Edgington, Shawn, Erickson, Martin J., Jackson, Aaron P., Richards, P. Scott
Perceptions of the Atonement among perfectionistic Latter-day Saint women with eating disorders
Brigham Young University
A qualitative study was conducted to obtain information about the perceptions and lived experiences of Jesus Christ's atonement among Latter-day Saint women inclined toward perfectionism. Women struggling with eating disorders tended to be perfectionistic and were deemed a suitable population to study this phenomenon. Nineteen women at a local in-patient treatment facility for eating disorders and one woman contacted at the local university's counseling center, agreed to participate in the study. Their participation required them to be interviewed and have that interview transcribed. Those transcripts were analyzed for content to identify salient themes.
The findings indicated that participants who were deeply entrenched in destructive, perfectionistic cycles of thinking and behaving had little sincere interest in or use for Jesus Christ's atonement in their lives. Indeed, participants inclined toward extreme perfectionism found the atonement to be a source of emotional pain and guilt associated with their inadequacies. They reported feeling that if they were more competent in their efforts or more worthy, God's grace would be offered more freely and they would struggle less. The very existence of their struggles, when the atonement would presumably be most needed, indicated personal failings and inadequacy, resulting in even more guilt and emotional pain.
As participants confronted some of their extreme perfectionism, they were also able to be open to alternative approaches to life. For example, they became more accepting of themselves in spite of their inevitable failings. They also became able to accept support and love from others, including God and His grace offered through Christ's atonement. As their perfectionistic tendencies diminished, their ability to genuinely accept and implement the atonement also increased. Alternatively, if their perfectionistic attitudes were persistent and unchallenged, the real meaning the atonement held for them was also greatly reduced.