January 25, 2024 PCI Centers
To boost self-esteem, some might seek external validation by pleasing others and constantly presenting achievements in a positive light. When some achievement receives praise and recognition, it is attributed to a greater sense of self-worth. Unfortunately feeling insecure about self and the world can lower self-esteem, creating the perception that the only way to minimize insecurities and the risk of failure is to be a perfectionist. Like self-esteem, the roots of perfectionism may be tracked back to childhood (Belkin, 2014). Due to circumstances and/or personality traits, some parents provide the blueprints for rigid thinking and need for perfection.
Self-esteem is influenced by how people treat us and the kind of feedback we’re given about ourselves. Self-esteem can increase when others treat us in a respectful manner and express positive, authentic feedback. On the contrary, self-esteem may decrease when people are made to feel insecure about themselves following negative feedback and deep criticism.
Understanding the Roots of Perfectionism:
Sometimes children are overly criticized for poor academic performance or other behaviors that may be indicative of developmental delays. Rather than empathizing and attuning to the child’s innate needs, the parent may exercise some form of punishment and fiercely demand improvement. While the parent may have good intentions and may have their own rationale for how they parent, this kind of dynamic can predispose children to develop perfectionistic tendencies. They will grow intolerant of error and shortcomings. Perfectionism is how they’ve learned to love and be loved. To be anything less than perfect, is to be a disappointment and failure in the eyes of early attachment figures.
A perfectionist person might have rigid beliefs and expectations (‘all or nothing’ mentality), and behave in ways that exemplify rigidity. Often, a perfectionist’s expectations and way of doing things are unrealistic because they exclude the effect of random error, mistakes, and uncertainty that are part of life. When a perfectionist fails to achieve expectations or behave in ways that satisfy their needs, they can experience frustration, shame, disappointment, self-doubt, and even self-blame. Surely, these experiences can lower self-esteem and consequently increase worrying and pessimism.
In extreme cases, chronic perfectionism can cultivate mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Indeed when maladaptive perfectionism is high, self-esteem decreases and depression increases (Rice, Ashby, Slaney, 1998; Ashby and Rice, 2011). Sometimes perfectionism can contribute to procrastination and avoidance behavior (e.g. not cleaning the house because it will never feel clean enough). Perfectionism may also provoke issues in relationships or inhibit one to attach to a partner due to unrealistic, rigid expectations of what they’re looking for in a partner.
How to Increase Self-Esteem and Decrease Perfectionism:
Letting go of perfectionism and instead focusing on the notion of “healthy striving” creates a compassionate approach to achieving goals (University of Maryland). In this approach, enthusiasm and passion are the drivers of motivation, rather than obligation or fear of failure. Health strivers also focus on setting tangible, realistic goals instead of perfectionists who set goals that are beyond reach. Perfectionists, despite reaching some achievement, may never feel satisfied with outcomes. The perpetual cycle of low self-esteem and perfectionism can feel dreadful. Health strivers believe in progress over perfectionism, and all efforts towards goals feel satisfactory.
Healthy strivers also use a growth mindset, which allows them to learn and grow from shortcomings or disappointment. Perfectionists on the other hand may be overly focused on failure or fear of failure, often inhibiting them from moving forward. For perfectionists, love and acceptance can be granted conditionally upon flawless execution of a task or goal. In contrast, healthy strivers embrace their self-esteem and sense of self-worth regardless of circumstantial and situational events. Perfectionists focus on outcomes and become defensive when faced with criticism. Healthy strivers register criticism as an opportunity to grow, with attention given to the process and outcome.
How to Increase Self-Esteem and Decrease Perfectionism:
- When setting goals, ensure that they are realistic and tangible.
- Focus on the process and try to appreciate it with curiosity
- Consider uncertainty and mistakes as a normal, inevitable part of human nature
- Learn from mistakes and consider feedback as a growth opportunity
- Notice and dispute unrealistic goals and expectations for yourself and others. Generate alternative goals and expectations that are realistic and tangible
- Prioritize open and honest communication with others. Develop authentic relationships that embrace unconditional love
- Acknowledge your progress and strengths, no matter how big or how small they may feel
- Treat yourself with love and kindness, just because.
- Feel your feelings. Disappointment and frustration are normal and can be felt without blame and anguish.
- Make a list of things you’re grateful for and past achievements
- Acknowledge your effort in everything you do, not just the outcome.
- Embrace positive remarks and compliments
- Self-care is not something that needs to be earned. Prioritize mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual self-care practices.
- Communicate your needs and accept help from others. You don’t have to do it all alone.
- Practice self-compassion and non-judgmental self-talk
(University of Maryland)
1. Ashby, J. S., & Rice, K. G. (2011). Perfectionism, dysfunctional attitudes, and self‐esteem: A structural equations analysis. Journal of Counseling & Development, 80(2), 197–203. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6678.2002.tb00183.x
2. Belkin, M. (2014, July 25). 5 steps to taming perfectionism. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/contemporary-psychoanalysis-in-action/201407/5-steps-taming-perfectionism
3. Rice, K. G., Ashby, J. S., & Slaney, R. B. (1998). Self-esteem as a mediator between perfectionism and depression: A structural equations analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45(3), 304–314. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0184.108.40.2064
4. University of Maryland Division of Student Affairs. (n.d.). Perfectionism/low self-esteem. University of Maryland Counseling Center. https://counseling.umd.edu/cs/commonconcerns/perfection