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I am a middle-school student from Missouri and am researching perfectionism (which is “perfect” for me because, to some extent, I am a perfectionist). I think of my perfectionist tendencies as a part of me, but when teachers tell my parents that I am a perfectionist, they say it in a negative way. Should I try to stop or control my “perfectionism,” or should I just keep doing what I am doing?
Let me assure you first that there’s nothing wrong with doing your best and striving for excellence, but perfectionism can be a serious problem. Perfectionists not only strive for accomplishment, they sometimes avoid challenging work unless they’re confident they can get an “A” or be the best in the classroom. Perfectionists can be very hard on themselves and can even get depressed when they make mistakes. Some perfectionists procrastinate in starting projects for fear that their ideas won’t be perfect enough. Perfectionism can get in the way of creative risk-taking.
Excellent students are at risk for becoming perfectionistic. They become so accustomed to getting all A’s that they fear what parents or others may say if they don’t. They actually may over-study in fear of making a mistake. All this may cause them to feel anxious and expect too much of themselves. They not only feel pressure, but sometimes blame the pressure they feel on their parents and teachers.
Now that I’ve told you about all the problems that perfectionism can cause, let me assure you that none of these problems may be yours or what your teacher is talking about. Perhaps she is concerned that you are putting yourself under too much pressure. Working hard is important to achieving to your potential, so please don’t take this description as meaning you shouldn’t put forth effort. Hopefully, my message will communicate to you that you can take on challenge even if you’re afraid you might make mistakes. We all learn from our mistakes, and those lessons learned are clear indicators that we’re doing hard things. Don’t think you’re “dumb” just because something is difficult. Think instead that this may take more effort than you have had to make in the past, and that other students are also probably struggling. If you can feel good about yourself when you’ve done your best rather than only feeling satisfied when you’ve earned the best grade, it will help you to find fulfillment in your work.
Dr. Sylvia Rimm is a child psychologist and clinical professor at Case University School of Medicine, author, newspaper and magazine columnist, and radio/TV personality. For free newsletters aboutpressures bright children feel and/or perfectionism, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for each newsletter and a note with your topic request to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094. Read Dr. Rimm’s Articles for Parents and Teachers and submit family questions online at www.sylviarimm.com. All questions are answered.