Better With Sprinkles

The Colourful Side to Healthy Living.


freEDom: Breaking Away from Perfectionist Tendencies.

I took a few weeks off due to the holidays, but I’m happy to be back and celebrating Sloane’s freEDom from Perfection campaign.

Click on over to find out more about the campaign!

When I was reading Gaining a few weeks ago (check out my full review here), I took note of all the research on the personality traits and behaviours of sufferers. Apparently, research has found a lot in common personality-wise between people that develop eating disorders

The one that jumped out at me the most? Research on the temperaments of people with eating disorders by psychologists Drew Weston and Jennifer Harnden-Fischer out of Boston University in 2001. Their research found that people who battle (and have battled) eating disorders tend to fall into one of three distinct categories.

1. Overcontrolled: “they avoid social contact, tightly control their appetites for food and for sex, limit their pleasures and withdraw from excitement, sensation and risk.”

2. Perfectionistic: “the conscientious good girls who aim to please, excel, and conform. They worry about the details but are often so fearful of making a mistake that they can’t get their work in on time. They read an arched eyebrow as contempt, a frown as a stiletto through the heart. They are intensely self-critical.”

3. Undercontrolled: “their emotions are intense, their behaviours are impulsive, they tend to fly into rages instead of expressing their anger passively or turning it inwards, and they desperately seek relationships to soothe themselves”.”

(American Journal of Psychiatry, as cited by Aimee Liu)

When I read this over, number two positively leapt off the page at me. That is my personality down to a tee. As I’ve mentioned before, I was (and continue to be, in some respects) an absolute perfectionist. In the past, I would approach everything with high expectations for myself, and be disappointed when I (predictably) couldn’t meet them. If I didn’t think I could do it, I would suddenly decide that I didn’t care anymore, because I couldn’t handle trying something and not meeting my ridiculous expectations.

And of course, part two of that category: self criticism and fear of making a mistake. Whether it’s in a social or professional situation (such as schoolwork) I’m always afraid of making a mistake or messing up. I didn’t talk about it on the blog, but I spent the first semester of grad school feeling terrified that I wasn’t smart enough or good enough for a Master’s Degree, and that I was going to be kicked out of the program quickly. I had an absolute breakdown over my the first paper I had to hand in, convinced that my professors were going to look it over and wonder how the hell I managed to get this far in academia. Of course, this didn’t happen. Over the months, I worked on quieting that inner criticism and managed to finish with better marks than I usually got in my undergrad. By not letting myself stress out and analyze every last detail of every assignment I had, I actually did better than usual.

I still need work in this respect when it comes to social situations. If I notice someone seems out of sorts or angry, I immediately jump to the conclusion that it was something that I said or did. I sometimes don’t speak up in social situations, because I’m afraid  that something I have to say will come off as stupid or pointless, and I’ll be judged accordingly. I know how ridiculous this is and I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated with myself over it. And aiming to please? Absolutely – I have a tendency to bend over backwards to make sure that other people are happy, even if it’s at the expense of my happiness sometimes. When Lui states that recovery is more about the the journey and self-discovery, I agree. I may not be disordered anymore, but there are still aspects of my temperament and behaviour that could be adjusted for the sake of my own happiness. 

So while I feel like I’ve gained freedom from my inner perfectionist, I’m still working on moving past my inner doormat and speaking up about what I think and how I feel. I know my opinion and feelings are important, even if it’s something that the other person doesn’t want to hear. So, I’m going to work on speaking my mind more, and not worrying about how the other person will think or react. 

<— Do you have perfectionist or always-aiming-to-please tendencies? How do you deal with them?