A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative. -definition of giftedness written by the Netherlands Study on Giftedness in Adults

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Intensity and Perfectionism

This post is written as part of the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. To continue on with the tour, please click the picture above, or here

I'm sitting here trying to write a post on perfectionism, but having a hard time getting started. Why? Because I know that whatever I say won't be good enough. However I express my thoughts, they won't come across exactly the way I want them to. Yes, at times I am swallowed by the beast of perfectionism. Everyone in my family is - although it comes across in vastly different ways for each of us. 

The kidlet struggles with perfectionism. It's a particularly difficult struggle when you are also quite intense. This week, we've had a few examples of intensity and perfectionism battling it out in a death-match as the world looks on. For the kidlet, it takes a simple mistake and amplifies it to meltdown proportions. This is how it happens:
Kidlet is working happily with two friends on a project. They each have different colored collections of building blocks. One of the friends reaches over and takes a red one from the kidlet's pile, and adds it to her own. The kidlet is now upset that the unstated rule that he gets all the red blocks has been violated - and he tries to grab the piece back from his friend. A tussle ensues. 
This is a turning point. With a little more emotional maturity and less intensity, the kidlet might have been able to tell his friend the color-rule, and ask for the red block back. He may have been able to negotiate a truce. But, intensity takes over and he does not manage the situation well (sometimes he can do so, but not this time). He tries to take the block back. She resists. Adults get involved since the children are unable to resolve the issue themselves. 
At this point, since the adults have now been involved, perfectionism kicks in. What was a frustrating situation turns into a full-on meltdown. The kidlet knows he has broken a bigger rule, but the intensity doesn't let him back down. He is asked to leave the room - he refuses. He can't calm himself because he is now backed into a corner - he messed up, but he can't just admit it and rejoin the rest of the group. He starts screaming and crying, and throwing things. He doesn't realize that his reaction makes everything worse - what was just a simple mistake turns into "an episode." Well, perhaps he realizes it, but he's in that corner now and can't go anywhere. He's stuck in the cycle of crisis.

We (the kidlet's parents) try to be good examples of making mistakes, laughing at ourselves, and learning from them... but it's hard because we are both perfectionists, too. I, in particular, HATE letting others see me fail (yes, the intensity is in me, too!) - so making a point of it with the kidlet when I do fail is counterintuitive. But I try. We also try to praise effort, not results. And we try to encourage attempts at new things (something perfectionists really don't like doing! WHAT IF I FAIL??) and to model that behavior (but, what if I fail?). 

Intensity and perfectionism - trying to be perfect and failing and feeling the shame of failure deeply. It's a dangerous mix, but it can also bring about fantastic rewards if managed well. After all - the quest for perfection can lead to excellence, at the same time intensity draws out expertise and creativity. 


  1. great post Mona - I can relate!

  2. I relate to this:

    "Yes, at times I am swallowed by the beast of perfectionism. Everyone in my family is - although it comes across in vastly different ways for each of us."

    My kindergarten son alternates between exacting hyperfocus and obsessiveness and slap dash hurry. Anxiety feuls both extremes. My husband and I slow to paralysis at times.

    Ultimately, the flurry of uninhibited expression combined with perfectionism results in great things. When my son can reign in his worry with a few deep breaths, he can do wonderful things.