My Visit With A Perfect Mormon Family

By a non-Mormon
The following account was posted on an internet discussion group dealing with Mormonism. The writer's account is so vivid, so personal, and so typical that I requested her permission to post it here. For obvious reasons I have not identified her, and the text has been only slightly edited to remove a few other references which might identify the writer or the family.

Obviously not all Mormon families are like the family described here. The fact that there is even one Mormon family like this should give one pause.

          I just spent three weeks with a Mormon family - my best friend since I was nine. The experience was the mental equivalent of of walking into a moving helicopter blade. It was like a ruthless, mindless, robot organization. Neither my friend nor her husband looked me in the eye, the procedures with the seven children were like an industry, and I was a bystander just getting in the way of the efficient running of a machine. I felt like a nuisance. (I wonder if her children feel that way.) I was picked up at the airport and my friend did not greet me or look at me. She was hunched over and listless on the entire ride. I immediately thought that I had done something to offend the family, even before I got there. (Later in the visit I became afraid for my friend because of this kind of behavior). Conversation was vacant and peppered with strange hostile notes, as if I hadn't been invited, for several years running now, but had forced my way in on them.

          The children, although well taken care of, seemed needy and trapped, especially the oldest, who at nine, has never done any activity alone. All my offers to do something with or for the kids on my own were refused. I was later accused of trying to turn the kids against the parents, because in response to the kids' constantly telling me I was immoral and on drugs, (coffee you know) I explained that I lived a different lifestyle than their parents, which was neither good or bad, but simply different. The oldest, at nine, seemed especially confused at what to make of the fact that his parents or his parents' system told him I was a bad person, but that he liked me. The younger kids were not all that confused, because they didn't understand enough of the brainwashing yet, but veered from telling me coffee was a drug and Elvis had it the day he died (the most hilarious, as well as touching, since all of the little ones liked me and had instant concern for my 'welfare' as taught to them by their parents) to telling me they didn't care if I drank coffee because they liked me and pointing out the neighbor's house where I could get some.

          The issue with coffee is not a big deal for me really, but I was surprised at the hostile intensity of the reaction to my drinking coffee, especially as I was sick on the trip and the only way I could get moving in the morning was to have some, which was not easy inside the gates of a double gated community ten miles from town. I immediately felt like I was some sort of criminal, and felt guilty the whole time I was there, even though I didn't do anything remotely bad - according to real world ethics, not made-up religion fantasy.

          I marveled at the mind control system, since, even though I was outside of it, I was surrounded by it, and susceptible to feeling 'different.' And for Mormons, different is bad. I was aware of the stereotypes of Mormons but I thought, "My Mormons are different, they are individuals." Of course they are not. You cannot be a pure literalist, undeviating Mormon, and an individual. My friends call themselves "conservative even for Mormons." , and in my friend's words, the "white sheep" of the family because they are so perfect they make other members of their family upset. They are literalist to the point of suffocation. And there are consequences for that, which I now see them living out.

          I want to stress that coming to this point of judgment and intolerance, the decision that my friend is in a cult, took years, because I like to be accepting of all beliefs. However, what I cannot tolerate is a system which is not inclusive, operates on fear, which sucks the life out of youngsters, as far as I can tell, and makes instant scapegoats of those who don't agree, or who merely drink coffee. This to me is not a religion, but a cult. The fear and lack of communication I sensed were real.

          Keep in mind that I always looked at my friend for her own characteristics, not her chuch membership, and while I've been concerned over the years, I always tried to do that. It is no longer possible. She is the church and the church is her - I cannot locate a real person in there at all any more, and I think anyone else would have given up on doing it long ago. I have been her only friend outside of the church, and she hasn't had many inside of the church, because her attitude is so superior and 'perfect' that she alienates others. She is closest friends with her sister, one year younger (this always surprised me until I realized that is how many Mormons do it, one baby after another) and also "perfect."

          She once revealed to me that her greatest struggle was trying to get rid of her contempt for others who are not 'perfect'. Until I realized that the church is her and she is the church, that the church is a cult, and that if it is dangerous for me, an outsider, it is dangerous for her, I did not understand anything of my friend. I did not understand either the contempt she has for me because I am not 'perfect' according to her standards, and also, I am not saved, because I am not Mormon. Even before the end of out friendship I would often joke to people that my largest fear was that if I died first she would convert me after my death to her religion, because whether this was a real sentiment or not (I know now it was not) she has often told me I am like a member of her family. I was shocked when she told me that after death conversion was possible for people who weren't Mormon in life.

          What I see in my friend is kind of a double mind - for instance, with the family issue. She has said, without provocation, that I am like a member of her family, and then turned around and said, of course she cannot tell me things of any importance to her because she only speaks honestly to members of her family. That means, Mormons. So, I'm thinking, make up your mind. I now know that she has so many things to hide that only another Mormon would understand. I also know that keeping me out of the loop is a way of dividing us in status - she is reaching celestial perfection, while I am not. As if I care! I only realized how important this stuff is to her on this last trip, because before that, I did not altogether realize Mormonism's cultlike characteristics, although I did know other problems with the religion.

          The double mind I see in my friend is so discordant at this point that it was almost as if I was seeing two different people. The cold silent, hostile person, who always says no, looks at me like either an object to manipulate, or in the extreme, an enemy for not sharing her beliefs, has rules of iron, and is afraid of the outside world (a lot like her mom, who I was deathly afraid of as a kid), and the humorous, observant, intelligent person I made friends with. The unpredictablility of the swings back and forth, coupled with her total lack of awareness that she was doing this, is what freaked me out. She didn't speak to me directly for the first several days of my visit. She didn't speak TO me. I was invited for a visit, and then completely ignored.

          I later found out this was a result of marital problems between her and her husband. She wasn't speaking to me because she was afraid it would make her husband angry. He became angry one night when we talked to each other, and then she considered asking me to leave, and then she told me the truth, and then she started giving me daily reports about whether he was mad or not, so day to day I would have to leave or not have to leave. If I had an option to leave, obviously I would have. So, this bizarre fear of making the husband mad by having normal conversations with other people was the worst aspect of it.

          I now know that she is trained to be secretive about her church to anyone on the outside, and I found out that she holds back a great deal from me because I am not part of her church - friendship or none, I am not going to get my own planet when I die. I am not one of the privileged chosen Mormons.

          My friends live in a gated community inside their own gated portion with bars on the windows. Their life is run by fear. The children especially are afraid of the outside world, not naturally, but because they have been told that so much of it is bad. At this point that badness includes me,according to their parents, which makes me sad for the children, because it will only confuse them more to spend so much time having fun with someone their mom told them was their "aunt" only now to be told that I am a dangerous person. I am further disappointed in my friend because apparently the 'fruits' of their religion are to scapegoat others who aren't like them, and to repress any negative emotions. And if you sacrifice lifelong friendships in order to deviate attention from marital problems, so be it. That was the tack she took when it became apparent to all that they could not hold up the facade while I was there. So of course, what would be a bump in the road for most couples I know, became a major crisis. I was also heartened to hear my friend, who confessed being near breakdown, making jeering comments about other stressed Mormon moms in church crying, at which point it seemed she felt free to point a finger at them and taunt them for lack of perfection. She made this comment after confessing to me she could barely hold back tears herself! What fruits, what compassion this religion brings to people!

          My friend was sarcastic as she had never been, especially in regards to my doing something as horrible as drinking coffee, which she has known for years that I do. It was never an issue before. She knows I drink beer and date. Suddenly I am a pariah. She has never spoken to me like that before, but her entire personality is like a vortex now. She is not recognizable. Further, I've realized the person I always knew has been conditioned her whole life to be inauthentic, to say things her cult tells her to say. I now do not know which thing was which, although I've always sense a disconnect with her when it comes to being honest about feelings, or being authentic in any way. Much of what she says sounds wooden. She has a problem with empathy for others, which has been a consistent problem in our relationship. I now know that she was always thinking, "I could deal with things better than her - I could be perfect, and she is not being perfect, but part of perfection is having tolerance for people who not as perfect as me."

          At the same time she has had none of the emotional or real world challenges in life that I have, because she has been sheltered by church and family. I would say more than sheltered: imprisoned. But she is not cognizant even of that.) There was a spark of life in her, but we met at nine, and even at that time she had the straight, listless, resigned way of walking, the boredom with the world, the contempt for adults, because they were just enforcers of rules that she could easily follow. She has a literalist mind and cannot understand complexity or symbolism. But her religion has done that to her. She has complained bitterly about how her mother sucked the life out of her as a little girl - you can see the cold look come into her eyes about seven or eight, in pictures, right before we met, and the stiffness that is really kind of unnerving to see, as if she has permanently turned off her body. Before that she had the sparkle that little children can't repress.

          Her oldest son is now in that same phase, with the life being sucked out of him. His contempt for adults is not hidden, like hers was, but he openly insults them. He openly insulted me for most of my stay until he saw that I was not trying to enforce rules on him and wanted to listen to him and hear what he had to say. He has been kept out of school for his 'behavioral problems' and she encourages him to be defiant, because she sees it as an extension of her Mormon 'outsider' status, and an extension of her 'superior to the school system' status. She does not see that his hostility to mindless rules comes from the robot life he lives. He is angry about it but cannot enunciate it. He is able to read at a high level and coordinate care for his siblings. His problems are not a 'disorder' but an honest reaction to his strange home life.

          Only one of my friend's seven children has NOT been diagnosed with a mental or physiological disorder. I see this, except for the two who have dyslexia, not as an actual reality, but a reflection of my friend's need to pathologize everything that is not 'perfect'. So she is the only 'normal', perfect person in her family, the only one who, even though it is still sucking the life out of her, will never give up on her religion. I think she is megalomaniac. But Mormonism encourages megalomania, I can see that much. Because she will be a goddess in her next life, and people will worship her. Or her husband, or her through her husband - except for the sexism of it, I really don't get it.

          I found it revealing of her personality that her older brother calls her "The Queen." This is because in her eyes she is the perfect Mormon. I didn't realize how her status is all tied into what kind of house they have, what her husband does in the church, and how they present themselves as 'perfect' to other Mormons. She talks about how people in [their town] were jealous of her status and how she just left them in the dust in their poor neighborhood, before they bought a nice house, which doesn't sound really very nice to me, or speak well of her motives, which she has always presented to me as being just for God and church.

          Although she was basically a zombie while I was there, due to all the kids, which she has now pulled from school to homeschool, she refused help from me, and told me she refused babysitting from anyone at all, but especially Mormons, who might figure out that the kids and the family were not 'perfect' if they saw them up close. Any deviation from perfect is pathological, and since no one in the family is perfect, everyone is pathological. Of course any visiting, different thinking, coffee drinking people are pathological. How stressful it must be to feel that any deviation from perfection is not only lack of salvation, but possible mental illness. To me the illness is the perfectionism that does not allow people to be human. I cannot understand why I was invited unless it was a plan that I would be impressed with their perfection, and convert, or, unless she is so troubled with her lifestyle that she was desperate for someone to witness it. I think the second one is more likely, although she would never admit it.

          She is on the way to diagnosing her husband as mentally ill, because of his occasional outbursts of irritation with his rigid, never changing lifestyle, which in my opinion, are perfectly natural. He wants to initiate change - for instance, the carbohydrate only diet they were eating, the one my friend grew up on, the one people even back in the 70s knew was unhealthy, has sent two of her children to the hospital for constipation. However, she is still feeding them macaroni every day, because she cannot deal with the fact that maybe she made a mistake, maybe God-ordained macaroni (as far as I can tell, who knows maybe there is a rule saying macaroni is holy) isn't the perfect food, maybe she is WRONG. She says she has to use up her year supply but if it was sending my kids to the hospital, I would throw it out. It is not a money issue because they have an upper middle class lifestyle. This healthier diet information has been all over since we were kids, but until someone at her ward mentioned vegetables in an official talk a month ago, she refused to believe it. Because only information from her church is right. Everything else must be strained out. That is why her intellect, once so sharp in math and science, has now withered. God didn't want her to be a scientist, he wanted her to be a mom slave. I have nothing against stay at home moms, when they make the choice in context. There is not much context when salvation depends on being a perfect mom. That is how my friend sees it. I don't really care if I sound bitter- the church ruined my friend's mind, if not her life, and I supsect that too.

          I stunned her by making a salad on my visit. It was at this point that I realized, it is not only the church, it is the sheltered fear thing that makes it simply a fact that I cannot relate at all to this person. If she thinks a salad is exotic, and that is only the beginning of her lack of context and contact with the outside world, there is no hope.

          What I have said only is the tip of the iceberg as far as what I saw, so perhaps my reaction of basically horror to these people, who used to be considered friends, will not make a lot of sense at first. All I know is that if I feel I have to detox after three weeks of them, I have no idea how people deal with this cult for an entire lifetime. What makes me sad is that the children, who are - with the exception of one or two - all intellectually gifted, will be encouraged to not use their brains, just like she was, because that's not what God wants. The oldest girl, who probably has the most chance of academic success, is being pointed squarely to the temple. I can't pretend I agree with this any more. It infuriates me. It infuriates me that my friend is wasting her intellect, to the point that she now tells me she's not very smart, she doesn't understand things, and she has to go to her husband for affirmation on basic facts. This is a pose, one she has adopted in the guise of the perfect, suppliant wife. She has a mind sharper and more manipulative then I will ever have. And she talks about herself that way, as weak and ineffectual, while at the same time exuding what I consider a dark, but very intelligent force. It was frightening to watch.

          I'm aware I sound extremely judgmental of my exfriend, but I assure the negativity on her side towards me was not spared, and has not been spared. Further, her hostility towards me is personal, although it stems from church judgments, what I would call delusions. The surprise for me is that apparently the hostility has always been there, but she has hidden it well, for whatever reasons she has. I have found that mysteries I have not understood about her behavior have been explained, and I can trace it directly to her involvement in the church. Because of this new understading, I feel relieved, because I know that it is not me personally that makes her behavior at times cold, distant, and odd. I have sympathy for her as a mom, but she is not a natural mom, who spontaneously loves her kids, as was the mom I was lucky enough to have. She treats them kindly but as if they are part of a large scale factory operation. It's a cold upbringing. I am sad they will not have alternate sources of warmth in their lives such as I could have provided. At the same time, I am relieved that I will never have to deal with the kids' judgment and confusion about who and what is good and why I am not like them, ever again.

          I'm not so much looking for comments as just to share my experience. Also maybe an outside perspective of what people close to Mormons see might be useful. I stress that I have interacted with my friend on and off our whole lives, mostly happily, if extremely repressed in environment. I last saw her five years ago, and most of the changes she has gone through she has obviously hidden well from me, as an outsider. But you can't hide all that much when you invite someone for an extended visit. I have never seen anything like the interactions I saw on my visit, which is I think the reality of what the system does to people. My previous interactions were shallow and brief. I think as kids and young marrieds they dealt much better with things, because they had the energy, and were naive. They are now being pulled down by their belief system, which it obviously strains grown intelligent people to believe in and follow, and I just don't want to watch.

          So, I am an ex friend of a Mormon, but considering the length of the friendship, the suddenness of hostilities, and the cult like way she now lives (it didn't used to seem so extreme) I am posting here. Sorry for the length, but I am burying a life-long friendship here. Hopefully that is OK.

July 2005

For a more general article about the psychological problems among Mormon women, see "Mormon Women, Prozac, and Therapy" by Dr. Kent Ponder

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©  2005 Richard Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included


"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."     - Matthew 5:48

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