Perfectionism and low self-esteem

Perfectionism and low self-esteem Brighter Life Therapy

How does perfectionism and low self-esteem work together?

Perfectionism is observed when a person sets themselves very high standards, which are often difficult to meet. When the standards are inevitably not met, this can lead to feelings of failure. In turn, this can result in low self-esteem and feeling anxious and depressed. 

Alternatively, the very high standard may be met, but it might then be deemed not demanding enough, and an even higher standard is now set for the future. The cycle then continues. Understandably, this whole process can lead people to feeling burnt out. 

What are the common behaviours we might see in perfectionists?

  • Indecisiveness for fear of making the wrong decisions
  • Reassurance seeking to check things are acceptable and done well
  • Excessive list-making and organisation to reach their high standards
  • Excessive checking to ensure there are no mistakes
  • Procrastinating to avoid facing up to tasks where mistakes might be made
  • Avoiding potential situations where you might fail 
  • Being slow to avoid making mistakes
  • Giving up, often due to not being able to pick up a new skill quickly enough

What are the common thoughts we might see in perfectionists?

  • All or nothing approach to how well they have performed e.g. it was either perfect or no good at all (there is no middle ground)
  • Looking out for mistakes
  • Looking out for signs of failure
  • Rules such as ‘I must give 100% effort’

Is perfectionism good or bad?

People often think of perfectionism as a positive trait, as it allows them to work hard and reach their goals. However, as we saw before, not meeting these unrelenting high standards can lead to feelings of sadness, failure, anxiety and low self-esteem. 

We might be better to challenge perfectionism and support people to get to a point of being ‘good enough’ and aiming for 80% than 100%. You can see this in the image below, by the Centre for Clinical Interventions.

Perfectionism and low self-esteem Brighter Life Therapy

How do we challenge perfectionism?

It can be helpful to start by weighing up the costs and benefits of being a perfectionist versus aiming to be good enough. Often, it can feel difficult to give up perfectionism, as it can feel like a security blanket. There are often fears that if we give up these unrelenting high standards, we might completely give away all standards. In fact, it’s likely we can still keep high standards; but be a little more flexible instead.

Next, set some goals for the perfectionist behaviours you might like to decrease, such as those in the list above. You can take a graded approach to reduce them For example, if you’re someone who avoids delegating for fear that it will be done not perfectly, you might start by delegating a small task to someone you trust. After you’ve accomplished this step, you might try delegating a small task to someone you don’t trust as easily, then a bigger task to someone you trust, and so on. Build up the intensity as you go, until you’re able to delegate the ideal tasks to the ideal people, in line with your goals. 

Another technique is noticing any of these perfectionism thoughts as they occur. You can choose a particular thought to address, and start to note down evidence for and against this thought. This allows you to see the wider picture and account for any information that you might have originally missed. Doing this process allows us to see that our original thought may have been quite harsh, and there might be balanced and alternative ways to view things, that might make us feel less sad or anxious. 

How will reducing my perfectionism increase my self-esteem?

If you can be happy to have high standards which are less difficult to reach, you are more likely to meet these standards and do a good job. This in turn is going to boost your self-worth, increase your feelings of peace and happiness, and increase your self-esteem.

Can Brighter Life Therapy

Modifying perfectionist habits can require more than self-help techniques, and instead requires professional help. Brighter Life Therapy provides fast access to CBT and counselling treatment, which you can read about here. If you are interested, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0118 40 50 108 or by emailing

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