Date: June 12, 2018 07:31AM
I'm nearly 39 years old and I left the church at 21 years old 6 months after leaving my mission. In the first two years after leaving I thought I'd fully dismantled everything Mormon in my life. But I was clueless about the imprint of Mormon culture and how I was carrying it with me into my new life.
Between my super TBM parents (pioneer ancestors, etc.) and their best friends in the ward leadership, I was raised without healthy boundaries. This really left me vulnerable to emotional manipulation especially by covert narcissists and but also manipulation or minor exploitation by lots of other people both good and bad, friends, employers, colleagues, men I dated (I'm gay) and even with internet friends (basically everyone).
I am otherwise a bright, charismatic, independent person who doesn't get taken advantage of in any other way. I was the golden child of my ward and my stake and it was clear to me that I was being groomed for leadership (my patriarchal blessing was insane) which now I look back on and see that it was not a compliment but proof of how effectively they'd hijacked and brainwashed my sensitivity, natural gifts and earnest intentions. It was not until I met a mentor in my field when I was 31 who began to tell me that I really did not need to be so giving, open, and available to people who hadn't earned such access. Before that, no one had ever told me I should not give so much of my attention and empathy; I guess most people are happy to take. That was a start, but because I was blind to the extent of my problem (I just thought I'd had bad luck).
After a traumatic experience with a covert narcissist (almost sociopathic) colleague, I was forced to face the issue. This person had fooled me into believing we were close friends with high mutual trust. She exploited, framed, and gaslit me (truly devastating experience from which I developed a nervous tick which I still have 7 years later) and yet because of her stature in my field, most people believed her.
Because of this experience, I was forced painfully to go very deep and evaluate the dynamics of all the relationships in my life. Since then I've been on a journey (without the help of a therapist, too poor) learning about boundaries. The more I understood about myself and the dynamics of my friendships, I've been horrified at how exposed and vulnerable I allowed myself to be with virtually anyone who seemed decent and good. My TBM parents were so idealistic, thoroughly brainwashed and naive about the outside world, the only rubric they gave me for whom to trust was based on gospel criteria; they gave me nothing that applied to the real world (let alone how to survive church power dynamics should I have stayed on as an adult).
I excelled in school and was very social, so non of the non-Mormon adults in my life had no reason to suspect that I was totally missing critical life skills for how to cope outside of Mormonism. One big downside to having charisma (not something I ever consciously cultivated or asked for) is that people are blind to your flaws (or distracted from seeing them) and it makes it harder to find out what they are since no one points them out (at least it's been my experience)
The deeper I dove over the years, the more I uncovered and I came to the conclusion two years ago that THE CHURCH SYSTEMATICALLY DISMANTLES AND PREVENTS HEALTHY BOUNDARIES FROM FORMING and this is KEY TO CONTROLLING AND RETAINING MEMBERS.
Take the worthiness interviews: boundaries invaded every time, and I have disgusting memories of how upset I felt by the questions that my bishop would ask me. OUT OF NOWHERE he asked me if I masturbated AND IF I THOUGHT ABOUT MEN despite my having given no indication of either. I WAS ELEVEN YEARS OLD. Then, he broke confidentiality and told my father the contents of the interview because they were best friends. If there were a hidden first crack in my faith, with hindsight I know this was it.
My parents also did not respect boundaries. I had to answer any question no matter how personal, no private space or private thoughts. Every hour of the week was accounted for in some way, letters were read before being sent, and the same happened on my mission.
I noted that women in my family had no boundaries and were Stepford-like in their compulsion to endlessly give and sacrifice, never complain or exhibit any needs of their own. It was never enough. It never seemed right to me and I watched my mother age into a shadow and a shell of the vibrant, fun person she was when I was young into an abusive, miserable person. She's a fully automated robot now. ABSENCE OF BOUNDARIES TURN PEOPLE INTO FULLY COMPLAINT VESSELS. THIS IS ABUSE. Stripping of boundaries should always be a red flag.
I'll close my testimony ;) with a plug for the Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a show that I watched only because I adore Tina Fey. I was caught off guard in season two when the show masterfully combines post-cult therapy with absurd, Dada-esque humour. I didn't know I had so many issues and personality quirks in common with a girl who'd been imprisoned in a bunker for 15 years by a "reverend", and it really shook me up. Seasons two and three arrived in my life during the time when I was really beginning to set boundaries and fully understand the trauma I'd been carrying from the Moromon church. Coupled with the impossible optimism of Kimmy and the song "Sometimes the only way to go, is to just go on!" and therapy from a drunk therapist (Tina Fey) boosted me on my journey.
I am mindful of boundaries now with every new person I meet. In the beginning it was awkward as a 36 year old trying to practise incorporating boundaries into new and existing relationships. I definitely saw an exodus of some friends and associates who were revealed as freeloaders, even lost a man I thought I'd loved, but I am 100% glad (wish I'd done it sooner!).
I got much better with practise and I can't begin to express how liberating and freeing it has been. It's opened up a new paradigm for how I see myself in the world. I'm still someone who loves people and cares about humankind collectively, but I know better how to protect myself from emotional grifters and snakes in my job. I can't imagine what my life would have been like had I actually been raised with boundaries, but now I celebrate that I actually learnt to do it at all when I did.
I could go on with the anecdotes, but I think I've established the argument. It's triggering to talk about this stuff anyhow, but I saw a thread on boundaries and felt compelled to share. I hope it helps someone who doesn't even know they need to take better care of their boundaries.
Remember: It's wonderful and good to want to be selfless all the time, and laudable to want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but trust is not something that should be given without observing people and looking out for red flags.
I ask myself: "am I wanting to share my goods, time, work or information with this person because I am addicted to the rush that comes from giving or have they actually proven me that they are deserving/trustworthy?" "Is my level of giving actually sustainable?"
People wait for you to set boundaries, if you don't they will set them; if you are unaware, you'll go along with them and get hurt or be controlled. It's your life, start making sure it belongs to you! :)