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Perfectionism in the Gifted Child. Mary K. Chance EDU 436 Dr. Holder 6/16/08. What is Perfectionism?. Webster defines it as: 1. the quality or state of being perfect: as  freedom from fault or defect 2 .  the quality or state of being saintly

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perfectionism in the gifted child

Perfectionism in the Gifted Child

Mary K. Chance

EDU 436

Dr. Holder


what is perfectionism
What is Perfectionism?

Webster defines it as:

1. the quality or state of being perfect: as  freedom from fault or defect

2.  the quality or state of being saintly

3.  an exemplification of supreme excellence

4.  an unsurpassable degree of accuracy


WOW – That’s a pretty heavy definition to live up to – isn’t it?

And that’s where the problem begins. People actually try to be perfect!


The sources examined seem to agree that most perfectionists fall into two categories – or somewhere in between:Healthy Perfectionism andUn-Healthy perfectionism!


Un -Healthy

level with us how much of a perfectionist are you
Level with us How much of a perfectionist are you?

Healthy perfectionism leads one to strive for excellence.

Unhealthy perfectionism takes over one’s life and leaves no room for error.

For example, a healthy perfectionist would be content to be a tiny fraction of a bubble off!

An unhealthy perfectionist must have that bubble perfectly centered.

healthy perfectionism
Healthy Perfectionism
  • Healthy perfectionism is a positive characteristic that drives high effort and accomplishment.
  • Healthy perfectionists derive strong pleasure from their concentrated effort.
  • Healthy perfectionists can adjust their work level as the situation requires
  • Healthy perfectionism can also be referred to as the pursuit of excellence.

Sources: Davis, page 434

Adderholdt, p. 6

unhealthy perfectionism
Unhealthy Perfectionism
  • Unhealthy perfectionists strain compulsively toward impossible goals.
  • Unhealthy perfectionists set unrealistic standards for themselves.
  • Unhealthy perfectionists see mistakes as evidence of their own unworthiness
  • Unhealthy perfectionists live in a constant state of anxiety about making mistakes.

Sources: RIAGE, page 1

Adderholdt, p. 4

in a nutshell
In a nutshell
  • Healthy perfectionists know

their limits and strive for excellence.

  • They use their talents to the fullest extent of their capabilities.
  • They realize they do not have to be perfect to be successful and loved.
unhealthy perfectionism1
Unhealthy perfectionism –
  • Unhealthy Perfectionism is also referred to as neurotic perfectionism – for a good reason.
  • The word NEUROTIC comes from the word neurosis which means: a mental and emotional disorder that affects only part of the personality, is accompanied by a less distorted perception of reality than in a psychosis, does not result in disturbance of the use of language, and is accompanied by various physical, physiological, and mental disturbances (as visceral symptoms, anxieties, or phobias)


  • Neurotic Perfectionists often:
    • Make themselves sick trying to maintain high grades
    • Have sweaty palms and an accelerated heart rate before a test
    • Compulsively compare grades with those of other good students
    • Work alone because no one else is as good as they are
    • Are resentful of editorial changes in their work
    • Avoid new experiences that pose a threat a failure.
    • Are overly precise
    • May resort to cheating to get the highest grades.

Source: Davis, p. 435

negative consequences of neurotic perfectionism
Negative Consequences of Neurotic Perfectionism
  • Low self-esteem – “I’m never good enough”
  • Guilt – “I could have handled that better”
  • Pessimism – “I’ll never be a success”
  • Depression – “I’ll never succeed?”
  • Suicidal tendencies – “Why go on?”
  • Obsessiveness – “It isn’t perfect yet, I can’t stop”
  • Lack of motivation – “It will never be perfect so why try?”
  • Immobilization – “ It is better to do nothing than it is to fail!”


things unhealthy perfectionists say
Things unhealthy perfectionists say:
  • My family expects me to win, I can’t let them down
  • If I don’t do that, everyone will be so disappointed.
  • No, its still 1/32 of an inch off!
  • I can’t believe I got one question wrong – maybe the teacher is wrong!
  • It would have been perfect if I could have done it myself.
in a nutshell1
In a nutshell
  • Unhealthy perfectionism is

dangerous and can lead to

serious mental and physical problems including immobilization, withdrawal eating disorders, self-harm,

  • Unhealthy Perfectionists often need help to give themselves permission to fail.
perfectionism and the gifted student
Perfectionism and the Gifted Student
  • It is estimates that half the population of the U.S. has perfectionist tendencies.
  • For gifted students, and proportion is closer to 85%
  • Teachers and parents of gifted students need to be aware of this characteristic and how to help our children cope with it.

Source: Davis, p. 435

what can parents do
What can Parents do?
  • Recognize the positive and negative traits of perfectionism.
  • Model acceptance of your own mistakes, and let your child know you are not perfect.
  • Help your child set realistic standards for themselves.
  • Teach the concept of constructive failure
  • Assure your child that your love for him is unconditional and not contingent on his successes or failures.
  • Don’t let study interfere with healthy eating and sleeping!
  • Be on the look out for physical symptoms, i.e. nausea on days of tests, excessive nervousness, loss of humor
  • Seek professional help when perfectionism becomes neurotic.


what can teachers do
What can Teachers Do?
  • Recognize the positive and negative traits of perfectionism.
  • Expect excellence but not perfection from your students –talk with your students about the difference.
  • Use rubrics and specific criteria for assignments, show examples of exemplary products.
  • Help all students set realistic goals.
  • Provide a safe environment for failure.
  • Do not grade all assignments
  • Use humor in the classroom
  • Seek assistance from school counselors.



Adderholdt, Miriam and Jan Goldberg. Perfectionism: What’s Bad About Being too Good? Rev. Ed. Minneapolis, Free Spirit, 1999.

Davis, Gary and Sylvia Rimm. Education of the Gifted and Talented. 5th ed. Boston, Pearson, 2004.

National Association for Gifted Children. “Peferctionism.” Accessed 6/15/08.

Rhode Island Advocates for Gifted Education. “Perfectionism and the Gifted Adolescent. Accessed 6/15/08.

“Tools for Personal Growth: Overcoming Perfectionism.” Accessed 6/15/08.

“Webster’s online dictionary. Accessed 6/15/08.