A Cry of Pain
tom walsh


I love to browse through thrift stores.  I like looking at what people used to own, but no longer wish to own.  I can see aspects of people's lives, things outgrown, things no longer necessary.  And every once in a while, I find a treasure.

One of the most important treasures that I found cost me a quarter.  It's a book called Living with a Perfectionist, and it's one of my most dear possessions.  But I haven't even read the book, nor shall I ever.  I'm not a perfectionist, and I don't have to live with one.  But there's a note on the inside front cover of this book, and it goes like this:

To Jade and Amber

I offer you this book in an attempt to help you understand what has happened between you and me, also between your mother and me.

As I read this and work on changing my misconceptions of reality, and learn how to face and deal with anxiety and insecurity, and the pain involved with life, it is plain to me, had I learned this sooner your mother and I would still be together for we loved each other very deeply, and she stuck by me through all the injustices I could possibly put her through.  Only when my selfish actions came to have a negative effect on your lives did she not stand by me.  

For that I will always love her deeply; however, I have burnt the bridge to her heart, which will always leave a dark cloud in my memory of her.  Oh, how I wanted to share the real me with her.

There will never be, nor will I ever allow there to be, an excuse for my allowing the ideal self I had created to destroy my real self and all the happiness and beauty I had found in your mother and yourselves.  It was more than one should expect to find in life.  But at least now I can live with and tolerate myself and most times enjoy myself and others without keeping them at a distance.  Thus, I hope our relationships can grow into full bloom as God intended.

I love you both dearly and will always be behind you in whatever you choose in life with open arms and heart, unconditionally!

Your Father

Throughout the book there are passages highlighted and notes in the father's handwriting.  On a page dealing with rejection and hostility, the father wrote this about his own life:  "Extreme rejection.  Father divorced and terminated all relationships (loved him dearly as a child).  stepfather committed suicide, his father said us kids drove him crazy.  Mother's boyfriend Harold just up and left."

He also wrote, on a page dealing with jealousy and resentment,  "The intense jealousy and resentment that grew as the result of my perfectionism  caused many, many cold hostile outbursts of rage in my life, often resulting in my imprisonment."

One passage of the book reads, "Being selfish means you care enough about others to let them be responsible for themselves, so they can be free to take better care of themselves.  If you became selfish in this way, what are some things you would do for yourself?"  To which this unknown father wrote,  "work more on my problems, and let others seek out remedies for their problems.  Take the time to read material that will help me versus material that will make me adequate for others."

There's more--much more--but the point is clear already.  My heart goes out to this man who is finally taking responsibility for his actions and for the harm that he's caused others.  But my heart also goes out to those who had to live with him.  I can imagine his wife's struggles as she tried so hard to make him see the harm he was causing, but he refused to see.  He was so caught up in being right and doing things his way that he wouldn't even entertain the notion that what he was doing was harming his family.  He's taking that responsibility now, but too late to rectify the situation, and too late to spare his family the pain that they had to go through.

We can understand how he could arrive at a point of hurting others because of his horrible childhood.  Anyone who can write about a jealous ex-boyfriend breaking into the house, and his mother ripping the man's face off with a crowbar in self-defense was bound to grow up with emotional and mental obstacles.  This was a person who was from a very young age destined to have problems in relationships.  And he obviously had many problems, with his wife and with his children.  His actions even harmed the children, though we can't know how.

The most important aspect of this book for me, though, is that this man is turning his life around and doing his best to seek out forgiveness and to help others to understand his actions.  He's developed a strong spirituality (some handwritten notes refer to ideas that seem to come from AA), and he's chosen to try to learn how to have a more positive effect on the lives of others.  He no longer wants to hurt others, and probably never wanted to--he probably never allowed himself to admit that others were feeling pain because of his actions.

If we're to live our lives fully, we must ask ourselves constantly just how we're affecting others.  We must look at our actions and our words and be very honest when we try to see how we treat other people.  Are we spreading love and peace and hope, or are we contributing to the negative in the world?  Are there any parts of ourselves that we picked up in childhood that we don't like seeing in others, but that we practice regularly?

In my life, for example, I've always kept a distance between me and others.  I learned early, as a child of an alcoholic, that I couldn't trust anyone's love for me.  In my adult years, I've definitely pushed people away from me because of the distance I've maintained, never daring to trust that this person truly was interested in being my friend.  After all, most people have plenty of friends--why would they need my friendship?  I continue to do this even now, even though I'm fully aware of the problem and have worked hard to change my perspective and my thoughts.  I still shy away from people and social events, feeling that I don't belong.

In these ways, I'm very much like the father who wrote the letter.  I know that even though I've hurt myself the most because of my tendency to withdraw, I've also hurt others, never intending to do so.  And one of the most important questions that I can ask myself is this:  am I doing, even in a small way, what he did before he learned that he needed to change if he was going to be happy?  Because if the answer is "yes," I need to change something--not tomorrow, but now.

I thank this man for what he wrote, and I sincerely hope that he's been able to find peace in his life by leaving behind his perfectionism and controlling tendencies.  And I pray that the people whose lives were made so painful by his actions have been able to put the pain to rest and reach reconciliation.  More than anything else, I hope that they haven't adopted his early ways of doing things--may such cycles end somewhere.  I know that I'm a richer person because this man shared his pain and hope with his daughters, and indirectly with me.


The pursuit of perfection has become a major addiction of our time.  Fortunately,
perfection is learned.  No one is born a perfectionist, which is why it is possible to
recover.  I am a recovering perfectionist.  Before I began recovering, I experienced
that I and everyone else was always falling short, that who we were and what we did
was never quite good enough.  I sat in judgment on life itself.
Perfectionism is the belief that life is broken. . . .
   Few perfectionists can tell the difference between love and approval.  Perfectionism
is so widespread in this culture that we actually have had to invent another word for
love.  "Unconditional love," we say.  Yet, all love is unconditional.
Anything else is just approval.

Rachel Naomi Remen


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