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Quill

Musing about Perfectionism vs. Excellence

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2 minutes ago, MrsRobinson said:

Ok, your posts are scaring me! My dd is 10 but everything you've said about your dd sounds just like mine! I feel like I'm peering into the future here! 😱

I won't lie.  Her teen years were ROUGH.  Although I suspect that my having babies through those years didn't help (hormonal teen and pregnant mom with a 1yr old in the house=recipe for an explosion)   As I said, she's 23 now, and having graduated college and gotten her own job and actually seeing that having to re-take XYZ class didn't make one sniff of difference has helped.  Sometimes they really do just need experience.  

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5 minutes ago, Arcadia said:

 

After I make the first batch of cherry tarts, I would be thinking that I should have used better tasting cherries and feed my first batch to my husband while making a second better batch for my guests. Before my guests arrived, I would be fretting that I should have done a better cherry tart even though I used better ingredients on the second batch.  That’s provided I didn’t hunt the Internet and asked the hive if my cherry tart recipe was good enough and is there a better recipe before and after making my first and second batch.

If my guests praised my cherry tart, it would probably send me into an internal panic that I have to make a better cherry tart (or any other tart) next time I have guests.

It is not approval from others that perfectionist crave in general. It’s approval from himself/herself (internal). People can praise the perfectionist sky high and the perfectionist would still have feelings of imperfection.

That’s sad.

It seems to me, though, that an issue this deep-seated is not even in the realm of books like in the OP. 

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2 minutes ago, Quill said:

 

It seems to me, though, that an issue this deep-seated is not even in the realm of books like in the OP. 

Having not read the book...

 

I suspect you are correct, and I suspect that that might be why the book didn't sit well with you because it really didn't describe the issue accurately, at least according to your OP.  

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1 minute ago, happysmileylady said:

I won't lie.  Her teen years were ROUGH.  Although I suspect that my having babies through those years didn't help (hormonal teen and pregnant mom with a 1yr old in the house=recipe for an explosion)   

(Mental note to self 👉 Don't get knocked up again.) 😂

I guess at some point, the mom's job is to listen and support while they work through those experiences. It sounds like you've been a great supporter to your dd. I bet you were over the moon proud when she graduated college!

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3 minutes ago, Quill said:

That’s sad.

It seems to me, though, that an issue this deep-seated is not even in the realm of books like in the OP. 

It is sad, but it’s an accurate description. If this is not how the book led you to understand it, you are right, the definition of perfectionism in the book was not accurate. 

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2 minutes ago, Quill said:

That’s sad.

It seems to me, though, that an issue this deep-seated is not even in the realm of books like in the OP. 

 

I think that's what a lot of us are saying. The way that book is using "perfectionism" is like someone claiming to be OCD because they alphabetize their spice rack. 

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So, the link that Quill put up earlier about the differences in aiming for perfection vs. aiming for excellence felt really dead on to me... for people who are just run of the mill people. Like, we all struggle with wanting something to be just right or listening to voices tell us that it needs to be a certain way or else and with taking critiques and understanding that it's not personal because we're all in the process of improving all the time... Like, that's great advice for people who are mostly normal with mostly normal anxiety about perfection. It felt to me like that site was helping encourage a growth mindset.

I think for perfectionists... it's not like that at all. Perfectionists are often not working toward perfection at all. They're taunted by it. Or frozen by it. It's not about what others say to them or comparing themselves - they feel this way no matter what happens, even if they get perfect marks or promotions. It's just different.

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2 minutes ago, MrsRobinson said:

(Mental note to self 👉 Don't get knocked up again.) 😂

I guess at some point, the mom's job is to listen and support while they work through those experiences. It sounds like you've been a great supporter to your dd. I bet you were over the moon proud when she graduated college!

I don't know that she will ever really understand the pride I have for her and all the work she has put into her 23 years of life.  She is an amazing PERSON and I don't know that she even realizes it, even as I think she has probably accepted that not being perfect is ok in most situations.  

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As a parent of children who are perfectionists, it is truly a brain thing that they can't help.  It's not at all about pleasing others.  It all comes from inside.  Maybe gaining attention from others is a nice reward, but it's not what drives it, at all.   Maybe someday, we'll discover it's all really a mix of sensitivity, mild OCD, binary thinking, and high intelligence, I don't know.  I think it's generally hereditary.  My dh's family has those tendencies, from generation to generation.  

Mine doesn't.  My father (91 years old now!) is my children's hero.  He is smart, but simple, happy, careless... not at all a perfectionist.  My ds says if he could trade places with anyone, it would be him.  He would love to be that way, but his brain prevents him from doing so.

 

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31 minutes ago, happysmileylady said:

😁

 

I figured that would catch some folks. 

 

That's exactly how she actually thinks.  Don't just TRY to do it, do it exactly as I say....or do not.  

 

If you really understand all the nuances of that quote.....that's perfectionism.  

Interesting. That quote to me means: Try is the lazy way of not putting in your best. “I’ll try to make it to the 8:00am meeting, but...you know...that IS pretty early and I have a 40-minute drive. Plus traffic.” So, to me, commit to the 8:00am meeting, set your alarm, leave with a time cushion and get there by 8. Or 7.55. DO. Or else, rearrange, say it is actually impossible for you to get there at 8am, so let’s reschedule for 10am. DO NOT

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2 minutes ago, Quill said:

Interesting. That quote to me means: Try is the lazy way of not putting in your best. “I’ll try to make it to the 8:00am meeting, but...you know...that IS pretty early and I have a 40-minute drive. Plus traffic.” So, to me, commit to the 8:00am meeting, set your alarm, leave with a time cushion and get there by 8. Or 7.55. DO. Or else, rearrange, say it is actually impossible for you to get there at 8am, so let’s reschedule for 10am. DO NOT

For my Dd, it means "I will leave at 7:30 to be there by 7:45, and if traffic is bad I can be there by 8.

 

BUT, holy crap, there's a giant accident on 465, I am stuck in place for 30 minutes I am NOT getting to work by 8am, probably not even 8:30, this is my fault I should have left at 7, I should have planned better, just cancel the entire meeting because I screwed up

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1 minute ago, happysmileylady said:

For my Dd, it means "I will leave at 7:30 to be there by 7:45, and if traffic is bad I can be there by 8.

 

BUT, holy crap, there's a giant accident on 465, I am stuck in place for 30 minutes I am NOT getting to work by 8am, probably not even 8:30, this is my fault I should have left at 7, I should have planned better, just cancel the entire meeting because I screwed up

Well, yeah...I did do that a lot when I was young. Now, I usually don’t; now, I am much more likely to be extremely anxious for about ten minutes and then go, “You know what? Oh well. I didn’t know this was going to happen and, even with my usual time cushion, there’s still no making this tractor trailer budge so no point gritting my teeth over this for the next hour. Let’s just be thankful for cell phones because I can call right now...” 

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3 hours ago, regentrude said:

This! That's the kid for whom getting an A- will cause tears and self doubt and a major crisis because it is perceived as a failure.

 Yep, DD is like this.

I had very good grades in school; I was grades-motivated and school was easy (even a very difficult program).  I was upset on the occasion that I got a bad grade on a test, and I was very upset one semester when I forgot to turn in the community service hours that were required for advanced classes to be weighted in the GPA  - meaning instead of all As that semseter, I was credited with all Bs.  (though the admin did end up fixing it for me).  But only on that occasion was I that upset.  I could weather the occasional A- without meltdown and self-recrimination.

DD is different.  She got a 95 on Lukeion's Latin 2 final this semester.  She has entered middle school and so cannot attend the live classes; she watches the recordings and studies on her own.  This is also the busy season for our business so she has very very little free time right now, and what she does have goes to homework for school as she is getting caught up from missing the first month.  She is the oldest of 7 and just doesn't have a ton of time.

So I thought a 95, given all of that, was pretty danged good.  She was tearful.  She wanted perfect.  Maybe she would have been content with 97.  95 meant tears.

She is 13, and it is 75% better now than it was when she was little.  I put her in swimming, something she's not great at, from ages 8-10, and that helped a ton.

I think one of the curses of being very organized, very driven, and very bright is that perfection does seem attainable.  For most people, academic perfection isn't attainable.  For DD, swimming perfection wasn't attainable, and it allowed her to slow down and enjoy the other aspects of the experience a bit.  But she is still academically driven (and is the same for anything else she thinks she could do perfectly if only - baking, sewing, knitting, etc.)

Any advice about helping her deal with this would be very welcome.

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3 hours ago, Quill said:

The book, though, was not talking about this. It was making a distinction between perfectionism and “healthy striving.” I’m saying I think that is a false distinction. I don’t think you change it from “bad” perfectionism to “healthy striving” by saying you want the good outcome for “authentic” reasons. 

Thinking one can’t get the house perfectly clean and therefore doesn’t clean anything is inferiority. It’s obvious that it’s not a healthy outlook. 

 

I do agree that the authentic reasons thing is partially BS.  Of course we are socially driven to perform well; we're social creatures and many social expectations exist in order to regulate behavior in an optimal way. Obviously not all of them.

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We have a good bit of perfectionism that seems to run in my family.  I do think there is a genetic component.  I have raised my kids to view it as a disease and not as a good thing.   Every time the tears and drama start I remind the one that perfectionism is a disease.  It tries to steal your joy. It won't let you be happy with progress or growth or even excellence.  I often used to tell my perfectionist before taking a test, etc... that I expected to see at least one error because they really needed to practice making mistakes.

  Most perfectionists I know would completely discount any praise or accolades.  If they get a hundred on a test, well that is just the bare minimum of being acceptable.  They completely discount how great that is and barely acknowledge it.  They will find another little flaw somewhere to focus on instead.  And heaven forbid it was like a 97.  Then all they can focus on is what they did wrong. It is a very difficult way to live.  

In your example with the cherry tarts- if the tarts were perfect and could not be improved upon and the perfectionist was praised excessively for them they would probably just move on to something else to fixate on "well I served a perfect tart but I didn't get to mop the floors before they came over, etc., etc.."  The tarts are already discounted.  There is always something that is NOT perfect to focus on instead of what you may have done perfectly.  You can never beat it.  It taunts you.  In my family, it is clearly co-morbid with a lot of anxiety and we talk about both traits and acknowledge the mental health component.

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1 hour ago, moonflower said:

 Yep, DD is like this.

I had very good grades in school; I was grades-motivated and school was easy (even a very difficult program).  I was upset on the occasion that I got a bad grade on a test, and I was very upset one semester when I forgot to turn in the community service hours that were required for advanced classes to be weighted in the GPA  - meaning instead of all As that semseter, I was credited with all Bs.  (though the admin did end up fixing it for me).  But only on that occasion was I that upset.  I could weather the occasional A- without meltdown and self-recrimination.

DD is different.  She got a 95 on Lukeion's Latin 2 final this semester.  She has entered middle school and so cannot attend the live classes; she watches the recordings and studies on her own.  This is also the busy season for our business so she has very very little free time right now, and what she does have goes to homework for school as she is getting caught up from missing the first month.  She is the oldest of 7 and just doesn't have a ton of time.

So I thought a 95, given all of that, was pretty danged good.  She was tearful.  She wanted perfect.  Maybe she would have been content with 97.  95 meant tears.

She is 13, and it is 75% better now than it was when she was little.  I put her in swimming, something she's not great at, from ages 8-10, and that helped a ton.

I think one of the curses of being very organized, very driven, and very bright is that perfection does seem attainable.  For most people, academic perfection isn't attainable.  For DD, swimming perfection wasn't attainable, and it allowed her to slow down and enjoy the other aspects of the experience a bit.  But she is still academically driven (and is the same for anything else she thinks she could do perfectly if only - baking, sewing, knitting, etc.)

Any advice about helping her deal with this would be very welcome.

I have to help my perfectionist reframe expectations since obviously they do not have a good sense of what appropriate expectations are.  Sometimes I use a scenario of "what would you say to (insert best friends name) if they got a 95 in Latin?"  Usually they are much kinder to said friend than themselves.  I ask them why they think that it is ok for said friend to make a 95 but not them?  Basically I am constantly challenging the assumption that perfectionism is expected, healthy, normal, etc..  I am challenging the voice in their head saying they have to be perfect.   We also practiced making mistakes and learning from them.  I praised mistakes and modeled using that as a learning opportunity.  For this child, learning to make mistakes was MORE important than getting all the answers right.  They needed to learn how to get some answers wrong and cope with those terrible feelings that created.

  I am not saying there wasn't wailing and gnashing of teeth.  We had so much drama over the years.  There have been lots of tears and talks but very slowly I have seen some improvement.  Just like anxiety I point it out when it rears its ugly head. "That is your perfectionism talking" or  "that is your anxiety telling you that right now."  I think just being able to name it and recognize it is important for kids.  I think it gives them a starting point to begin to develop coping strategies.  

 

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I think social rewards can actually increase perfectionism.

I remember my first ballet exam when I was 6. And I got honors, and so my mum bought me an ice cream cake to celebrate, and a little gold brooch of ballet shoes. Which was really nice of her, and definitely reinforced that getting a top grade was a socially wonderful thing.

The next year I took another ballet exam. I was 7. I got highly commended, which any sane person would tell you is a wonderful, excellent grade. But it was one step down from honors. And in my 7 yr old brain, I understood that this year, I had not earned the social approval of last year, despite being given a gift again. And that made me feel very insecure, and anxious, and not very deserving.

The year I was 8, I told my mum I wasn't interested in doing exams any more. I was - I desperately wanted to keep doing exams - but the fear that this year I would only get commended, and show how utterly I failed to earn the social approval my parents would feel bound to show me anyway - that fear was too strong.

Avoiding exams and the potential for not only not being perfect, but risking being even less perfect that last time - that was internally a relief. 

So...idk...I can see a connection between perfectionism and social rewards, but I see the reinforcement as largely negative. In that the more I am socially rewarded for 'achievement', the more likely I am to quit that endeavor, because  fear of subsequent failure is amplified by an existing success.

Perfectionism for me looks a whole lot more like massive, global avoidance. I'm not getting a lot of pride or social cookies out of it.

 

 

 

 

 

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I agree that naming it should really help; personally I have high anxiety and have modeled naming that for DD13, as well as identifying hormonally driven emotions, but I hadn't thought of doing it w/ her perfectionism!

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I think social rewards can actually increase perfectionism.

YES! That was my point, which I must not have made clearly. You get the approval and then you know that only the top accolade makes everyone happy and approving. So the perfectionism is reinforced. 

When I was a kid and got that first test back with one red X on an answer, I probably thought something like, “Now my teachers and mom will not say I’m the kid all gold stars!” (Now that I think about it, those chart displays with colored stars were the most ridiculous of classroom tools. Displaying everyone’s grades in color-coded stars? Awful!) 

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55 minutes ago, moonflower said:

I agree that naming it should really help; personally I have high anxiety and have modeled naming that for DD13, as well as identifying hormonally driven emotions, but I hadn't thought of doing it w/ her perfectionism!

I think we (society) should not call this perfectionism at all, because people embrace that and use that term for their own pride. 

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As a perfectionist, I agree with the others who have said that perfectionism is genetic. Perfectionists are born with high levels of conscientiousness and it drives them to be vigilant and perform tasks well. They have a very strong sense of personal responsibility.

Wanting to do well to please others and fit in is a different issue, imo.

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8 hours ago, CaliforniaDreamin said:

I have to help my perfectionist reframe expectations since obviously they do not have a good sense of what appropriate expectations are.  Sometimes I use a scenario of "what would you say to (insert best friends name) if they got a 95 in Latin?"  Usually they are much kinder to said friend than themselves.  I ask them why they think that it is ok for said friend to make a 95 but not them?  Basically I am constantly challenging the assumption that perfectionism is expected, healthy, normal, etc..  I am challenging the voice in their head saying they have to be perfect.   We also practiced making mistakes and learning from them.  I praised mistakes and modeled using that as a learning opportunity.  For this child, learning to make mistakes was MORE important than getting all the answers right.  They needed to learn how to get some answers wrong and cope with those terrible feelings that created.

  I am not saying there wasn't wailing and gnashing of teeth.  We had so much drama over the years.  There have been lots of tears and talks but very slowly I have seen some improvement.  Just like anxiety I point it out when it rears its ugly head. "That is your perfectionism talking" or  "that is your anxiety telling you that right now."  I think just being able to name it and recognize it is important for kids.  I think it gives them a starting point to begin to develop coping strategies.  

 

This is good. Also, both mom and daughter should read and discuss the book “Mindset.” It will set you on the path of taking a step back and looking at situations to see if you are in a fixed or growth mindset. 

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59 minutes ago, SamanthaCarter said:

This is good. Also, both mom and daughter should read and discuss the book “Mindset.” It will set you on the path of taking a step back and looking at situations to see if you are in a fixed or growth mindset. 

I love that book.

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12 hours ago, Quill said:

But what is the impetus for the intenal drive? For me, it was/has been approval and feeling worthy or care. “If I am not good/excellent/beneficial, I will be rejected. Therefore, I must be as good/excellent/beneficial as I can be so I will be cared for.”

For me, the impetus may have started out (in childhood) feeling worthy or fear of not being perfect enough. My father certainly didn't help with my perfectionism. He always pointed out my failures, "Why did you get a 99 and not a 100? (insert punishment of choice)" I felt like he only showed love when I was achieving something...perfect grades, sports accomplishments, good deeds, cleaning the house, cooking for the family, etc... When I look back on my childhood, though, the things I remember most vividly are the times I didn't measure up. 

I don't know. I may have been a perfectionist anyway. I know my dd has never been made to feel she must be perfect and her perfectionism reared its ugly head when she was so young. She was the youngest and the only girl and everyone always loved her and doted on her but she was very hard on herself even as young as two or three...for example, talking to violin teacher rather than trying something she couldn't do on the first try or running crying to her bedroom if she spilled something even though she was never in trouble for spilling something. Seeing my tendencies in her that young made me work hard to help her every way I could. I worked to change her mindset by being very careful how I phrased things- we practice to make things easier rather than practice makes perfect, allowing her ample time to experiment when practicing violin so she could make mistakes and turn them into something new, and making sure to love her for being her rather than anything she accomplished (this last may have been overdone because now when she accomplishes amazing things, to her, they are just, eh).

Now, for me anyway, it definitely anxiety driven. I cannot relax if my house is not clean or if I am going to be late to something even if it is out of my control like a traffic jam. I won't even speak in a group, for example at work, unless I am 100% sure I am correct even if everyone is just throwing ideas out to discuss and it has nothing to do with what others will think because everyone is just talking and some people's ideas are not accepted by the group and that's okay. I wish I could be more relaxed about things and I envy people who don't seem driven to try so hard but are happy with some things being good enough because, really, why does everything about me have to be to some impossible or nearly impossible standard? 

Maybe it is a personality trait or has to do with being introverted or maybe some people have more "self talk or self criticism" going on in their heads because I really don't feel like it has anything to do with social acceptance. I see people of all types accepted all the time and know people will accept me if I'm not perfect. I just don't feel comfortable inside myself with any perceived imperfection.

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13 hours ago, Quill said:

But what is the impetus for the intenal drive? For me, it was/has been approval and feeling worthy or care. “If I am not good/excellent/beneficial, I will be rejected. Therefore, I must be as good/excellent/beneficial as I can be so I will be cared for.”

 

I am an agnostic all my life. For me, it’s about “god given gifts” that you are born with. So it’s a theological view of what was I born for (life mission) and how am I suppose to use my gifts to enrich other people’s (including strangers) life.  When it led to emotional burnout, that was when I step back and think because I do not think that god intend me to drive myself to burnout.

I was born premature and was in NICU for a long time. I never questioned being cared for since I am the youngest granddaughter on both sides and every relative was so scared I would die at infancy that they doted on me.

For DS14, it is similar. He is thinking about his “gifts” and thinking that he hasn’t utilized them fully. He has to come to terms his own way but he is less likely to burnout due to not being as “workaholic” as me.

4 hours ago, Quill said:

YES! That was my point, which I must not have made clearly. You get the approval and then you know that only the top accolade makes everyone happy and approving. So the perfectionism is reinforced. 

 

The problem I have with this is that take away the outside approval and perfectionism remains. Or that someone might never have received social approval but is still a perfectionist. 

I read the growth mindset book when it came out. The issue I have with it is that with some perfectionists there can be no end point. The goal post gets shift higher constantly. Its the negativity of always having room to grow and never reaching an end point. It’s exhausting.

I think perfectionism is kind of like autism in that there is a spectrum. Perfectionists are affected to different degrees.

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15 hours ago, Storygirl said:

And the flip side of perfectionism, for me, is that when I can't do something well, I give up. Or I don't even try. Or I procrastinate until I create a problem. And I beat myself up the entire time, because I know I am failing. Perfectionism doesn't mean actually keeping things perfect or doing things perfectly. Because there is the feeling of constant failure or the threat of failure, and with that looming, it's hard to accomplish things.

It's an internal thing, not an external thing. If you came into my house, you would not think, "A perfectionist lives here."

My DH does this. He will procrastinate until he absolutely has to do something (even though he's not even able to enjoy himself during the procrastinating, because of the task hanging over him), and then he will get upset that he has run out of time to do a good job. It's not fun at all.

As a very non-perfectionist myself, I find it hard to understand this part of his personality. I generally think people are pretty accepting and tolerant of others' mistakes/weaknesses, so I don't stress about doing an okay-but-not-great job at things. DH says I'm naive, and that the world is a dog-eat-dog place in many respects.

Looking at how I tend to complete tasks, I could really use a little bit more perfectionism - but just a little. I can see how perfectionism can really make people's lives miserable. 

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My mom was perfectionist about many things and it had nothing to do with social approval. It was more like an OCD thing. Social approval was never a motivating factor for anything my mom did, she's actually kind of oblivious to it 😄

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5 minutes ago, maize said:

My mom was perfectionist about many things and it had nothing to do with social approval. It was more like an OCD thing. Social approval was never a motivating factor for anything my mom did, she's actually kind of oblivious to it 😄

This is how it is with my family perfectionists, too.

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I think perfectionism is a real problem and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between a striver of excellence and a perfectionist. I think perfectionism is a limiting anxiety with terrible consequences of never trying anything new or hard. I was a perfectionist, anxious little girl with a perfectionist controlling mother. Elementary school was mostly terrible, because you could be perfect and I felt (rightly or wrongly, still not completely sure) that my mother expected that of me. Repeated failure (sports, music) shook me out of that and led me to be a striver of excellence -FOR ME and not for any sort of accolade. This has helped with staying home and not getting a paycheck or much outside respect.

When I saw the same tendencies in my oldest daughter, I reviewed her work with her- even things she did well, treating the wrong answers with indifference. That helped with the school work, but what really helped were sports. Swimming- no one wins all the time. And rock climbing, it is a sport where failure happens constantly, with immediate and powerful feedback. She is a high achiever now, but due to her large reservoir of experiences with failure, she is comfortable with adjusting goals or admitting falling short and moves on.  

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Perfectionism is probably a spectrum, like most things. For the average perfectionist, which maybe we all at times suffer from, yes we're comparing others' highlight reels with our perceived failings, and we probably can use some humble self-talk to gain some perspective. "Okay, so I screw up or have an imperfect result. So what? Do I really think no one notices my failings? Or that they don't have failings too? Yes, I can get over myself and admit I don't know everything or don't always have 100% success."

Trying to recognize your own pride wouldn't necessarily apply to or help with perfectionism coupled with anxiety to the point where it borders on OCD, though.
I do see a difference there, for sure.

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2 hours ago, Donna said:

For me, the impetus may have started out (in childhood) feeling worthy or fear of not being perfect enough. My father certainly didn't help with my perfectionism. He always pointed out my failures, "Why did you get a 99 and not a 100? (insert punishment of choice)" I felt like he only showed love when I was achieving something...perfect grades, sports accomplishments, good deeds, cleaning the house, cooking for the family, etc... When I look back on my childhood, though, the things I remember most vividly are the times I didn't measure up. 

I don't know. I may have been a perfectionist anyway. I know my dd has never been made to feel she must be perfect and her perfectionism reared its ugly head when she was so young. She was the youngest and the only girl and everyone always loved her and doted on her but she was very hard on herself even as young as two or three...for example, talking to violin teacher rather than trying something she couldn't do on the first try or running crying to her bedroom if she spilled something even though she was never in trouble for spilling something. Seeing my tendencies in her that young made me work hard to help her every way I could. I worked to change her mindset by being very careful how I phrased things- we practice to make things easier rather than practice makes perfect, allowing her ample time to experiment when practicing violin so she could make mistakes and turn them into something new, and making sure to love her for being her rather than anything she accomplished (this last may have been overdone because now when she accomplishes amazing things, to her, they are just, eh).

Now, for me anyway, it definitely anxiety driven. I cannot relax if my house is not clean or if I am going to be late to something even if it is out of my control like a traffic jam. I won't even speak in a group, for example at work, unless I am 100% sure I am correct even if everyone is just throwing ideas out to discuss and it has nothing to do with what others will think because everyone is just talking and some people's ideas are not accepted by the group and that's okay. I wish I could be more relaxed about things and I envy people who don't seem driven to try so hard but are happy with some things being good enough because, really, why does everything about me have to be to some impossible or nearly impossible standard? 

Maybe it is a personality trait or has to do with being introverted or maybe some people have more "self talk or self criticism" going on in their heads because I really don't feel like it has anything to do with social acceptance. I see people of all types accepted all the time and know people will accept me if I'm not perfect. I just don't feel comfortable inside myself with any perceived imperfection.

This is very interesting to me. I can completely relate to anxiety-promoted perfectionism. But I feel as though I don’t have this anymore, or at least, it’s very infrequent. 

Before I had kids, I had extremely high (and frankly foolish) expectations of how immaculate my house had to be. (Good thing it was just a small townhouse at the time!) At that time, it was unthinkable that I would leave the house or go to bed with a fork left in the sink. I had a bunch of weird rules about how things must be. But I could not have maintained a standard like that once I moved to a big house and started having kids. 

My house is still pretty neat, but I don’t have anxiety wrapped up in how it must be every day. Even if a friend stopped by, I probably wouldn’t think about the many imperfect things about my house. I do still have an anxiety point, but it would have to be pretty messy before that gets triggered. 

For myself, a lot of those things have gone away. I no longer view myself as a perfectionist about much of anything. I do still have high standards about many things, especially when others will be assessing something (like if I’m hosting a party, say), but it doesn’t bother me much anymore if I can’t meet some standard. Because of my current health, I had to give over a number of things to others which I normally do, like the craft day at our co-op or a mom’s Christmas dinner I did last year. I actually had zero anxiety about whether these activities were being done well by others or not. I really just felt like, “Eh. Those other ladies seem plenty on-the-ball, so I’m sure it will be fine.” 

I don’t know exactly why this doesn’t affect me much anymore. I have thought some hormones are at least part of the picture. 

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I don’t know anything about the book you read. 

I do think there is a problem with the word. It has at least 2 separate meanings:

1) For some people “perfectionism” means doing an excellent job.  And it might even be used about oneself in a self congratulating way — “I’m really a perfectionist about getting ____ done  just right.”  This can even be something said on a job interview as a backwards positive about oneself when asked about weaknesses.  

2) For others “perfectionism” means an inner demon they are wrestling with, as some people might have to wrestle with “depression” as an inner demon.  

I think it is the same word, but not on the same continuum.  

I think the two senses are at least as different as the word “mad” to mean angry versus to mean crazy. It isn’t a continuum of a madness spectrum from anger to insanity.  

There can be a spectrum of “perfectionism” of the inner demon type from mild to crippling, much as there can be a spectrum of depression from mild to crippling.  

I am guessing that you have not experienced the inner demon form of perfectionism and that the book you are reading is about dealing with this type of “perfectionism”. 

 

What I thought this thread was going to be about was whether trying to push ourselves or our kids to strive for excellence can lead to the second form of “perfectionism” and if so, how to avoid that.  

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I've only read the OP and I'm sorry because this is a huge digression from the topic at hand.

But Brene Brown books are terrible 😁 

I mean really, really bad. 

She's trying to sound deep. Trying so hard. Failing. Big time. 

If anyone has a problem with what I am saying, no worries! Because a Brene Brown book informed me that outer critics don't matter. Only inner critics. 

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3 hours ago, MysteryJen said:

I think perfectionism is a real problem and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between a striver of excellence and a perfectionist. I think perfectionism is a limiting anxiety with terrible consequences of never trying anything new or hard. I was a perfectionist, anxious little girl with a perfectionist controlling mother. Elementary school was mostly terrible, because you could be perfect and I felt (rightly or wrongly, still not completely sure) that my mother expected that of me. Repeated failure (sports, music) shook me out of that and led me to be a striver of excellence -FOR ME and not for any sort of accolade. This has helped with staying home and not getting a paycheck or much outside respect.

When I saw the same tendencies in my oldest daughter, I reviewed her work with her- even things she did well, treating the wrong answers with indifference. That helped with the school work, but what really helped were sports. Swimming- no one wins all the time. And rock climbing, it is a sport where failure happens constantly, with immediate and powerful feedback. She is a high achiever now, but due to her large reservoir of experiences with failure, she is comfortable with adjusting goals or admitting falling short and moves on.  

 

This is fabulous. I was always anti competitive sports (don't hate me!) until ds got into a team sport, and man, was I a quick convert to the psychological benefits of sports, including failure.

I only learned to 'fail' when I was 45. And I 'failed' by getting a credit on an essay. And I miraculously survived! It was such a good lesson, and oh, had it only been taught to me as a child, and constantly reinforced.

Before that, I simply did not 'fail'. I either achieved at high levels, or I avoided. 

I totally agree that sports can function as a great teacher for the perfectionist child.

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8 hours ago, Quill said:

YES! That was my point, which I must not have made clearly. You get the approval and then you know that only the top accolade makes everyone happy and approving. So the perfectionism is reinforced. 

When I was a kid and got that first test back with one red X on an answer, I probably thought something like, “Now my teachers and mom will not say I’m the kid all gold stars!” (Now that I think about it, those chart displays with colored stars were the most ridiculous of classroom tools. Displaying everyone’s grades in color-coded stars? Awful!) 

 

I guess what I was saying (not clearly) is that in someone with a perfectionistic personality, social approval for achievement can actually reinforce avoidance, rather than increasing the desire to strive for excellence.

I am very low key with my achievers, though probably not low key enough. Because we are supposed to make a fuss, kwim ? I kept rewards for achievement verbal, with the odd and unexpected material reward, that was as likely to be for 'giving it a go' as getting an A+.

They are still perfectionists; all I did was not add to it to the extent I could have.

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18 hours ago, Quill said:

I agree that it is anxiety driven. But there is an origination of that anxiety in being right, being the best, being above reproach. So there is this anxiety that if one is not good/excellent/perfect, then love and acceptance will be withdrawn. 

 

18 hours ago, Quill said:

But what is the impetus for the intenal drive? For me, it was/has been approval and feeling worthy or care. “If I am not good/excellent/beneficial, I will be rejected. Therefore, I must be as good/excellent/beneficial as I can be so I will be cared for.”

 

What you're describing here isn't what I would consider "perfectionism," though. The people I know that I consider perfectionists (including myself and DS) are not motivated by external factors at all. To me, being worthy of love, or earning social approval, are completely separate issues from the very intense, very internal need to get things exactly right.

To me, a person who is desperate to get an A on every assignment, so people will think she's smart and admire her, is a people-pleaser who needs external approval and validation, not a perfectionist. A perfectionist is someone who often invests waaaaay more time and energy in a project than is strictly necessary, because they are driven to make sure they have thought of every possible scenario, checked every possible resource, evaluated every possible argument, and made the best possible word choice in every sentence of every paragraph. It's working and reworking and re-reworking something to death because anything less than 110% of perfection means you didn't do your best.

Here's a perfect example:  In DS's data analysis course this semester, he realized partway through his research project that his data set didn't really lend itself to one of the components of the assignment, so he emailed the prof, who said it was fine for him to skip that part. Well, he couldn't bring himself to skip that part, so he spent days coming up with an alternative that would work with his data and fulfill that part of the assignment, and then he turned in a research report that was three times longer than required — for an assignment that was only worth 5% of the grade. And given the fact that he had a 99 average that class, he could literally have skipped the entire assignment and still gotten an A. But not only could he not bring himself to turn in something that was less than perfect, he pushed himself to create something that was beyond perfect (i.e. greatly exceeded the requirements), even for an assignment that would have zero impact on his final grade. 

That is not necessarily healthy — he was lucky that the hours and hours he invested in perfecting that assignment only cost him a lot of angst and many hours of sleep, rather than adversely impacting his grade in another class, and I do think this is going to bite him in the butt pretty hard at some point. But I know from personal experience how hard it can be for someone who knows they're capable of doing a perfect job to consciously do a less-than-perfect job just because it needs to get done. I'm old enough (and tired enough, lol) that I can do that with some things, but there are other things that I still can't bring myself to settle for less than (what I consider) perfect, no matter how much time it takes or how crazy it seems to other people.

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4 hours ago, OKBud said:

I've only read the OP and I'm sorry because this is a huge digression from the topic at hand.

But Brene Brown books are terrible 😁 

I mean really, really bad. 

She's trying to sound deep. Trying so hard. Failing. Big time. 

If anyone has a problem with what I am saying, no worries! Because a Brene Brown book informed me that outer critics don't matter. Only inner critics. 

Oh yeah. Totally agree. I heard so many accolades for her book Rising Strong so I gave it a try. It was unbearably awful - really, one of the worst books I've ever (partially) read. Just her rambling on and on about herself and throwing in a catchphrase every paragraph or two.

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4 hours ago, OKBud said:

I've only read the OP and I'm sorry because this is a huge digression from the topic at hand.

But Brene Brown books are terrible 😁 

I mean really, really bad. 

She's trying to sound deep. Trying so hard. Failing. Big time. 

If anyone has a problem with what I am saying, no worries! Because a Brene Brown book informed me that outer critics don't matter. Only inner critics. 

Brené Brown's discussion of shame has been very helpful to me as a person who almost never experiences feelings of shame; she helped me understand what several of the people in my life experience on a regular basis.  

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30 minutes ago, maize said:

Brené Brown's discussion of shame has been very helpful to me as a person who almost never experiences feelings of shame; she helped me understand what several of the people in my life experience on a regular basis.  

 

I'm very very glad that that is the case!

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To me, a person who is desperate to get an A on every assignment, so people will think she's smart and admire her, is a people-pleaser who needs external approval and validation, not a perfectionist. A perfectionist is someone who often invests waaaaay more time and energy in a project than is strictly necessary, because they are driven to make sure they have thought of every possible scenario, checked every possible resource, evaluated every possible argument, and made the best possible word choice in every sentence of every paragraph. It's working and reworking and re-reworking something to death because anything less than 110% of perfection means you didn't do your best.

You do not think there is overlap between those two things? For me, both of those things have been true in my life. The bolded section has been true countless times, and I have often have a strong tendency to fixate on some detail that takes a stupid amount of time but contributes little to the overall goal. Like I’m doing preparation in the week before a party and I notice the interior doors are scuffed and now I’m painting all the doors. Or I start washing my car and realize the headlights are oxidized and now I’m looking up YouTube hacks involving sandpaper and toothpaste because, now I noticed the headlights look crappy, it’s going to bug me until I fix them. 

Thought of every possible scenario: yes. I love to have the contingency figured out and then the contingency for the contingency. I loathe it when I am insufficiently prepared for something and I can’t remedy it. This shows up the most often in punctuality; I would rather get somewhere forty minutes early and read in the car or whatever than risk getting there late because unforseen things interferred. I will say, though, modern tech has mitigated this paranoia quite nicely because I can find out traffic or weather incidents and plan an alternate route. In the worst case scenario, I at least can call or text people who are depending on me to tell them of the holdup. 

But a person can be this way and be craving approval, right? Why would those ideas be mutually exclusive? 

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16 minutes ago, Quill said:

But a person can be this way and be craving approval, right? Why would those ideas be mutually exclusive? 

One can be either of these, or both, or neither. Because people are multifaceted, right? 

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7 minutes ago, SamanthaCarter said:

One can be either of these, or both, or neither. Because people are multifaceted, right? 

Yes! Which was what bugged me in the book. It was too simplistic, making this distinction between perfectionism and “healthy striving.” 

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There is an interesting article in the American Psychological Association journal called, "The many Faces of Perfectionism" (2003).https://www.apa.org/monitor/nov03/manyfaces.aspx  According to a variety of research in this area, there are a whole range of personality traits as well as different slants on this issue, from being driven to perfectionism in one's self to demanding perfection in others.

The article ended with an interesting quote:

"As a practicing psychologist who frequently treats perfectionists, Hewitt avoids focusing on high personal standards. Patients have likely been told hundreds of times to lower their standards, and the therapist who repeats that risks being ignored, he says.

"I work more on the precursors of perfection--the need to be accepted, to be cared for," says Hewitt, "Those interpersonal needs are what drive the perfectionistic behavior."

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12 hours ago, Quill said:

But a person can be this way and be craving approval, right? Why would those ideas be mutually exclusive? 

They're not mutually exclusive at all — I just think they're two different things. Someone can be a perfectionist and also crave approval and validation, but you can also be a perfectionist and not care two whits what anyone else thinks. Just like someone can be desperate for approval and outside validation without being the least bit perfectionist. I think the drive for perfectionism comes from within — it's a personal need to do something perfectly and correctly and not "settle" for less. And people with this trait will often pursue perfection even when the result is the opposite of social approval and validation. We obsess about perfection because we know that anything less will just bug the crap out of us nonstop until we fix it, so might as well do it perfectly the first time (or not do it at all). 

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1 hour ago, wintermom said:

There is an interesting article in the American Psychological Association journal called, "The many Faces of Perfectionism" (2003).https://www.apa.org/monitor/nov03/manyfaces.aspx  According to a variety of research in this area, there are a whole range of personality traits as well as different slants on this issue, from being driven to perfectionism in one's self to demanding perfection in others.

The article ended with an interesting quote:

"As a practicing psychologist who frequently treats perfectionists, Hewitt avoids focusing on high personal standards. Patients have likely been told hundreds of times to lower their standards, and the therapist who repeats that risks being ignored, he says.

"I work more on the precursors of perfection--the need to be accepted, to be cared for," says Hewitt, "Those interpersonal needs are what drive the perfectionistic behavior."

Interesting article. Hewitt seems to distinguish between two types of perfectionism: "socially prescribed" (needing to look perfect to others) and "self-oriented" (internally driven to achieve perfection). And he says that other researchers tend to label the second type as "adaptive" and not pathological:

"Since the early 1990s, Hewitt and Flett, a professor of psychology at York University in Toronto have championed the idea that perfectionism comes in different flavors, each associated with different kinds of problems. Some of those problems may be less severe than others, they argue, but no form of perfectionism is completely problem-free.

Other researchers, however, have suggested that some forms of perfectionism--particularly those that involve high personal standards--can be adaptive. World-class athletes, they argue, have extraordinarily high standards; they shouldn't be labeled pathological just because they aim high.

That's an oversimplification, says Hewitt, one that conflates two very different things: the desire to excel and the desire to be perfect."

So he is basically excluding from his definition of "perfectionism" any internally-driven perfectionism that works to the individual's advantage (as in an athlete), and simply labelling that as "desire to excel," while retaining socially-oriented perfectionism and maladaptive internally-driven perfectionism within his definition of perfectionism.

That just seems to me to be a way to make his thesis work (that all perfectionism is damaging) by excluding any forms that aren't damaging. I wonder how he would categorize someone whose drive for perfection was both adaptive (athlete achieved goal of making the Olympics) and maladaptive (same athlete has trouble in other areas of life). I also wonder how he would deal with a patient who has maladaptive self-oriented perfectionism, because his approach of focusing on the need to be accepted and cared for by others is not going to be effective for them.

Really interesting discussion!

 

ETA: I'm wondering if the reason Hewitt basically excludes "adaptive" perfectionism from his definition is because those people generally aren't going to therapists for help, because they don't really want to become less perfectionist.

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Perfectionism means feeling a need to be perfect, that anything less than perfect isn’t good enough.  

What is “perfect”?

How does one reach that?

I think the ideas in Mindset, where emphasis is on effort made, rather than on outcome is helpful. And that it can help lead to excellence IME more readily than “perfectionism” which IME tends to lead to stuckness, fear of trying, and lack of joy.  

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In general, I think a drive to excel can be a positive thing. A fear of failure or inability to accept not-perfect from self or others is more likely to be negative.

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12 minutes ago, maize said:

In general, I think a drive to excel can be a positive thing. A fear of failure or inability to accept not-perfect from self or others is more likely to be negative.

 

What happens when you aren't perfect, or the person you want to be perfect isn't perfect, is probably the distinction between healthy and not. 

Like, what does it MEAN when someone says something along the lines of "I don't accept anything less than perfect outcomes." What do they do? Do they start ruminating on suicide? Do they get irrationally angry? Do they feel bummed, tell a friend about it, and move on? Do they start pulling out a strand of hair for every mistake they think they've made? Do they just go clean the bathroom because they really like it to be exactly the way they want it and it's something within their control? Do they practice for an extra fifteen minutes a day?

I'd assume that one person's healthy response is inevitably going to be someone else's unhealthy response because that's just the way it goes. 

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