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Voices of Perfectionism: Perfectionistic Gifted Adolescents in a Rural Middle School

Patricia A. Schuler

This study investigated the characteristics of perfectionistic gifted male and female adolescents in a rural middle school, how they perceived their perfectionism, the influences on their perfectionism, and the consequences of their perfectionistic behaviors in the context of their rural middle school experiences.

Qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection were employed to gather data from 20 gifted male and female adolescents identified as having perfectionistic tendencies. Semi-structured interviews, record and document review, self-report teacher survey, and participant observation were used to identify factors that may influence the perceptions and behaviors of this population.

Findings from this study confirm the theoretical proposition that perfectionism is a characteristic of many gifted adolescents. In this study, 87.5% of gifted adolescents in accelerated courses in a rural middle school were identified as having perfectionistic tendencies. Results support the multidimensional theory of perfectionism, which states that perfectionism exists on a continuum with healthy to dysfunctional behaviors. Several differences exist between the healthy perfectionists and the dysfunctional perfectionists. Healthy perfectionists possessed an intense need for order and organization; displayed self-acceptance of mistakes; enjoyed high parental expectations; demonstrated positive ways of coping with their perfectionistic tendencies; had role models who emphasize doing one's "best"; and viewed personal effort as an important part of their perfectionism. The dysfunctional perfectionists lived in state of anxiety about making errors; had extremely high standards; perceived excessive expectations and negative criticisms from others; questioned their own judgments; lacked effective coping strategies; and exhibited a constant need for approval.

Family, teacher, and peer influences on perfectionism were perceived as mostly positive for the healthy perfectionists, but negative for the dysfunctional perfectionists. The impact of gender roles was not found as an influence. The perceived lack of challenge by a majority of the perfectionists was manifested in their enormous efforts to make their school work perfect, while exerting minimal intellectual effort and receiving high grades in return. Teacher difficulty in identifying mild perfectionistic distress may be due to the perception of perfectionistic gifted adolescents as being "model students" who have good school adjustment. Based on the findings of this study, suggestions for parents, teachers, counselors, and school systems were delineated to assist them in recognizing and helping gifted adolescents deal with their perfectionistic tendencies.

Reference:
Schuler, P. A. (1999). Voices of perfectionism: Perfectionistic gifted adolescents in a rural middle school (RM99140). Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut


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Voices of Perfectionism: Perfectionistic Gifted Adolescents in a Rural Middle School
Patricia A. Schuler

Conclusions

  1. Perfectionism is a combination of thoughts and behaviors associated with excessively high standards or expectations for one's own performance and is recognized as a common emotional trait of giftedness.
  2. Healthy perfectionists believed their perfectionism was a positive force in their relationships with parents and families, while the dysfunctional perfectionists viewed perfectionism as creating a strain in these relationships (i.e., parental expectations and criticism).
  3. Healthy perfectionism was associated with two positive school results. Since perfectionists were organized and conscientious, they excelled at leadership in a group setting. Due to their high expectations, they were challenged to complete more advanced coursework than their peers.
  4. Healthy perfectionism also aided students in their future plans. By setting lofty goals for coursework and grades, they were more prepared for rigorous college and career goals they set for themselves.
  5. Many perfectionistic gifted adolescents were distressed by their own and others' expectations, set very high standards for themselves, and experienced intense guilt and frustration when they made mistakes or failed.