Perfectionism is something a lot of us are familiar with. In fact, it’s known to be a big characteristic of people with EDs.
I’ve long been aware of my own perfectionism and how it’s been a tricky beast to work with. One of the best aspects of my recovery has been gaining self compassion and self love.
I think a lot of people with EDs can relate to this–they’re often self critical and judgmental. A lot of times, people develop eating disorders as a way to find some control in their chaotic lives, and it can allow people to feel safe, distracted (from the real problems going on), and in power.
These feelings are often so strong and so painful that it is hard to feel like we are “good enough,” or worthy of love and belonging.
The fact of the matter is that eating disorders are coping skills–we develop them as a way to handle the emotions we experience. Many people use their eating disorder as a way to feel better about the other tough stuff going on in their lives.
Get ready for some science:
Endorphins are chemicals that are released by the brain to help ease pain and also give humans a feeling of euphoria. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, and that’s why moving our bodies feels good. We can also get endorphins by sex or other pleasurable activities.
This chemical is released in the brains of people with EDs when they go through periods of starvation (Counselling Directory, 2017). The endorphins are meant to ease the pain of starvation, but they also create a “feel good” state, and THIS is what makes anorexia such a vicious cycle.
Despite the fact that our bodies are being destroyed by these diseases, the endorphins our bodies release to keep us alive become addictive, and so we end up feeling energetic, happy, and productive. You can read more about this here.
So, back to the perfectionism.
It seems clear to me that this drive for perfectionism comes into our lives to keep us safe from the terrible feelings we can experience, like anxiety, depression, feeling like we don’t belong, or feeling lonely. Eating disorders spark up as a way to help us avoid these feelings.
Perfectionism and EDs are like a shield to protect us from scary and shitty feelings. Understanding perfectionism and recognizing that it comes from a place of fear is what helps us heal (and continue to heal).
Now, when something goes wrong in my life and I get sad, scared, lonely, whatever the unfortunate feeling is, I don’t feel as bad because I have HEALTHY coping skills that help me feel better, and I know that these feelings (no matter how bad they may feel) are TEMPORARY.
Now when I’m upset or feeling down, I can call my mom, talk to my friend Jessica, talk to my fiance. I can journal. I can paint. I can go for a bike ride. I can do things to feel better.
It’s amazing how smart we are as humans, even when we’re not aware. We subsconsiously develop coping skills as a way to feel better–even if they’re unhealthy. And it’s amazing that the brain knows we need to feel safe: the problem is that eating disorders lie to us and tell us that we are safe, when in fact, we’re more in danger than we were before.
Piecing together these threads from our past can help us better understand our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and this can help recovery become a lot easier.
Understanding ourselves is the key to healing, and healing is the key to being happy.