The trauma of perfection: from denial to healing, part 1 of 6

The anger letter

There’s a saying that goes like this: “Truth hurts.” While that may be true initially, I hope you’ll find, like I have, that truth can be the energy behind an important journey—The Journey of Grieving. And in the end, it’s a journey wisely taken and well done.

During my interview with counselor and Traumatic Grief expert Liz Taylor, when she mentioned the Trauma of Perfection, my heart stung. I knew she was talking about me—about something I’d never admitted or dealt with. As I drove away from that interview, my head was throbbing, pounding.

Intrusive thoughts
Then the Type 1 Intrusive Thoughts started coming—memories of my dad’s favorite mantras, the words that had misled me, that wounded my soul. I knew I needed to deal with this. When I mentioned in the first post that I didn’t have any grieving to do, I was wrong. I was so wrong.

Remember from Intrusive Thoughts, part 1:

Who knew I needed to do this work of grieving? God knew. So he brought me some Type 1 Intrusive Thoughts. In other words, he communicated—softly and persistently—Frankie Ann, all is not well. You have some work to do…. So I did the work and my Trauma Onion got smaller. (If that onion comment makes no sense to you, read this post.)


Time for an anger letter
Yes, it was clearly time to write an anger letter to my dad. He died almost 20 years ago—two months before Brandon and I got married. To learn more about anger letters—their purpose and power—read this post. Brandon was going on a one-day road trip with one of his friends to pick up their family’s new camper from out of state. I knew this would be the perfect time to write this letter, so I did. This time, unlike previous times, I typed the letter, so it ended up being longer than the ones I’d written by hand.

Here it is.

Saturday, September 2, 2017


The problem is about words—what you said and what you didn’t say.

While I was growing up, you didn’t tell me “I love you.” What that meant to me was that you didn’t. You didn’t love me. I felt like there was something terribly wrong with me. I translated your un-love into “I’m unlovable.” “I’m not good enough to be loved.” “There’s something bad about me.” “My parents don’t want me.”

I felt like a foster child—someone you were stuck with. I had a place to live and food to eat, but I wasn’t wanted.

The sayings
Your mantras to me were “Bells make A’s;” “If you want something done right, do it yourself;” and “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.”

“Bells make A’s.” What that meant was this: If I didn’t make straight A’s, I wasn’t a Bell. I wasn’t a part of the family. I wasn’t good enough to be in the family. Maybe I’d get kicked out. Maybe I wouldn’t have a family anymore.

I had to make straight A’s so you could strut around, thinking I have smart children. I did things right.

When I made a C in History in 6th grade, I was afraid to bring my report card home. What was going to happen? I was afraid of what you would do. Since you already didn’t love me, what would this massive disappointment mean?

You said this a lot: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” What this told me was that I was on my own. There was no one to help me. I couldn’t or shouldn’t ask anyone for help—not even my parents.

The move and the fear
When I was in Kindergarten, we moved to Georgia late at night. When I woke up the next morning, I didn’t know where I was. I laid in my bed for what felt like a very long time, because I was afraid to get up. Where was I? Where would I go? Where were my parents? I could not call for you, because I wasn’t supposed to ask for help. Asking for help was bad. Where was the bathroom? Where was I? How did I get here? I felt like I was in outer space.

After I eventually got up, I wandered around this strange place until I found someone I recognized.

The problem and the secret
I had a problem during elementary school—wetting my bed. But I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t ask for help. I had to sleep on the edge of the bed where it wasn’t wet. I had to be smart. Smart children didn’t wet their bed, so I had to keep it a secret. I couldn’t take the wet sheets off and put dry ones on. Then everyone would know that I was stupid, that there was something wrong with me. I had to pretend that I was okay, even though I knew I wasn’t. There was something very wrong with me.

I had nightmares—about monsters in the basement, spiders crawling all over me, and falling—falling out of the upstairs window. But I couldn’t tell anyone. I was on my own. The door to the attic was in the ceiling of my closet. I was sure that there were monsters up there. But I couldn’t tell anyone. I was on my own.

What I couldn’t say or have
And last, but not least, of your Top 3 Sayings: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.” You taught me that I couldn’t say “No.” I couldn’t say “Stop.” I couldn’t say “That hurts.” I couldn’t say “That’s mean.” I couldn’t protect myself from harm, from evil. I couldn’t have wisdom or discernment. It was my job to say what other people wanted to hear. It wasn’t my job to speak the truth. It was my job to make other people happy. My happiness—what was good for me—was irrelevant. I didn’t matter. I didn’t count. I had to say things like “Yes” and “Whatever you say.” And when people asked me how my day was or how I was doing, I had to say “Fine,” even if it wasn’t true. I hate that word—Fine. I hate that word most of all.

You never asked me how I felt. You never talked about feelings—ever. You didn’t ask me what I thought. You told me what to think. You never apologized to me. Not once. Not about anything. That’s because you were good and I was bad. That’s because you were right and I was wrong. That’s because I didn’t matter. My feelings, my needs, my heart didn’t matter.

The prayer
At the dinner table, you prayed the same rote prayer every night, so it didn’t mean anything. “We thank thee, Lord, for the blessings of life and this food that’s set before us, and all things thou hast given us. Now watch over us and bless us, and lead us in the way we are to go. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.” You never prayed for me. You never prayed about any of us. You just said the words. The same old words, again and again and again. The words that didn’t matter, because you didn’t love me. So many words, but never the right ones. So many words.

The praise
You told me “You’re a good kid.” But that didn’t feel good at all. It meant that I was towing the line and making good enough grades to get to stay. That really meant: You’re not embarrassing me. Good job.

The public voice
When you prayed in church, you used a different voice. You yelled at me in the car on the way to church, and then in church, you used your “I’m so smart” voice. I hated you. You were a fake.

I asked for a radio for Christmas one year. You gave me a record player instead. You said it was better than what I wanted. Sometimes I had to search for my presents by being smart and figuring out the answers to clues and treasure hunts. I had to be smart enough to get my presents.

The push-back
I remember one time when you asked me to play the piano for someone who came to our house, so you could show off. I said “No!” It felt good to tell you No in front of them. It felt good to stick it to you.

Too late
When I was growing up, you never told me that God loved me. You never told me that you loved me. After I went off to college, a revival preacher told you and Mom that you’re supposed to tell your children that you love them. It was way too late then. When you said those words to me, I knew you were lying. It felt creepy to hear you saying those words—the words you never said to me the first 18 years of my life: “I love you.” It was too late. Those words didn’t help me. I didn’t want to hear you say them, since I knew you didn’t really mean it.

I was on my own. I was unloved and I was on my own. It was my job to make straight A’s and to smile and to make sure that nothing I said bothered anyone. It was my job to make you look good by never embarrassing you.

Double life
I hated your expectations. I was very angry at you, so I lived a double life. In college, I made A’s at school and snuck out with various dates and boyfriends at night. I snuck out of the house—a lot. Surely someone out there would love me just for who I was. But they didn’t love me either. I guess that was because I was unlovable—what you taught me so well.

Not good enough
When I was in my early 20s and was dating someone who’d been divorced, you said at the dinner table: “Thou shalt not get divorced.” In other words, “Your boyfriend is divorced, which looks bad, so he isn’t good enough.” Me dating him made you look bad. Here’s the big problem. He WASN’T good enough, but it wasn’t because he was divorced. It was because of a hundred other things—things you didn’t know or care about or bother to ask about, because we never talked about anything that mattered. You talked. I listened. You never knew who I was. I couldn’t ever speak the truth to you. I just had to put on the show—the I’m Perfect Show and the I Don’t Have Any Problems Show. (The show I chose in response to your garbage was the I’ll Date Guys You Hate Just to Stick It to You Show.)

The word that wasn’t spoken
Right after my first husband moved out, we had a family dinner at my sister’s house. You told me to smile. Unbelievable. I was experiencing intense pain and you told me to smile. You disgusted me. You never asked me why we were divorcing. You didn’t want to know. I wouldn’t have told you the truth anyway. I couldn’t talk to you about anything. I had to be perfect. Getting divorced was obviously the WORST thing I could do to embarrass you, so there wasn’t anything to talk about. You wouldn’t even speak the word divorce after that. You pretended it didn’t happen. You didn’t care about what he did to me. You didn’t care.

The dream
After the divorce, I had a dream about you. It was in my house. You grabbed me and smashed the back of my head on the bathroom floor. When I looked down at myself, I looked like a china doll whose head had big cracks in it…. I saw the cracks on my face. I was dead. I was a china doll. Broken and worthless.

The lies
All of your mantras were lies. You taught me lies. Your lies hurt me. You never taught me how to make good decisions. You just wanted me to be “smart.” But you never taught me the truth. You never taught me wisdom. You never taught me about love or feelings or people or relationships or forgiveness or….

This is a very sad thing. I know that I was your favorite daughter. I looked like your mom, even though you never talked about her. I played the piano like she did. I enjoyed writing like you did. Even your favorite daughter didn’t feel loved or known by you.

Home feels like…
You taught me how it felt to be unloved, unwanted and alone, so those things felt like home. The lies you taught me led to terrible choices with terrible consequences.

Your words—your lies—hurt me so deeply. And I feel very sad about it all. Very, very sad.

Frankie Ann

Your turn
Peaceful Reader, is there someone you need to write an anger letter to? All you need is paper, a pen and about an hour. The letter isn’t for that other person. It’s for you. You won’t be showing the other person your anger letter. You’ll experience freedom, as anger is released and literally comes out of your body.

Take the time. Receive the healing.

Coming next: Next time on Choosing Peace, you’ll read about gathering the trash, wrestling and unpacking.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Psalm 25:7

Song for Healing: “Set Me Free” by Bradley Bridges

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