Many people who suffer from low self-esteem are driven by unhelpful thinking about the standards they have set themselves in order to feel good about themselves. If you are one of these people then you have a lot in common with most of the clients I see. A commonality is that they are usually bright and intelligent and have achieved relative success in their lives. Yet their self-esteem stays low because they haven’t achieved the perfect way of being they believe they should obtain. We all know that it is almost impossible to get a perfect score in life and who really knows what “perfect” is? How would we even know that we have reached perfection? Even being the best in the world doesn’t suggest being perfect. So the easy equation is…the more you try to be perfect…the more times you will fail! How does this then affect self-esteem? the simple answer is hugely! What it means is that however well you do, in your mind you have failed to reach the target and you spend your time beating yourself up about it. Not to mention all the time and energy you spend trying to bridge the gap from where you are to where you think you should be.
Where does perfection come from?
Many studies have highlighted the fact that when we are children with demanding parents, that is 80% should be 90 and 90% should be 100, perfectionism can be the result. Playing sport is not good enough unless you are the best, playing an instrument means hours of relentless practice. You get the picture! This doesn’t mean that the parents do not love their children but the constant pushing and upping the benchmarks leave children with a fear of failure and a feeling of whatever they do not being good enough. These children carry this through to adulthood as a self-defeating belief, constantly criticising themselves and feeling worthless when things are not perfect as they see them. Though it is easy to look at parenting styles for the reasons, there can be others:
A desperate need to please someone who you feel has contributed to your success
Feelings of inferiority, that is, conditional love….if I am not perfect, they will not love me.
Abandonment or a feeling of “I will show them”
Letting go of impossible goals and targets is a vital part of increasing self-esteem and reducing perfectionism. How can anyone ever feel good about themselves if they constantly set high standards that are impossible to achieve? Perfectionist thinking excludes the enjoyment of an activity and bases the level of pleasure had on how effective the task was done . Flexibly striving for good results rather than rigidly looking for perfection can make all the difference.
10 things to remember about Perfectionism
Attempting perfection is a recipe for failure. It doesn’t matter how good you are.
To really understand perfectionism as faulty thinking, where it came from needs to be accepted.
Perfectionism is not necessary and will not get you further in life.
Perfection is not quantifiable and is generally all in the mind.
Look at others and how they work for a more balanced view.
Consider perfectionism as a thinking error, not reality.
Remember that 80% is “good enough” in all situations.
Consider that perfectionism could come from the need to be proved right. We sometimes feel a lack of self-esteem if this is not so.
Perfectionism comes from the past and old rules which are no longer valid.
Let go of the idea that you have to be perfect to feel good.
Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of trying to be perfect.
When you make your own list of costs and benefits, you may find that the costs are too great. You may discover that problems with relationships, workaholism, eating and substance abuse problems, and other compulsive behaviours (plus the accompanying anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and so on) actually outweigh whatever advantages perfectionism holds for you.
Increase your awareness of the self-critical nature of your all-or-nothing thoughts, and how they extend to other people in your life.
Learn to substitute more realistic, reasonable thoughts for your habitually critical ones. When you find yourself criticizing a less-than-perfect performance (whether your own or someone else’s), make yourself stop and think about the good parts of that performance. Then ask yourself questions such as: Is it really as bad as I feel it is? How do other people see it? Is it a reasonably good performance for the person(s) and circumstances involved?
Be realistic about what you can do.
By setting more realistic goals, you will gradually realize that “imperfect” results do not lead to the punitive consequences you expect and fear. Suppose you swim laps every day for relaxation and exercise. You set yourself the goal of 20 laps, even though you can barely swim 15. If you are a perfectionist, you soon may feel disappointed at your performance and anxious about improving it. Because you’re focused on the outcome, you gain little sense of fun or satisfaction from your efforts. You may even give up swimming because you’re not “good enough.”
A healthier approach would be to tell yourself that 15 laps is good enough for now. So you continue swimming without anxiety. You don’t necessarily stop trying to improve, but you swim mainly for exercise and relaxation—for however many laps you can.
Set strict time limits on each of your projects. When the time is up, move on to another activity.
This technique reduces the procrastination that typically results from perfectionism. Suppose you must find references for a term paper and also study for an exam. Set time limits. For example: Decide that you will spend only two hours looking up references, then four (and only four) more hours studying for the test. If you stick to your time limits, you won’t spend the entire day searching for elusive references, nor try to study late at night when you are too tired to be effective.
Learn how to deal with criticism.
Perfectionists often view criticism as a personal attack, which leads them to respond defensively. Concentrate on being more objective about the criticism, and about yourself. Remind yourself that if you stop making mistakes, you also stop learning and growing. Remember that criticism is a natural thing from which to learn, rather than something to be avoided at all costs.