Perfectionism’s Twin Sister

Now that we’ve dealt with the elephant (see my last post Gifted Shmifted) and you’re contemplating the possibility that you just may be g-g-g-gifted, we shall continue on our trek through the jungle–your wild, fertile and colorful rainforest mind.

I want to get back to perfectionism. The good kind. Yes, there is a healthy perfectionism. It can still drive you and your coworkers, friends and relatives a little crazy. It can still stop you from starting a project. Or stop you from finishing. But it’s not something to discard, destroy or disregard. It’s an inherent part of your nature. You were born with this.

Simply stated: You strive for beauty, balance, harmony, justice and precision in all things. (Well, maybe not ALL things. Maybe it doesn’t apply to your garage.)

Am I right?   P1050340

I might add that this means you have extremely high standards and expectations for yourself.  I say this with confidence because I’ve seen this intrinsic perfectionism in practically every rainforest-minded person I’ve ever known. And I’ve been hanging out with them since the mid-70’s. That’s a very long time. That’s a lot of people.

Tell me: Are you often obsessed with an idea? Driven? Researching incessantly? Do you keep raising the bar when you reach a goal? When you were a child, did you fail to turn in assignments when they didn’t meet your standards, even when you knew you’d get an “A?”

See? What did I tell you?

What about this: When you see perfection in an ocean sunset or in a star-filled night sky, when you hear perfection in the music that you adore, when you taste perfection at that restaurant in Paris, does it take your breath away?  Or when you find the exact word for the story or when all of the elements of your experiment line up just right, or when the poetry of the mathematical equation sings to you, is there a sense of satisfaction that is deep and unmistakable?

Yes? Good.

Here’s the problem.

Other people don’t get it.

It looks neurotic, dysfunctional, excessive, and OCD to them. Maybe to you, too. It’s not. But it can get you kicked out of graduate school because you don’t hand in your poems on time. It can mean that your colleagues don’t invite you to join them at happy hour. It can mean that your taxes are four years overdue.

Did I mention that this might be a problem?


How, then, do you keep your vision, your idealism, your capacity for creating mental, emotional, spiritual or actual cathedrals and still do your taxes, maintain friendships or stay in school?

First, recognize that intrinsic perfectionism is part of who you are and it means that, with you, beauty happens. Quality is expected and produced. And this is a good thing.

Second, look for other rainforest-minded folks and appreciate their high standards. Invite them out for happy hour. Get feedback on your work from people with similar expectations and abilities so that you respect and believe what they’re telling you.

Finally, prioritize. Find the projects and activities that really don’t need to be exquisite or comprehensive or ridiculously awe-inspiring. Excellence can be enough. Good enough can be enough. On occasion. For the less important things. I mean it.


Note to blogEEs:

1. Thankfully, none of you have complained to me yet about the fact that my blog is totally anecdotal and not based on hard data and double blind studies. I’m quite open to your questions and concerns but just want you to know that I know that some of you may object to my nonlinear undocumented broad conclusions.

2. Along those same lines, I’m fully aware that the rain forest is incredibly diverse. So are individuals with rainforest minds. That said, I’m describing common traits and issues that I’ve seen in students, clients and friends over 30+ years. You may or may not share these traits and issues. You may or may not agree with me. I’m good with that. It’s what I love about you.





Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

39 responses to “Perfectionism’s Twin Sister”

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  1. The Pressure to Achieve "Greatness" When You Are Gifted-Where Does it Come From and What Can You Do About It? – YOUR RAINFOREST MIND

    […] achieve, comes from your love of beauty, balance, harmony, precision, and justice, or what I call intrinsic perfectionism, this is another level of complicated. The rainforest-minded are born with this drive. It is not […]

  2. Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Unhealthy Perfectionism But Were Afraid To Ask Because You Think You Ought To Know Everything Already – YOUR RAINFOREST MIND

    […] I write about the healthy variety (striving for beauty, balance, harmony, precision, and justice) here. Click on the links below to read each entire […]

  3. Fear Of Failure, Fear Of Success, Passion For Excellence — The Complexity Of Perfectionism | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] perfectionism. Intrinsic or healthy. Extrinsic or unhealthy. I have written about intrinsic before. Here. And extrinsic here. And […]

  4. Living Your Authentic Life May Mean You Look Or Sound Or Feel A Little Weird | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] more authentic will require grappling with this and understanding the root and implications of both types of perfectionism. Give yourself time. This is a big […]

  5. When Perfectionism, Anxiety, Empathy, and Expectations Collide — Gifted in Portugal | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] can be two types of perfectionism in the gifted. The type that is innate can be described as the deep need for beauty, balance, harmony, precision, and justice. This is not […]

  6. Gábor Szurdoki Avatar
    Gábor Szurdoki

    I relate to basically everything, but ny problem is, I simply can not enjoy doing tasks that I would BENEFIT from because I simply can’t get my head around the idea that good enough is enough. I lose interest, motivation in EVERYTHING I can already do. Everything that is not needing me to become better.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It can be so hard to allow good enough to be enough, Gabor. And it’s also a rainforest trait to lose interest in something that is not intellectually challenging. Glad to have you here. I hope these posts can help you.

  7. Sherry Muldoon Avatar
    Sherry Muldoon

    Thank you for giving me permission to embrace my perfectionism in areas where it counts. The more I read through your blogs, the more I am coming to love myself as I am – quirkiness, rainforestedness and all. You are such a gift to this planet. 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, yes, Sherry. Love that quirky beautiful rainforest-y you!! Thank you for your kind words.

  8. Some of My Best Friends Are Introverted, Sensitive, Introspective, Smart, Empathetic, Overthinking, Perfectionists | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] for you, you’re introspective.) But, that’s not the whole story. You were born with a healthy perfectionism. You’re passionate about beauty, balance, harmony, precision, and justice. And that is ideal. […]

  9. When Perfectionism, Anxiety, and Giftedness Go To College | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] She had an innate desire to create beauty, harmony, justice, and precision. What I call intrinsic (healthy) perfectionism. And she also experienced the extrinsic (unhealthy) variety of perfectionism. She questioned her […]

  10. So, You’re Gifted. Who Cares and Why Does it Matter? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] will allow yourself to be obsessed with beauty, balance, harmony, precision, and justice. (Your healthy perfectionism.) Even if it means that you don’t get as much done because you’re crying over the […]

  11. Educators: What To Do About The G Word (#Gifted) | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] Whether you label or not, gifted kids will need help understanding their complexities. Their perfectionism, sensitivities/ empathy, loneliness, existential depression and anxieties. Their rainforest minds. […]

  12. The Roots Of Unhealthy Perfectionism And What To Do About It | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] There is a healthy form of perfectionism. You were born with it. I don’t know any rainforest minds who don’t have it. It’s […]

  13. Are You A Driven Perfectionist In A Slacker World? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] others may not notice or care. Feel your satisfaction-sometimes-joy anyway.” This is the healthy perfectionism that comes with a rainforest mind. Regular people may not understand […]

  14. helenjnoble Avatar

    I like to think of that moment of appreciation of ‘perfection’ as one of crystallisation, such as in a scene from nature or a piece of art, where everything seemingly ‘falls into place,’ or ‘balances out.’ Where questions are answered and (tacit) knowing is present, in a felt-sense-sort- of- way.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Love this description, Helen. Thanks, as always, for the reblog!

  15. helenjnoble Avatar

    Reblogged this on helenjnoble and commented:
    I love this post!

  16. How Can Sensitive Souls Change the World? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] your idealism, your sensitivities, your intuitions, your overexcitabilities, your obsessions, your perfectionism, your loneliness, and your bad hair […]

  17. To Achieve Or Not To Achieve — That Is The Question | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] is a reasonable expectation for your particular abilities and interests? Where can you find adequate feedback? If you’re proud of something you achieve does that make you arrogant? How do you deal with […]

  18. The Pressure to be Super Smart at all Times | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] intrinsic desire to make most everything beautiful, balanced, just, harmonious and precise. (see my post on intrinsic/positive […]

  19. DC Avatar

    How do you harness your drive and feed your need for intellectual stimulation without turning into a jerk? I’ve seen the jerks and looked down on them. I’ve been the jerk and felt awash in guilt and humiliation. I’m not overfond of annoying people, but I’m always imagining that it’s happening…is there a place for social sensitivity of this kind, or does it simply get in our way?

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Hi DC. If I understand your question correctly, I’d say it’d be great if more people were socially sensitive. And yet, at the same time, it can be hard to not lose patience with people if you’re always having to slow down for them or explain yourself and your ideas. One thought is that you can practice kindness to others while also being sure to find people and situations that keep up with you and are intellectually stimulating so you feel that your needs are also being met. It’s often not easy to find these situations but it’s important to have balance in your life. You may feel people being annoyed with you when they can’t follow your train of thought. Or if you’re moving too fast for them. Social situations can be very challenging for people with rainforest minds. I hope this helps. If I didn’t read your question correctly, let me know.

  20. If I’m So Smart, Why Was School Such A Drag? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] get good grades because you became anxious during tests or because you had exceedingly high expectations so work didn’t get turned in on time or because you became disillusioned with the […]

  21. Munchkin Avatar

    These blogs make me wonder just how much I chopped down and destroyed of my own rainforest in order to better fit into the world… in order to be ‘normal’.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      I think that happens to a lot of people. Very sad.

  22. Taming the Procrastination Beast | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] Expectations. Perfectionism. Performance anxiety. Patterns formed in childhood. A shadow side of being […]

  23. Sara Harrier Avatar
    Sara Harrier

    Paula, I love this! (I love your whole rainforest mind metaphor). I really fell in love with my own perfectionism after reading Mary-Elaine Jacobsen’s book, The Gifted Adult, when she reframed perfectionism as fulfillment of “wholeness” or “entelecheia,” not necessarily that there’s one perfect way to be… but that I can consummate and harness all my lovely traits and gifts towards an intended goal.

    There’s no way for me to tamp down all this drive… but at least I can direct it somewhere really freaking cool.

    Thanks again for a wonderful article and website. <3

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      I appreciate hearing your thoughts, Sara. I also felt Jacobsen’s book was excellent. And, oh, please don’t tamp down your drive. The world needs it!

  24. Jade Rivera Avatar
    Jade Rivera

    This is a great post, highlighting something that often gets overlooked or cast in an unfavorable light. I’m this way, I achieve a goal and within seconds I’m on to the next one. As I get older I make myself take a little time and savor the moment, but not too long! 😉

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Yes, savoring the moment can be an important part of “living in the now.” That said, if your gifted mind is running at full speed and excited about the next thing, there may not be too much room for savoring!

  25. Anna Avatar

    I wish there was an edit button so we can edit our post before they get approved.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      An opportunity to practice letting go of perfection!

  26. Anna Avatar

    I identify with 95% of the traits you describe. I don’t see then all as negative while most of them are seen as negative by the “g-g-g_gifted”and those who know intellectually gifted or creative individuals.

    I’m sure there are plenty of common traits among the population you cab describe but I’d love to read your professional opinions about those of us who feel we have a “need” to correct logical mistakes. Used to call out the answers in class in school, challenge what our teachers and/or professors believe to be true, introduce a perspective that not discussed by the professor but one that made students question the professor’s perspective or ideology, and other annoying things like that because we are bored and seek intellectual stimulation, feel students should not be indoctrinated but taught how to think critically, or just because we’ve lost respect for our professor because instead of saying we don’t know for sure due to limited information– or something like that, they get creative and lie and you know without a doubt they are lying.

    I’m aware that I can be seen as amusing or annoying by my colleagues. Most if the time I don’t care how others see me do long as I get my point across or learn what I’m there to learn. But for the sake of my children, it’d be nice to know that there are others as amusing and/or annoying as me out there.

    Thanks for the blogs. I had to re-link a few of them to my Facebook wall. 😉

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      I’ve had clients talk about how disappointed they were with professors who were making errors and who were defensive when asked tough questions. I would think that they’d welcome critical thinking but it seems that in some cases, their insecurities flair up, and they don’t respond well. I hear what you’re saying about the need for intellectual stimulation. A client told me it’s as important to her as air and water. You are surely not alone. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Anna.

    2. billy Avatar

      I think I get what you are saying. I do this stuff also but feel it does break friendships and connections w professors. Somebody said its a matter of time living and being rolled around so that our corners get rounded

      1. paulaprober Avatar

        That sounds good, billy. We should all get our corners rounded!

      2. Anna Avatar

        I folded my corners with certain professors, especially my female professors. – There’s only room for one queen in the hive. For some reason male professors missed me when I wasn’t in class. I’m a talker when I’m interested in the topic. And for some strange reason I don’t always share the same perspective as my colleagues. Politically I’m at the center.

        I found an easy going philosophy group on FB where I’m able to share my perspectives with others. I might not always agree with them, but I understand where they’re coming from. That’s all seek, understanding.

    3. ummyaqub Avatar

      I had no idea that I was being annoying…but come to think of it, looking back, that expression I’d fleetingly see on some teachers faces wasn’t happiness! =) I think I just pretty much carried on and let my mind wander and my answers/questions blurt out – especially when clearly others weren’t getting any ideas or had any onterest. Interesting! Thank you.