May 31, 2024By Wholesome Counselling

Have you ever felt like your worth hinges on what you achieve or how well you do something? It's like you're on a never-ending treadmill, trying to prove your value through accomplishments. This feeling can be deeply tied to past traumas, especially if, as a child, you received love and attention primarily when you 'performed' well.

Understanding Performance-Based Self-Esteem

Performance-based self-esteem refers to a sense of self-worth that is heavily dependent on achievements and external validation. This type of self-esteem often emerges when individuals grow up in environments where praise and affection are conditional on their performance. It's like living under a spotlight, where your value is constantly being measured by how well you perform.

Understanding this link is a bit like turning on a light in a dark room. It helps you see that your value isn't about what you do but who you are. You're worthy of love and respect, just by being you. Let's remember that together, especially on tough days.

Striving for Excellence versus Perfectionism

If you often find yourself chasing the elusive spectre of perfection, or you've set towering standards for yourself—standards that remain unmet despite others' praise—you might be high-functioning or even an overachiever. It's crucial to distinguish between striving for excellence and succumbing to perfectionism. Excellence means doing the best you can with the resources and constraints you have, feeling content with your efforts. Perfectionism, on the other hand, involves pushing beyond limits to meet self-imposed or external expectations, often leading to feelings of failure if those standards aren't met.

Cultural and Personal Context

This relentless pursuit often traces back to a childhood devoid of necessary validation, especially from parental figures. Cultural expectations can exacerbate this, as I've experienced firsthand as a Nigerian from a middle-class background. With a mother who was an educational psychologist and a school principal, and a father who was a civil engineer, the bar for academic achievement was set high in our family. Despite diligent efforts, anything short of top grades meant we fell short of receiving approval from our parents, teachers, and community—a scenario all too common in performance-oriented environments.


Performance-based self-esteem can be deeply rooted in our past, but it's not a life sentence. By recognizing these patterns and understanding their origins, we can begin to shift our focus from external validation to internal acceptance. Remember, your worth isn't defined by what you do but by who you are. You are inherently valuable and deserving of love and respect.

Thank you so much for reading. If you found this content helpful, consider booking a consultation to explore these issues further and start your journey towards healing and self-acceptance.


1.      National Institute of Mental Health -Perception and understanding of Self: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/research/research-funded-by-nimh/rdoc/constructs/perception-and-understanding-of-self

2.      Brené Brown, Ph.D. - The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  https://brenebrown.com/book/the-gifts-of-imperfection/