The Psychological Effects of Mormonism
How Mormonism Affects People's Self-Esteem
Mormonism affects people in ways that are psychologically healthy and unhealthy. The purpose of this website is to provide you with information about the latter. Why? Because people with experience in the LDS Church/Mormonism cannot heal that which they are not aware of and do not understand. It is impossible to become psychologically and emotionally whole if you are not aware of the 'stuff' in your psychological 'blind spots'.
"To trust your mind and to know that one is worthy of happiness is the essence of self-esteem."
Dr. Nathaniel Branden, renowned psychotherapist who pioneered the study of self-esteem.
Many Latter-day Saints do not trust their mind, at least not fully. Why? Because of how they've been psychologically conditioned by Mormonism. Mormonism 'programs' Latter-day Saints to mentally flee from, trivialize, and condemn facts/truths/realities that do not support the LDS Church's doctrines, teachings, and foundational claims. When confronted by faith-disrupting facts, Mormons have a choice: Either they acknowledge the facts and question and doubt what they've been taught, or they ignore or trivialize the facts that conflict with their religious faith.
The psychological result of doing the latter is developing a reputation with one's mind that the individual (you?) cannot fully trust it. If a person won't allow their mind to acknowledge and accept facts/realities that conflict with church teachings and widely-held Mormon beliefs, the individual ends up experiencing/feeling a lack of confidence in their mind, its cognitive processes (e.g., their critical and rational thinking), and the judgments and conclusions that their mind produces. Religious people who do not fully trust their mind typically become psychologically dependent on authority figures (parents, church leaders, etc.) to tell them what is true, right, the will of God, how they should behave, etc.
Another common symptom of the psychological dysfunction caused by Mormonism is confusion. Many Latter-day Saints feel confused when they're confronted by facts/realities that conflict with their beliefs about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, early church history, and other aspects of Mormonism. For example, during the past 10+ years, DNA research has repeatedly shown that the principal ancestors of the American Indians came from northeast Asia, not Israel as the Book of Mormon states and the Mormon Church has taught since Joseph Smith's day. Furthermore, the genetic and archeological evidence shows that Native Americans lived in the Western Hemisphere millennia before the Lamanite civilization began (according to the Book of Mormon, sometime between 588 and 559 B.C. - see 2 Nephi). Also, not a single bone, weapon, article of clothing or other object from the 230,000+ Nephites who were killed in the vicinity of the Hill Cumorah (according to Mormon 6) near Palmyra, New York has been found in two centuries of people in that area moving the earth (to farm, build homes and roads, construct the LDS Visitor's Center, etc.).
Pointing out these and other faith-shaking facts is not an attack on Mormonism, as some Latter-day Saints perceive. The many historical and scientific facts that do not support foundational aspects of the LDS religion cause Mormons to feel confused because of their strong emotional connection to Mormonism. However, despite what Latter-day Saints feel about their church and faith, the facts that do not support both are never going away. Mormons' psychological health depends on them fully acknowledging and accepting those facts. Why? Because no one can ignore the truth, diminish their awareness by avoiding or trivializing the facts, betray their rational mind in the process, and not pay the price psychologically.
Our mind is our principal tool of survival. We need to have full confidence in our mind and its cognitive processes (e.g., our critical and rational thinking) as well as our judgments not only to survive, but to ensure the quality of our lives. If a Latter-day Saint does not fully trust their mind and judgments, it doesn't matter how much money they make or have, their position in the LDS Church, how many generations of their ancestors were Mormons, etc. They are psychologically in need of repair.
Lacking confidence in their mind and judgments and confusion are two of several symptoms of psychological dysfunction experienced by Latter-day Saints as a result of how they have been indoctrinated by the LDS Church and psychologically conditioned by Mormonism. A list of symptoms of psychological dysfunction experienced by Mormons can be viewed by clicking here.
It may come as a surprise to many Latter-day Saints, but Mormonism psychologically wounds people with its fear-, guilt-, and shame-inducing teachings and beliefs. Unfortunately, the core message of Mormonism is a fearful one: Obey or the quality of your mortal life will suffer and you will suffer for eternity because you were not faithful to the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during your mortal probation.
As history has repeatedly shown, instilling fear in people is a very effective way to get them to do what those in authority have wanted. In the context of Mormonism, it is impossible for Latter-day Saints to exercise their free agency when they are being psychologically coerced through fear of negative spiritual consequences during mortality and 'eternal damnation' after death, including being separated from their Mormon family members forever. Mormons are afraid of many things because of how they've been indoctrinated by the LDS Church and psychologically conditioned by Mormonism (click here for a list of Mormons' fears). It is possible to heal one's psyche/mind from the fears that keep a person from being all that they can be and from experiencing all that life has to offer.
It is also impossible to exercise one's free agency when a person is being psychologically coerced to obey (comply) through guilt. Regrettably, Mormonism psychologically conditions Latter-day Saints to feel guilty about many things, from not paying tithing to thinking about sex. Guilt is a useless, time- and energy-wasting emotion. No one ever changed because they felt guilty; people change when the pain, stress, unhappiness, etc. of their current situation exceeds the discomfort that they believe they will experience as a result of changing.
Guilt (and shame) are not effective as motivators for permanent, positive change. After 177 years, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints still does not understand this basic psychological truth. Sadly, Mormonism psychologically conditions people to feel not only guilt, but shame too. Shame drives addiction, which is main reason why many LDS teenage males and men are addicted to pornography. Mormonism has programmed them to feel shameful about sex, sexuality, and nudity. Take away the underlying shame (e.g., through counselling) and people are free to choose how they're going to behave.
Fundamentally, each person is a ‘unit’ of awareness that exists in a physical interface system (their body), and each 'unit' (person) is profoundly affected by the psychological conditioning they've experienced, particularly during their formative years. When people commit so-called sins (for example), they do so for psychological reasons, a fundamental reality that very few Mormon leaders and Latter-day Saints understand. Joseph Smith convinced himself that he was a prophet of God for psychological reasons. He made up and told stories about angels visiting him, finding golden plates, and being commanded by God to have plural wives for psychological reasons. Mormons hold fast to their spiritual beliefs primarily for psychological reasons, ones they're not consciously aware of.
How do we gain a better understanding of why we think and behave as we do? By becoming more aware of how we have been psychologically conditioned (by Mormonism and other influences) and by gaining a greater understanding of how our psyche works. As units of awareness, we are each conscious of physical sensations, our thoughts, emotions, needs, wants, impulses, personality, intuition, instincts, dreams, etc. To become more aware is to expand the fundamental characteristic of ourselves.
The foundation of our self-esteem was created in our formative years, particularly during our childhood. Our self-esteem was influenced profoundly by our parents (or parent or whoever had the primary responsibility to take care of us and interacted with us the most). People enter adulthood with self-esteem that is typically as healthy or impoverished as the extent to which they were loved and respected or neglected, mistreated, and (not infrequently) abused during their formative years.
According to Dr. Branden, self-esteem is:
Dr. Nathaniel Branden
This is a very significant statement for Latter-day Saints because they are indoctrinated by the LDS Church to believe that they should trust their feelings, but only if their feelings support church doctrines and teachings, and widely-held Mormon beliefs. If their feelings do not support LDS theology and beliefs, Latter-day Saints are supposed to ignore them. So, if a child raised in Mormonism says from the pulpit on Fast & Testimony Sunday that she feels that the Book of Mormon is true, the child's expressed feeling is accepted by Latter-day Saints and approved of. However, if someone investigating Mormonism learns from the LDS Church's genealogy website that Joseph Smith married women who were already married and teenage girls as young as 14 (when he was old enough to be their father), and as a result of the historical facts, feels that Smith was not a true prophet of God, that person's feeling is typically rejected by Latter-day Saints.
When our feelings do not support the facts, we must give greater weight to the facts; our psychological health depends on it.
As Dr. Branden explained, self-acceptance is the refusal to be in an adversarial relationship to oneself. Self-acceptance involves non-judgmentally embracing ourselves in our minds and hearts (i.e., on an emotional level) just as we are, and as we used to be. Self-acceptance involves understanding that everyone acts according to their level of awareness. Mentally beating ourselves up (i.e., causing ourselves to feel guilty with our thoughts) does not make ‘better’ people. As mentioned, a desire to change one’s behavior does. Guilt is an unproductive emotion. No one was ever made 'good' by being told that they were 'bad'. Self-acceptance involves letting go of negative judgments about ourselves, our thoughts and behavior, the things that we have and have not achieved so far in life, etc.
"Accepting, compassionate interest does not encourage undesired behavior, rather it reduces the likelihood of it recurring."
Dr. Nathaniel Branden
Non-judgmentally accepting our thoughts, emotions, desires, impulses, urges, etc. does not necessarily mean acting on them. A person in financial difficulty may think about robbing a bank as a quick and relatively easy way to address their situation, but acting on such a thought would not be wise. However, accepting their thought about robbing a bank without self-condemnation ensures that no negative emotional blockage to being fully aware is created, and thus, no seed of psychological dysfunction is planted.
There is no one coming to our rescue, individually or collectively; no one is going to save us.
If there is an aspect of our life, community, nation, world affairs, etc. that is not to our liking, it is our responsibility to take action and change it. God isn't going to magically make our life, health, work, financial situation, relationships, etc. better. Maturing psychologically involves understanding that we have the right, responsibility, and pleasure to be agents unto ourselves. Taking responsibility for our happiness is empowering. As Dr. Branden points out in "The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem", no one owes us the fulfillment of our wishes. Each of us is responsible for:
Mormon psychological conditioning interferes with self-assertion in a variety of ways. Many Latter-day Saints dilute their personality because it doesn't fit the LDS concept of being nice, meek, long-suffering, and placating to Mormon authority figures (including God, as defined by Mormonism). Many members hide their assertiveness because they fear confrontation and conflict and the disapproval and possible rejection by LDS family members, leaders, and friends if they assert themselves and speak their truth (e.g., talk about aspects of Mormonism that don't make sense).
For example, there are young men raised in Mormonism who do not want to go on a mission, but are afraid of asserting their right to refuse to go because of the stigma in the LDS community of not going. Likewise, many girls raised in Mormonism do not assert their right to go to college or university and finish their degree (and get an advanced degree, if they so desire) and work in their chosen field before getting married and starting a family. There are many ways in which Latter-day Saints do not assert their right to always think for themselves and act according to what they deem to be best for their lives. Fear of self-assertion that might result in confrontation and conflict is common among Mormons.
Mormonism indoctrinates Latter-day Saints to believe that their main purposes in life are what the LDS Church and its leadership say is the will of God (e.g., fully participate in the LDS Church, get married in the temple, work and raise a family in the LDS religion). Mormon boys and young men are indoctrinated to believe that serving a full-time mission for the church is what 'Heavenly Father' wants them to do when they reach 19 years. LDS girls and young women are indoctrinated to believe that their primary purpose in life is to grow up to be a 'wife and mother in Zion'. These things are not God's will for young people, just what adult Mormons believe is God's will for young people.
Latter-day Saints have the right to decide for themselves what their main purposes in life are. For some, it may be the more traditional experience of getting post-secondary education/training, marrying and raising a family (husband working; mom stays at home), and participating in the LDS Church throughout their life. However, this Mormon nuclear family mold does not suit everyone, particularly in the 21st century in which 6.6 billion humans are placing unprecedented demands on limited natural resources and damaging and destroying the planet as never before. Some individuals feel a passion to devote their time, energy, and other resources to protect the environment, work in the Third World to alleviate suffering, or do something else. Many people feel that marriage is not for them; they participate in family and community in other, less traditional ways.
Being 'on purpose' has nothing to do with living the type of life that other people believe is right for you, or doing what a religious organization, family members, or other individuals say is the will of God for you. It's about being psychologically free enough from others' beliefs and in-tune with yourself to you know what your destiny is and to live it.
What keeps Latter-day Saints from acting with integrity to what they intuitively sense, at the core of their being, they need to do? Fear, more than any other emotion. They fear the collapse of their religious belief system and Mormon identity (ego). They're afraid of what God or Satan will do to them (God and Satan being constructs in their minds - products of LDS indoctrination). They worry about how their Mormon spouse, parents, grandparents, siblings, other relatives, friends, and church leaders will react if they communicate faith-shaking facts. They're afraid of the loss of approval, acceptance, and status in the church. Mormons fear how their lives will change if they start acting with integrity to the truth, personal and otherwise, that conflicts with Mormonism. Fear is the great 'dragon' that Latter-day Saints need to face within themselves and defeat.
It takes courage to act with integrity to the truth, particularly one's inner truth that others may dislike, negatively judge, and even condemn. Jesus of Nazareth, the 'rebel' of the New Testament who violated Jewish religious rules and associated with all kinds of people from different walks of life, acted with integrity to his sense of purpose (based on what's written in the Bible), which required courage. Winston Churchill, the great British statesman and World War II leader, once said the following: Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others. Acting with personal integrity to the truth is a choice, not matter how trapped a person may feel in their particular circumstances.
Another major reason why many LDS women are depressed is that they have been psychologically conditioned by Mormonism to base much of their self-esteem and identity on being a daughter of a male deity ('Heavenly Father') and a 'wife and mother in Zion'. As mentioned, Heavenly Father is a psychological construct, the product of human thought. To base part (or all) of one's self-esteem on something that is only a belief is not wise. It is also not prudent to base one's self-esteem on one's marital status, which many women, in and outside of the LDS Church, do. Why? Well, what happens if your spouse is killed? With your husband gone, is your self-esteem going to collapse? What would happen to your self-esteem if you discover that your spouse has been having an affair? Will it crumble? Furthermore, if you base your self-esteem on being a mother, what happens to it if you're no longer a mother because your child is hit by a car and killed? These aren't pleasant things to think about, but the truth is that they are realities for some women, including some LDS women, and heart-breaking situations happen to people. Life is full of risk.
Many women in the Mormon Church link their self-esteem to aspects of the lives of their priesthood-holder husband and their children: the prominence of their husband's calling (e.g., bishop, stake president), his academic and professional successes and how much money he makes, the fact that their sons served missions and their children are married in the temple, etc. Why do so many LDS women do this? Because it brings them approval from Mormon authority figures (the most prominent one being God, as Mormons conceive 'Him' to be in their minds) and the LDS community. It reinforces their status in the Mormon 'tribe' as a faithful 'wife and mother in Zion'. But what happens to the self-esteem of LDS women when their priesthood-holder husband becomes 'inactive', their sons don't go on missions and their daughters won't marry in the temple? It decreases/suffers.
The deepest and strongest foundation of self-esteem is ourselves. It is the only foundation that will withstand the losses, vicissitudes, and storms of life. Most people, including Mormons, do not understand this profound psychological truth because they do not understand how they have been psychologically conditioned or what healthy self-esteem is based upon (the six practices mentioned above).
Your thoughts and behavior do not make you worthy or unworthy. You are worthy of happiness and being treated decently simply because you exist. Your intrinsic worth has nothing to do with what you accomplish or do not accomplish in life. If you spent your life in a cave meditating (for example), you would be just as worthy as the busiest, most-sacrificing and hardest-working Mormon you know. You don't need to waste your energy always striving to be perfect in order to be granted blessings by God and receive, after you die, the big, 'celestial' prize, 'Exaltation' (so Mormon have been indoctrinated by the LDS Church to believe). Just live your life as you wish and create the life you want to have. Live fully by your mind and judgments, and develop your own values and sense of purpose based on your observations and experience. You have the right to do so. Furthermore, define success for yourself; you're not obliged to use others' yardsticks to measure (judge) your worth.
There is no omniscient, judgmental God who grants blessings and metes out punishments based on mortals' compliance or non-compliance to certain teachings and rules, only versions of God that people believe are true/real. All religions, including Mormonism, have come into existence through the mind of one or more individuals (starting with Joseph Smith, in the case of the Mormon religion). If you want to believe in some sort of 'higher power', create with your mind whatever version of God works for you. You're not obliged to subscribe to and mentally regurgitate anyone else's religious/spiritualistic beliefs.
The Exodus from Mormonism/the LDS Church
According to LDS author and retired Church Educational System Director Grant Palmer, about 100,000 people each year are terminating their membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (ref. http://mormonstories.org/podcast/MormonStories-033-GrantPalmerPt4.mp3). Many of them do so because they discovered that the church was not truthful with them about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, early church history, and other aspects of Mormonism.
Many members lose their faith, but continue to attend the LDS Church because their spouse, children, and relatives are Mormon and they have friendships with Latter-day Saints. A website for New Order Mormons, as they're known, is at http://www.newordermormon.org. Many people who are healing from Mormonism visit the Recovery from Mormonism website at http://www.exmormon.org, and the Post Mormon community at http://www.postmormon.org/exp_e/. The Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons website is at http://www.affirmation.org.
Online and print resources
If you are researching Mormonism, either as a non-member who may be thinking of joining or is simply interested in learning more about the Mormon Church and religion, or a Latter-day Saint who is questioning what the LDS Church has taught you, I would recommend the following Mormonism-related websites:
In April and May 2007, PBS Frontline: The American Experience aired a 2-part, 4-hour documentary film, "The Mormons", which can be viewed at http://www.pbs.org/mormons/.
Signature Books has published several excellent books about the history of Mormonism and "Mormon Americana". The company's website is at http://www.signaturebooks.com.
The official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at http://www.lds.org. I recommend this website because people can read about church doctrines and teachings from 20+ years ago that are not taught in the LDS Church today. LDS scriptures (The Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) are online at http://scriptures.lds.org.
The most comprehensive, single source of historical information about Mormonism that I have found in the past decade is the website of The Utah Lighthouse Ministry, founded by Sandra and Gerald Tanner. The homepage is at http://www.utlm.org. Click on "Topical Index" on the left side of the screen to see the full list of Mormonism subjects.
Information about the polygamous wives of Joseph Smith, Jr. is at http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org. The LDS Church's online genealogy records for Joseph Smith also show his marriages to several females, aged 14 and older. The records can be accessed by going to http://www.familysearch.org. Under "Search For Your Ancestors", they are a number of fields in which the relevant information is entered. Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805 in Vermont in the United States. After clicking on the Search button, you will see several genealogy records listed for him. Click on Ancestral File 1. for details about his polygamous marriages. Oddly, Smith's first plural wife, young Fanny Alger, is not listed in this file. Details about her polygamous marriage to Joseph Smith can be viewed by entering in her information: married (to Joseph Smith) in 1835 in Ohio in the United States. Click on the first International Genealogical Index file (1.) for details.
Richard Packham, a former member of the LDS Church and a retired lawyer, has an excellent webpage, "To Those Who Are Investigating Mormonism: What the Missionaries Won't Tell You.", which is "an excellent summary of basic Mormon beliefs, with links to many websites showing the contradictions in Mormon history and doctrine." Visit: http://home.teleport.com/~packham/tract.htm. Richard's homepage is at http://home.teleport.com/~packham/, and includes his story out of Mormonism.
In terms of sheer volume of stories of people who have left the LDS Church, the Recovery from Mormonism website has the most (more than 630 stories) at http://www.exmormon.org/stories.htm. One cannot help but be moved and impressed at the great courage that many people mustered to leave Mormonism, and the high price they paid to psychologically liberate themselves from it. The Tanners' online books, including "The Changing World of Mormonism", are well-written and contain many references to church publications and historical Mormon materials (ref. http://www.utlm.org/navonlinebooks.htm).
Rethinking Mormonism is a website with "thought-provoking writings that encourage you to look closer at church history, culture and lifestyle." The URL is http://www.i4m.com/think/.
Every person with an interest in Mormonism will want to read the historical information about the different versions of Joseph Smith's 'First Vision' at http://www.irr.org/mit/First-Vision-Accounts.html. The Mormons in Transition homepage is at http://www.irr.org/mit/.
Tom Donofrio's "Early American Influences on The Book of Mormon" is a fascinating examination of the many similarities between The Book of Mormon (BoM) and two books about the early history of the United States published in 1789 and 1805 that were available in upper New York State, the area where Joseph Smith lived prior to the 1830 publication of the BoM. The URL is http://www.mormonstudies.com/early1.htm.
There are many things mentioned in the BoM that did not exist in the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans in the late 15th-century, and a notable lack of any mention of things that did exist in the ancient Americas, such as the types of animals, plants, native societies, indigenous religions, etc. that researchers have discovered evidence of and researched extensively in the past 100+ years. The following website provides relevant information: http://www.lds-mormon.com/bomquest.shtml.
Suggested books about self-esteem and healing psychologically and emotionally:
"Women, Power & Self-Esteem" by Hattie Hill-Storks
"Self-Esteem for Women: A Practical Guide to Love, Intimacy, and Success" by Lynda Field
"Women & Self-Esteem: Understanding and Improving the Way We Think and Feel About Ourselves" by Linda Tschirhart Sanford and Mary Ellen Donovan
"Will the Real Women Please Stand Up!: Uncommon Sense about Sexuality, Self-esteem, Self-discovery, Sex, and Sensuality" by Ella Patterson
"The Art of Being a Woman: A Simple Guide to Everyday Love and Laughter" by Véronique Vienne
"A Woman's Self-Esteem: Stories of Struggle, Stories of Triumph" by Nathaniel Branden
"The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem" by Nathaniel Branden
"The Thriving Self: Expressing Self-Esteem in Work and Love" by Nathaniel Branden
"The Art of Living Consciously: The Power of Awareness to Transform Everyday Life" by Nathaniel Branden
"Taking Responsibility: Self-Reliance and the Accountable Life" by Nathaniel Branden
"Honoring the Self: Personal Integrity and the Heroic Potentials of Human Nature" by Nathaniel Branden
"How to Raise Your Self-Esteem" by Nathaniel Branden
“The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships” by Harriet Goldhor Lerner
“When God Becomes A Drug: Breaking the Chains of Religious Addiction and Abuse” by Father Leo Booth
“The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen
“Healing the Shame That Binds You” by John Bradshaw (a well-known American therapist who has done educational series on the family for PBS)
“Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child” by John Bradshaw
“Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion” by Carol Tavris
Copyright © 2008 by Blair Watson