Controlling Mothers And Perfectionist Daughters–A Difficult Combination

Girls with perfectionist tendencies – which may be present due to overbearing or controlling mothers – are more likely to be binge eaters, according to a new study from Dalhousie University in Canada.

Aislin Mushquash, a psychology PhD student at Dalhousie, and Dr. Simon Sherry, associate professor of psychology at the university, say the study is unique in that it explores not only the binge eater but also how her most intimate relationships might influence her condition.

The need to be perfect

After studying 218 pairs of mothers and daughers – the latter whom were all undergraduate students at Dalhousie – the researchers found that daughters with controlling mothers felt a need to be perfect.

“So in the lives of perfectionistic young women who have acrimonious relationships with their mothers, binge eating may serve an important function – a function of soothing, a function of relieving, a function of escaping,” Sherry said.

The daughters filled out surveys that asked them how much they agreed with statements like, “My mother expects nothing less than perfection from me,” or, “I stuffed myself with food.” Mothers were asked how much they agreed with statements that had to do with meddling in or trying to control their daughters’ lives.

Moms not to blame

Sherry warns that the study isn’t an excuse to blame mothers for binge eating disorders, but more an example of how the people closest to you can have the biggest influence. In contrast to what research has long held about binge eating, it is not, Sherry says, an individual problem.

“Our research challenges the notion that binge eating is driven entirely by individual traits … and rather than blaming parents, I think our research empowers parents to realize that they can have a small and meaningful impact on their children’s mental health,” Sherry said.

The study is published in the journal Eating Behaviors.

Source: The Globe and Mail
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

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