The Perfectionism Defense
When it comes to working through an eating disorder and trying to achieve recovery, some of the things we have to take a close look at are the defenses we use to protect ourselves from our more painful emotions. One of the most common ones is the defense of Perfectionism. When we implement this defense, the belief behind it is that if I just do everything perfectly, nothing and nobody can hurt me either because I have done everything right or because if I have done it perfectly then it means I am loveable. I would argue that in lots of ways, many people (in my experience women in particular) have this defense. It is one that still presents itself in my life from time to time, even though I work hard to challenge it and keep it at bay. The reason this defense is so powerful is because when we use it and it “works” we believe the messages it sends, and when it doesn’t work, it reroutes us to shame which is probably the most difficult emotion to work through. In other words, we don’t see the problem lying with the defense, we feel we ourselves are the problem. It is alarming how many of us have been trained over the years to see perfectionism as a better existence than being human. Oddly, perfectionism drives us towards living a rather flatlined life. Too much of a good thing stops being good because it just becomes the norm. In other words, we try to be perfect to feel safe and worthy, but the more perfect we try to be, the less connected we can be to others in our life because nobody really knows who we are. As Brene Brown says “true connection only happens when we allow ourselves to be seen.”
Interestingly, when we allow ourselves to be human, we feel more intensely but there is a lot more room to explore our life with curiosity and grace, giving us permission to know ourselves and be known by others more honestly. We can learn to trust the process of connection in our life because we know that we can be there for ourselves and others can be there for us even when we aren’t perfect. In recovery, when the perfectionism defense gets dropped, we start having the capacity to heal our relationship with ourselves and food because we can see the process of recovery more accurately instead of believing the false narrative that if we do everything perfectly, we can get to the other side without having feelings. An important part being human is having feelings. Blocking them doesn’t change that, it just delays how long it will take you to get to the other side. So when the desire to be perfect comes up, see if you can release it even just a small bit. Acknowledge the defense and then try to see it as just that, something that is protecting your eating disorder over your true self. At the end of the day, your recovery is dependent on you being who you really are, and realizing that the real version of you isn’t perfect, but rather human, which is even better.