By Erin Peace, LCSW, RPT: ACE Academy School Counselor
What is perfectionism?
The American Psychology Association defines perfectionism as “the tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance.” Due to gifted students’ internal and external pressures related to their high abilities, perfectionism shows up among many of our students. It can be helpful to delineate when perfectionism can be a helpful, driving motivation, or serve as a debilitating barrier that prevents students from attempting difficult tasks.
Perfectionism vs. Healthy Striving
While perfectionism can lead to avoidance or low self-esteem, healthy striving for excellence encourages students to set high yet realistic goals. By pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, you can feel proud when you try new things or make mistakes in order to learn.
Maladaptive perfectionism, on the other hand, both stems from low self-esteem and contributes to the cycle of low self-esteem. When a student sets a standard for flawless performance and is unable to meet those standards, they often experience either avoidance of the material or obsession related to external validation instead of intrinsic motivation. This video, which is developed for younger students, helps define perfectionism and give concrete examples.
Assessing for Perfectionism
Individuals can encounter perfectionism in certain domains and not others: for example, one person may experience unrealistically high standards in math or history, while others may only face this while playing sports or developing friendships. In order to help a student address these beliefs and actions, you can help them identify their triggers to then set goals.
For Lower School Students: This worksheet from School Counseling Success can help students identify their perfectionistic tendencies, while also exploring alternatives for healthy striving.
For Upper School Students: This informal assessment breaks down perfectionism into different categories.
Resources for ParentsBoth Hoagies’ Gifted Education and the Davidson Institute provide parent resources for supporting your students’ growth mindset skills. In a future blog post, I will identify specific strategies you can use to address maladaptive perfectionistic tendencies and support your students’ self-esteem.