To sabotage my perfect stepson...

(118 Posts)
oneoclockblues Fri 19-Apr-13 17:14:24

Out of an act of love?

DSS is 16, we have a close and loving relationship, but this doesn't change the fact that he is annoyingly perfect. He is physically gorgeous, talented at art, sport and music, is intellectually genius and surrounds himself with friends as equally good as himself. If I didn't know any better I would swear he was one of those robot kids from A.I.

But,unfortunately, all his natural talents, combined with a strong sense of ambition has turned him into an extreme perfectionist. I'm not talking the ' I spend a little bit extra on things' perfectionist, I'm talking the ' I spelt a word wrong, so I'm going to rub out the whole sentence and do it again' type.

But over the last couple of days his been moping around the house and stressing out, as he got a 87 on a test, and he has never before gotten anything below 90. Yes, you read that right, never anything under 90. They might have well given the poor kid a 0 the way his acting, like the whole worlds going to end.

And I've come to two conclusions; The kid doesn't know how to fail and this behavior can't be healthy.

I tried to approach DH about this last night, but he doesn't seem concerned. DH, bless him, is in no way a pushy parent, but if DSS decided tomorrow to join the circus, DH would stop at nothing and no expense, to see him the lead clown in circus soleil. He's a big believer in reaching your full potential, and not doing things half assed, not seeing in this case he may be doing more harm than good.

So I came up with an evil plan, to start sabotaging DSS work (Not his school work or anything serious obviously, but just things he does for extra curricular activities, ect) every now and then, so he becomes more accustomed to the feeling of failure (or his version of failure, average) and doesn't have a panic attack, like he is right now, every time something even remotely close to failure occurs, because as I've told him many times in the past, he won't go through life without failing and will have to get used to it sooner or later.

So, am I being unreasonable?

* I know I've taken on a joking tone here, mainly because as a long time user (under different name) I know anything involving stepfamiles is a sore subject, but this is a serious issue, I really believe this behavior is unhealthy, and any serious advice would be appreciated.

cory Sat 20-Apr-13 22:11:43

We don't know what this perfectionism is like to live with though. The OP is describing a situation where the boy is angsting to the extent where she is having to drag him out to the cinema to take his mind off things- which suggests that he is not just quietly getting down to improving his scores with a view to future success, but actually impacting on the whole family.

Having a drama queen in the house myself, I know how hard it is for the rest of the family to get on with developing their own potential when one person's emotions seem to be taking up all the available space.

wonderingagain Sat 20-Apr-13 20:38:54

Yes Panzee, it's getting a bit nasty, spiteful and ODD.

Panzee Sat 20-Apr-13 20:27:51

Wow the Op is getting a completely unnecessary pasting.

Fear of failure and perfectionism is very hard and will stop people functioning healthily. Sabotage is quite an emotive word but I get what you mean. If you can find anything that he can do not quite perfectly that doesn't matter- and games are a good start, even though you said he doesn't mind losing? Or modelling not being bothered about getting 100% in something, or even going OTT about not getting perfection in something you are doing, to show him that it is an OTT reaction?

I often work with younger children who have such a fear of making mistakes that they won't give anything a go, or the paper will be torn up, or they will run away. we have to push the boundaries but very very gently. We often model "failing" and how to react to it. Your stepson is older so it will be harder to show him this but it is all about tiny steps.

It's not easy, I wish you luck.

candyandyoga Sat 20-Apr-13 20:16:45

Really? How nasty, spiteful and ODD of you.

raisah Sat 20-Apr-13 20:14:48

I work with a high achiever who has serious anxiety & OCD due to his inability to accept imperfection. He should have proceeded further along his career but hasnt because his obsession wth details has prevented him seeing the bigger picture. He has had a breakdown and recieved CBT.

LittleBairn Sat 20-Apr-13 17:53:09

shock you think his behaviour is unhealthy! I don't think I e ever read a thread on MN that has startled me before but this is just wow...

I haven't read the whole thread but assuming you have your own DC, AR you worried he's out Shinning your DC therefore feel the need to sabotage his success?

wonderingagain Sat 20-Apr-13 17:43:23

He sees losing a board game as a reflection on himself. That is a problem as it shows that he is not doing things for the taking part. I would suggest more luck based board games preferably with his Dad.

crashdoll Sat 20-Apr-13 14:07:04

I know you were 'joking' but you actually sound quite jealous of him. I'm sure you'll tell me that you're not but it really sounds like it.

SlumberingDormouse Sat 20-Apr-13 12:27:15

That's spot on, DontmindifIdo. My best friend resat an A Level Chemistry module she'd got 199/200 in so she could get 200. She duly got full marks the second time. A bit crazy? Maybe. An extremely intelligent, tenacious and successful person? Absolutely. I have nothing but admiration for people who motivate themselves to such high levels of achievement.

DontmindifIdo Sat 20-Apr-13 11:45:09

OP, you said: I just don't want him to panic and freak out every time his score falls below 90, even on a test that doesn't count for anything

but that's the point everyone else is trying to make - you have a "it'll do" attitude, but he doesn't want "good enough to get by" he wants the best he can do. As i said, some schools like Westminster make the pupils redo GCSEs they've got A* in if they haven't got a high enough grade - they don't have a "you've passed so that's fine" attitude, they teach about being the best you can be at all times, and the young men they turn out run the country, not the ones who scrapped a pile of Cs and it was ok because they'd passed and as long as you've passed it doesn't matter how.

whiteflame Sat 20-Apr-13 11:17:09

He sounds similar to me. He doesn't need to learn to fail, he already has. You say when he is bad at something he will keep at it until he is satisfied.

He has learnt very well how to deal with failure.

Fleecyslippers Sat 20-Apr-13 10:01:15

Scary freak.

And I'm not talking about the kid.

countrykitten Sat 20-Apr-13 09:53:28

Good post secondsop.

Does the OP have her own children who are rather less exceptional than this young man?

Secondsop Sat 20-Apr-13 06:50:53

I bet it's not that he doesn't know how to fail, but rather that he doesn't like falling short of high standards, because in his eyes 87% is for other people. I think his perfectionist streak is going to stand him in good stead in whatever he chooses to do with his life (and it sounds like the world is his oyster). A couple of us have talked about the adjustment at university when a clever child is no longer necessarily top of the class. Well, there's an even bigger adjustment in the working world in a professional career where the 70% you got in exams to get a First is not good enough and where standards are more exacting because suddenly someone else's money or life is at stake. It sounds like your SS is already working at a level to manage very well indeed when he eventually settles into a career.

I can't help feeling that if he were here his AIBU would be: "'My DSM is great, very loving and I know she cares about me. But I'm finding that we have a difference of opinion in how i go about maximising my potential in life. I always try to be the very best i can be at everything i do and i love thay this is bringing me academic success, great friends and a really fulfilling life, and i admittedly don't like it when i fall short of the high standards i set myself. But she keeps telling me that i won't go through life without failing and will have to get used to it sooner or later. I know she's doing it to help me cope with disappointment when i don't meet my own exacting standards, but it does sometimes feel like she finds my perfectionism annoying and that she might not be taking the same pride in my high achieving as I am because she thinks I need to learn how to fail sometime. I almost feel like she'd sabotage my work to make me see what failure feels like! she doesn't understand that I am determined to excel and that if i fall short, so be it, but when I'm trying hard to be the best I can be it is TBH quite demoralising to keep being told that I WILL fail at something. AIBU to want her to stop trying to make me lower my standards? Or should I just grin and bear it until I go to university in a couple of years?".

LovesBeingWokenEveryNight Sat 20-Apr-13 06:40:15

Is there something he won't be good at that you could get him to try?

JanePlanet Sat 20-Apr-13 06:24:00

Brene Brown has two really good talks on the TED website - and I know she has information on her website and in her books about perfectionism and shame - which you might find will give you some insight OP.

Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.   (Thomas Carlyle )

SlumberingDormouse Sat 20-Apr-13 00:48:43

Secondsop - that's so true. I was one of those who loved being among 'my own kind' at Cambridge and felt very relieved not to be a 'freak' any more!

OP - are you jealous? hmm Your DSS will learn how to handle his perfectionism, probably when he goes to a good uni and discovers that he won't be able to memorise 100% of the syllabus while having a stellar social life and excelling at several extra-curriculars (even the most gifted have to compromise somewhere). He'll adapt and probably still do extremely well. Leave him be and don't interfere.

lisianthus Sat 20-Apr-13 00:20:09

Seriously, stop seeing perfectionism as a problem. It doesn't have to be. When a heart surgeon has your chest open in front of her, do you want her to be thinking "oh, 51% is good enough, and Corrie is on in 2 hours", or do you want her to be thinking "I will not be satisfied unless I do this job to the best of my ability and my ability is pretty bloody good."?

Because this is the sort of thing your stepson will be doing in 20 years' time with his gifts and his attitude.

Natural self-discipline is a gift other people have to work hard to achieve. Be proud of him, don't try to take it away from him.

Apileofballyhoo Sat 20-Apr-13 00:11:02

I would worry too OP, and I admire you for caring about your DSS so much. My DS is 5 and has to have things perfect - rubbing out all his homework to start again. I am a perfectionist in some ways, as is my DH, and it can make life hard. YANU to research this and see how you could help DSS. He will need a lot of emotional support if he continues to be such a high achiever.

lisianthus Sat 20-Apr-13 00:05:17

His dad, with the "where did you think you went wrong, let's work it out" is giving him the tools to help himself! Rather than worry about where he went wrong, he is able to sort it out next time. That's what you DO! You don't sit back and say "oh who cares, it's not important".

Your stepson is an extraordinary person with the abilities AND, more unusually, the self-discipline and determination to succeed. That's the kind of person who winds up doing amazing things, saving lives, making discoveries, leading others.

And YOU want to gaslight him with false failure unlil he becomes a "fuck it, let's spend my time on a beach" layabout?

Christ on a bike, if ever I saw a problem caused by your own cultural expectations of children, this is one.

And what Aurynne said.

Secondsop Sat 20-Apr-13 00:04:29

What aurynne said. Perhaps the kid just is genuinely exceptional. Some people are, and are prepared to work hard to maintain high standards. No need to drag him down into mediocrity just for him to see what it feels like. If he is to fail at any point, then let it be on something he genuinely isn't brilliant at. When I went to Cambridge yes there were some who had a bit of a bump down to earth when they were no longer top of the class, but there were also plenty of others who felt for the first time that they were amongst their own kind. Give him the chance to find out for himself what kind of person he is.

When I was younger I always had to try everything and do everything. My mum would say to me "you don't have to do everything", because it was admittedly a bit of a pain for her to have to ferry me to loads of activities. But I knew even then that I might not get another go at trying out all these things, and found my mum's approach to be really dispiriting.

ithaka Sat 20-Apr-13 00:02:09

Oh go on - make him fail - you know you want to.

Someone certainly needs counselling and it ain't the clever handsome teenager...

Buddhagirl Fri 19-Apr-13 23:52:45

Just to point out it can be a problem, it can lead to depression.

Quite why this is spread out over 3 posts I don't know!

Buddhagirl Fri 19-Apr-13 23:51:04

http://perfectionismselfhelp.com/

www.nopanic.org.uk/Perfectionism.pdf

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