Perfectionism and Self-Esteem

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Perfectionism and Self-Esteem


I heard before that being a perfectionist is a sign of low self-esteem and I struggled with it at the time. How can wanting everything to be perfect can be a sign of low self-worth? Perfectionists are nice people who, generally, help others, they are very reliable and do everything on their own. You want them as your friends because they will always put your needs in front of their own, they will always “be there for you”.

And you can’t but wonder: “How are they on their own, when nobody needs their help?” “Do they feel powerful or do they feel helpless?” “Do they know what they feel?” “Do they know what they want?” “Are they aware of their own needs?”

My guess is they have forgotten or they have never known their own true wants, desires and needs. Sometime along their life, they became co-dependent.


Co-dependency occurs when one has low self-esteem and a strong need to help others. It is usually a personality disposition learned in childhood when the child survived by sacrificing their own needs and wants. Co-dependency is, sometimes, found in adults who were neglected or abused as children.

Children who experience abuse from one of their caregivers, for example, learn that if they keep quiet and  don’t ask for much they may be left alone. A very young child may learn that in order to  escape abuse he/she has to look after his/her siblings, putting their needs in front on his/her own needs which, all of a sudden, become unimportant. They learn to be self-sufficient, they learn to rely only on themselves and not to depend on others.

Children may learn that their caregiver’s wants and desires are more urgent than their own, particularly if they have been sexually abused.

This child may become an adult who gets a feeling of importance by trying to meet other’s needs first; this is one way of dealing with loneliness and the fear of exploring their own needs and wants. These individuals will find it very hard to accept help from others, believing it’s their job to always look after themselves. They don’t like to be the center of attention and may struggle when they receive praise. They seem very capable and competent on the outside but may feel helpless and needy on the inside. This grown-up will have great difficulty expressing their real thoughts or feelings because they fear that others may get hurt or may not like what they hear. They will look for acceptance and will find it very hard to disagree with others. Relationships may become a struggle, particularly intimate relationships. People with co-dependency issues may go too quickly from one relationship to another for fear they won’t make it on their own. The following is Mia’s testimony, after she attended counselling, where she presented with relationship difficulties and signs of OCD.

“I struggled with making decisions, I was constantly looking after my family and my friend’s children, I didn’t let anybody help me with housework, everything had to go through my hand. I was tired and had no interest in intimacy. I didn’t think I needed help. My partner insisted that I go to counselling. Talking about myself helped me to make sense of my life and to understand why I was that way. I learned to relax and I became aware that I have needs too. I became good to myself and I learned that in order to have good relationships with others I need to have a good relationship with myself. This was the hardest and most painful thing I have ever done, but I am now a much happier person”.

Exploring childhood may bring into awareness patterns of behaviour that originated there. Looking at how we grew up may clarify our view about ourselves, about partners and relationships in general. It may also create clarity about the culture we were born into, about why we are the way we are.

Awareness about self will help a co-dependent person to recover and find their TRUE SELF.


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