Book of Mormonisms

Did they really say THAT?

Maturity and Mormonism

Posted by coventryrm on Monday, February 4, 2008


Many of us are familiar with the experience of allowing our emotions to override our intellect.  We stay in relationships that we know to be bad for us, take jobs we know we won’t like, say “yes” to obligations we have no desire to carry out, all because we are trying to generate or prevent certain emotions.  Or sometimes, it is because we feel directed or motivated primarily by our emotions.  What is amazing about this is that we will actually stay in a destructive relationship, hated job, or stifling obligation regardless of the negative consequences.

 Most psychologists, from Jung to the present day, recognize the growth process that is essential to governing our emotions.  Jung called this process individuation.  Murray Bowen referred to it as differentiation.  But both terms define the maturing process of each individual as an ability to separate emotions from thoughts, while also learning to differentiate our own emotions and thoughts from the emotional system of our family system. For most psychologists this is how we become a fully developed “self.”

So, how do these observations relate to what I see as the emotional stuck-ness of many Mormon individuals?
Well, in my own experience, I found that after stepping away from the LDS Church, I noticed some of my own social and emotional immaturity.  Thus, I experienced a somewhat accelerated learning curve to make up for those years where I was stuck in those areas. In fact, in order to make-up for the lack of normal maturing experiences, I worked closely with a therapist who pointed out to me that at age 34, I was essentially going through the adolescent years that I had missed due to my Mormon upbringing that encouraged me to feel ashamed of normal sexuality and a growing desire for independence. Now, as I look around at LDS family, friends, blog-gists, apologists, and politicians, I am often surprised at just how socially and emotionally retarded many LDS people can be.  In making this assessment I have relied on three experiences that seem to strengthen this observation.

First, behaviors that I thought were social norms when I was in the Mormon culture, have proven to be social anomalies.  For instance, in Mormon culture you are taught never to say “no” when you are asked to do something.  Therefore, you are never taught to think about your resources, weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision that works for you.  Stepping outside the Mormon paradigm it becomes a blinding flash of the obvious that you are allowed, and even expected to have personal boundaries.

Second, current research shows that the developing brain does not have a high capacity to make rational decisions that overcome impulses and emotions until we are in our early twenties.  You only have to look at a child throwing a tantrum, or a teenager impulsively driving a car too fast, to see how emotions take charge in our younger years. Of course, you also see the teen struggling more than the younger child, as he or she begins to deal with the conflict between emotion and intellect. 

 Third, I began noticing that I was not the only Mormon who experienced emotional immaturity but that it seemed to be a more universal symptom of the culture.  One place that I’ve noticed it is in the blogosphere.  For instance, I have come across one particular blogger that is clearly intelligent, well-written, and is one of the better LDS apologetic writers in blog-land.  In a short essay, that appears to be a point of pride with this writer, he shares a view that for him, explains why an intelligent person might come to so many different conclusions regarding belief.  In his last paragraph he hits the nail right on the head.  He writes as follows:

I know I am able to construct just about any intellectual justification I desire that will warrant just about any theological / philosophical / doctrinal construct I choose to accept. Given my ability to adapt a solid intellectual argument for whatever I desire to believe, I exercise my agency by focusing on what I desire to believe – what my heart and soul tells me it wants to believe – what brings me joy. I consider the options and make my choice. Again, since my brain is capable of justifying whatever choice I make, I pick my course (what kind of life I want to live), then I construct / adopt / assimilate the perspective that I feel will lead best to the end of that course.”

However, if you accept the premise that growth and maturity come from understanding our emotions and then using our intellect to process them, then doesn’t this writer have it backward?  More and more I’ve seen a new wave of LDS apologists use the very worst (and in my mind inaccurate) interpretations of post-modernism to assert this view.  But according to this view I can decide that because I like the idea of Greek mythology, and the way it inspires me to live on an emotional level, then following Zeus and Apollo makes perfect sense.  Or, to use a more malignant example, it also says that if Jim Jones inspires me and directs me to live the life I desire then it makes sense to drink the Kool-Aid.   And doesn’t this argument sound a bit like the teenager who says that he or she has promiscuous sex because it feels good? 

As for converts, well, Mormonism is not the only system that discourages individuation and differentiation.  I suspect that many converts come to Mormonism out of equally dysfunctional systems in an effort to overcome an abusive past.  Therefore, many individuals may come to Mormonism while they are already in an immature stage of life or are people who have a pattern of making life altering decisions based on emotion rather than logic.  For instance, take the blogger who talks about how she married her husband after only meeting him 3 weeks earlier or the man I baptized in England that felt the need to leave his family and travel thousands of miles to tell his friends in Argentina about the book of Mormon without regard for his families welfare in England. Missionaries are taught to act quickly while investigators are in a wash of feelings of being accepted.  So, it is no wonder that converts can be manipulated to act on their feelings rather than intellect.  


4 Responses to “Maturity and Mormonism”

  1. SkiUtah said

    Whenever I attend family reunions, it’s almost impossible to speak with the believing LDS family members. They can’t communicate with somebody unless it’s in church terms.

    The church strongly discourages individuation. As long as everybody acts, looks, and says the same things, then life is good in the LDS world. If you freely choose to step outside the fold, then you are ostracized.

    My bishop asked me “what went wrong with you, what commandment couldn’t you keep?”

    It had nothing to do with a commandment, nothing went wrong. I decided that Mormonism wasn’t for me. And LDS members can’t comprehend that “individuation” epiphany…

  2. Hey I’m the blogger who you speak of ! 🙂

    I think there are just different types of people. I am spontaneous and make many decisions based on how I feel. It works for me.

    But you have to consider the fact that in my case there are 2 sides. My husband is the logical one. It was not in character for him to marry after 3 weeks, but when you ask him about it he will tell you that for the very first time in his life he knew and FELT it was right.

    AND even though I married him quickly that was not something I had ever felt before. I would like someone for a few weeks and then get really tired of them really fast. When I met my husband I also had my 3 year old daughter. I did NOT marry her dad even after being pressured because I KNEW it was not right. So you have to look at the big picture and you also have to realize that some people think differently then you 🙂

    (I drive you crazy don’t I?)

  3. Bishop Rick said

    Hey, I like your blog. Great topics and incredible blogroll.
    When is the next post coming?

  4. coventryrm said

    Hey great to hear from you. I was wondering where you went off to. As far as my next post I am not sure, I have been working on a few ideas in my head, but the writers block has got me, well that and skiing. I have read a few books that have given me a few ideas. Hopefully I can come up with something in the next week or two, I like to put something up every couple weeks if I can come up with a topic. Any ideas?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: