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How Unhelpful Perfectionism can Stand in the way of Self Love

“Good enough is good enough. Perfect will make you a big fat mess every time.”

― Rebecca Wells

Do you feel a lot of pressure to achieve “perfection”? Perhaps you feel that you must look a certain way, that you must do things right so that nobody else judges you, that you need to have a spotless home, or that you should never fail or make a mistake? There can be a lot of pressure to achieve “perfection” in our society. Yet perfectionism is often something that can drive you down a path towards low self-esteem, anxiety and low mood.

Unhelpful perfectionism is where you set very high standards or goals for yourself and pursue these high standards despite negative consequences arising (eg. feelings of exhaustion or feeling down and anxious). Often, unhelpful perfectionism involves focusing on one (or two) areas of your life to the detriment of all others. So, for example, you may spend a lot of time focusing on your work life and this means that you don’t have much of a social life or have enough time to take care of your health. Or it could mean that you worry a lot about how you look and spend hours meal-planning and in the gym. But all this appearance-focus means that you cancel plans with friends and can’t concentrate at work.

Unhelpful perfectionism is different from just having high standards. When you have high standards, you can pursue them without it affecting your self-esteem and how you feel about yourself. Usually when you have unhelpful perfectionism your self-esteem is tied up in whether or not you are achieving your goals. Here are some key differences between just having high standards and unhelpful perfectionism:

Unhelpful perfectionism can stand in the way of self love because when you are a perfectionist, you tend to only feel good about yourself if you are hitting your unrealistically high standards. Basically, your like and love of yourself is conditional. True self love should be unconditional and shouldn’t be tied to what you are doing in life, how you look, or what goals you have hit. Really valuing yourself comes from knowing that you are worthy as a person for you who are, irrespective of what you are achieving or doing.

Having unhelpful perfectionism can make any self love you show or any self-confidence you have, very fragile. Because you may only feel able to show yourself that love when things are going well and you are on track towards your goals. But if you experience a set-back (which we all do sometimes) such as an illness, injury, loss, change in circumstances or something else, you may then not feel good about yourself due to factors beyond your control.

Also, unhelpful perfectionism tends to involve having a very harsh and critical little voice in your head. This mean little voice is very incompatible with practising self-love and showing self-compassion. Speaking to yourself with kindness and compassion is a very important aspect of practising self love.

So, yes, there can be a lot of pressure to be “perfect” today. You may feel the need to look just like that influencer on Instagram, to be earning more money than your friends or to never make a mistake or fail at anything. But there is really no such thing as “perfect”. We are all different and we are all on our own unique journeys through life. In fact, once we let go of that need to be “perfect”, we often realise what is really important to us in life. Striving after “perfection” often makes us tie our worth to what we have achieved… when actually, when we really think about it, so many other things are truly most important to us.

“i have this productivity anxiety

that everyone else is working harder than me

and i’m going to be left behind

cause i’m not working fast enough

long enough

and i’m wasting my time

i don’t sit down to have breakfast

i take it to go

i call my mother when i’m free—otherwise

it takes too long to have a conversation

i put off everything that

won’t bring me closer to my dreams

as if the things i’m putting off

are not the dream themselves

isn’t the dream

that i have a mother to call

and a table to eat breakfast at

instead i’m lost in the sick need

to optimize every hour of my day

so i’m improving in some way

making money in some way

advancing my career in some way

because that’s what it takes

to be successful


i excavate my life

package it up

sell it to the world


capitalism got inside my head

and made me think my only value

is how much i produce

for people to consume

capitalism got inside my head

and made me think

i am of worth

as long as i am working

i learned impatience from it

i learned self-doubt from it

learned to plant seeds in the ground

and expect flowers the next day

but magic

doesn’t work like that

magic doesn’t happen

cause i’ve figured out how to

pack more work in a day

magic moves

by the laws of nature

and nature has its own clock

magic happens

when we play

when we escape

daydream and imagine

that’s where everything

with the power to fulfill us

is waiting on its knees for us

- productivity anxiety”

― Rupi Kaur,


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