The Roots Of Unhealthy Perfectionism And What To Do About It

photo by Dylan Siebel, Unsplash

What if, from the time that you were 2 years old, you were told how smart you were. Over and over. Enthusiastically. By (well-meaning) parents and doting relatives. What if they praised you repeatedly for your many achievements and your perfect grades. What if you could tell that your parents needed you to be smart; that they felt better about themselves because you were so capable. What if you were so persuasive that they gave you too much control and not enough limits.

What if, when you arrived at elementary school, the work was too easy. You knew it before you were taught it. You learned things without really trying. What if you could get perfect scores on tests without studying and your scores were held up as an example for your fellow students. What if you were told by your teachers that you were the best student they’d ever had.

Do you think that you might grow up terrified of failure? Afraid to disappoint others? Hiding mistakes? Paralyzed by anxiety? Believing that if you aren’t a super achiever or the best at everything that you’re a failure? Thinking that all learning must be quick and easy or else it means that you’re not smart? You’re an impostor? A fake?

Do you think that you might grow up thinking that you should know everything before you learn it so that practicing or studying or effort feels boring or scary or unfamiliar? That you have to be mature and adult-like at all times? That you can’t tell anyone that you don’t know something because you have to know everything?

Well, my dears, this, yes this, may be the root of your unhealthy perfectionism. This may be the root of your (possibly unconscious) belief that you have to be super smart at all times or you’re worthless and unlovable. 

By the way, parents, relatives and educators aren’t conspiring against you. They don’t realize the effects of their reactions. Responses like these are very common. (In another post, I explain this more and suggest what parents can do.)

Understanding this root is the first step in changing its effects. 

So, now what?

This is not easy to change, especially if you’ve been living with these beliefs for a long time.

Know this: You are more than your grades, your achievements, your intellectual abilities. So much more. You are worthy of love, whether you write the perfect essay, win the competition, enter the elite school, get the high paying job, make the right decision, invent the iPhone or if you don’t achieve these things.

Somewhere deep inside yourself you know your worth. You know who you really are. So, here’s an idea:

Imagine that there’s a place in you that isn’t about achievement or accolades or winning or losing. This place is just about Love. Just Love. It’s radiant and joyful. Maybe it’s a very young child part of you. Maybe it’s an old wise part. Maybe it’s in your heart. Maybe it’s in your gut. But trust me. It’s there. Waiting for you to notice.

In a journal or in your mind, write to or picture this part of yourself. Take your time. You may be skeptical. You may need to meditate first or sit by your favorite tree. Write a letter to this Radiance. Ask it to show itself to you. Ask it for help. Then write or hear its response. It might come quickly or you might need to wait for a while. Start a relationship.

I’m betting that finding the Love will soften you up. It’ll remind you of what’s really true.

And of who you really are.


To my bloggEEs: Do you struggle with unhealthy perfectionism? Tell us about it. What have you done that helps? We all appreciate hearing from you.

Note: 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 your innate deep need for beauty, balance, harmony, precision and justice. It can create challenges for you but it’s not something you need to heal. I write about it here.

Another note: This will be extra hard or more complicated if you had chainsaw parents. If so, you might need therapy, too.

A final note: If you need more assistance, here’s a lovely book by Christina Baldwin.

A final final note: Thank you to the clients who inspired this post.

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.

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  5. Elaine Avatar

    Great post, spot on. I am an unhealthy perfectionist, and the worst part is that I expect the same from the others too, so they also end up afraid of disappointing me. It’s not conscious, but it helps a lot the fact that I am aware of it now.
    I can’t blame my parents for that one, they were almost perfect. But the others around me couldn’t help it, especially the family and the teachers. My Portuguese teacher begged me to become a writer, my Physics teacher begged me to become a physicist, and so did my English teacher, and so on and so forth… you get the picture. I was “the best they had ever seen” in almost all disciplines (apart from Geography – I’ve always been bad at it, I still can’t read maps!).
    I’m 40 now, still can’t figure out what is the one thing I should pursue. I am stuck in the loop of having to be the best at it, otherwise I get paralyzed. Being aware of it helps but doesn’t yet solve the problem.
    I like the advice of searching for love and making it about *being* and not doing. I’m working hard on it. Working on the inner self is a skill hard to master – it is lifelong learning, but I again get stuck on wanting to learn it fast like with the other things.
    I know, I know…

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, Elaine. This whole unhealthy perfectionism is a tough one to change, especially when you’re used to learning so much so quickly. And that pressure to keep being “the best they had ever seen.” Eek. Thanks for sharing your experiences here!

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  13. EwaB Avatar

    I wish I still had some perfectionist in me. In the dutch school system the tall poppy syndrome is strong. So i learned to go for a 6 as grade ( dutch system 1 is at least you know how to write your name, 10 is perfection).
    Because with a 6 i fit in, nobody saw or noticed me. I wanted to be invisible. because standing out meant getting hurt.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sadly, EwaB, you’re not alone. Standing out as gifted can be painful. Good to have you here.

  14. Robert B. Avatar
    Robert B.

    I do have a question for Paula and readers of her posts. Do you think perfectionism is a natural part of giftedness, or does it have something to do more with the individual’s environment?

    I’m not certain whether or not I would be considered gifted, but I had many experiences in the past that may indicate that it is partly genetic or inherent. Firstly, there were times when a fold on a book, or a defect on an object may elicit a strong physical and psychological response; I stare at the perceived imperfection to an extent that it causes external and emotional discomfort (e.g. depression, eye strain, headaches, etc.). Secondly, I wasn’t told by anyone as a child that I was being a perfectionist—it felt as though it simply came naturally to me.

    Please tell me what you think. Thanks!

  15. Avatar

    Amen… what wonderful words. It’s taken me nearly a lifetime to realize that ‘I am enough’, as they say. And that I have everything that I need within me. If only I keep inwardly searching and seeking. When I stopped looking so hard on the outside for identity, affirmation, approval– and began to see myself as a valued, inherently worthy human being (already created that way)– things became clearer and clearer for me. I thank God for this revelation, and for helping me to remove much of the clutter and misinformation that blurred my spirituality for so many years.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Well said, Jeffrey! Well said. Thank you.

      1. Avatar

        You are welcome!!

  16. DZ Avatar

    Paula, this was such a timely post for me. You described me perfectly in the first two paragraphs. I think what also contributed to my fear of failure was that as a child, when everything came easily and I was held up as that example in the classroom, it caused issues with my classmates. “Nobody likes the know-it-all” type attitudes were what I encountered. I had classmates react with absolute glee and laugh when I did make a mistake.

    Before I read your words, I had been mentally beating myself up for a mistake made the day before. In a work meeting where I already felt like a bit of an imposter, I was put on the spot and my mind totally went blank. It was a question that I should’ve known, and do know, the answer to. I’m sure I got that “deer in the headlights” look before I mumbled an embarrassed “I don’t know” (I’m also very reserved and don’t like to talk in front of groups of people that I don’t know). I’m still a little upset over it, but your words are definitely helping. Thank you!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I think you’ll find many gifted kids run into that response from peers. I wish there was some way to stop that!! So painful when you’re just being yourself. I’m glad I can help you be less hard on yourself, DZ. Allowing yourself to not know the answer (even when you do!) can reduce some of the pressure. But that pressure can sometimes make the mind go blank. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  17. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Paula, Great description of how perfectionism develops for so many children, how loved ones unwittingly fuel this through their excitement over their child’s abilities, and then how this comes back to hurt them in the long run. Great suggestions for working on change, also.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Gail. I was just heading over to read your latest post! So great we can support each other.

  18. Ro Avatar

    Interesting post Paula. It is great information for parents to mull over too. I especially like the last two paragraphs, about getting in touch with the radiant, joyful part of oneself. My unhealthy perfectionism seems to be 99% intrinsically motivated – and it has largely warped to focus on menial, repetitive tasks (ie: scrubbing the floors with a toothbrush). I see every single thing that isn’t perfect in the house and my compulsion to clean & tidy gets me into a lot of trouble, health-wise. Then I end up bedbound for long stretches which is a special kind of torture for someone with ADHD/compulsive/obsessive symptoms.
    When I was in primary school my giftedness was ‘kept secret’ from me. It was a small rural school that I stayed at through to age 13. In the final two years at primary with the school principal as my teacher, I earned 100% on the math pre-tests then 100% again at the end after all the other students had learned the material. Certificates were handed out whenever somebody scored 100% on a test. I got about 4 from that teacher but then he ceased acknowledging my work at all. I became invisible. In fact, I just realised that perhaps this menial academic work of repeating and repeating what I already knew, is in part how I’ve become accustomed to menial tasks within the home that use up most of my time. Grunt work is my favourite though, when I’m able – lifting really heavy items, building things, pulling things apart then fixing and reassembling them. I guess with heavy physical work I feel like I’ve *achieved* something bigger than usual.

    Anyway, my mother told me when I was in my 30’s that the primary school principal used to talk to her about me and said I was the most brilliant student he’d ever taught. What could I do but shrug my shoulders. So what? It felt like a betrayal, that I became invisible in that environment; my true abilities also invisible to myself. I had zero learning resources at home, no access to a public library… my mother was not very educated and was neglectful when not actively abusive. I was fed nothing but burned potatoes for dinner for years (cooked in a pan that my sister and I were banned from trying to clean because that was where the flavour came from apparently). There were no other adults around to teach me things outside of school. So what if the principal used to talk about me and say things that boosted my mother’s ego? That was of no use to *me* at all. He apparently told her at one stage that he felt he couldn’t mark my work any more. That it was ‘beyond marking’. Though I still can’t really comprehend what that even means, I did feel it, as his student. His withdrawal and my own invisibility – when I was already invisible in so many other ways.

    Now I remain stuck in a life of drudgery and obsession over minutiae. Feeling as though I am a robot that anonymously serves functions, but does little else. Since my breakdown and institutionalisation as a 15 year old (quickly proceeded by heavy drugging due to a ‘paranoid schizophrenia’ misdiagnosis), I became ever more invisible and removed from my potential. Other people have underestimated me my whole adult life but only because I keep my mouth shut due to feeling like an impostor. My husband says I ‘play dumb’, though it’s certainly not a game or conscious choice on my part. If I were truly stretched, and truly seen… surely I’d turn out to be an absolute embarrassing disaster. We get so many things wrong when it comes to gifted children. Thank you for the place to discuss these matters Paula. This has brought up a lot for me and I will journal about it sometime soon.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I hope this post wasn’t too overwhelming for you, Ro. Sending you big hugs. Thank you for your courage and persistence. And for showing us a bit of yourself.

      1. Ro Avatar

        It just gave me a lot to mull over, Paula. After being entirely bedbound again for 7 months I’ve just started getting around the house and sitting up in bed a little. You can imagine what I’ve been doing with my ‘getting around the house’ capabilities. I’m trying to totally change the way I relate to life, in a bid to recover my health. It’s got to be a good thing to discover a few more pieces to the puzzle; as to how I turned into a mindless task machine. It feels like an inversion of my capabilities/potential. My daughter is just about to sit the high school exams I missed because I was locked away until Christmas and then heavily drugged/sedated for the rest of my teens. My daughter is starting to launch out into the world. At the same point in my own development I lost an immense amount. Everything but my life, it felt like – and I had a tenuous grasp on that. How much can a person reclaim. My heart blossoms with happiness for my daughter. Her growth and success is not my growth and success though. It’s all her own. I’ve got to learn to be braver. 🙂 Thank you for giving your readers so much to think about, Paula.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          It might be important to take some credit for the growth and success of your daughter…seeing as you are her mother. We hold parents accountable when things go wrong, yes? So let’s give them credit when things go right!! You may be braver than you think, Ro.

  19. Mark V Avatar
    Mark V

    I’m a “multipotentialite” (or perhaps a more accurate descriptor is “serial experimenter”), so I am used to sucking and failing at lots of different stuff.

    On the other hand because I am constantly “scanning *” the horizon for new things to try (*re: Barbara Sher), I’m used to the feeling that there are few limits, and so I am constantly trying to push past the limits, just because I know there’s always a chance I can. Which is a great way to accomplish a few really cool things, but also a great way to NOT accomplish…oh, approximately 95 billion or so other things.

    On a specific level, right now I am trying to figure out why I have very little performance anxiety when it comes to playing an instrument — all of which I came late in life to — but near-paralyzing performance anxiety when it comes to singing, which actually comes very naturally to me.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I think it could help with the perfectionism if we thought of life more as a huge experiment or ourselves as a work in progress, Mark. That if we’re trying so many things, of course we’re bound to fail! Interesting dilemma about the performance anxiety. Let us know if you figure it out.

      1. Mark V Avatar
        Mark V

        Thank you Paula. There seems to be a blurry crossroads between healthy sensitivity and unhealthy perfectionism, which is why I brought up the subject of singing. Nothing else seems to elicit in me both the excitement and anticipation of doing and creating something wonderful, and the imposing dread of overexposure and impending failure.

        Anyway I learned something new about myself today. In addition to being a “Highly Sensitive Person”, I am also a “High Sensation Seeker”. OK, that is not so surprising, though finding out it is “a thing” is. It explains the feeling there is an internal war going on between the two camps.

        speaking of, what is the etiquette about sharing new insights we learn from sites other than yours? I do not want to step on toes or steal thunder from areas you would prefer to cover in your own way. -Mark

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          It’s fine to share insights from other places, Mark. Of course! I wonder if you heard about high sensation seeking from Aurora Remember Holtzman. She writes about herself as high sensitive high sensation seeking and gifted. I don’t know much about it. So please share.

          1. Mark V Avatar
            Mark V

            It was on Elaine Aron’s site where she also has a self-test for High Sensation Seeking. I was actually just checking the site out to refer back to an old friend who I thought might be highly sensitive when the “HSS” topic caught my eye. It is definitely a challenge feeling like Woody Allen and Evel Knievel are sharing (fighting over?) the same body.

            1. Paula Prober Avatar
              Paula Prober

              Whoa. That would be intense!

              1. Mark V Avatar
                Mark V

                Yes, it is a constant source of inner tension.

                That’s why I mentioned singing. Even though I’m working on a project where singing is an important element, I don’t NEED to be a singer. In fact I’m constantly asking myself “why do you keep working at this if it terrifies you so much?”

                But that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? I refuse to be defeated by my fears. If I gave up on singing, then what else would I be willing to give up on merely because it was easier and more comfortable? I think giving in to our fears can be a slippery slope — actually I am convinced that fighting those urges is what keeps me going!

                Many thanks again.

    2. cmd1122 Avatar

      Hi Mark. Awesome strategy you have found–experimentation is amazing!

      I hear you about the singing dilemma; if people bother to ask, I them that as a musician who LOVES (almost) all music, no, I don’t, automatically sing (I do kind of, secretly, like it).

      Singing is the most vulnerable form of music-making because it all literally comes from inside of you. You can love it and have it come naturally, but you CAN’T: blame an instrument from going out of tune mid-song; say that some part/accessory is loose or broken if a weird noise emerges; blame lack of volume-control based on air pressure or bow pressure or whatever other technique; (metaphorically) hide behind a music stand with a (probably half-transparent) piece of sheet music, because you are probably, if anything, only holding a sheet of paper or binder, low in front of your chest.

      Props to all you singers, cuz singing in front of people, especially your friends, strikes me as crazy. I bet you can and do sing well, Mark. Your public, probably doesn’t realize how vulnerable singing is compared to playing an instrument, they are probably used to all pre-recorded, studio-edited songs from the mainstream music scene, and actually don’t know how to appreciate live, smaller, intimate-scale performances. Don’t necessarily know the difference between that pop “perfection” and when their friend Mark just feels like singing something he enjoys, for them. You are not alone in this anxiety, it is a real, documented thing.

      There is even a song (wink, wink) that touches on the same concept, but in a different context. It is called “Don de fluir”, by Jorge Drexler (his work is amazing, even if you know zero Spanish; he must be a rainforest mind because he became a doctor and then, you know, kept up the music he loved making, and then actually gave up practicing medicine. And then, “MADE IT”, in the Latin music scene, but he still plays and writes out of love). SO, this song talks of a musician who likes a girl and enjoys watching her dance, and she asks him to dance and he says no. He explains that he has two left feet, but she thinks he must know how to dance, as he’s a musician! One line says, “We musicians don’t dance, you might have already heard people talk about it. Thanks anyways, and thanks for insisting [we dance]”, (“Los músicos no bailamos, ya habrás oído decir. Gracias de todos modos, y gracias por insistir”, at 2:48 in the song).

      Por favor, keep singing. 🙂

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Yes, I agree. Maybe we all need to keep singing.

      2. Mark V Avatar
        Mark V

        Thanks so much cmd1122. You are 100% correct, singing is such a personal form of artistic expression. The paradox is that the same personality characteristics that make great singers such as vulnerability, emotional depth and sensitivity are the very things that make it so difficult or even terrifying.

        It’s incredible that a great singer like Barbra Streisand had paralyzing stage fright, or that Prince always recorded his vocals alone or with his back turned if someone else was in the room, and of course there have been the recent tragedies of popular singers who committed suicide. I feel for them all, I really do, as a fellow sensitive who both needs an outlet for personal expression but dreads it. Ugh.

  20. cmd1122 Avatar

    Yup. My parents and extended family sacrificed a ton to give my only (twin) sister and I an all-girls’ education. I bet my sister has a rainforest mind, but we haven’t been close since age seven (outright, COMPETITION, since age five). Every report card was compared for 12 years. I had the highest marks in our grade every year they were announced, winning $1000 towards the next year’s tuition (Gr.6-11; I tied with my sister in Gr.7, and came 2nd to another Gr.12 student, a HUGE disappointment, for everyone). I was only offered two $12000 uni scholarships, and shortlisted for a $24000 one, but I couldn’t afford to go to the interview weekend. I beat myself up about not earning a full-ride.

    My aunt had my mom scan and email every report card once we moved to Canada (Gr.7); my aunt had no kids, so she showed our grades to her co-workers and bought our love with money, “only” if we earned straight A’s; I opted for art supplies and books, my sister, for clothes. Then, the lunatic offered us each $50 a semester to send our uni grades (as if they mailed report cards, haha…); I said she should take my word for my high grades and refused her money; she didn’t email for a year (my sister took the payout). I have steered away from my aunt (especially after she changed my grandfather’s will, having him sign it while delusional on morphine, a month before he passed).

    I seek out good, moral, humble, kind people. They are always older than me, which my mom has pointed out since I was 10; I told her they are the wisest. This same mother lectured me when I was 21, about to begin 4th year uni: “too many of your friends are gay…you’ll never find a boyfriend”, “that ‘black’ Kenyan friend better not be anything more than a friend, because ‘only birds of a feather should flock together’”, “hurry, your biological clock is ticking, you know…”. No BF that year, so she confronted me about being “gay” (I guess she meant lesbian, as if it would it really matter?). She never stopped criticizing my degree choice, even though I earned 139 credits in eight semesters. I was SO lucky because taking any classes beyond a fifth each semester WAS FREE. To skip boring 1st and 2nd year ones, I met with innumerable profs. The English, music and psychology professors thought I was crazy, SO, I found the Spanish, French, fine art, geography, and Portuguese profs who said, “If you are up to a lot more work, welcome!”.

    I steer away from negative people and unmoral, inharmonious, well…anything. Life is so hard in a world where morals are usually thrown out the window, before all else. Over the past two years I’ve had two bouts of anxiety/depression. The first time, my mom set up a doctor’s appt and talked to my doctor to prearrange anti-depressant pills before I had even met with my doctor and wouldn’t leave the room during the appointment (is that illegal? I was too sleep-deprived to tell). I cut each pill in half and stopped them after 60 days (sorry…I know I shouldn’t have). The next time, I found a young doctor, who LISTENED TO ME, gave me a 7-day child’s dosage of a pill to increase my appetite, told me to do some exercise and take 1000mg of vitamin D daily (it was winter in grey Vancouver, Canada).

    I am determined to NEVER take such pills again, so I make music with others (I play violin), draw, journal, blog, cuddle dogs, hike with fun friends, brew chai tea, do yoga, and learn and speak and read in five foreign languages. This blog has helped and forced me to reflect since I found it last summer. I am high on life (just asked friend to lend me her cello!) and about to begin my second year as a high school year. I’m thrilled, especially to give some extra guidance to my five, or so, rainforest kids.

    Entonces…mil gracias, merci beaucoup, muito obrigada, molto grazie, todah rabah, to you, Paula, and to everyone who writes such thoughtful comments. Keep learning whatever your heart desires in this INSANE world. Love you all!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you so much for sharing your story here. So wonderful that you’re “high on life” now. Sounds like it’s been quite a journey. Sending appreciation and love back to you. <3

    2. cmd1122 Avatar

      haha…just re-read my comment. I meant to right: “second year as a high school TEACHER.” 🙂 haha…too tired to edit, I guess.

    3. Mark V Avatar
      Mark V

      I’ve written about it here before but in case you are interested, there are many gifted folks such as myself that have been misdiagnosed and mis-medicated because some of the characteristics that are typical of giftedness may be mistaken by misinformed psychiatrists as symptoms of disease or disorders. My experiences have informed something of a philosophy, that society needs misfits and malcontents to balance itself and to protect itself from the dangers of group think. 🙂

      1. cmd1122 Avatar

        Hmmm…doesn’t surprise me. Especially in a society where pills are seen as a ‘can fix anything’ solution.
        Can you please tell me more? I work at a school where there are some very bright kids who I can easily foresee being misdiagnosed by their doctors, as most of them have pretty uptight parents who are anxious for them to win everything…in school, in sports, in arts, in life…ALWAYS (and then be surgeons/lawyers/accountants after a practically non-existent childhood/youth). So, I would love to know more and about where to read more. 🙂

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          A good place to start is James Webb’s Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults. For general information about gifted children, there are many articles on the website.

          1. cmd1122 Avatar

            Thank you! Just reserved that book at the library, and will check out that website. 🙂

        2. Mark V Avatar
          Mark V

          First a little background in case it helps: It wasn’t until I got to university that I first visited a psychiatrist. My English professor was pushing me to consider becoming a writer, and volunteering to help get some of my assignments published in magazines. She even enlisted some author friends of hers to hound me to join their writer’s groups and attend their writing camps.

          But rather than being buoyed by the praise and excited by the opportunities, it all scared the crap out of me! So I simply withdrew. Startled by my fear and ashamed of it, I knew then that something must be wrong, so I saw a psychiatrist who took about ten minutes to prescribe medications.

          Big mistake. While the consumer in me at the time was delighted by the prospect that a mere pill could solve all my troubles, I eventually learned that the wrong pills can turn an otherwise healthy person into a very sick one, or sometimes even a dead one (I had a couple close calls). That lead me deep down the rabbit hole of what would eventually become years of misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis that resulted in joblessness, homelessness and social isolation – in addition to the original anxiety and depression – all of which I am now attempting to recover from on my own.

          Had that first doctor paid attention to the obvious clues that I was very gifted and known how to deal with it, I might have been saved a lot of trouble and pain. But neither he nor any of the subsequent doctors I saw ever caught on, and it took years for me to suspect that perhaps these doctors were doing a lot more harm than good.

          Once I began to look at things from a different perspective, I began to learn that there are many others like myself, and that there are professionals who are looking outside the limiting box of psychiatry to help people who do not easily fit into boxes. A big reason that this is an ongoing problem is that most doctors DO fit into those boxes, and are not experienced or prepared to deal with those of us who do not.

          Paula’s recommendation of “Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults” is a good one and is one of the first books I read that began my enlightenment. Another is Alice Miller’s “The Drama of the Gifted Child”. More recent books I read have been Robert Whitaker’s “Anatomy of an Epidemic ” that uses statistics to make the argument psychiatry may be making us MORE ill, Seth Farber’s “The Spiritual Gift of Madness: The Failure of Psychiatry and the Rise of the Mad Pride Movement” (which includes some case studies of people who were diagnosed as “permanently mentally ill, but were able to extricate themselves from those diagnoses), and Bruce E. Levine’s books such as “Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic” and “Commonsense Rebellion:
          Taking Back Your Life from Drugs, Shrinks, Corporations, and a World Gone Crazy”.

          Bruce E. Levine also writes regularly on his website and other sites, and perhaps of greatest interest is how he writes how anti-authoritarians are often diagnosed as mentally ill because most doctors are NOT anti-authoritarians and how the loss of these potential leaders is negatively affecting society.

          Which kind of ties in with recent revelations about leaders such as Churchill and Lincoln who dealt with mental illness throughout their lives and how their illness may have actually made them BETTER leaders in times of crisis.

          OK that’s a lot to digest so I’ll stop there. Thank you ever so much for your interest! -Mark

          1. cmd1122 Avatar

            Wow. I admire your strength to pull yourself out of those years. Thank you for all those reading recommendations; I will be busy!
            Your story about your first visit to a psychiatrist reminds me of the roughly 10 minutes it took for my family doctor to prescribe me pills. She had known me since I was 12, and had only seen me happy and healthy, yet at the time, I felt so helpless, as if I was being examined in a petri dish by two people that were not interested in asking me questions to figure out what was really wrong, nor in listening when I said that I didn’t want to take any pills because I thought that my biggest problem at the moment was being more sleep-deprived than ever (and I hadn’t been eating nutritious food, or enough food in general, probably tied to feeling unable to eat because I was so tired and I felt weak and would just eat sandwiches).
            The most understanding person through that period was a professor whose wife suffers from depression/anxiety. I was so thankful after all this that he had actively mentioned the fact, in all his classes, that his wife suffers from both these things, and that he has learned to be a good listener as a result, and a better teacher. It was empowering just listening to him include these two words that people seem scared to bring up (even in an education degree program); it made me feel that even if I did actually have anxiety problems, it really wasn’t a big deal, it would just be something I’d learn to live with. That prof saw me cry once two days before I was ‘diagnosed’, and again, six months later, when I was in the most stressful week of my teaching practicum, but that was due to stress (and perhaps, perfectionism? LOL). He was the best prof any of my peers and I could have asked for, and I made sure that he knew, and gave him outstanding reviews whenever asked for student feedback.
            Despite all this, in the spring (a year later), I heard from a student teacher at my current school, who loved that prof and had seen him practically in tears while on the phone with someone from my university about his ridiculous workload as a part-time science teacher and part-time prof/practicum supervisor (with 15 supervisees in about 4 school districts!!)…and it sounded like he was going to quit being a prof/supervisor. What a loss…but my university didn’t exactly value their staff or students, so no surprise (it has turned into a money-making machine as its primarily purpose, not an educational institution).
            Maybe that prof will end up at another university here (hope so), or maybe he’ll just continue to be a wonderful high school teacher, and great husband and father; the latter wouldn’t be bad at all, really.
            Take care, Mark. Let’s keep chatting through these posts!

            1. Mark V Avatar
              Mark V

              So many times doctors simply refuse to listen to me. Which is ironic (and enfuriating) considering a psychiatrist’s ears are their primary diagnostic tool: you tell them how you feel, and they make their decisions based on what they hear.

              Based on how deaf some of them are, I was often dumbfounded by their hubris.