Perfection as Safety through Restricting Food
In early recovery work, I see my clients struggle with their perfection issues. Regardless of the particular disorder (bulimia, anorexia, compulsive overeating or binge eating, restricting), the desire for perfection is usually present. When a person is anxious and frightened she may need to focus on how she can control her shape and size by restricting her food.
An ever-present eating need to restrict she hopes will soothe, numb and distract her from her suffering. She can also be thrilled to get smaller because her perception of being thin, small, and tiny is her fantasy of the ultimate place of safety.
It may be natural to want to improve yourself, to be good or wonderful or the very best you can possibly be. But seeking perfection is an exhausting way of life that can blind you to opportunities for joy and satisfaction.
How Perfection Relates To Restricting and Eating Disorders
Perfection is a state where criticism is impossible. Whatever is perfect is flawless. Perfection is better than the best. It is a state beyond compare. The best is a comparison with lesser quality. But the best apple in the basket could still have flaws.
If you are the best with underlying insecurities, your position is not stable or secure. Feeling you are better than everyone else and even having awards to prove it, may seem to be a safe position. Yet you are still anxious and driven to seek perfection.
If superiority were the goal, achieving that goal would be temporary. Someone could become your equal or surpass you at any time. You still have flaws that someone else could better.
Goal of Attaining Perfection
Striving for perfection and believing perfection is attainable is not necessarily a competition. You aren't looking to be better than everyone else. Your goal is not to be superior. Your goal is to be perfect.
Others can be perfect too. I think that's why pro-ana people support each other's starvation. They are not in competition with each other. They are all striving to reach the mythical state of perfection. Then not only will others not judge them or find fault with them. They will stop the critical voice in their own minds.
The belief is that when you reach the state of perfection you will be safe. Nothing can hurt you. You can rest and simply be perfect. You have no fears or concerns about flaws, vulnerabilities, weaknesses or judgments from others or yourself.
But no one can reach that place. Perfection is not attainable. And that means ultimate and perfect safety is not attainable. It also means that striving for perfection is endless. You can't restrict enough. Failure and lack of nourishment leave you feeling sad, defeated, frightened and desperate.
Courage to Find Your Path to Health and Safety
Genuine safety comes from health, internal sturdiness and wisdom. To attain that, you have to gradually give up your eating disorder behaviors and move into real recovery.
This takes a lot of courage. To give up striving for perfection and begin eating normally to nourish your body may feel like you are surrendering to imminent catastrophe.
Yet, over time, it's a relief to give up the pursuit of perfection and be your own wonderful and imperfect self. It is then that you are capable of having rich relationships with other imperfect and wonderful people. It is then you can build a happy and satisfying life.
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.
She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder
Appointments are virtual.
For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at