it resulted in a continuing competition with myself. I set impossibly high goals for myself, placed myself under immense pressure to complete them, fell apart when I failed, and subsequently raised the goals in an effort to correct my previous failure. And repeat. I still struggle to understand why I felt the need to torture myself in such a punishing cycle, but what I have learned in the past few years if that so many people experience the same cycle. The key to me conquering the unrealistic internal expectations I made for myself began with simply opening up about them. At first, I did not want to fix my internal perfectionism, because I believed it gave me my drive to succeed. Yet when I began to talk about these goals with close friends, I came to an understanding: I can see how extreme and unrealistic my friend’s internal competitions are, therefore my internal competitions may be similarly extreme. It took me months to come to this conclusion, and I am still working on how to form new, healthy, personal goals for myself, rather than personal competition. The most important part of correcting this aspect of my perfectionism was not to punish myself when I do not meet my own expectations, but rather evaluate my actions and behavior, and learn from there – one step at a time.
About the Author: Eva resides in New York City. Eva is a high school student who works with other teenagers to instill a sense of hope regarding the possibility of full recovery, as well as what that means and what that looks like in a teenager’s life. At Project HEAL, Eva is dedicated to providing others with a sense of community and security throughout the process of recovery, spread education and awareness to fellow high school students, rand to promote a healthy lifestyle that allows everyone to discover their true selves and purpose. She is passionate about horse back riding, learning about history, and spending time with friends and family. Eva’s favorite ice cream flavor is coffee ice cream with chocolate chips and caramel sauce.