Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

Eating Disorder Service

Information for family and friends

Perfectionism

Research suggests that perfectionistic personality traits are associated with eating disorders.

Of course, there are useful things about being perfectionistic – working hard to get things just right. But excessive perfectionism can stop being helpful and start to get in the way.

For example, what if you feel you have to keep working on your homework all night to get it perfect and then you are too exhausted to concentrate in class the next day? What if you can’t decide what would be the perfect answer to the exam question, and so you end up writing nothing at all?  What if you put in so many hours trying to get a report just right for your boss that you miss seeing your children or partner?  What if you’re trying so hard to look like the models you see in the media that you start skipping meals, or making yourself sick?

How can you help your child decide what’s “good enough”, so that they can relax and enjoy life a bit more? Here are some ideas:

  1. Make sure they know you love them for who they are, not what they’ve done or achieved. 
  2. Don’t focus on results too much. Getting the top grade isn’t the most important thing in life, even if it might feel like it is at the moment – it’s more important to be well and happy. If your child is really feeling the pressure of school, you might need to talk to school – do they really have to take a GCSE a year early? How many AS levels do they actually need?
  3. Keep talking to your son or daughter about themselves and what matters to them – it might be helpful to get them to compare what they expect of themselves with what they might expect of, or advise, a close friend. 
  4. If you recognise that your own perfectionism gets in your way, and stops you enjoying your life as much as you could, try and tackle it (e.g. David Burne’s book Feeling Good has a useful chapter on perfectionism) — you could help yourself and also model to your child that it’s possible to make changes to your behaviour if it’s not helping you.

Last updated: 2 April, 2019