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Perfectionism: Blessing or Burden?
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Perfectionism: Blessing or Burden?

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Dr. Pat Schuler ...

Dr. Pat Schuler
Creative Insights

5th Annual ECU Gifted Conference
October 5, 2011
www.ecugifted.com

Perfectionism is often considered a characteristic of giftedness, and research indicates there are adaptive and maladaptive forms of perfectionism. When it is healthy, perfectionism can help motivate gifted kids to excel. When it is unhealthy, perfectionism can be costly in terms of some gifted kids' self-image, self-esteem, and achievement. This session will examine how the various aspects of perfectionism are manifested in the classroom, and what strategies educators can use to promote healthy perfectionistic tendencies- for themselves and their students.

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  • 1. Perfectionism: Blessing or Burden?  Patricia A. Schuler, Ph. D., NCC, LMHC Creative Insights Greenmeadow Park 1654 Columbia Turnpike Castleton-on-Hudson, NY 12033 518-257-2018 Email: gpjs@berk.com
  • 2. What is Perfectionism?
    • Hamacek (1978)
      • • A combination of thoughts and behaviors associated with high standards or expectations for one’s own performance
      • • On a continuum: duration and intensity varies
    • Healthy or Normal Perfectionists
    • … derive a very real sense of pleasure from the labors of a painstaking effort and feel free to be less precise as the situation permits.
    • Neurotic or Dysfunctional Perfectionists
    • … are unable to feel satisfaction because in their own eyes they never seem to do things good enough to warrant that feeling.
  • 3.
    • Adaptive Perfectionistic Thinking
      • • Problem solving mindset: identify options
      • • Make the most of their mistakes
      • Szymanski, 2011
    • Maladaptive Perfectionistic Thinking
      • • Dichotomous: All-or-nothing; perfect or worthless
      • • Transforming desires (Wants) into demands (Musts)
      • • Focusing on unmet goals and challenges rather than savoring success
      • Pyryt, 2004
  • 4. Maladaptive Perfectionism Associated with: • depression • eating disorders • writer’s block • migraines • sexual dysfunction • dysmorphophobia • Type A coronary-prone behavior • OC personality disorder • suicide • underachievement • academic procrastination • career obstacles & failure
  • 5. Four Perfectionistic Paths
    • Performance Perfectionism
    • “ I am what I do - perfectly.”
    • Appearance Perfectionism
      • “ I am the image I create.”
    • Interpersonal Perfectionism
    • “ I’m fine. Everyone else is a mess.”
    • Moral Perfectionism
    • “ I’ll play by the rules. All of them. Always.”
    • (Elliott & Meltsner, 1991)
  • 6. Games Maladaptive Perfectionists Play
    • MOOD SWINGING - Mood based on achievements
    • THE NUMBERS GAME - Quantity > Quality
    • TELESCOPIC THINKING - Successes minimized, Failures magnified
    • FOCUSING ON THE FUTURE - Not savoring success
    • PINING OVER THE PAST - If only…
    • PUTTING YOUR GOALS FIRST - Over health/relationships
    • GETTING IT RIGHT - Doing it over and over and over
    • ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING - If I don’t get all As, it’s worth nothing. I failed!
    • (Adderholdt-Elliott, 1991)
  • 7. Link between Perfectionism and Giftedness?
  • 8. Personality Characteristics of Giftedness
    • Insightfulness
    • Need to understand
    • Need for mental stimulation
    • Perfectionism
    • Need for precision/logic
    • Excellent sense of humor
    • Sensitivity/empathy
    • Intensity
    • Perseverance
    • Acute self-awareness
    • Nonconformity
    • Questioning of rules and authority
    • Tendency toward introversion
  • 9. Gifted individuals possess an innate sense of how things should be and not just how they are. In other words, they have an innate urge to perfect. M-E. Jacobsen, 1999
  • 10. Gifted perfectionists are motivated to work toward quality & mastery, and they derive pleasure from achievement. On the other hand, they can be stubborn, critical, and easily side-tracked by a tendency to split hairs and miss the larger picture. They may insist that something has to be done perfectly the first time (unrealistic expectation) or, on the contrary, continue to redo a task long after it’s reasonable to move on because it’s still not right. B. Probst, 2007
  • 11. Perfectionism and Giftedness Two major concerns about perfectionism for gifted students: • Underachievement • not handing in work unless it is perfect • Emotional Turmoil • feelings of worthlessness and depression- failure to live up to unrealistic expectations Pyryt, 2004
  • 12. Anxiety Personality Style Anxiety prone child is usually “ responsible, dependable, and motivated … good student, strives to do well academically, wants to please adults and peers, seeks approval and reassurance, usually well-behaved, difficulty with assertiveness, tends to be perfectionistic, high expectations, may be unusually disappointed or frustrated with mistakes or imperfect results, and oversensitivity to criticism or rejection. ” Dr. Paul Foxman, The Worried Child …
  • 13. Etiology of Stress in School For Bright/Gifted Kids • easy learning conditions them to effortless existence • lack of intellectual stimulation or challenge • waiting-boredom (toxic to the brain, low grade “ mad ” ) • expectations-higher, “ should know better ” • aware of others ’ incongruities-confusion of how to respond • shame & abandonment- should succeed without help • generalizations- high performance in all areas • lack of resources to accomplish a task • differences from peers-frightening & alienating • cope with more possibilities, more meanings • hypersensitivities-trouble screening out, viewed as less able to cope • more curious, more questions; process slower- viewed as less smart • personalize situations-feel more responsible • perfectionistic-feel valued by their accomplishments
  • 14. Symptoms of Maladaptive Perfectionism in Bright/Gifted Kids • delayed starts- decrease in performance • refusal to hand in work or accomplish goals • unwillingness to share work • unreasonably extreme response to grades or evaluations • inability to accept inferior work of less talented peers • inability to tolerate mistakes • tendency to magnify & generalize self imperfections • relentless self-criticism • feelings of superiority accompanied by loneliness • inability to share responsibility • fear of the future • feelings of inferiority • susceptible to depression following productive periods • high levels of anxiety Schuler, 1997
  • 15. Symptoms of Undesirable Levels of Stress and Anxiety in Bright/Gifted Kids • reluctance to work on a team • excessive sadness or rebellion • extremes of activity or inactivity • repetition of rules & directions to make sure they can be followed; “ Tattle-Tales ” • avoidance of new ventures unless certain of outcome • catastrophizing • expressed desire to be like teenagers • expressions of low self-esteem; negative self-talk • buying into others ’ negative evaluations • reluctance to make choices or suggestions • other changes in personality
  • 16. First signs of perfectionism- how kids respond to: • Competition: “ I must be the best! ” • Compliments: “ It ’ s nice of you to say that, but I should have done much better. ” Pyryt, 2004
  • 17. When asked if she had ever failed in something that was important to her, Emily had a look of horror on her face. It would be practically impossible. I wouldn’t be able to fail. I wouldn’t…. It just isn’t in my character… I just couldn’t accept failing. I wouldn’t be able to.
  • 18. Identification of Perfectionism • The Perfectionism Scale (Burns, 1980) • Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (Frost et. al, 1990) • Goals and Work Habits Survey (Schuler, 1990) • Childhood Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (Dekryger, 2006) • Child and Adolescent Perfectionism Scale (Castro et. al, 2004) • The Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (Rice, Ashby, Slaney, 2007) • Adaptive/Maladaptive Perfectionism Scale (Rice & Dello, 2002) • Multidimensional Parenting Perfectionism Questionnaire (Snell,1997)
  • 19.
    • • Academic Achievers: unrealistically high expectations
    • • Risk Evaders: fear failure due to asynchronous development or physical limitations
    • • Aggravated Accuracy Assessors: attempt task, get frustrated with inability to meet mind’s ideal
    • • Controlling Image Managers: want others to regard them as
    • perfect
    • • Procrastinating Perfectionists: plan extensive project, fail to
    • start for fear of inability to achieve perfect vision
            • (Adelson & Wilson, 2009)
    Types of Perfectionists
  • 20. Strategies Strategies Strategies and more Strategies!
  • 21. Teacher Behaviors – Modeling or Verbalizing
    • Acknowledge and model imperfect behavior
    • Personal evaluation and goal setting
    • Reasonable risk taking
    • Self acceptance of own imperfections and “off” days
    • Good listening and responding skills
    • Model the “joy of struggle” and the “joy of discovery”
    • Encourage and role model the principle “dare to dream.” Talk with your students about how high standards can serve as motivators. Share how you have handled failure and successes in your own life.
  • 22. Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. James Baldwin
  • 23.
    • • Academic Achievers: praise for efforts, emphasize hard work
    • • Risk Evaders: develop safe environment, encourage risks,
    • applaud efforts to tackle something new, look at challenges as
    • adventures & exciting
    • • Aggravated Accuracy Assessors: recognize their standards as
    • valuable & acceptable, read bios, create “sloppy copies”, revision
    • • Controlling Image Managers: role-play others’ feelings, set goals,
    • discuss losses in competitive situations
    • • Procrastinating Perfectionists: chunk work, schedule with buffer
    • time, prioritize perfectionistic situations
            • (Adelson & Wilson, 2009)
    Types of Perfectionists
  • 24. “ What’s On Your Plate?”
    • • In a graphic way, show all the activities/responsibilities that are happening in your life.
    • • Designate which ones take up the most time.
    • • Designate which ones are most/least stressful.
    • • Variation: on the back, show in a graphic way your “ideal” world- what activities would give you enjoyment/pleasure.
    • • Other variations?
  • 25. Helping Perfectionistic Kids
    • Teach courage: “I know you can try.”
    • Expect progress, not perfection
    • - “Finished” is sometimes a better goal than perfect
    • • “ Just due it.”
    • Applaud persistence
    • - “You kept on trying, even when you didn’t know how it would turn out.”
    • Break down the task
    • - “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s hard.”
    • Acknowledge learning
      • “ What did you learn while you were doing this?”
      • “ What part did you enjoy most?”
      • “ What might you try next time?”
      • “ How might you do it differently next time?”
  • 26. Helping Perfectionistic Kids
    • Ask, “What’s good about it?”
    • Help child discover meaning
      • “ What were you thinking when you were choosing colors?”
    • Honor the time invested
      • “ You gave a lot of time to this. It must be important to you.”
    • Focus on process and product
      • “ How did you decide to change the experiment?”
    • Call work “practice”
    • Make mistakes okay
    • Model making mistakes okay (Meckstroth)
  • 27. Mistakes are Delicate John F. Taylor, Ph.D. Preventing Perfectionism by Encouraging a Healthy Attitude toward Mistakes “ Your mistakes are …” D Decreasing “ Look how far you ’ ve come. ” “ Things will get easier as you continue to practice. ” E Expected “ That ’ s why pencils have erasers. ” “ Everybody makes mistakes; nobody is perfect. ” L Learning Tools “ Success means any forward progress. ” “ What can you learn from this experience for next time. ”
  • 28. I Incompletions “ You didn ’ t run out of talent; you just ran out of time. ” “ You ’ re just not done with it yet; we ’ ll work on it again later. ” C Caused “ Let ’ s see what ’ s giving you the trouble here. ” “ Every mistake has a cause. ” A Accidental “ You can ’ t do a mistake on purpose. ” “ All mistakes are just accidents. ” T Temporary “ You ’ re just not ready for this right now. ” “ This doesn ’ t mean that you can ’ t do it better later. ” E Effort Proofs “ Mistakes only prove you ’ re trying. ”
  • 29. Great Goof Ups Great Goof Ups is a tool to de-emphasize unhealthy perfectionism I in & out of the classroom • Encourages self-acceptance, risk-taking, & acceptance of others. • Helps to create a safe environment in which it is permissable to be imperfect.
  • 30.
    • Provide Anxiety- Reducers
    • • Fidgets/Special Things
    • • Self-talk
    • • “ But-Twist ” statements
    • • I’m not sure how to do this, but I can just start and see how it goes.
      • • I’m not sure I understand the directions, but I can ask for help if it gets too hard.
      • • Creams, lotions
      • • Labyrinths - Relax4life
  • 31.  
  • 32. Statements to Reduce Maladaptive Perfectionism- Walker Try Saying This… Instead of This… How do you feel about your report card? What happened here? You do a good job of… Why can’t you ever do it right? You have improved in… You still can’t do… You can help me by… Why don’t you ever… Let’s find out together. Go look it up. So you made a mistake. What did you learn from it? That was a dumb thing to do. I understand how you feel. Act your age. Keep trying. Don’t give up. Are you still working on that?
  • 33. Instructional Strategies
    • Teach distinction between adaptive & maladaptive perfectionism
    • Focus on process of learning rather than perfect products
      • Plan projects in small steps
      • Use specific criteria for assignments, projects, or products
      • Don’t always correct the finished product
      • Use exemplary products carefully
    • Teach “Know when to quit.” What are the expectations? Use scale 1-5.
    • • Match the time commitment to the value of the assignment.
    • Conduct discussions of “What’s the worst thing that could happen…?”
    • Incorporate goal setting & student evaluation into major facets of curriculum
  • 34. Instructional Strategies
    • Goals
    • Goals S/W Strategies
    • Academic
    • Physical
    • Social
    • Emotional
    • Other:
  • 35. Instructional Strategies
    • Conduct bibliotherapy sessions-read biographies
    • Have students study perfectionism through student interviews, research papers, and perfectionism
    • Teach a unit on great mistakes
    • Expose students to “bloopers that have changed history”
    • Assign students to write a play, puppet show, skit, TV commercial, poem or story that deals with perfectionism
    • Have students select scenarios of perfectionistic behavior from a hat and role play these situations - follow-up discussion
    • Teach a mini-unit on famous people who failed at first & then moved to success or fame
    • Try some art therapy lessons following class discussion about perfectionism
  • 36. Instructional Strategies
    • Analyze popular music or television shows in search of messages to be healthy or maladaptively perfect
    • Have students describe how it would feel to do average work or have an average performance
    • Decorate your classroom with encouraging student-designed slogans- start with “THINGS TAKE TIME”
    • Post the statement that focuses on how we are constantly changing: “I am where I am today. I was different yesterday, I will be different tomorrow.
    • But I am where I am today, and it’s OK.”
    • Require that every student make 3 mistakes on a worksheet- conduct a follow-up discussion
  • 37. Instructional Strategies
    • Recognize achievement in academic & non-academic areas
    • Don’t force children to participate in things they hate
    • Recognize the abilities of all children – don’t single out bright children for special attention
    • Encourage individual differences & different approaches
    • Let children fail- help them understand and accept failure
    • Reward creativity not just perfect answers
    • Allow children to work ahead of grade level- be supportive
    • Encourage children to pursue their passions
    • Teach task analysis, time management, & goal setting
    • Limit the use of extra credit work
    • Create a “Humor” bulletin board-discuss types of humor; have a joke of the day
    • • Use Quotations!!
  • 38. • I am always eager to learn, but I do not always like being taught. Winston Churchill • You can stand tall without standing on someone. You can be a victor without having victims. Harriet Woods, African-American politician & women’s rights activist from Missouri (died 2/07) • Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. Daniel Patrick Moynihan • Gifted kids like me need meaningful repetitions of complex material. Josh • If it sounds like a challenge, my mind is right on it. Jarrod Quotations
  • 39. Stay in the Struggle WANT WORK WAIT THINGS TAKE TIME RETHINK REFRAME RESTATE Helping Perfectionistic Kids
  • 40. Instructional Strategies
    • Use class discussions, private diaries or role playing to teach students that:
      • There are various levels of accomplishment
      • Mistakes & risks taking are part of learning
      • We can all improve with practice
    • Ask students to think about their past and future development
    • Negotiate contracts that support the courage to finish, turn-in, or share a given product
    • Read a particular author’s works over time- look for changing arguments as well as constant themes
    • Teach the creative problem solving process
    • Set some challenges in which perfectionist has no experience- encourage them to enjoy something new- for the fun of it
  • 41. Instructional Strategies
    • • Try not to grade all assignments or use pass/fail at times. Provide rewards that are connected to improvement, not perfection. Limit the use of extra credit work; perfectionists like to go above and beyond for an A+ grade, even if they are struggling in a subject.
    • • Focus on the perfectionist’s strengths and successes, not on the mistakes they make. Be careful about criticism because it can add to their own self-criticism for not being the perfect student.
    • • Be aware of gifted female adolescents putting more pressure on themselves to perform, and how teasing about being smart and/or perfectionistic is especially harmful to gifted male adolescents.
    • Work to create a non-sexist environment and curriculum.
  • 42. Instructional Strategies
    • • Use humor in the classroom: create a “HUMOR” bulletin board; discuss types of humor; have a joke of the day; incorporate humor in writings and problems; use humor instead of punishment; laugh at yourself.
    • • Learn techniques that are beneficial for gifted learners (e.g. curriculum compacting, ability grouping, acceleration opportunities). Modify and adapt current curriculum to provide more challenges.
    • • Use educational therapy techniques to address social and emotional issues: bibliotherapy, film, music, art, journal writing, simulations and role playing, inquiry-based class, small group discussions, small group projects based on human behavior (e.g. creative individuals).
  • 43. How Counselors Can Help Perfectionistic Gifted Kids
    • • Establish a counseling program for gifted children as a component of the existing counseling services.
    • • Become knowledgeable about their special intellectual needs and social and emotional issues. Understand that they have special guidance needs.
        • Obtain the necessary training and skills in identifying and counseling gifted children
        • Keep abreast of current research concerning
        • counseling needs
        • Collaborate with teachers to provide services in the classroom
    • • Establish relationships with gifted children as soon as they enter school.
  • 44. How Counselors Can Help Perfectionistic Gifted Kids
    • • Research different therapeutic models that have been recommended as effective counseling approaches for dysfunctional perfectionists.
        • Individual therapy: Reality therapy, Rational-emotive therapy
        • Counseling Groups
          • Special units on perfectionism
          • Typology of group modalities: Task-Process,
          • Socio-Process, and Psycho-Process Group
    • • Become an advocate for gifted children so they may receive the services they need.
  • 45. How School Districts Can Help Perfectionistic Gifted Kids
    • • Train all staff on the characteristics and issues of gifted children, and implement the recommended educational and counseling practices which are necessary to meet their needs. Use a variety of methods to identify gifted children.
    • • Provide educational flexibility for gifted children:
    • • appropriately differentiated curricula in heterogeneous classes, concurrent enrollment, combined enrollment, continuously paced instruction, guided independent study, mentorships, and out-of-school acceleration
  • 46. How School Districts Can Help Perfectionistic Gifted Kids
    • • Implement a counseling component for gifted children within the existing counseling program.
    • • small group discussions on salient issues such as perfectionism, and training on coping strategies, social skills/peer relationships, and time management skills.
    • • counselors and teachers need to collaborate on strategies that can be implemented in classrooms.
    • • Communicate with parents and the community.
    • • Offer workshops about gifted education to the community. When the community, educators, counselors, and parents obtain an indepth knowledge and understanding of gifted students, there will be a
    • greater public acceptance of programs and provisions to develop
    • talent and intelligence of all students.
  • 47. Prevention of serious emotional disturbance within gifted children lies in increasing the awareness of parents, educators, and gifted children as to the uniqueness possessed by the gifted and addressing their needs appropriately. Morton and Workman (1981)
  • 48. Resources The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know? edited by M. Neihart, S. Reis, N. Robinson, and S. Moon, 2002, Prufrock Press. Letting Go of Perfect: Overcoming Perfectionism in Kids by J. Adelson and H. Wilson, 2009, Prufrock Press. The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius by M-E. Jacobsen, 2000, Ballantine Books. Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers From Preschool to High School by J.W. Halstead, 2009, Great Potential Press. A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children by J. Webb et. al, 2007, Great Potential Press. Anxiety-Free Kids: An Interactive Guide for Parents and Children by B. Zucker, 2009, Prufrock Press. The Worried Child: Recognizing Anxiety in Children and Helping Them Heal by P. Foxman, 2004, Hunter House.
  • 49. Resources Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It by Burka & Yuen, 1983. Perfectionism: Theory, Research, and Treatment by Flett & Hewitt, 2002. Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes, and Missed Opportunities by Freeman & De Wolf, 1989. The Joy of Imperfection by Howard & Tras, 1996. Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Mallinger & De Wyze, 1992. Could Do Better: Why Children Underachieve and What to Do About It by Mandel, Marcus, & Dean, 1995. Counseling the Gifted and Talented by Silverman, 1993. Freeing Our Families from Perfectionism by Greenspon, 2002. The Perfectionist’s Handbook by Szymanski, 2011
  • 50.  
  • 51. Websites National Assocation for Gifted Children http://www.nagc.org National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/NRCGT.html . Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page http://www.hoagiesgifted.org Gifted Child Information Blog, Prufrock Press http://resources.prufrock.com/GiftedChildInformationBlog/tabid/57/Default.aspx Psychology Today Perfectionism Test http://psychologytoday.psychtests.com/tests/perfectionism_access.html.