LDS Mormon Mental Health

 
     

 

 

 




How to Make Your Post-Mormon Journey a Healthy One
by former LDS Bishop Bob McCue


The post-Mormon journey can be broken down into the following stages:


1. Complete denial/unawareness.
We are not consciously aware that there are material problems with our belief system.

 

2. Doubt and Cognitive Dissonance.
We begin to question as a result of information we have come across, or a dawning realization that Mormonism does not work for us. These nagging doubts have to be actively suppressed. During this stage we may become Mormon apologists as we attempt to keep our cognitive dissonance under control.

 

3. Confession.
This is the infamous “Oh Shit!!” moment, at which everything changes, except our brain, our relationships, our life's circumstances, etc. OK, not much changes except our perspective, but it feels like everything has changed. We are talkig about high tensile trauma here. See http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.revelation.pdf for an example. Many flirt with, or go into, deep depression. Professional counselling is a good idea while navigating the stormy personal and relationship seas around this event.

 

4. Flux.
A usually lengthy period during which euphoria at new found freedom alternates with anger, grief and bargaining. These waves are caused by the fact that our brains have still not been rewired and our circumstances are still largely Mormon. And so, our instincts (which are largely dictated by brain wiring) and circumstances are at odds with our conscious desires for a different kind of life. As our brain wiring and circumstances gradually come more into sync with what we want to do with our lives, the waves settle down. The research with regard to Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief helps us to understand what is going on here. We tend to ingest massive amounts of information and interact extensively with other people with whom we share our journey as we attempt to find a new worldview – a new personal mythology – to stabilize our lives.

This process is what causes of the brain reformatting that will occur during this process occurs. That is, the continual repetition of brain patterns (neurons that fire together, wire together) produces growth within the brain - a new brain - literally. We also tend to put immense amounts of pressure on the Mormons in our lives as a result of our need to be connected to them. Mormonism breeds insecurity into its members. This helps to keep the herd together. However, when someone does leave, it creates a powerful need in them to have others “understand” them, which usually means affirm what they are doing. Most people gradually grow out of this. This process is best understood using “attachment theory”. Breaking negative attachment patterns takes a lot of stress out of our lives. The sooner thisc an be done, the better.

 

5. Acceptance.
We for the most part move on to interests outside of Mormonism. This occurs in jerky stages over an often lengthy period of time. Steps 4 and 5 usually take years.

The feeling of comfort in a new space required for more or less complete acceptance of the loss of the Mormon belief and social systems indicates that the brain re-formatting that was required has probably occurred. This leads us to ask how we can speed that process up. The research indicates a variety of things in this regard. Access to good information about Mormonism and why it doesn't work for many people is a given. The best sources in this regard as solid Mormon history (Michael Quinn, "The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power", for example), and social psychology (Loyal Rue, "Religion is Not About God"; Pascal Boyer, "Religion Explained"; Scott Atran, "In Gods We Trust"; Jon Haidt, "The Happiness Hypothesis"; Daniel Gilbert, "Stumbling on Happiness"; for example).

Assuming that you have more than enough information about Mormonism and religion in general, a couple of other kinds of brain exercise that are less likely have come to mind and were particularly important for me were journaling and “right brain” related activities.

The research with regard to journaling indicates that as long as insight is building as a result of our journaling, it plays a profoundly important role in the grieving and brain reformatting process. By journaling I mean the process of writing down what troubles your about your situation, and what you plan to do about it. This would include summarizing important ideas with regard to Mormonism or life after Mormonism that you come across; articulating what was wrong with the way you used to live and what would work better, etc. Journaling has been shown to dramatically improve our physical health, relieve depressive symptoms, etc. We are talking really powerful stuff here – so powerful that I had trouble accepting the benefits claimed until I have confirmed them by review of multiple, reliable sources.

It is probable that participating on Internet forums performs a function similar to journaling, as long as the exercise builds insight. Once it stops doing that, it is likely more unhelpful than helpful, because the research indicates the negative impact of ruminating about things that have gone wrong, or bitching about them. So, as long as we are building insight, the benefits in that regard are so large that they overcome the negative side effects of dwelling on what went wrong. Once we stop building insight, we should limit participation in post-Mormon forums to the social, political, mentoring, etc. and even that should probably play a relatively small role in our lives. There are of course exceptions to this rule. I encourage people to start post-Mormon forums that will facilitate the kind of social interaction I have just noted. Moving in that direction should be encouraged. And once people have formed relationships in a place like this, it is a shame not to be able to continue to enjoy them.

Something else the research indicates will likely speed up the healing and brain re-formatting process is exposure to “right brain” activities. That is, many people who are struggling out of the intellectual torpor Mormonism imposed on them spend a huge amount of time analyzing Mormon history and other issues related to Mormonism. That is what spending time here largely involves, in addition to bitching about Mormonism.

The research indicates that largely left brain (logic, symbols, language) tasks of this type only aid brain re-formatting to a degree. After that, it may be counter productive. Learning a new sport or musical instrument is similar. There comes a point at which more practise slows the learning process down. You are better off doing something else, and particularly creative things that will stimulate the right side of the brain, instead of more practising of that damned post-Mormon instrument, your brain. Painting, playing a musical instrument, gardening, etc. are good ideas in this regard. See http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.art therapy for recovering mormons.pdf for the long version of how this works.

As time has passed, I have found lots of things that seem to stimulate me in ways that are healthy in what feels like the same kind of right brain way as painting and creative writing, which are the two activities that I began to use relatively late in the getting out of Mormonism game for me.

Here is a laundry list:

• Artistic performances.
See http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/24 for example. Consider this a meditation on intimate relationship. Bath in it. Watch it a dozen times over a couple of weeks. See how much symbolism you can find in it. Then watch it a dozen more times over the next month and don’t think about anything. Rather, pay attention to what it makes you feel. Great pieces of art (which in my view this is) have amazing depths to plumb if we take the time and spend the energy. One of the wonderful things about this piece is that you don’t have to understand anything except what it feels like to try to become intimate with another human being in order to “get” the piece as deeply as it can be got.


• Meditation and Yoga.
Meditation has been shown to have immense health benefits. It is, for example, as effective as the best anti-depressants and has none of the side effects.


• Exercise.
This is so easy, and feels so good. The repetitive stuff works best. This puts you into a mind of semi-trance.


• Team sports.
Another easy way to loose the ego for hours. The need to coordinate your movements with others does this. This way to the “zone”, or flow state (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)).


• Playing with children.
Being as silly and outside the box as possible.


• Laughing.
Watch comedy. Listen to comedy. Hang with funny people. Get a little drunk. Learn some jokes, and how to tell them. Even forcing yourself to laugh (in private, likely) is proven to make you feel good. Same goes for smiling. Forcing a smile makes us happy. The "happy" wiring works both ways. The brain responds to the mouth as well as the mouth responds to the brain.


• Friends.
Spending time with people whose company you enjoy.


• Dancing.
Take ballroom, Latin, or whatever, dance lessons. This is a sensual activity that is one of the best ways going to find flow.


• Exposure to “outside the box” ideas.
For present purposes, these should have as little to do with religion as possible. See www.ted.com for some wonderful material in this regard. Read any issue of Psychology Today. Check out www.edge.org or artsandlettersdaily.com. In places like this we find life’s spice.


• Reading creative literature.
Here are a few books that deal with the topic of breaking boundaries, coming into new perspectives, etc. that gripped me and I think are helpful to those trying to direct energy away from Mormonism while attempting to re-wire our heads, and hence find solid ground outside the Mormon cloister.

"In the Company of the Courtesan", by Sarah Dunant;

"The Perfect Circle", by Pascale Quiviger (Giller finalist);

"Gilead", by Marilynne Robinson (Pulitzer);

"I am Asher Lev", by Chaim Potok;

"The Life of Pi", by Yann Martel (Booker);

"Under the Tuscan Sun", by Frances Mayes;

"Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides (Pulitzer).

Each is worth reading and has been widely reviewed on the Internet. You can read a few of those while deciding where to invest your time. Middlesex is my most recent. It is great writing. Each of the others is at least good. To my taste, Middlesex is the best crafted of the bunch.

The wonderful news is that the more we can help ourselves (and other) to relax and let this amazing process play itself out, the more we will enjoy it and get from it. This is a bit like body surfing, or dealing with any other large force in our lives. These things are too big for anything but going with the flow – learning to use a big force in our lives – to work well. Attempting to impose our will on it won’t work.

We need to learn to be more gentle with ourselves, as well as those who cannot see the path we are on.




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