Interesting research on perfectionism in gifted children interprets perfectionism as a preferred way to overcomplicate an easy or boring task. It can be the brain’s way of stimulating itself when a low-bar challenge is presented with too much time.
Essentially, perfectionism can result when the outside environment isn’t engaging enough on a particular issue or set of challenges. In addition, a cluster of genes associated with perfectionism has recently been discovered.
Sometimes I wonder if perfectionism is a luxury challenge our high-achieving nature can narrow in on simply because we are lucky human beings in a prosperous nation.
Do we feel the need to strive for the highest mark in every task because many of the natural and more threatening obstacles inherent to living seem to have been removed?
Literal Truth and Perfection
Systemizing and empathizing are on a continuum in the brain arising because of different concepts of truth where concrete reality versus subjective internal experiences.
Perfectionism also relates to the need for truth above all else. It is found both discreetly and overtly in people who are voracious truth-seekers and systemizers.
If perfectionism represents the ultimate fulfillment of concrete reality being “exactly” just so, it’s easy to understand how that logic would translate to someone’s internal interpretation of truth (and their dire need for it to be manifested physically in their pursuits).
For example, I had a very difficult time understanding the concept of debt.
If it isn't yours, you shouldn't spend it. PERIOD.
This black and white logic led me on a very literal and naive mission to live without debt (even though it could have benefited me at times).
The Comfort of Intricate Rules
In the first post about “financial anorexia,” I discussed how anorexia isn’t something that inhabits an adolescent's brain for a while and then leaves. It may be the symptom of a larger statement that can be made about that brain - maybe it has Asperger’s, maybe it is in love with systemizing, maybe it has a co-morbid struggle involving serotonin, or maybe it’s a creative brain with stunted environmental factors and toxic relationship dynamics.
Either way, I’m not trying to make an excuse for anorexic behavior. I’m trying to help you approach their method of thinking, such as why they have intricate rules, and help you understand why they don’t find their behavior as odd as you do.
Mainly, when anorexics are systemizing their food intake against their exercising (or money spent against money earned), they are in their element, they are in their zone, and they are tragically good at it.
Intricate rules (financial or food-related) assist in creating a sense of order for highly sensitive people experiencing a barrage from their outer environment and a loud horn of thoughts from their inner environment.
Self-created rules are a safe space, a grounding place, and a go-to regulation method when trying to extract truth from a complicated world. Needless to say, it is very important to be intentional about these rules, study where they come from, and be an active participant as your mind designs them.
Before I explore how I switched my systemizing from anorexia to something more productive (like songwriting), I’d like to talk about when and how autism got connected to anorexia and some research involving giftedness and anorexia in Part 3.