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The Upside of Perfectionism

Often mental health clinicians point out how being a perfectionist can prevent someone from leading a fulfilling, happy life. We warn against pushing too hard, having personal standards that are impossibly high, and trying to live up to expectations that are so unrealistic that they can’t help but lead to feeling inadequate. All true enough, but did you know that perfectionism also has an upside?

When I work with people who refuse to make themselves uncomfortable in order to change or who want to give up when they realize how arduous the recovery process is, I wish they had a healthy dose of perfectionism. Some people fail to recover precisely because they’re not willing to put in the effort, are ambivalent about recovery, don’t follow suggestions or advice, and view themselves as powerless victims. They don’t know how to set goals, maintain motivation, push themselves over hurdles, and therefore throw in the towel much too quickly.

Perfectionist, however, tend to be go-getters. Goal-oriented, they aim high and know how to chunk down goals to reach them. Driven, they refuse to slack off and understand the need to sustain motivation. Pushing themselves through barriers comes naturally because their eye is on the prize. Often perfectionists don’t even consider the possibility that they might fail, or are so determined to avoid it, that the thought of failure spurs them on. The healthy part of being a perfectionist is the conviction that you can reach your goals, a willingness to be uncomfortable to achieve them, and the belief that failure is not an option.

If you’re a perfectionist, make sure your eating goals are reasonable and don’t expect more from yourself than is humanly possible. Then use your single-mindedness and refusal to quit, to do whatever is needed to overcome your eating problems.