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.