Perfectionism is a common pattern among those with teen eating disorders and among those with addiction in general. Although anyone can be a perfectionist, this is a character trait that can predispose someone to a teen eating disorder, such as Anorexia Nervosa.
Perfectionism is a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards. Perfectionists tend to compulsively reach for their goals and measure their self-worth by productivity, accomplishment, and the quality of their work. However, for those teens who are in treatment for their teen eating disorder, perfectionism is not the goal of recovery; progress is. In fact, there’s a saying in the recovery community: “Progress, not perfection.”
Sure, when you start recovery and take the first steps towards sobriety, you might want to get it all right. Whether you’re in an inpatient treatment facility or in private therapy or in another support group with a regimen for staying sober, you might feel the need to be perfect about it. And it’s understandable; there’s a fear that if you’re not, you might relapse. It’s as though self-doubt sneaks in and seems to create a lens through which to look at your recovery. There’s a lingering feeling, no matter the steps of treatment you’re following, that you’re not doing it right somehow.
According to many recovering men and women, it’s common among those who have or had a teen eating disorder to display black and white thinking. Those who are in a recovery process will feel fanatical towards their method, their way, and their process towards eating disorder treatment. This can often leave teens feeling inadequate and that the path that they are on is not the right one or that the way that they moved through treatment wasn’t entirely thorough.
However, as any therapist or professional providing eating disorder treatment might recommend, it’s all about progress. They might say: don’t get stuck in trying to find a better way toward recovery or a better treatment. Instead, focus on the path you’re on. If you’re experiencing growth and if you’re getting progress out of your program, that’s what matters.
Sadly, many teens in treatment for teen eating disorders might continue to allow that painful feeling of self-doubt to sink in. The feeling of “not doing it right” makes many teens feel guilty and keeps them lost in an internal struggle. There’s a belief that comes with self-doubt, which is somehow being internally flawed, or somehow lacking something essential and which only continues to contribute to the feeling of self doubt and even self hate.
Those feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing can be the largest obstacles to getting better and to feeling an overall joy in life. Often, those feelings can even lead to a return to eating compulsively, and it is frequently those feelings that began the cycle of addiction in the first place.
If you’re having these feelings in treatment, this could be a good sign that there are some underlying concerns to be addressed. Often, unresolved traumas or issues can perpetuate a pattern of relapse. If this sounds like you, you might have the thought, “I’m always incapable of being the saint that I am expected to be. Why should I keep pretending?” As a result, you say to yourself, “screw it,” and go back to the self-harming cycle of addiction.
The feelings of not doing it right or the need to work through each stage of treatment with perfection go hand in hand with self-doubt and self-loathing. To help break the pattern of perfection, at least when it comes to your recovery in treatment, you might want to ask yourself the question, “What am I getting out of my recovery process?” Asking yourself this question can help you get clear about what you need to move closer and closer to long-term recovery.
And isn’t that the most important factor to look at in your process? In fact, when tendencies of perfection seem to cloud your vision, you could return to this question again and again. Doubt is normal. Perhaps the best way to determine whether “you’re doing it right” is to ask yourself:
- Am I moving in a direction that is life affirming, healthy, and sustainable?
- Is this process growing a love for myself and for others?
If your answer is yes, then you can allow yourself to experience doubt when you have it and trust in the process you’re in.
By Robert Hunt
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