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“I am definitely not perfect. But I have learned in therapy that I don’t have to be. All I have to be is persistent. Each day I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Slowly, I am replacing perfectionism with persistence. After all, in recovery and in life, it is persistence that pays off. Forget about perfection.”- Jenni Schaefer, Life Without Ed
Recovering from an eating disorder is both a beautiful and painful process. In liberating oneself from the chains of a self-destructive, unsustainable coping mechanism that masks our authentic selves, we are free to rediscover who we truly are. There is great excitement in discovering one’s passions and hobbies and feeling one’s emotions again- but not having an eating disorder as a coping mechanism anymore also opens one up to vulnerability, and this can be very scary. Without an eating disorder to hide behind, we have to experience painful emotions and deal with the underlying issues that led us to developing eating disorders in the first place.
One of my underlying issues? Perfectionism.
I once heard the quote: “Perfectionism is not a desire to succeed; it is a fear of failure”. I couldn’t agree more. It is a valuable quality to chase after your dreams with passion and determination but if it is done with a constant fear of falling short, of not being good enough, of feeling like your self-worth depends on external accomplishments- that is no way to live, and it is not sustainable in the long run.
I am free from my eating disorder for the most part, but I am not free from feeling like I am never “good enough”. I am finding that unless I deal with this fear of failure, I will never truly be free. Recovery isn’t defined by changing the way you eat, just like an eating disorder isn’t all about the food- recovery is about changing the way you view yourself and your place in this world. It is about learning to believe that you are good enough, just the way you are. It is about believing that you are worthy of love, respect, and happiness- inherently, as a human being, and not because of something that you accomplished or how your accomplishments measure up to other people.
Overcoming perfectionism doesn’t happen overnight, but just like with the more physical aspects of recovery, we can do our best to take it one day at a time. When I hear the voice inside telling me I’m not good enough, I talk back to it- just like I talk back to disordered thoughts about food- and remind myself that I am doing the best that I can and that is what matters. I try to talk to myself as I would talk to a friend- would you consider a friend or family member a failure if he/she didn’t achieve a perfect grade on an exam, or would you say, “you did your best and that’s what counts?” Why do you love your friends? Is it because they are “perfect”? No, it’s not- in fact, perfection is boring!
“Imperfection” is where uniqueness stems from and “imperfection” is where growth happens.
If you want to learn more about the connection between overcoming your eating disorder and overcoming perfectionism, I highly recommend Jenni Schaefer’s book, Goodbye Ed, Hello Me. She has a whole chapter on overcoming perfectionism and discusses how striving for excellency and not perfection has changed her life.
Jessica has a B.A. in Psychology and Women's Studies and is pursuing a graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She is passionate about social justice and hopes to make a difference in the lives of others and advocate for social change. Having recovered from an eating disorder, Jessica is committed to spreading the word that freedom from eating disorders is possible. Through her writing at Libero, Jessica hopes to empower those struggling with eating disorders to fight for the health and happiness that they deserve.
SITE DISCLAIMER: The opinions and information shared in this article or any other Content on our site may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.
Your words speak to me Jessica, thank you for sharing your thoughts on a mentality many of us battle each day.
It is improtant for us – and therapists – to be aware that the way we treat food in many respects is a secondary issue. What lies underneath also has to be identified and changed.
Since I was little I've felt this intense fear of failure, of not being good enough. I got the best marks, but it didn't make me happy. Why? Because I always worried about the next test, about how to get a good mark there and what if I didn't? What would then happen? Or what if I didn't make my mum smile? What did that say about me as a person?
In a way recovery has been an opportunity for me to confront this destructive way of thinking and give my all to free myself from the "duty" to be good daughter, student… Instead I can find myself and learn that it is okay to be me. The way you continue to be aware of thoughts and habits make a deep impression on me Jessica, you are a very brave and important person.
Again, thank you. So glad to have you in my life.
I am so happy to have you in my life too, Hedda! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I'm glad that through your recovery process you are learning to accept yourself as you are- because who you are is wonderful!!! I am so glad to have you in my life, too. Keep taking good care of yourself, you deserve it and I'm so glad you realize that! <3