Proposing another way to understand catalysts to faith disaffection: Attachment injury

Jacob Z. Hess

This is the first of a seven-part series, “Recruiting Alma the Younger

There continues to be lots of discussion about disaffiliation and disaffection from faith communities these days – most often, involving a language of unexpected “faith crisis” hitting, which can subsequently trigger what many experience as an inevitable, irrevocable “transition process” away from religious practice.

While the language of “crisis” may be a useful framework at times, it also has its limitations.[1] So, I’d like to propose today another way to make sense of some of the moments that seem often to act as early catalysts to a process of disaffection.   

For the last decade, marriage and family therapists have been learning to better help couples navigate intense moments that can prompt an unraveling of otherwise secure, loving relationships – moments where marital attachment has essentially become “injured.”  Formally, “attachment injury” has been defined by Dr. Sue Johnson and colleagues as occurring “when one partner violates the expectation that the other will offer comfort and caring in times of danger or distress” and is “characterized by an abandonment or by a betrayal of trust during a critical moment of need.”

This “injurious incident” subsequently “defines the relationship as insecure and maintains relationship distress because it is continually used as a standard for the dependability of the offending partner.” Whatever happened in the past thus “becomes a clinically recurring theme and creates an impasse that blocks relationship repair in couples therapy” (italics my own).

While acknowledging some limitations of this other proposed metaphor, I’d like to suggest the concept of “attachment injury” as having some unique applicability and relevance to the variety of incidents that often precipitate what is most often characterized as a “crisis of faith.”  My proposal below applies across faith communities generally, since clearly disaffiliation is a broad phenomenon.  But I take as my primary focus examples from my own faith community: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In particular, I raise this as another way to help make sense of times or specific moments when our understandably high expectations of life in our respective faith communities are not only not met, but in different ways (and for different reasons) painfully disappointed.

For instance, years ago, a friend of mine confided how she was mistreated at an early age by religious leaders in her evangelical faith community – pointing to that early abuse as why she’s kept religion at arm’s distance ever since.  Similar examples now show up regularly in newspapers with titles like, “Her Evangelical Megachurch Was Her World. Then Her Daughter Said She Was Molested by a Minister.”

The impact of any heartbreaking instance of abuse on someone’s previous attachment to faith (especially if that abuse comes from someone who holds a position of trust within that faith community) is the most obvious and clear example of what I’m calling “attachment injury” – where, what used to be a safe, secure (and even nourishing) attachment to faith, becomes something else – something pained, wounded, and raw – in the wake of an unexpectedly disheartening moment (or period of time).  In a Latter-day Saint faith context, this might also include:

  • Entering the mission field with high anticipations, but then encountering especially difficult experiences such as depression/anxiety, pressure to achieve more than you feel able, etc.
  • Going to the temple for the first time with similarly high expectations, but for whatever reason feeling some discomfort with your initial experience, rather than natural or immediate comfort and joy.    
  • Against the backdrop of understandably high hopes that go into most any marriage, discovering  that your spouse isn’t keeping their promises to you (whether through abuse, neglect or addiction) – with the resulting confusion and ache of figuring out what that means.  
  • Feeling your own personal disappointment at struggling to find lasting, sustainable healing from an addiction or a painful mental/physical health condition – despite earnest petitions to God in prayer.
  • Having a child share that they experience same-sex attraction and/or identify as LGBT – grappling then with questions about what this means for his/her future and place in the larger faith community. 
  • Coming across some new information or arguments about church history that you hadn’t heard before – and being told you’ve “been lied to by leaders.”  

While each of these circumstances clearly involves a wide spectrum of meaningful differences, I would argue they share at least one striking commonality:  the felt experience of a previously unquestioned expectation of trust and dependability in one’s faith being violated or betrayed during a key or critical time of life. Whatever had been imagined as the right way to feel (on a mission, in a marriage, within the temple), the ensuing lived experience had been surprising: “This isn’t how a mission is supposed to feel, how a marriage is supposed to go – or how the temple is supposed to feel…etc.”

While each of these experiences are real in an important way and deserve to be regarded and respected as such (especially given the tragic history of abuse being denied or minimized), this is not the same as any specific experience being accepted as undeniably true and valid – and beyond question in any detail. As reflected in the final two examples (and consistent with what happens in intimate relationships), it’s clear this sense of betrayal or violation can arise not only from what happened – but from the deeply complex ways people respond to (and interpret) what happens.[2]

Whatever the source and whatever the details, this kind of a resulting felt experience of betrayal introduces a significant rupture in what may have been to that point a fairly safe and secure “attachment”[3] towards one’s faith community. As evident in so many stories, that rupture can subsequently ripple out and influence everything that comes afterwards.

After having her son “come out” as gay, for instance, one mother recounts: “We tucked him into bed, told him for the hundredth time that we loved him, then went to our room and fell apart. [My husband] started crying at this point. We just looked at each other with devastation in our eyes. Mission, gone. Temple marriage, gone. Grandbabies, gone. It was almost unbearable.”[4]

How well does this language of “attachment injury” fit what we see in these kinds of disruptive experiences precipitating faith crisis? And how might its influence extend to what happens next – for instance, in a pattern of coming to experience a “string of injuries” that build up over time (to a crisis or breaking point). 

In each case, the difficult experience or moment seems to “define” a new kind of relationship with the church in a visceral way – with a resulting connection that often no longer feels “secure,” but instead involves “relationship distress because it is continually used as a standard for the dependability” of the Church and its leaders. So, in other words, whatever happened in those difficult, intense, painful moments lives on within and through an acutely transformed (disrupted/deformed) working “model” for the relationship.[5] 

Once again, does that language resonate with what you have seen or experienced in your own life – or people you love?  I’ve seen in my own life how loved ones relate to the Church (which they have often loved and trusted greatly to that point) from a fundamentally different place after moments like these.  Whatever confidence and reassurance may have been placed in prophetic leadership, priesthood and official accounts of Church history may subsequently get displaced and dislodged in profound ways. 

In their place, other kinds of trust can arise, with different kinds of reassurances (in a particular scholar or website, or argument, or philosophy – or someone’s own feelings and thoughts). The process by which the direction of our trust-and-love can shift so markedly and substantially is fascinating – and in my opinion, under-discussed + under-explored (especially given how broad the rippling effects can be). All subsequent interactions with the Church can thus be colored and influenced by this bedrock shift in trust.

I would remind you that this same rippling-influence-of-shifting-trust (and remnant suspicion, disdain, or hostility) is precisely what marriage therapists often see happening in real-life family relationships.   

If that comparison with marital attachment is a fitting one, I’d suggest that may be good news:  because recognizing something as an attachment injury offers a hopeful possibility.  Compared with the sense of inevitable deterioration of faith sometimes connected to a language of “crisis,” the attachment injury model presents a striking choice:  do you want to heal the injury…or not?

In the case of an injury to secure attachment in a marriage relationship, there are certain processes and pathways one can pursue that often lead to a deep restoration of intimacy. For instance, in a context of mutually desiring a renewal of intimacy and recommitment, a couple could walk a sustained path of intentional learning together. They can revisit painful moments (with or without professional assistance) and tenderly explore together what happened, and the particular details of responses (and interpretations) involved in the aftermath.  Doing so gently and skillfully can introduce new ways of making sense of those moments – and discoveries that invite relief (and even potentially different kinds of forgiveness). “I didn’t realize that’s what you meant…wow, that helps me understand what was going on for you.” There are also many new emotion-focused and somatic/body-oriented therapies that help people work through and release feelings that have been suppressed, ignored and bothersome for years.  

Could similar pathways of healing be available for people who have endured an attachment injury in relation to the church?

I believe so – and I’d love to explore with others what those might look like. If you’ve experienced something like this in either a rupture of your relationship with the Church – or in a subsequent restoration and healing of that same relationship, I’d love to hear from you.  Of course, critical questions and critique are always welcome too. 

I want to acknowledge in closing that if any of the above comparison makes sense, it’s a whole different question as to what to do about it. For most human beings + most human conflicts, my experience is we’re really not that great at working through the painful stuff. Part of that, I think, is we really just don’t know how: What do I do with this intense anger sitting in my gut? How do I move forward in this relationship after feeling so much suspicion and hostility? We all know the miracle stories of a couple coming back from the brink. But for every inspiring story, it’s much more likely to hear about people pushing away from the mess and the pain – simply avoiding it.

And that’s kind of where it seems most people are in relation to institutional ruptures. Rather than turning towards the mess and pursuing some kind of inner journey, it seems far more common to separate ourselves from what hurts (in different ways). One person might “stay mostly active” while building an emotional wall – while another steps away more substantially. These moves are understandable, if limiting – since neither constitutes what might be described as “healing the injury.”

But that’s probably the more common path – in these terms, to just live with the injury. Isn’t it common to hear or see instances where, as one person put it, “she hasn’t completely been able to work through something”? As a result, everything in our experience with the Church becomes filtered through the lens of that Uncomfortable, Unsettling, Unresolved Something.

But (and here’s the real point again), if those people knew there was a way to Heal The Injury (fully and completely), I can’t imagine many would want to keep living with it (or protecting themselves from any future wound)….unless, of course, they truly saw the relationship as un-redeemable – with the person or institution in question So Deceptive, So Evil, and So Unforgivable that the only future possible was an estranged one.  

To any who feel that way about the Church, I hope you will push back to reconsider the intensity of your own judgments – and consider afresh the possibility of a healing reconciliation of even intense wounds and injury. I’d love to find out what that could look like, even for you!


Notes:

[1] After all, “crisis” implies and invites drastic measures, even as it viscerally (physiologically and emotionally) calls forth a kind of “fight or flight” mentality moving forward. Mountains of research make it clear the degree to which this survival mentality impedes creativity, resilience and inner space necessary to explore steps of deeper healing. 

[2] There are very different ways to interpret any given moment or experience. And so much depends on the particular way of interpreting what happened that we adopt. In some cases where the Church is seen as betraying trust, for instance (“you lied to me about Church history”…”I now understand you hate gay people”), it’s clear that a particularly accusing narrative of church leaders that questions motives and hearts plays a significant role in the feelings of betrayal (with those who take up a different narrative having a predictably different resulting experience).  None of us, in other words, can escape our responsibility to interpret the world – with contrasting perceptions of what happened (or didn’t happen) important to explore and take into account.

[3] It was Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby who originally founded modern attachment theory on studies of children and their caregivers in the 1970’s and early 80’s. Then, in the late 1980s, Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver applied attachment theory to adult relationships.

[4] As detailed in my analysis of many similar stories, there’s a particular narrative that clearly influences these kinds of experiences (in one way or another) – and leading parents and families in a particular direction (in this case, creating substantial distance and estrangement with the church).  Check out section 3 called “So much for our Mormon dreams” for more examples of this disruptive kind of experience – as examples of what I’m calling “attachment injury” here. 

[5] This proposal attempts to draw upon key basic principles of attachment theory, wherein individual differences in adult attachment behavior are understood to be “reflections of the expectations and beliefs people have formed about themselves and their close relationships on the basis of their attachment histories.” [Fraley, R.C.; Shaver, P.R. (2000). “Adult attachment: Theoretical developments, emerging controversies, and unanswered questions”. Review of General Psychology. 4 (2): 132–154]. Similarly, another research team underscores how “experiences in earlier relationships create internal working models and attachment styles that systematically affect attachment relationships.”  [Rholes, W.S. & Simpson, J.A. (2004). Attachment theory: Basic concepts and contemporary questions. In W.S. Rholes and J.A. Simpson (Eds.), Adult Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Implications, pp. 3–14. New York, NY: Guilford Press].

29 thoughts on “Proposing another way to understand catalysts to faith disaffection: Attachment injury

  1. As I prepare to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer, I am reading a lot. One of the common advice themes from returned volunteers to prospective volunteers is to drop one’s expectations, to go into a new culture with no expectations. Then, whatever happens will happen, and the volunteer will learn and grow. But carrying expectations into the new culture and onto new people only results in disappointment.

    Another advice is to realize that one can change him- or herself only, but cannot change others. He or she can serve them, and engage with them, and share him- or herself with them, but a Peace Corps volunteer cannot change the culture or the people in the culture. Hence, the joke: How many Peace Corps volunteers does it take to change a light bulb? None — Peace Corps volunteers can’t change anything. When Peace Corps volunteers go into a new culture with an agenda of changing that culture, they set themselves up for disappointment.

    Many Peace Corps volunteers have great experiences, even though service can be VERY difficult. Some have bad news experiences because of crime or medical problems or so forth, but they usually don’t blame the Peace Corps. But some returned volunteers viscerally hate the Peace Corps because of their own unmet (or shattered) expectations or because they were unable to change the culture in their village or school — and their voice is much amplified because of the internet. As a preparing volunteer, I appreciate the advice to drop any expectations I might be carrying, and to focus on serving rather than changing the people in whatever village I am placed. The original posting resonated with me as I read Peace Corps stories.

    I’m a convert to the Church. I have no expectations to be shattered, and I appreciate every gift and opportunity. I’m happy to serve and to co-exist with fellow Saints without reshaping or changing them. Sure, I’ve met bishops who did things in ways I probably wouldn’t have, and I really didn’t like moving our sacrament meeting time from 10am to 9am, and so forth. To me, the Gospel and the Church are gifts.

  2. I’ve always disliked the term ‘Faith Crisis’ so your terminology appeals to me. Where it doesn’t reflect my experience is how the injury occurred. It didn’t start with one event, but with a long string of events, each chipping away at the relationship over a 10 year period. A bad temple experience. Poor treatment as sister missionary. An over-bearing Bishop. Teaching GD and learning some ‘lies’ about history were true. Prop 8. Typical stuff.

    What turned it into a moment of crisis was a RS lesson where I wrote down what I knew to be true vs what I believed to be true. Suddenly I had to acknowledge my injuries in a way I’d avoided for years. It felt about like the moment my sister acknowledged her abusive husband and stopped making excuses for him.

    It took me another 10 years to work through it all. I finally did heal through 1 Cor 13, letting go of the church as my spiritual guidance and putting up some thick boundaries. I am still somewhat active for family reasons, but otherwise I would likely have left long ago.

    My guess is my experience is typical (aka the broken shelf analogy). If you want the analogy of a relationship injury to be reflective of lived experience, you need to include the string of injuries building upon each other rather than starting with a single giant one.

    Thanks for posting. I’m looking forward to more.

  3. We’ve enjoyed watching the miniseries Victoria, with Jenna Coleman. In researching Queen Victoria’s actual life, it seems her relationship with her mother became so damaged in Victoria’s teen years that Victoria actively forgot the love and tenderness she and her mother had shared.

    It was only after Victoria’s mother died in 1861 that Victoria came upon an extensive trove of notes, most if not all on pink paper, which contained the loving notes her mother would leave for Victoria during Victoria’s youth at Kensington Place. Faced with this objective proof of the love and care her mother had felt for Victoria, the Queen faced the painful sorrow of rewriting her schema/memories to accommodate truths she had suppressed for nearly 30 years.

    I see from this example the power in giving each of us space after this life, a time when incomplete schemas can be coaxed back to a more correct and complete worldview, one where our temporal misperceptions can be healed. For those of us who have fallen from the Covenant with God (whether before or after embracing the Covenant in mortality – the fact or our birth being proof that we had embraced the Covenant prior to birth), this healing space before final judgement has significant salvific power. Even for those of us who have clung to our made covenants, this space can be a great blessing.

    For those of us who actively strive to achieve a complete and correct schema, this post-mortal space can become a glory of found truths which further expand our understanding of the life and world we experienced.

    The promise of this space after life is part of why I hope that many, if not all, of my fellows in this life will eventually embrace the God of Love with all their hearts.

  4. The ensuing therapy means changes in behavior. The ‘injury’ or ‘crisis’ has as much validity as any relationship crises, that all arise from someone being abusive to the other. Forgiveness is possible but that means that the church failed in some way and isn’t God supposed to be infallible, the only example of true unconditional love? I think our definition of God as some kind of father or person is what’s wrong.

  5. The “church” has been fallible since Adam and Eve, who raised a murderer.

    In every dispensation, there have been both rank-and-file members who screwed up, and even leaders/prophets: Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and D&C. WHenever there was a time when there was no conflict, the record is very sparse, perhaps because it was so…. boring.

    The title page to the Book of Mormon says it well, and it applies in the general as well as the specific: “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, …”

  6. I don’t see there being a comparable relationship. My relationship with my wife is one of equals, who will each apologise to restore the relationship to peace, also neither of us is claiming to be Gods mouthpiece.
    The church claims to be Gods, and that the Prophet is speaking for God. They also claim they will not lead us astray. So you get people equating what the church says as if it is Gods announcement.
    So when those claims prove to be wrong, even though they are enforced, with dissenters excommunicated, and then there is no acknowledgement of responsibility, or apology for those hurt, and does not do anything to help the relationship.
    So there is a relationship, where one party, never apologizes for mistakes, never accepts responsibility, and always blames the other party for any problem. Not a healthy relationship.
    If you are wondering where they have got it wrong; polygamy, racism, opposition to progress, birth control is the devil thwarting the commandment to multiply, opposition to gays, then gay marriage, and opposition to equality for women, to name a few.
    As all of these have been changed without apology except the gay marriage, and women, which on past history could take a while but then the internet, and the reversal of the policy, indicate change might be sooner. If it is not the membership numbers will go backwards.

  7. “Where they got it wrong”…”when those claims prove to be wrong”

    Central to my argument, Hanging In There, is the idea that thoughtful people are reaching very different conclusions about right and wrong (true and false). I just don’t see any way around that Central Fact – at least, if we’re going to have a more productive conversation about these things.

    But, of course, when any of us are frustrated (certainly this happens in any marriage), then My Way of Thinking becomes The Only Way. “Why can’t this person see how wrong they are?!!”

    Part of healing the attachment injury (in marriage or in relation to a broader community) must be, in my opinion, addressing these underlying emotions of disdain, suspicion, resentment – and (what I would argue is) the resulting distortions in how we see others.

    Although every one of the issues listed involves a conversation worth having – and even adjustments and actions that could be considered – you wouldn’t likely disagree that our broader conversations about them have been filled with suspicion, disdain, hostility…all the emotions that bend our minds and thwart productive exchange.

    Until and unless those emotions are worked through and dealt with (as is true in marriage as well), not resolution, reconciliation or healing is possible. (And no, the answer is not “if they would only see I’m right – then we could resolve this).

    Bottom line: I don’t see that list of issues the same way as you do – and many of us never will (Nor do we see the relationship between us and the Church the same way – Powerful, Unrepentant Church vs. us). Is there a process we could still work through to find healing and re-attachment together (to a place where more productive conversations could take place?) I think there is. And I think for many people, they’ll be wholly uninterested in anything short of the Church coming to Agree with Their (Accusing) Assessment.

  8. Thank you for this, Lehcarit. I’m going to add some more acknowledgment of the String of Injuries, as you recommend.

    I’m curious, if I may ask. You say in your response, “It took me another 10 years to work through it all. I finally did heal through 1 Cor 13, letting go of the church as my spiritual guidance and putting up some thick boundaries.”

    I understand that you experience this as a legitimate healing for you (and there are, clearly, very different ways to consider what “healing” in cases of injury looks like). If there was another path of healing that didn’t require “thick boundaries” – and perhaps allowed you to re-enter a place of more trust with the Church, would that be appealing to you? For some, I imagine this wouldn’t even be a possibility they could fathom (heavens know, I need to stay away from what hurt me…) – while to others, I imagine there might be some deep appeal.

  9. Thank you, Ji, BookSlinger + Meg. All beautiful insights – especially the Queen Victoria and Peace Corps examples.

  10. Hi Jacob and thanks for asking. Interestingly, just reading your question gave me a huge amount of physiological anxiety. My chest tightened up and I had to go walk around.

    I’d been thinking about this conversation though. I asked myself why for so long I took the negative hits and stayed faithful. And the answer is that I truly believed for the first 35ish years of my life that I was the one at fault if there was any type of conflict between me and the church. That I had a bad temple experience meant I wasn’t prepared. That my mission was low baptizing was because we weren’t working/praying hard enough (per a visiting GA even). On and on and on, going back to an Authority-is-always-right mentality in my ward and in my childhood home.

    One of my bigger moments of realization was reading online at age 35 about other’s dislike of the temple ceremony. It was a ‘I’m not crazy! I’m not spiritually unworthy! It’s not just me!’ moment.

    Asking me to trust the church again is asking me to put myself back into that exact same relationship. ‘Follow the prophet, don’t go astray, he knows the way’ is an even stronger message now than when I was a kid. I’ve been shuffled aside in my ward because I now stand up for myself (politely and not in any attempt to hurt others). I’m also in a much better place spiritually than I ever have been before. The thought of going backwards is kind of horrible.

    And yet, I’m still not entirely against the idea. The challenge as I see it is this: Everything I have seen places the burden of change entirely on my shoulders (once again). But I have never once seen a therapist tell the wounded party in the marriage that is their job to change themselves to put themselves back into alignment with the party that injured them.

  11. Thank you, Lehcarjt. Grateful you’d sit with the discomfort and engage the conversation. I’m fascinated by all you’re saying – and would like to sit with it a bit more.

    I’d love to continue this conversation if you’re willing – here, if possible. Or offline, if not. It’s important – and exactly at the heart of what I want to understand more and better. thank you for being willing to explore!

    [By the way, I combined your first and ‘oops’ second post into one – and deleted the second]

  12. I also experienced a string of injuries. It was very similar to my abusive parents. I would be unfairly hurt and there was never any acknowledgement of wrong doing on the part of the church. It started in childhood watching my brothers go off to cub scouts and have fun and friends while I stayed at home and did housework. In primary we had all kinds of stories about boys who grew up to be a prophet, whether they were Bible stories, Book of Mormon Stories, or church history stories, they were all about boys. I was about 8 when I decided that God loved males but not females. This idea that God did not love me because I was a girl would be what you would call the first injury inflicted by the church. But I gave the church another 50 or so years for that to heal. No healing ever happened because all along the church values and needs priesthood holders and since, due to no fault of my own, I could never hold the priesthood, I could never be worth anything to the church and the church represented God, so I was worthless to God. The temple ceremony reinforced this, teaching me that I was nor really a child of God, but more like a daughter in law. God only had any attachment to me through my husband.

    The next big injury according to your analogy was when I tried to heal from a childhood of sexual abuse. My father was the rapist. He was excommunicated, but given all kinds of love as his bishops tried to help him through the repentance process. Meanwhile I was paying hundreds of dollars a month for professional help and I had questions about God and about how the atonement was fair when my father could be forgiven and everything washed away, meanwhile my life was royally screwed up because of my father’s actions. So, my therapist would do want therapists do with religious questions and refer me to my “clergy”. Well my bishops had no time for me. My dad got 10 years of weekly appointments and I got bishops who didn’t feel like helping me heal was part of their job description. I was refused appointments, had appointments I made canceled over and over and over. I found myself considering saying I had committed adultery so maybe a bishop would consider me part of his job. Professional therapists are not supposed to get into a clients religious and spiritual issues. That is the job of clergy and my bishops were just unwilling to discuss my side of my father’s sin. They just lectured me of forgiveness, if they were willing to discuss anything, which was NOT the issue. This whole situation where the church helps with repentance but has no concept that injured people need to heal as part of that sinner’s restitution was further proof that God loved men even if they were horrible men more than he loved me as a woman.

    Then we have my lesbian daughter.

    Then we have white washed church history.

    Then we have the church behind society of social justice issues, such as fighting civil rights and fighting women’s rights.

    Then we have the church’s habit of demonizing style, such as when beards come back into style, or fighting short skirts at the same time they fight women wearing pants, or fighting multiple piercings.

    They claim the prophet will never lead the church astray, yet for 150 years blacks were denied temple rights and priesthood because Brigham Young let his personal racism lead the church astray.

    It is like being in a relationship with an abuser. You can stay and hope they change. You can leave. Or you can blame yourself for the problems. But you can’t make the abuser change.

    Your model of marriage fails because rather than an individual, the disaffected or disillusioned person is in relationship with a huge institution. It is like a wife trying to stay married when her husband has 600 other wives. He just doesn’t have to understand or listen to her. He doesn’t have to change for her. If she is unhappy, according to him, she has only herself to blame.

    And you are taking the position that the disaffected individual is at fault and they are the one who has to change themselves to fit in the church. They have to learn to live with whatever betrayal they experienced. They have to change, because they are wrong somehow in holding onto whatever offense. But what if they are just sick and tired of all the offenses?

  13. Hi Jacob –

    I’m comfortable chatting about my experiences here. It’s kind of fun, to be honest.

    I saw that you were fixing my posts and I appreciate it. Askimet (sp?) doesn’t like my online persona and I have a hard time posting regardless of device/browser and even after mutliple go-arounds with their tech people. If I keep it super short, I can usually get my post in, but anything over 150 words runs into trouble. If I have anything long to say, I’ll start dividing it on purpose and let you fix it as that seems to work for the moment.

  14. Love and support to you Anna, You said what I was trying to say about the relationship with the church not being like a healthy one.
    One of the problems is that because the high church leadership don’t acknowledge their fallability, or mistakes, those who are unquestioning feel they must not acknowledge any problems either, so there is no discussion of the problems, and no support for those who are hurt.
    I am impressed that this discussion is happening on this site. I expected the noble, and righteous ones would have shut this down by now. Perhaps even the conservative members do see the reality, just not in public, or at church. So perhaps we are all presenting a lying front. All it would take is some honesty from the 15 to change the church for the better.
    I am active, hold a TR etc.

  15. To Anna and Hanging in There, thank you sharing.

    To Jacob, I hope the tone that is thus far displayed can continue.

    To “the noble, and righteous ones,” of whom I suspect I would be included, let he who is without sin, cast the first stone. I emptied my pockets long ago.

    To those who still have too much of the poison in their blood to speak with the concern and desire to find some path to reconciliation, please let this continue without piling on about all the bad stuff you have stored up about the church.

    I believe that the Lord does want to reach each person in their own place, one by one, to pull them to His bosom where they can find peace. I believe there is a path for each of us. I believe that the “Church” through the doctrine it preaches and the ordinances it provides the truest path to that power, though humans do the preaching and the ordaining and therefore, inevitably there will be some people dejectedly (choose your own adjectives) sitting along the sides of the path because they were shoved to the side. If I have ever done such, oh, I wish I could know of it so I could apologize.

    Thanks again all who have positively contributed.

  16. “Perhaps even the conservative members do see the reality, just not in public, or at church. So perhaps we are all presenting a lying front.”

    I would not call it a lying front. I would call it a loyalty front. And I am not just being polite. In public LDS church discourse, one does not “wave a defeatist flag,” reveal information which some may find harmful to their testimonies, or challenge an erroneous teaching. Contention can result and that is an anathema to many Latter-day Saints. One then loses social capital as a result, amplifying the effects of “attachment injury.”

  17. I would also note, as the Op suggests, that our own thoughts, expectations and beliefs can hurt us. As part of any discussion, we have to delineate those possibly faulty expectations, thoughts and beliefs and be willing to revise our expectations in accordance to what we have learned while continually remaining open to revelation.

  18. Jacob Hess, Thanks for your willingness to venture into this most difficult realm with empathy and a listening ear. I was going to say difficult “arena”, but that is exactly what I believe you are trying to avoid. This is not a fight or a contest, but a dialogue. I have many thoughts, but it’s hard to distill them at the moment. One thing that did pop out was: even for those who feel that full reconciliation requires adjustments, corrections, changes or apologies on the part of the institution who feel the institution is complicit in the cause of disaffection and which it appears (other than some adjustments) won’t likely come, I think your (Jacob’s) approach can help those who are hurting or who have lost some trust in the institution. In my own life, when I made an effort to see if my thinking may be off a little in the way I judge or evaluate the actions of the institution and its leaders I was able to avoid cynicism and was able to more often see the good in the institution and that its leaders are, as far as I can tell, noble and trying to do God’s will and who do love all the members, albeit are not perfect and in my opinion make errors in judgment and teaching. I’m rambling. I mean even if the offending party doesn’t change, or change much, my situation can be better if I can perceive them in a less critical and judgmental light. So, am I blaming the messenger or the offended one? So, it’s the offended one that needs to change? No, I agree with what others have said about how sad it is that the burden of reconciliation is on the offended one. But, the situation is what it is. I’m not going to change the church by myself (though collective voices have made a difference I think), but I can improve the situation for me (though not fully fix it) by making some legitimate paradigm shifts in my own mind and heart that are not violating my integrity or unduly performing mental gymnastics. I also recognize, as has been said above, that there are some who feel they have sufficient evidence to deem the church as fabricated and have had to walk away.

  19. Last night our tire blew out while we were traveling. Surely this catastrophic failure was the result of a series of insults that culminated in a rupture.

    Tires cannot heal – they must simply be replaced. But people can heal. As in any dysfunctional relationship, the parties must choose to work together. It is not that God doesn’t wish to make things right, but that He is more committed to our freedom than He is in micromanaging our interpersonal relations. Human representatives of God and believers wounded by the implementation of the mortal Church are both in a position to yearn for a better world. Downright evil actors, such as those who inflict sexual abuses on those unable to slice off the offender’s bits, are in a different category from those who err despite good intentions.

    God will gather up all His loved ones eventually, if we are willing to be gathered. I tend to believe Gods power to heal will not leave any innocent victim abandoned in hurt. The danger comes when we allow ourselves to embrace anger so wholly that we reject healing. But that ultimately is Gods call, not something any mortal ought arrogate to themselves to declare for another’s eternal soul.

    To the mention of the abuser who was tenderly ministered to while the abused was left without (religious) care, I have had the counter-example, where the abuser was never ministered to because leaders feared the abused would object. I would say the most godlike path would be something between these two extremes.

  20. Not a big commenter in the blogosphere, but I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, Jacob.

    As the non-believer in a (pretty great, by my standards) mixed faith marriage, I do my best to stay connected to what’s being discussed, to help myself understand where the community of believers is at and how they are trying to relate to those of us who have become disaffected, for whatever reason.

    I totally agree that the metaphor of a faith “crisis” or “transition” is incomplete, so attempts to rethink it or find better comparisons are welcome. That said, the attachment injury metaphor really doesn’t work for me, though I really appreciate those who posted above pointing out how it does for them, whether in a single event or a series of injuries. But because I don’t feel it describes my experience, I wanted to share mine.

    The church worked for me. I wasn’t injured. Some would say it’s because I’m a white male. I don’t really know what the experience would have been like if I weren’t. Regardless, I liked the progression, the rules, the answers to big questions. I worked hard, I had a variety of callings, I supported my wife in hers, and never had any of the issues that others do. The temple was fine, my mission was fine, my marriage was fine. We taught our kids the gospel, and assumed it was all correct. I wasn’t offended by anyone, never felt like I had a bishop or other leader cross the line.

    All that said, I did care that the church was true. I was taught to. And so, in areas that I was interested in, when what the church taught didn’t match up with what I was learning, I had to dig deeper and try to resolve the mismatch. It began in obvious areas: evolution vs creation, age of the earth, the nature of sexuality, etc. It also came up when I pondered the gospel and tried to make sense of the contradictions inherent in our doctrine. Over time, that naturally led to me researching how a variety of people tried to make sense of these ideas.

    It took years, but over time, I just had to conclude that, for me, there wasn’t anything more divine or inspired in the church than is found in any other philosophy or religion. There is truth, of course, in some areas more and in some less than others have. It’s similar to how I grew up and realized my parents weren’t right about everything. Eye opening, but at the same time they were good parents who did their best. So there wasn’t great anger or frustration as I learned that.

    It was only after coming those conclusions that I really dived in and considered the “injuries” that others have felt. I have compassion for them, much more so than I used to. But I also have great compassion for my believing friends and family. I get that the church works for them. They resonate with the truth that it has, and I wouldn’t want to take that away.

    But because of my story, faith crisis and attachment injury aren’t really good metaphors. Maybe faith transition, but it’s so broad as to be essentially meaningless. I do see that crisis and attachment injury are valid metaphors for others’ experiences, including some in my immediate family. For me, though, I see my relationship with the church like my relationship with one of my wife’s close friends. She’s not my friend. She isn’t a bad friend to my wife, though I certainly disagree with her on some issues and agree on others. I don’t begrudge her influence on my wife, but it can sometimes be frustrating when my wife (stand in for all my believing friends/family) places her friend’s opinions and ideas above my own. Or feels like she has to choose between us. Or when the friend says things about me that just aren’t true. But again, those all happened after my change in belief.

    Because of all that, I think this metaphor won’t really resonate with a subset of those who’ve lost belief in the big truth claims of the church. There are others like me that weren’t ever severely injured by the church, but just looked at those claims and couldn’t side with them. There isn’t real animosity, or at least there wasn’t when coming to that conclusion. (Sometimes, anger comes later because of how we are treated after being disaffected). We’re not looking to forgive the church, or it’s leaders, because we don’t feel wronged. It’ll always be a part of who we are. Like a good (but flawed) mother or father. They raised us and made us who we are, but we still reach adulthood, leave home, and live separate lives. We learned our parents aren’t always right, and so we respect them for what they gave us, but still have to make our own decisions going forward.

  21. Jacob Hess,
    Thanks for bringing up this topic as we seek to understand the emotional underpinnings of disaffection generally, and specifically within the Church of Jesus Christ.

    As I read various accounts from the disaffected, I often think about the people in my life who have had their own set of agonizing ordeals and who recognize the same shortcomings in our leaders throughout the history of the Church, but who are able to shrug it off sufficiently to maintain their focus on becoming better disciples of Jesus Christ propelled by their testimonies of the Savior and His restored gospel.

    Although I believe others have made attempts at this topic, perhaps this is another area of study for your consideration. I’ll even volunteer to be one of your subjects 🙂

  22. “[people] able to shrug it off sufficiently to maintain their focus on becoming better disciples of Jesus Christ”

    This is a very common way for orthodox members to view disaffected members. It can also be deeply hurtful and damaging to relationships (within the paradigm of this post). Look at the language used. My 8-9 years of struggle from the point of my moment of crisis forward is something I should be able to just ‘shrug off.’ My years of struggle and my current situation equate to me not being a disciple of Jesus. Worst of all, built into it is an assumption that all this is because I’m lacking in [name virtue of choice].

    When a stranger says these things, I shrug them off. When it’s a friend, family, bishop, SP, I put up a wall knowing that person doesn’t care to try to understand me and isn’t someone I will open up to. When it’s a GA (ie whack-a-mole or dented-boat comments), the bandage is ripped off and the relationships is injured anew. It’s also deeply connected to the exmo anger (been there, done that).

  23. Lehcarjt

    Thanks for your response. My intent was definitely not to marginalize anyone and I apologize if that is how it came across. I had no built-in assumptions.

    But I do have the question: Understanding that no two individuals are identical, how can people with similar experiences and disappointments react very differently?

    I am not looking for a response from you but was hoping Jacob Hess, by virtue of his professional background, experiences, and interactions, might have some thoughts on the general question.

  24. Great question, John! “Understanding that no two individuals are identical, how can people with similar experiences and disappointments react very differently?”

    That curiosity is a great summation of what has driven my research interest in narratives – why does one people who is depressed say “Prozac saved my life”…while the other says “Prozac made things so much worse?” Clearly, it’s about FAR more than just “the different interpretations” – but also about HOW those different interpretations interact with (and even predispose) different life experiences. So, for instance, if someone has reached the conclusion that Church leadership is devoid of any true authority from God – should we be surprised if General Conference ends up being fairly dull for them? Not really. In a thousand different ways, these different interpretive stances position our hearts and minds to focus in certain directions (and not others) – and to be attuned to certain messages/evidences (and not others). This fascinating, ongoing interaction between narrative and a reality itself (constantly shaped by that narrative – and fueling it further) is what fascinates me….both in mental health, in the debates around sexuality + in these spiritual questions.

    Lehcarjt – I’d like to take some of this up in a separate conversation. Thanks for sharing what you have! I’ll email you separately sometime soon so I can hear more if you’re open to it?

    And to you, Rock – thanks for this. Really helpful. I’d also like to hear more sometime from you – maybe get on a call sometime. Yes, I’m not proposing the attachment injury motif as being applicable to everyone – clearly. But just putting it out there to see for whom it is.

    I do believe there are many for whom it will fit pretty well….and others for whom it fits well, but won’t like to acknowledge it (for different reasons, including some I hint at in the peace, especially the potential for choice and healing). For some, it’s more comfortable to believe that one’s painful experience – rather than something to heal from – is an inevitable, irrevocable path of painful enlightenment.

  25. Great stuff, Meg. For sure, not all attachment injury is the same – with some fundamentally different and vicious than others. Love this from you, especially: God will gather up all His loved ones eventually, if we are willing to be gathered. I tend to believe Gods power to heal will not leave any innocent victim abandoned in hurt. The danger comes when we allow ourselves to embrace anger so wholly that we reject healing.
    Would be interested to understand better what you mean by this: “That ultimately is Gods call, not something any mortal ought arrogate to themselves to declare for another’s eternal soul.” (it’s SO common for the “that’s God’s call” language to pathologize any attempt at people speaking truth in an attempt to persuade – so I want to understand what you are, and are not saying here)

  26. Beautiful and well-said, Karl. Even in the case of someone who sees the Church as needing to make some fundamental adjustments (which is not my position), there are things they themselves can do to seek more healing.

  27. Love this, Joel! I believe that the Lord does want to reach each person in their own place, one by one, to pull them to His bosom where they can find peace.

  28. To Anna & Geoffic – Thank you for sharing. You’ve represented well what I’ve heard from others I love and care about…I imagine when you share this kind of thing with active members, they either don’t know what to say – or want to change the subject (or stop talking).

    That’s, I think, an honest puzzlement: how are we to make sense of YOU reaching such different conclusions about this institution from ME/US? Is it okay that we’ve reached such fundamentally different conclusions – and more to the point, WHAT is it that has led us to do so?

    I’m not satisfied by the typical answer to that question – along the lines of, “well, we’ve had different experiences.” From that vantage point, in my hearing of your experiences, Anna – my job is to nod my head and say “yes – if I had experienced what you had – I would believe what you do.”

    I don’t think it’s quite that simple, since people with similar experiences reach different conclusions. This gets at the heart of a lot of what I’m exploring – and planning to say in future essays.

    I only mention briefly (in passing) the role of interpretation in attachment injury – but it is deserving of a lot more attention. My next piece in July will start going there. Suffice it to say, virtually everything you share here I read here (as a narrative researcher) as a particular conclusion that reflects your own chosen interpretive framework (aka, narrative). Unless we pay more attention to these narratives – especially their interesting contrasts in interpretations, I don’t see any way of working through these issues. In the absence of each other, we’re no better than two spouses yelling at each other (each equally convinced and passionate at how right they are – and how wrong the other is). In short, while I do not share your fundamental narrative of the Church, I’m grateful you would share…will be very interested to hear what you think of the next two essays coming soon.

  29. Jacob Hess, thank you for your response and additional thoughts on my/our question. I look forward to your future essays!

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