Last year I read a book called Recovering Agency – Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control by Luna Lindsey. It isn’t only mormonism that uses mind control techniques, but for all high-demand groups, they must manipulate their members to keep them from leaving. The author illustrates this in her book. For example, she tells of the researcher who was fully aware of these mind control techniques who visited a religious meeting with the purpose of studying these techniques and she felt so flattered by the attention of the members that she felt that she’d like to be a part of their group.
Reading Recovering Agency showed me how I had been manipulated by the LDS organization (and other organizations such as participating in a multi-level-marketing scheme) and why even very intelligent people are sucked in or are stuck in it. When the LDS policy leaked last year specifying same-sex marrieds were to be labeled apostates and excommunicated and that their progeny could not become members until they were 18 years old and disavowed their parents’ relationship, I wrote this essay:
Mormon Sensitivity (alternate title: Love & Horror)
I’ve been turning this question over in my mind for the last few days and it has finally resulted in an epiphany. My question was this: Why is it that mormons are so sensitive about criticism directed toward their organization? The members aren’t THE mormon church–the corporate entity. They are only participants of said association and most are in fact lovely, kind, and generous people. Yet, they persist in taking ownership of the barbs directed at the organization. I wish it weren’t so, because they deserve so much better than to be objects of flagellation. But I clearly recall that I did the same thing when I was a member.
This extreme sensitivity is not a good thing. It has surely had a negative impact on my relationships with my mother, my siblings and possibly my extended family. I don’t particularly enjoy hearing about mormon events and culture (their lives, basically!) and they certainly don’t want to hear what I have to say about mormonism, so there’s a lot that we can’t talk about.
My realization occurred this morning when I recalled getting upset over criticism that was directed at my ex-husband last year, of whom I’ve been divorced from for eight years. Mike and I were visiting friends in Boise and the subject of my ex came up. My friend heartily (and with relish!) crucified my ex for all of his many faults. My friend, a former coworker, had gotten to know my ex while we lived in Boise for a little over a year between 1999 and 2000.
My friend was right about my ex. He was not a nice person. He was horrible to me and to our children. I’m fairly certain that he will be in prison someday…again. This is one of my shameful secrets that I don’t normally reveal. Even though it’s not really MY secret. This happened while we were both in the Marine Corps. He was in the brig and I was a military police officer. Talk about awkward. I remained married to him before, during and after his court martial and jail sentence. Looking back, that would have been the perfect time for me to leave the marriage, but I was a good, little mormon girl and I believed in the process of repentance that my ex could go through to correct his “mistake” and return to the path of righteousness. I also believed in keeping the family together.
I also loved him.
When my friend was talking about what a misogynistic, racist, narrow-minded loser my ex had been, I started to experience feelings of helplessness and defensiveness. And confusion. After all, I had chosen to be with him. I didn’t leave when he first began to be verbally abusive, controlling, and unpredictable in his outbursts. It started out as joking, actually, then increased in sharpness and frequency over the years. I stayed, hoping and praying that we could overcome what was happening in our relationship. I still stayed after he screamed in my face–so close to me that his spittle rained down on my cheeks. I stayed even when he broke several items of furniture in our home after I had somehow raised his ire. He often assured me that I was not a battered wife because he never laid a hand on me. He only used words. And threats. And shaming.
According to him, I was a workaholic, an internet-addict, and a person whose
capacity to forgive was defunct. (Oh, I’d forgiven him for doing what he did to
land himself in jail, but forget? Never.) He accused me of cheating on him. He accused me of lying about how I’d gotten a scar on my elbow! I wasn’t trustworthy. He made me feel badly for being a woman. While I may have been each one of the -aholics listed above (later, during the divorce, he added alcoholic to this list), there was nothing that I could do to change being female.
So it flew in the face of reason that I would come to my ex’s defense. I didn’t really say anything just then, only felt the feels, but what I was really doing was feeling that I needed to defend myself for choosing him, for marrying him, and for staying with him for far, far too long. I stayed with the full knowledge that he hated me with such passion that if he could have gotten rid of me without losing his meal ticket (that’s right, he was jobless) and hide the body so that he could possibly avoid jail, he would have done it.
So, even though the LDS organization is not a living, breathing entity and is not deserving of protection (let their many lawyers handle it!), I know why its members feel defensive over criticisms of it.
They love it.
My story has a prequel. It is this: growing up in the LDS organization made me the perfect candidate for an abusive relationship.
I was conditioned to implicitly trust the adults in my life.
I was never taught about boundaries–how to erect my own, nor how to respect the boundaries of others.
I was taught to wear a mask. No matter how awful things were at home, when you went to church, you put that smiley mask on and made nice.
I was taught that showing any emotion aside from joy was a bad thing.
I was taught to hide who I really was and to pretend we were the perfect family. Unbeknownst to me, I couldn’t hide the “eccentric” (his words) behavior of my ex. He was/is pretty much a narcissistic sociopath, which everyone could see, but me. His behavior had become normal to me.
I was taught that there is dishonor in saying the words “I don’t know.”
I was taught not to think for myself. “When our leaders speak the thinking has been done.” I was always waiting for someone to tell me what to do or to confirm whether I was right or wrong, not to think critically and consider things from all angles.
I was taught to suspend reality by not worrying about the here and now, but to look instead toward my existence in the next life.
I was taught that our trials in life were put there on purpose, to teach us a lesson that we must learn.
I was taught that I was working toward some great reward.
I was taught that if I just prayed harder and had more faith, god–a father who knew me and loved me–would bless me and somehow lift me and my girls up and out of the terrible situation we were in.
I was taught that if it was the will of the lord, I would die at the hands of my ex-husband and that this would have been predestined if it had taken place.
I was taught that I was weak and that instead of fighting back, I should be a peacemaker and smooth things over.
I was taught that everyone’s a sinner. I was a sinner and I was pretty much worthless unless I took on the mantle of being a mormon and truly believed in a savior to make up for all of my shortfalls.
I was taught to judge others. Some “sins” were greater than other “sins.” But if I could hide my sins, I might still be accepted by my LDS peers.
I was taught that men are better than women. That men should be the leaders in the home, not women. I, as a woman, couldn’t make the journey to the highest kingdom in heaven without a man to take me there.
My ex used each of these things that mormonism had originally taught me and shamelessly used them to control and manipulate me, but the last was the worst.
I was taught that divorce was one of the most hideous acts that one could partake in. And my ex was counting on my being a good mormon to keep that in mind and allow him to keep ruling over his kingdom. This tenet of mormonism was what took me so long to pull the trigger (well, that and being in denial for a long time about how awful the situation was). When I finally made the decision to file for divorce, it was only after thinking to myself that surely, a loving god/father would not leave their child in a situation like mine. If I didn’t get my children out of that situation, they could look forward to a lifetime of abuse and manipulation from this person. It seemed to me that even if I weren’t there to keep him in the lifestyle he was used to (the walmart lifestyle, lol), my ex would somehow enlist his daughters into serving him for the rest of his life. And this religion seemed to be sanctioning the cycle of abuse by demonizing divorce. I realized then that religion could be harmful. I was in an impossible situation because of an organization with impossible rules and responsibilities. I could never hope to achieve the level of perfection that was held up as the standard mormon woman. Who could? It suddenly felt like an elaborate lie. I mean, if someone could invent a religion, is that what Joseph Smith did? My daughters deserved better and I deserved better. I left the church, then filed for divorce.
It still took five years for my divorce to be finalized. This was mostly because my ex was exacting revenge for divorcing him. He’d promised me that he would make it last as long as he possibly could. Utah courts obliged. I’m still alive all these years later. My ex didn’t kill me. But that’s probably only because I told him that I would haunt him if he did. 😉