Perfectionism

"Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing."  ~Harriet Braiker

"Once you accept the fact that you're not perfect, then you develop some confidence."  ~Rosalynn Carter

"When nobody around you seems to measure up, it's time to check your yardstick."  ~Bill Lemley

"No one is perfect... that's why pencils have erasers."  ~Author Unknown

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Perfectionism  is an important treatment issue in weight management that is often considered at play in eating disorders and body dissatisfaction/dysmorphia. This is how I define the term:  Perfectionism refers to an evaluative process whereby something is judged or evaluated with perfect being the standard.  This means perfect is what is expected and less than perfect is judged to be unsatisfactory. The quotes above are good to consider as a starting point. 

Briker's point is crucial.  Striving for excellence is excellent.  But having a standard that requires perfect is demoralizing. In most cases, perfect really is unattainable. This means that what you do is always unsatisfactory and so you become demoralized. Rather than being in a process of moving incrementally toward excellence, you are in a process that always seems not doing well enough. Perfectionism often causes people to give up. 

Rosalynn Carter's point is a variation on Braiker and emphasizes how demoralization impacts confidence. 

Lemley's point extends the phenomenon of perfectionism from self-evaluation to the evaluation of others and emphasizes that the measurement tool is the problem!

I just like the final quote. I think it is clever.

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Perfectionism is rampant in the psychology of people you meet in our groups and classes.  Some of it comes from factors unrelated to weight (parents, culture etc).  Some of it may well be caused by how it is to have a weight problem (being told you can and should perfectly address the weight problem). As you surely know by now, embedded in the complexity of weight management is the fact that long-term weight management cannot be done perfectly. Perhaps a period of dieting, such as with our old Program A meal-replacement diet, can be done perfectly. But maintenance cannot. It just can't be done perfectly.  So people with perfectionism have a horrible time with weight management because their imperfect performance feels not good enough and in this way a lapse leads to collapse and relapse.  We need to help you learn how to retire your perfectionism. We need to help you learn how to feel good about achieving incremental steps of progress as you build your path of "good enough" weight management - where you appreciate that lapses happen and where you learn how to quickly return from a lapse.  This is truly bedrock!!!

Perfectionism is of course associated with "all or nothing" thinking" such as:  I can eat loads - or I can eat nothing - but I can't eat some."  or "I am on a diet or I am way off a diet." 

Think about it.  Have you ever thought:

If I eat a forbidden food, I will get fat.

If I start to eat, I will lose control.

I can never be too thin.

I have to exercise after eating or I will get fat.

You can't get anywhere in this world if you are fat.

I will never find a mate unless I am thin.

I will only be special and unique if I'm thin.

If I gain a few pounds, I will keep going until I am obese.

I must be perfect or I will be rejected.

If I make a mistake, it will be horrible

If I do it perfectly, then I will be accepted.

I must be perfect or I will be embarrassed.

If I make a mistake, I will be humiliated.

When I get it right, I will finally accept myself.

When I achieve perfection, then I will find inner peace.

If others do not approve of me, then I am not ok.

If I make a mistake, I am worthless.

I'm not good enough, I must keep trying.

If I don't try to be perfect, I will get lazy and not do my best.

I will never be good enough.

If I do it perfectly, everyone will notice.

I must be perfect or I will fail.

It is possible to do things perfectly.

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Please prepare for our class this Saturday by spending some time considering how this topic relates to you specifically.

We've been working on self-talk. Monitor for perfectionism in your self-talk. See what you find.  

I also think you may find some value in doing some reading on this.  I offer some possibilities below:


The Pursuit of Excellence - Healthy vs Unhealthy Perfectionism.pdf


A very readable introduction to the topic of perfectionism.  Not in psychobabble, and yet still a pretty decent presentation of our topic. This would be ok as the one thing you read for next week.

A Review of Perfectionism and Self-Handicapping.pdf

This is a wonderful paper from Australia, 2008, which links the notion of self-handicapping (which you will see also relates to fat dependency) to the notion of perfectionism.  I highly recommend this piece as a good introduction and synthesis.  It also links in the notion of procrastination.  If you only have time to read one article, this would be a great choice.

Perfectionism and Eating Disorders - A Review of the Literature.pdf

For those of you looking for something a little more academic, this paper is a good look at the literature/research on perfectionism as it pertains to eating - with an unfortunate emphasis on eating disorders rather than weight regulation. It is an important paper, none-the-less.

Positive Conceptions of Perfectionism - Approaches, Evidence, Challenges.pdf

I find this an absolutely brilliant analysis of the different notions of perfectionism.  A little on the thick side of the ledger.  But good scholarship.

Perfectionism and the Crucible of Giftedness.pdf

This is also an excellent, excellent read through an elegant presentation of the issue.  It looks at the many dimensions of perfectionism and takes us through the development of the issue in childhood - again looking at the interaction and distinctions between giftedness and perfectionism.  It also looks at treatment paradigms.

The Gifted Learner and Perfectionism.pdf

One more piece on the intersection of gifted and perfectionism.  This is a set of slides.

The Emotional Drama of Giftedness (1).pdf

Another look at giftedness and perfectionism.  Much shorter than the piece above.

This is also a good article for linking topics - as the title suggests.  May be good as an additional reading to one or two of the others.  Should not be the only one you read.

Multidimensional Perfectionism and Rogerian Personality Constructs..pdf

Good reading if you are particularly attracted to Carl Rogers' humanistic psychology.  It is good stuff! Perhaps a little jargon laden if you don't already know Rogers.

Whats Wrong with Perfect.pdf

This is an interesting presentation of the confusion between perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence. Probably not to be read as your only reading on this subject.

Perfectionism, Body Dissatisfaction and Self-Esteem.pdf


Not a surprising conclusion to an article which links our previous topic of body dissatisfaction with perfectionism, putting into the context of being a central dynamic in bulimia.
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