By Joanna Benson and Lara Jackson
Utah Valley University professor Kris Doty observed first hand how depression affected LDS women, when she worked as a crisis counselor in the emergency room at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. Doty saw increased activity of LDS women on Sunday evenings after church meetings suffering from feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and guilt.
Doty concluded the LDS women’s depression was caused by genetics, abusive history, family relationships, and judgment by others. However she found that toxic perfectionism was the major cause of depression among LDS women.
To understand the dangers of perfectionism, Psychology Today says: “For perfectionists, life is an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A one-way ticket to unhappiness, perfectionism is typically accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn’t a refuge; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance.”
For many individuals, toxic perfectionism results in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) personality disorder. OCD individuals transfer religion into a competitive performance-based church community. For example, how successful the individual appears in areas important to LDS culture (i.e. marital status, choices their children make, and financial status), determines their feelings of worth as a person. People who suffer from toxic perfectionism are subject to tremendous stress to project a “perfect image” of themselves and their family to others.
Dr. Don Miguel Ruiz, spiritual counselor and popular author wrote, “We form an image of what perfection is in order to try to be good enough. We create an image of how we should be in order to be accepted by everybody. We especially try to please the ones who love us, like mom and dad, big brothers and sisters, the priests and the teacher. We create this image, but the image is not real. We are never going to be perfect from this point of view. Not being perfect, we reject ourselves. And the level of self-rejection depends upon how effective the adults were in breaking our integrity. …………..We cannot forgive ourselves for not being perfect”.
Toxic perfectionists judge themselves and others to an impossible standard. In their toxic perfectionist delusions, those affected come to believe they have control over their circumstances, and their “family or personal righteousness” somehow exempts them from the typical trials of life. Observance of the gospel is incorrectly preached as a protection from the sorrows of life, rather than a source of strength and comfort when trials, which shall surely come. We break our Christian Baptismal promise of ” mourning with those who mourn, and standing with those in need of comfort”; instead judgmental comments are cast in the direction of those whose sufferings are made public, “if X had been more righteous, than Y would not have happened”.
All of us, even perfectionists, will eventually experience difficulties. Typical life experiences such as illness, handicaps and death can be subject to toxic perfectionism, which keeps individuals from grieving adequately, confronting problems, or finding joy in living outside of the stereotypical box. Toxic perfectionism is especially difficult for those who divorce, never marry, do not serve a mission, came home early from a mission, have fertility problems, in part-member families, suffer from addictions, have committed transgressions, word of wisdom issues, and way-ward children etc. Their situation sets them apart, because they don’t feel they fit the perceived “standard”. Consequently, they don’t feel part of the LDS community or worthy of G-d’s love.
There are essentially two kinds of depression: situational and clinical. Those who suffer from clinical depression are those who have a natural chemical pre-disposition to depression. Often this condition runs in families and can be controlled with medication and coping mechanisms learned in therapy, diet and exercise. However when someone who suffers from clinical depression is exposed to toxic perfectionism, this aggravates all the triggers for serious deep depression. The other typical kind of depression is situational depression. Situational depression happens with typical trials in life such as: death, divorce, job loss, financial difficulties, handicaps, illness, rebellious children, etc. This depression can also be alleviated with medication, grief therapy, diet and exercise.
Unfortunately many in leadership and members of congregations do not understand depression is an illness. For those who suffer from depression, they are made to feel that their illness is a result of unrighteousness. They are told to get out and serve and it will cure their depression.
In a 2008 Gallup Poll, Utah was ranked number 1 in the “well being of its citizens. Utahans rated themselves high in healthy behaviors and happiness in their work environment as well as emotional and physical health. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal rated Utah number 4 in “America’s Happiest States” The criteria being education, life expectancy, obesity, education, and well being which Wall Street journal defines as, “six areas of well-being, including life evaluation, physical health and work environment”.
Despite the high quality of life, in a study by Mental Health America, using data from 2002-2006 revealed Utah was instead the most depressed state in the US. In the area of Serious Psychological Distress (PSD), Utah was the only state to rank in the top fifth of all three age groups. What’s more, the intermountain west states of: Utah, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, and Colorado register more suicides per hundred thousand than any other region in the US.
We believe that this high rate of toxic perfectionism is what is driving the high depression and suicide rate in Mormon Communities. It is important to realize, everyone will face trials in their lifetime, which will cause situational depression or compound clinical depression. To feel guilt for not living up to perceived religious or social expectations makes one susceptible for deep depressive episodes.
Normally faith provides a solace to those who are suffering with grief or stress. One can assume LDS members who are active in their ward, that their activity should provide a barrier for depression. Faith can, and should, offer solace and comfort in times of stress and grief. Unfortunately when value as a person, and satisfaction in life, is wrapped up in a personal evaluation or a competition with others, the end result is, we judge others and ourselves way too harshly. After all “nobody is perfect”, and ultimately toxic perfectionism leads to unhappiness all around.
Also see: https://www.millennialstar.org/nobodys-perfect-excellence-instead-of-perfection-2/
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