Monday, March 28, 2011

Abusive Relationships

General Conference is this weekend. It always causes me great stress. In the same way Sundays used to. I'd get anxious beforehand. Church would make me completely crazy. I'd spend half the week recovering, and then start the cycle all over again. Conference is worse in many ways, but better because it is only twice a year.

I have several friends who have been in (or are still in) abusive relationships. They leave. They go back. They get hurt (emotionally more often than physically). They leave. In the books I've read about abusive relationships, it says it takes the average woman seven times before they leave for good. Why is that?

One goes back because her abuser cries and says he can't live without her.
One goes back because her abuser tells her SHE is the problem, and he wants to be happy with her... if SHE just changes, they could be happy together. She believes him.
One goes back because his abuser tells him, she's changed. She deserves another chance. And he needs to see.
I want to watch conference this weekend, because I want to know if leaving was really the right thing to do.

I didn't leave the church because I talked with "anti-mormons". I didn't leave the church because I wanted to sin. I didn't leave the church because I was offended and couldn't let go of my anger. (Well, actually, maybe I did leave because I was offended. The leaders, their teachings, and the things they did and said were harmful and thus offensive to me.) I left the church because the relationship I had with the church was an abusive one.

I believed the church had no problems - it was always ME. The reason I hated church, was because there was something wrong with me. I wasn't righteous enough. I wasn't good enough. I needed to repent. I had the wrong thoughts. I had the wrong feelings. I was bad. They didn't need to change. I did.

In all of my relationships, I falsely believed if I just changed me enough, the relationships would be good and happy. It does NOT work that way. I can only be responsible for my half of the relationship. And just because I am good, kind, loving, serving, righteous, devoted, etc., does NOT mean that the other person will treat me with love, respect, kindness, etc., and it does not mean I will be happy.

I went to bishop after bishop asking them why I wasn't happy. I told them how I didn't like the temple. I told them how much I hated church. I told them I didn't like the way I felt when I read the scriptures. They told me I needed to repent. Over and over and over I looked for something to repent for. I'd confess every thought, every deed, everything, and I still felt horrible. I went to the temple more. Read the scriptures more. Looked for the good. Served others more. Prayed for God to make me different. Make me into someone who doesn't need other people. Make me into someone who can give and give and give and never want anything in return. Make me into someone who never feels angry. Or sad. Or hurt. Make me into someone who loves the church. Change ME!

The most abusive relationship I have ever experienced is the one I had with the church. The hardest relationship to let go of is the one I have with the church. Even though it has now been nearly a year and a half since I last went, and I no longer claim to be a member, I still feel guilt and fear and shame for wanting to get out. I still feel like I have to go back.

With conference coming, that feeling intensifies. I HAVE to listen. Have to do what they say. I can not think for myself. I am no good without them. If I just change ME enough, I'll be happy there...Or maybe, I was wrong about them. Maybe they don't teach things that are harmful. Maybe I am just crazy, and I interpret everything all wrong. They don't mean what they say... And I should know that.

As I write this, I feel fear. What if no one believes me? What if no one understands and tells me (yet again) I am wrong? What if it is ME that is the problem? What if...???

I had one session with a therapist that I call DBT Guy. I shared with him an argument that I had had with Ex#2. I told him all of the things I needed to do different, so we wouldn't argue. He didn't buy it. DBT Guy's response was, "You aren't the problem."

I was confused. Of course I'm the problem. I'm ALWAYS the problem. He pointed out that I was angry, but he said I SHOULD be angry. When someone refuses to take "no" as an answer to a request, and keeps pushing, we are supposed to feel angry.

He said it MANY times in that 50 minutes session.
"YOU are not the problem."

That was almost two years ago. It has taken me a long time to believe that maybe it wasn't MY fault. Maybe I am actually okay just the way I am. Maybe I don't need to change and become perfected by someone else's definition of perfect. Maybe... Just maybe... It is okay to walk away from someone who tells me that I need to change to make them happy. (Or any other reason someone ELSE tells me I need to change.)

In my opinion, a relationship becomes abusive when one person tells someone else they are not good enough. They need to change. And at the same time, won't let that person leave the relationship. (You are not good enough for me, but I won't let you be with anyone else.) That is what it felt like being a member of the church. I wasn't good enough for them, but I didn't have the choice to leave.

Only, I did. I have the choice. I am not ever going to go back to a place or a relationship with anyone or any organization that makes me feel less than.


  1. "You are not the problem." This was a really hard lesson to learn. Really, I am still learning that one.

    Thank you for your post.

  2. "In my opinion, a relationship becomes abusive when one person tells someone else they are not good enough. They need to change. And at the same time, won't let that person leave the relationship."

    That sounds like A CULT to me.

    You are just so amazing how you've gotten through all this! I left the church for the same reasons. It was an abusive relationship but it took me 25+ years to finally walk away from it.

    I love you Jen!

  3. Kiley - Its a lesson that goes so contrary to the way I've always believed... I think it goes right along with, "I am enough." Still hard for me to rasp.

    TGD - I love you! Thanks for your help these past few months. You're amazing!

  4. Jen- What a fabulous post. You hit the nail on the head. I wrote something similar here:

    "With conference coming, that feeling intensifies. I HAVE to listen."

    Also, this REALLY describes someone who has been emotionally abused, and even though they know that what they hear isn't going to be anything uplifting, they STILL will subject themselves to it.

  5. Jen- Awesome post. You do get right at the heart of the abusive nature of the church. YOU are NOT the problem, they are.

  6. Hypatia - Loved your post!
    And you are SO right, that "HAVE to" feeling is a very codependent way of thinking. It is a sign to me that I'm not in a good place.

    Kaylanamars - still trying to sort this one out. Even now, I find myself wanting to defend the church. "No. Its me. Its my problem. I'm crazy. I'm broken. I'm confused."
    For now, I'll do what I have done with other abusive relationships, and just trust others. I am not the problem. Thank you.

  7. There is nothing wrong with you. You are special. An individual who deserves happiness and not to be told you are bad or sinful or need to repent.

  8. YOU are not the problem...

    I would have given anything at one point in my life to have someone say that to me just once.

    It's so hard to believe the opposite of what I always have...

  9. I still feel this after leaving the church in 2006. I thought I was alone. I know they are the problem and not me.

  10. Angie - YOU are not the problem. Even though all your life you have been taught the opposite - it just isn't true.

    Radbell - Welcome to my blog! I'm glad that you can see you aren't the problem. It seems to be a very crazyhard thing to figure out.