Perfectionism and Self Esteem- What can you do about it

perfectionism and self esteem

There is no doubt that all of us dread failure. But for some of us, failure is the monster under the bed. The crippling fear of failure keeps them glued to where they are. And so, instead of trying, they end up giving in before even beginning a journey.

This unfortunate trait is found in most of us. We call this demon, perfectionism. Perfectionists, as the name indicates, strive for perfection. Despite the realization that nothing in this world is perfect, they wish things to be the absolute best. It’s either that or it’s nothing at all.

And so what do they do?

Well, they don’t try things where they fear they might fail. Or they don’t start tasks until they think they can do them perfectly. And yes, this is why they tend to procrastinate. They also tend to overwork themselves trying to make something perfect. All the same time, others can achieve the same results with less effort.

And it’s not that they cannot perform well. They absolutely can. The problem is that perfectionism weighs them down. And so, unnecessary stress and self-critique chase them like a shadow.

Now, let’s take a closer look at Perfectionism

Do perfectionists have low self-esteem?  Some people argue that perfectionism is a form of self-critique that helps them perform better. However, it is quite the contrary. Perfectionism is linked to low self-esteem. See, the thing is people with higher self-esteem do not tend to desire perfection. However, lower self-esteem demands you to be the absolute best, so as to achieve a sense of fulfillment. The two are linked, kind of like, in a direct proportion. It is the low esteem that makes you strive for perfection. And it is perfectionism that lowers your self-esteem. If perfectionists do not reach the desired level, and they rarely ever do, they tend to feel a sense of failure. And thus, they become self-critical and put themselves down for not being good enough.  So instead of making them a better version of themselves, perfectionism starts putting obstacles in their way.

What causes Perfectionism?

The causes of perfectionism aren’t always clear. Usually, it is a learned behavior. However, there are several factors that can contribute to making someone a perfectionist.

  • Usually, it is a response to insecurity or feelings of inadequacy. Perfectionists don’t want to create perfection. They want to feel
  • It can result from mental conditions such as OCD, anxiety, and so on.
  • It can be a result of childhood trauma. Trauma can lead to confusion in personality and perfectionism may seem like a way to address this confusion.
  • It can result from an overly critical parent. If a person is constantly compared to others, they may start feeling that they are not good enough for themselves.
  • Perfectionism can also result from attachment. If you become used to being good at something, it becomes hard to accept a change in that. Usually, childhood prodigies feel a sense of loss, when they no longer can perform as well academically as once they used to.
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What are the consequences of Perfectionism?

In the worst-case scenario, perfectionism can cause clinical mental disorders including depression. However, even if the consequences are not that intense, perfectionists do tend to suffer on the daily basis. For instance, perfectionists tend to suffer from extreme procrastination. It’s because they often feel like they will not be able to give their best. Either it’s the fear of failure or the feeling that they are yet not in the right frame of mind to approach the task. And this affects their efficiency in working.

Perfectionists also tend to miss a lot of opportunities. The consistent fear that they might fail does not even let them try. So not only do they miss a chance where they actually could succeed, but they also miss an opportunity to learn and grow. Perfectionism is not usually considered something serious. However, what’s usually ignored is the chronic stress that it causes in perfectionists. The feeling of persistent dissatisfaction makes them want to do more. And as a result, they worry more and tend to exhaust themselves.

Perfectionism lowers their self-esteem. They become highly sensitive to criticism and negative remarks. In fact, they are also unable to accept compliments. They may also end up ruining their relationships because they do not feel like they are doing their best. Perfectionists also tend to feel trapped, losing what actually defines them. They get in a habit of comparing themselves to others and feeling either envious of others or really bad about themselves.

Am I a Perfectionist?

Perfectionism isn’t actually rare. We live in a competitive world. And so, it does get to the best of us. And if you are wondering whether or not you are a perfectionist, here is a list to perform a self-check:

  • You often feel like a failure. Even little mistakes tend to weigh you down.
  • You feel like you are a disappointment to yourself and others.
  • You do not handle criticism, negative remarks, or rejection well. You often dwell on them for days.
  • You procrastinate a lot. You tend to find it hard to meet deadlines.
  • You do not take risks because of the fear that you may fail.
  • You constantly compare yourself to others and feel like you haven’t accomplished anything.
  • You do not accept half-accomplishments.
  • You never feel like anything you do is good enough.
  • You spend time perfecting a line or two in an email.
  • You worry too much about what others may think.
  • You have unrealistically high standards that you judge yourself and others on.
  • You often find it hard to ask other people to do something. You feel like they won’t be able to do it as well as you can.
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Ways to overcome Perfectionism

There is no shame in seeking professional help in fighting a problem that you have. In fact, the first step in fighting off perfectionism is to rid yourself of the shame. Here are certain things you can try to help your perfectionism

Acknowledge your emotions

The feelings of dread, failure, confusion are resulting from something. Try to figure out what it is that you are feeling:

Ask yourself questions like:

What am I feeling?

Why could I be feeling that?

What happened (around) that made me feel that?

Chances are, in your surroundings lies the trigger. It could be an overly-critical peer. It could be an accomplished fellow or so on. Find the trigger and begin working on your reaction to it.

Remember, you can control how you react to things even if you can’t control how you feel.

Rationalize your emotions

Feel the fear and the hurt, but do not dwell on those emotions. Realize that you do not have to listen to your emotions all the time. So, counter your negative emotions with positive affirmations.

So every time that voice in your head tells you, you are a failure, you respond by counting your success. Ask your friends, they sure can tell you otherwise!

Take risks

Every time, you try to walk out of a situation because you might fail; do the opposite. Force yourself to take risks.

Accept Mistakes

Give yourself a chance to make mistakes. After all, it’s human to make mistakes. Instead of feeling like you have let yourself down, ask yourself, what did I learn from this experience?

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Break up your tasks

Break up your bigger projects into smaller tasks. Give yourself a chance to feel accomplished. Besides, it would reduce the pressure.

Face the Fear

Instead of giving in to fear or running away from it, stand your ground. Force your hand. Do the very thing that makes you afraid. Your fear does not define you, nor should it control you.

Readjust personal values

Set realistic goals for yourself. Try to shift your perception. This is not easy and you would need to stay consistent in countering your negative thoughts.

Try Warmth

Instead of feeling angry at yourself for failing, try warmth. Try to be kind to yourself and practice forgiveness. Understand why you were not able to perform better. You are not supposed to be the best, you are supposed to give your best at that moment. And sometimes, that best is just finishing a task, no matter the quality.


You are not a failure. You are not a problem. You have a problem, and problems are solvable. Perfectionism creates great distress in people’s lives. It stems from the need to feel the best. And it results in damaging your mental health and self-esteem. And that is why it is important to fight it off. So tell yourself, it is absolutely okay to fail. Fight off the voices in your head that tell you otherwise. Allow yourself to grow. And failure is a part of growth. Remember, changing who you requires consistency and effort. Be patient in the process.

So help yourself or help someone dear to you fight the demon of perfectionism. After all, we are all beautifully imperfect!

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