Disclosure: I received complimentary products to facilitate this post. All opinions are my own.
Dr. Jane Bluestein's new book The Perfection Deception is often confused with a
healthy drive for excellence. Dr. Bluestein, however, explains the
dangers of reaching for total perfection. There is a difference between
reaching for great achievement and the physical wound that develops, or
the voice of the inner critic that screams "failure” even at the face of
true effort and success.
I had a chance to post a Q&A to learn more:
At the beginning of the book you mention that you had several people
asking you, "What's wrong with perfectionism?” How did you answer them?
it actually took most of the book to answer that question! The shortest
possible answer compares perfectionism (and the need to pull off a
certain image or avoid
anticipated negative reactions from making mistakes) with the healthy
pursuit of excellence. I'm actually quite a big fan of accuracy,
precision, and doing the best we can do. As an educator, I also know
that our best efforts can always be improved upon, and that growth and
learning involves imperfect steps along the way.
What does perfectionism look like?
is where it gets tricky, because it can look a lot like the healthier
version of trying to do our best. But "healthy striving” does not
usually involve trying to prove ourselves or our worth, nor would it
likely be used as a way of avoiding feelings or dealing with the real
issues in our lives. Not only that, but my perfectionism may look very
different from how it shows up in someone else.
tend to cross the line when I'm over-committing or over-correcting, or
when I actually think I can accomplish a to-do list that would
reasonably take weeks to finish. For other people, it may demand plastic
surgery or self-starvation to get their body to look a certain way, a
failure to start a project (or finish one), not letting their kids have
friends over because it will mess up the house, or, say not being able
to work if there is one stray paper clip on their desk.
How can parents contribute to the development of perfectionism in a child?
will try to get attention and approval from a parent who might be
neglectful, distracted, depressed, addicted, or angry, for example. That
makes sense—trying to create a sense of safety from the people on whom
we depend. But there are also perfectionistic parents who "turn their
tots into trophies,” looking for status in their children's
achievements, performance, or appearance. That's a lot of pressure to
put on kids, and fusing our identity and worth to another person is
always going to be a risky endeavor.
How can parents encourage their
kids without encouraging perfectionism?
all about responses—to achievements and mistakes. If we express anger,
impatience, or even disappointment whenever kids make mistakes, it's
easy to develop a false sense of our ability to influence and control
how people feel. The same is true when we connect their achievements to
our happiness. I'd like to see kids making choices for some outcome
besides how-other-people-will-react. (Look at the connection to the
power of peer pressure here.) Kids' mistakes are great opportunities for
helping them learn how to make better decisions next time.
we can shift from labeling kids as "good” or "smart” to focusing on
their efforts, we don't tie up their value with their performance.
Likewise, if we can describe what kids have done and connect their
choices to some meaningful positive outcomes of their efforts, kids
start to see the power they have to influence and change their lives
when something isn't working for them. Let's just quit telling kids that
they're good or worthwhile or that they make us happy when they do good
things, and respond to failures and mistakes simply as steps along the
way to learning.
About the Author:
Jane Bluestein is an educator and an award-winning author of twelve
books. She is a dynamic and entertaining speaker who has worked with
thousands of counselors, healthcare professionals, parents, childcare
educators, and other community members worldwide. She has appeared
internationally as a speaker and talk-show guest, including several
appearances as a guest expert on CNN, National Public Radio and The
Oprah Winfrey Show. Formerly a classroom teacher in inner-city
Pittsburgh, crisis-intervention counselor, teacher training program
coordinator, and volunteer with high-risk teens at a local Day Treatment
Program, Dr. Bluestein currently heads Instructional Support Services,
Inc., a consulting and resource firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico.