Self-esteem is initially acquired through two main sources: how others treated us and what others told us about ourselves. When these messages were positive and realistic, individuals develop a sense of self-worth. However, when messages are unrealistic or highly critical, individuals may have difficulty developing an inherent sense of self-worth and may rely on a variety of other factors to improve self-esteem.
Sometimes, when individuals experience insecurity, they seek validation and self-worth in their achievements, possibly leading to perfectionism. Others may feel a sense of insecurity not about who they are but about the world (due to difficult or uncontrollable factors in their lives) and turn to perfectionism to provide a sense of control.
Perfectionism is a pattern of rigid and unrealistic thoughts, expectations, and behaviors with the intention of achieving excessively high goals and/or avoiding any mistakes, human flaws, or unplanned situations. Perfectionists often experience frustration, shame, disappointment, and self-blame when those expectations are not met. Additionally, perfectionism can cause frequent negative thoughts, worry, and self-doubt. Perfectionists may also experience mental health concerns (e.g. anxiety, depression, eating disorders), procrastination or avoidance of tasks, and difficulty in their relationships.
A common myth is that perfectionists are more successful and have more control over their lives. However, the success of perfectionists is not due to their unrealistic expectations and thoughts but in spite of them. The perfectionism pattern is often a barrier to success because of the anxiety, self-doubt, and procrastination involved. Many perfectionists worry that without their perfectionism they will not be successful, but most find that without the compulsive need for perfection, they are better able to achieve their goals.
1. Being motivated by fear of failure or obligation
2. Setting standards beyond any reasonable reach
3. However great your accomplishments, they never seem to satisfy you
4. You are preoccupied with fear of failure and have difficulty moving on from failure
5. Self-esteem must be earned and you must achieve things in order to be loved and accepted
6. Becoming overly defensive when criticized
7. The focus is always on outcomes
8. Goals are always perfection all of the time
|Healthy Pursuit of Excellence
1. Being motivated by enthusiasm or passion
2. Setting high and realistic standards
3. Your efforts provide a feeling of satisfaction and sense of accomplishment, even if you are not always perfect
4. You bounce back quickly from failure or disappointment and recognize it as an opportunity for growth or learning
5. You enjoy an unconditional sense of self-worth that is not dependent on your achievements
6. Seeing constructive criticism as an opportunity for growth
7. The focus can be on both outcomes and the process
8. Goals are one step beyond present or former achievements
These strategies can be a starting point to improve self-worth and reduce perfectionism:
The Counseling Center offers a number of services aimed at helping individuals experiencing perfectionism and low self-esteem, including:
To begin any of these services, please first schedule an intake appointment.
How to overcome perfectionism
11 Signs You are a Perfectionist
The Power of Vulnerability Video
Brené Brown discusses how shame is a barrier to vulnerability
Listening to Shame Video
Brené Brown explores what happens when we confront shame
Comprehensive Workbook on Self-Compassion
CCI’s Workbook (7 Modules) on building self-compassion
Comprehensive Workbook on Overcoming Perfectionism
CCI’s Workbook (9 Modules) on overcoming perfectionism
Comprehensive Workbook on Improving Self-Esteem
CCI’s Workbook (9 Modules) on improving self-esteem