The Many Faces of Perfectionism
Perfectionist tendencies are ones which some people think are associated more with gifted and talented students than non-gifted peers. However, there are studies to show that perfectionism exists in a range of abilities, not only in gifted students, and gifted students are no more likely to be perfectionist than other students. These perfectionistic tendencies are also ones which it is often thought have only negative impacts upon students. This is not the case.
Perfectionism is now considered to be a multidimensional concept, one which may manifest positively or negatively. For instance, Self-Orientated Perfectionism is a healthy manifestation of perfectionism. Such a student will set high standards, use internalised goal setting to work towards achieving aims, and regularly evaluate progression. Adjustment of expectations will occur as needed, and sometimes this may include lowering standards in consideration of other external factors. Devotion to learning and a drive for excellence are intrinsic motivating factors, and perseverance in the face of hardship is key. When failures occur, which they do for all, gifted and non-gifted, realistic attributions are made. Such perfectionism may lead to pride in the self and higher academic achievement.
Another recognised form of perfectionism is the Socially Prescribed Perfectionist, who has internalised expectations of significant others about her abilities. This does not position blame upon these significant others in the perfectionist’s life, for it can be the student’s interpretation of these expectations which might be skewed. Perceptions of these expectations may result in decreased intrinsic motivation for academic success. These perfectionists self-criticise when they do not meet their high standards, maximising failures and minimising successes, sometimes resulting in high anxiety. Blame may be placed upon external attributions, which then reduces the student’s sense of academic self-concept.
Finding intrinsic motivation for a student to achieve can be key in shifting the mindset of a Socially Prescribed Perfectionist to that of a Self-Orientated Perfectionist. However, for some it is not a simple mindset change, and some students may need counselling aid. Positively, the school’s focus on goal setting is one which supports the healthy development of intrinsic motivation, and is to be encouraged for all students, both gifted and non-gifted.
Nicole Sabbadin (Ms)
Gifted and Talented Coordinator