|The Stages of Post-Mormonism and Brain Re-formatting
|Nov 20, 2007
|The post-Mormon journey can be broken down into the
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 talking 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.
In general, the further in we were, the harder this process is. Yet again, the most faithful are the most damaged. This, and so many other ironies, are staggering.
The feeling of comfort in the post-Mormon intellectual and social space required for more or less complete acceptance of the loss of the Mormon belief and social systems indicates that the brain re-formatting and cirumstance re-engineering 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 are solid Mormon history (Michael Quinn, "The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power"; Todd Compton, "In Sacred Lonliness"; 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, there are a number of other brain and circumstance loosening exercises that are less likely have come to mind. Those that 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 forums like this one 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.
Right Brain Activities
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 instrucment, your brain. Painting, playing a musical instrument, gardening, etc. are good ideas in this regard. See http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.art%20therapy%20for%20recovering%20mormons.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)).
• 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 http://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)
"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.
|Hanging out with other Post Mormons is fun
|Nov 20 20:30
|It's amazing to compare notes to see how similar some
of the experiences are and it's safe territory. We think of ourselves as
kind of liberal people now....until we get around really liberal LA people
and we realize that in some ways, we're still somewhat mormonic.
Middlesex really is a great book, and a bit of any eye opener regarding sexuality and how it is obviously controlled more by genetics than anything else. I loved that book.
Hope all is well with you and yours in Canada. We're heading down to SD for the week. Say hi to Sister McCue from me and my wife.
|Nov 20 22:05
|In looking at your steps I'd place myself about a
Beside the obvious family tension I think what I struggle with the most is my loss of a belief in an after-life. The idea of living for eternity in a perfect adonis-like body is....well.....very appealing. But in my new evidence-based reality I have had to accept that an afterlife, although not impossible, is unlikely. I struggle with this.
The strange thing is that accepting the improbability of a 'great beyond' has made me value this life much more. The statistical improbability of human life would suggest with near certainty that I can not actually exist. Yet here I am! Life is amazing! Life is short and should be cherished!
Also, my moral code has changed. I think we are all born with a moral compass: It is ‘good’ to help others. It is ‘bad’ to treat someone poorly etc. But my ideas around pleasure, evil, celestial score keeping, and god’s wrath have changed. Mormonism imposed so many meaningless rules on us and I feel like I have removed a backpack full of bricks.
I have a spring in my step and a lust for life. Ex-mormonism is heaven! (just not in the eternal sense :) )
|The moment of recognition . . . (edited)
|Nov 21 10:20
|Ah, yes, that wonderful "Oh Shit!!" moment . . .
Seems that I continue to experience those in varying degrees as I attempt to re-format different parts of my life (and brain) in my own post-Mormon world. As I travel this fresh path I'm noticing, though, that each new "Oh shit!" realization is less terrifying, more exciting and exhilarating. And, the accompanying shift in momentum from the early intense feelings of fear and anxiety that slowed my rewiring process to a sense of empowerment that is facilitating a more positive energy flow (thereby accelerating the rewiring process) is worth noting.
The FIVE PHASES of my personal "OH SHIT!!" evolution:
"OH SHIT!!!" (panic, fear, pain, anxiety, . . .) :(:(:(
"Oh, shit." (Okay, been here before . . .) :(
"Shit." (indifference) :l
"Shit?" (I don't FEEL bad . . .) :l ???
"Hooolllly Shit!!!" (Just experienced a wonderfully exhilarating "aha" moment . . . Life is good!) :):):):):)
|Living in Stage 5 with an Anchor Tied Around Your Leg...
|Nov 21 11:46
|I envy those that find themselves in stage 5, totally
free of any Mormon influence in their lives. Although I've moved into the
Acceptance stage...Mormonism refuses to leave me alone despite having built
boundaries. I fear that it will be a part of my life till the day I die.
I know that this is were many of us find ourselves.
Finding a comfortable balance between our TBM famlies and our desires to live full productive Mormon free lives is a process, not a destination.
|We have always been surrounded by undesirable....
|Nov 21 13:23
|people and influences. And while deep in the Mormon box some of the influences that we now embrace were then considered undesirable. How curious that, from what I would consider a more enlightened perspective, we now (almost all of us) look upon the old paradigm as an undesirable influence. Yet the preservation of each and every pre-enlightened relationship is not, in my opinion, of supreme importance. I am not suggesting mass carnage of associations with friends and family. In fact, my experience would indicate that such action is not necessary. Well informed, non-argumentative sincerity with friends and family has worked very well for me. Taking the high road works very well. But, in my experience, a personal attitude shift must take place, decisions must be made such as: I will not betray myself in order to preserve a relationship - any relationship (parents, spouse, children, friends etc.). I will be kind, understanding and compassionate and will leave the door open for future possibilities. I will be willing to pay the price, the pain, that integrity often requires of diminished or lost relationships. I cannot control how friends or family may conduct themselves, but I can control my actions toward others and I will not permit their lack of understanding to make me unhappy. You can suffer loss and still be happy and at peace. The ongoing Mormon influence in most of our lives is just one more unwelcomed influence that we must deal with on a daily basis - politics, business, neighbors, economic downturns etc. I do not expect to be free from the Mormon influence. But I can deal with it just like all the other influences I would rather be without. I live in Utah County for crying out loud. I like Utah, lots of places to ride my horses, Lake Powell, great mountains and plenty of really good people mixed in with a few religious idiots (was that kind?). Good luck!
|Nov 21 12:02
|Actually, there is a rare "stage zero" in which after
a few weeks of sobbing testimony, unctious boy-men speaking about "Jesus the
Chriiiiiiiiiist", glazed-eye glad-handing, a pervasive madhouse atmosphere,
etc, the newly converted has a "WTF" moment, turns on his heels and leaves
bedlam as fast as he can.
sic semper crapola
|Thanks for posting that
|Nov 21 14:23
|Lots to think about as I seem to be hopping around a lot between stages 2-4.
|It has taken years
|Nov 21 18:53
|I would like to say I am toward the end of stage 5 but
you might ask, then what am I doing here. When I admitted to myself that my
doubts about mormonism were legitimate I thought it would be a simple matter
of leaving it behind and moving on. That was over 10 years ago and my
journey follows your stages pretty closely. I am amazed out how predictable
we humans are.
I never expected my TBM spouse to follow me, but I wanted desperately for her to appreciate my reasons for defecting. Even in my TBM days I was able to understand why members and non-members had problems with lds doctrine and culture. She never has reached that point and to her the whole issue is that she (the church) is right and I am wrong. You mention the “powerful need to have others understand” in stage 4. That was me, but I think it was a lingering of the “worthiness” phenomena we endured.
I also noticed I still wanted to be well thought of by lds leaders. My former bishop lived across the street and I would find myself wondering if he approved of this or that mundane thing that he might have observed me doing. I consciously saw the absurdity but I still had to suppress the thought which I guess was part of the unconscious mormon mold I was still struggling with.
Early in my defection I had an inner insight that told me I had a lot to unlearn. But I did not realize the degree to which mormon mindset was embedded in me. I have found that deep meditation, reaching for the Buddhist “emptiness”, is very helpful for deprogramming but such meditation is no easy matter.
I know the idea of “letting go” has become a cliché but nevertheless it works for me. In the past year it has become unimportant to have my path approved, or even appreciated, and defending/justifying myself is no longer an issue. I am in a “don’t complain, don’t explain, and don’t blame” mode and equanimity is slowly replacing anxiety.
Thanks Bob for your valuable contributions to this whole process.
|as part of my recovery from Mormonism I started taking piano lessons
|Nov 22 15:31
|It was one of several things I did post-mormon. I
refer to it as "recovering the lost parts of my life" - all the things I've
ever wanted to do.
Learning to use my left hand (not to mention my foot) at the same time as my right hand has been a challenge. I figure I'm firing up all kinds of new neuron pathways in my brain - this should keep me young.
It also focuses me on something, a process that shuts out all thoughts of mormonism.
However, as anyone who plays knows, there is something about the piano that intensifies whatever emotion I may be feeling when I sit down to play. The piano is like a therapist; more than that - the piano takes on my pain or my joy.
|Good stuff. I've also found this Stages-of-Change model helpful (link)
|Nov 22 17:36
|It addresses addiction rather than Mormonism, but can
be applied to any kind of difficult change.
|Thanks robert ...
|Nov 23 13:08
|Very high quality. Very useful. I would love to hear
anything else you care to contribute on this topic. Anger defusing
techniques would be of particular interest. It is so easy to get into a
vicious circle, particularly when dealing with those we love the most across
the religious divide.
|You're welcome. I'll give this some thought. Part of the issue . . .
|Nov 23 16:27
|may be techniques and I'm wondering if the bigger part isn't how we respond to betrayal. The hardest part of dealing with life after Mormonism for many of us--I include myself--is the sense of betrayal and all the thoughts and feelings that come with that. My experience is "breaking up" with Mormonism can be every bit as intense as a divorce. I'll give this some thought and would like to know what others think.
Recovery from Mormonism - The Mormon Church www.exmormon.org