Performance Perfection – Blessing or Curse?
Originally published in The Hills Valley Coalition Newsletter Spring 2018
WHAT IS PERFECTIONISM?
According to psychology, perfectionism is a personality trait. It is
characterized by striving for flawlessness, setting high performance standards, critical self- evaluations, concern about others’ evaluation. General perfectionism can affect all aspects of life. Perfectionists often measure their self-worth by productivity and accomplishment.
WHAT IS PERFORMANCE PERFECTION?
It is the action of a perfectionist in academics, athletics, personal relationships, at home or on the job. According to psychologists, there are two types of perfectionists: adaptive, and maladaptive. Adaptive or normal perfectionists are often high achievers who do not compromise their self- esteem. They derive pleasure from their efforts. Maladaptive or neurotic perfectionists set unrealistic goals for themselves, and are disappointed when they can’t reach those goals.
Thus, performance perfection can be positive or negative. Talented people who made lasting contributions in the arts and sciences engaged in performance perfection. A students who sets realistic grade goals, and allows sufficient time to utilize efficient study strategies will reach his goals and be content. An athlete who sets a reasonable improved running speed will be satisfied with his improvement. Conversely, a professional who procrastinates submitting a report because he can’t tolerate criticism may be dismissed. A neighbor who sets an unrealistic weight loss goal may suffer disappointment, overeat and gain weight.
WHY IS PERFORMANCE PERFECTION IMPORTANT TO OUR TEENS?
Teens yearn to be accepted by their peers. Our culture stresses body image, beauty and success. Social media encourages preoccupation with these values. Girls want to be thin, have sleek figures, and doll-like facial features. Guys want to be “jocks”, tall, and “ macho”. In their quest for popularity, girls have almost starved themselves to reach their weight goal; guys have injured their muscles from excessive weight lifting, and taken supplements. Performance perfection has brought about the concept of “split image” for these teens.
Maladaptive perfectionism can be associated with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, anxiety and depression. It is a hidden factor in addiction because failure often leads to a desire to escape. Perfectionism which leads to performance perfection can be a risk factor in suicide, as it was with Maddy, profiled by Kate Fagan in her book ”What Made Maddy Run?”
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP OUR CHILDREN AVOID THE PITFALLS OF PERFORMANCE PERFECTION?
Start in early childhood. At the least, avoid negative criticism, discourage ongoing competition, assist with realistic goal setting, and understanding “stigma free” mental health. Most of all, love your child because he is your child, and encourage him to be the best person he can be.
Ronnie B. Silver, LDTC, Learning Consultant.
Founder and Director Adelphi Educational Services