I went on my first diet in 1975—I was just 6 years old. I remember Tab cola was popular with some of my mom’s friends.  Diet drinks like Tab promoted the idea that women should be on a diet.

Though they didn’t consciously realize it, the generation ahead of me was effortlessly teaching me that eating wasn’t about fueling my body; rather, it was a tool I should use to judge myself.

I heard women reveal how bad they had been when they gave in to cheesecake. I heard them re-commit to being good by controlling their eating.

I remember feeling it was imperative that I learn the secret to being skinny; somehow my very place in the world rested upon figuring out how thin girls stayed thin.

When my stomach stuck out a little bit over my little girl bikini, I hoped no one else noticed. Getting fat meant I was doing something wrong.

The obstacle to being thin

But I had a big obstacle in the way of being thin: I got hungry.

Why did I get hungry? Other females seem to have control over hunger. I decided there must be something wrong with me because I kept getting hungry!

All the grown-up women I knew were always on a diet—hunger was irrelevant.

Diets didn’t talk about hunger. Diets gave the prescription, which includes:

  • when to eat
  • what to eat
  • how much to eat

Diets weren’t about fueling your body or listening to your body: diets were about learning how to ignore your body. Diets taught me that in order to be “good”, I needed to learn to disconnect from the messages my body sent me; I needed to separate me from myself.

I tried to repress the signals from my body by building a wall between us.

My body and its signals became my enemy.

I knew if I ever gave in to my cravings, my hunger would betray me and I wouldn’t ever stop eating.

My hunger felt endless.

And frightening.

Rather than listening to hunger, I practiced controlling and regulating my food. Sometimes I ate the same thing three times a day for months at a time.

  • Yogurt for breakfast.
  • Yogurt for lunch.
  • Yogurt for dinner.

When the season changed:

  • Malt-o-meal for breakfast.
  • Malt-o-meal for lunch.
  • Malt-o-meal for dinner.

Controlling food felt good. It simplified my life. It meant I was good.

At least that’s what I believed.

I didn’t realize that my control over food was an illusion. I wasn’t controlling food—food was controlling me.

This became clear to me one day when I ate something I didn’t mean to eat.

I walked into the bathroom and thought how easy it would be to stick my finger down my throat. Then, some long-suppressed voice inside me yelled “STOP! DON’T GO THERE!”

I nearly jumped.

Where did that come from?

Was there some part of me that cared about me?

I began to wonder what else I had been suppressing besides my desire for food…

My new beginning

This question marked the beginning of a new journey. I began reading a book by Geneen Roth, a woman who had spent her life dieting and finally decided to try something else. She encourages this approach instead:

Eat when you are hungry.

Stop when you are full.

Geneen said that people who did this would eventually find their natural weight and stay there.

For some people, this suggestion might sound simple.

For me, not only was this idea terrifying—it seemed impossible.

I had been on a diet for so many years, I no longer knew what true hunger felt like! I couldn’t tell the difference between hunger or anxiety or boredom or a variety of other uncomfortable emotions.

Diets had rendered me completely out of touch with my body.

Re-connecting with myself

To figure out when I was hungry, I had to stop ignoring myself and instead practice connecting to myself. I had to learn to tune in to sensations in my body, to notice them, and to wonder about them.

The process of re-discovering hunger took time.

The journey was full of trepidation, progression, regression, occasional giant strides, and frequent mini–steps back. Eventually, I figured out that hunger wasn’t what I thought it was at all.

It was my repression of hunger that made it grow even bigger.  It put me at war with myself.

Eventually, I figured out there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I didn’t have to fear hunger and I didn’t have to fear food. I’ve learned to eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full, enjoy my eating experiences, and look forward to other areas of my life.

Mormonism taught me to ignore myself

So why do I share this story?

Because, as I have moved away from Mormonism, I have come to realize that the LDS church claimed to be spiritually feeding me when actually it put me on a spiritual diet!

Just as diets taught me to disconnect from myself and ignore my hunger, the LDS church taught me to disconnect from myself in order to follow its obedience-based structure.

I was told I don’t need to look internally for a moral compass because the church would prescribe what I should do.

The church taught me that I could only trust my conscience if it’s in alignment with church teachings. If my conscience was not in alignment, it meant there was something wrong with my conscious. According to the church, it was me that needed to change—not the church.

Many of us learned the same lesson: If we repress our internal voice enough, we become “church–broke.” We lose access to what’s inside us the same way I lost access to hunger.

Ignoring our inner voice comes at a cost whether we know it or not.

The cost for my husband

My husband suffered from depression nearly all of our married life. He tried everything presented to him as a solution:

  • Prayer
  • Blessings
  • Time at the temple
  • Magnifying callings and “forgetting” himself with service
  • Therapy and counseling
  • Medication
  • Happy lights
  • Music
  • Exercise
  • Alternative and herbal remedies
  • Real sunshine (in California) and trips to the beach

Medication, sunshine, and therapy all helped a little.

But by far the most effective anti-depressant for him has been leaving the LDS church.

I am BLOWN AWAY by the positive changes I see.

He’s always been a good husband to me and a good father to our children, but he has never had hope that his life could be meaningful for him. He was using up all his energy fighting off cognitive dissonance, ignoring himself, and digesting the shame that there must be something wrong with him because he wasn’t happy.

He wasn’t happy because he wasn’t really whole. He had been repeatedly taught to ignore his logic and his internal voice. After decades of living as a Mormon, he’s learning to trust himself.

Both of us have discovered we don’t need to look to outside sources for answers about how to live our lives. And it’s beautiful. And freeing.

Being connected to ourselves is exactly what we’ve been craving all along.

 

So many of us make negative emotions so much more painful than they need to be. When it comes to coping with negative emotions, we have 4 options…

Directly and indirectly, LDS kids are taught a faulty system of interpreting feelings. Here are five…

What’s the difference between a therapist and a life coach?  While there is overlap in what they do therapists and coaches have different backgrounds and approaches. In this post, I’ll share my take on how life coaching differs from therapy.

What comes to mind when you hear the term “healthy boundary?”  If your answer includes any attempt to control what another adult does, keep reading because that thought isn’t serving you.  That’s not a healthy boundary.

In reality, adults can choose to behave however they want. If they choose to break the law, we can choose to call the police but we cannot control their actions.

Our job is to choose our actions. In every situation in our lives, we decide what we will or won’t do.

So, what is a healthy boundary?

A healthy boundary keeps other people from coming into our physical or emotional space—the parts of us we choose to keep separate.

Basically, a boundary is a statement of what we will do to protect ourselves if another person crosses a line that we’ve decided isn’t okay for them to cross.

Healthy boundaries are about us, not about others. Boundaries are a way we honor our body, our property, our emotional space, and our parental responsibilities.

When should we create a boundary?

In general, we tell other people about a boundary if they violate it.

For example, if we consider being yelled at a boundary violation, it’s not until someone yells at us that we need to say, “If you continue to yell, I’m going to leave the room.”

Some people don’t mind engaging in yelling matches; other people hate yelling. Boundaries aren’t a one-size-fits-all thing. That’s why it’s important to let someone know if they have crossed a line.

How to implement a healthy boundary

Here are the 3 simple steps:

  1. Get clear about our goal. This step is sometimes the most challenging because we have to get honest about what we want for ourselves. If our primary focus is to change another person rather than taking care of ourselves, we aren’t ready to set a boundary.
  2. Set a boundary. Make a request and let others know what we will do if they choose not to honor our request.
  3. Follow through with love. If we get angry when someone else chooses not to honor our request, we weren’t making a request in the first place. A request doesn’t take the form of you must do this or I’ll be mad at you. A request is asking someone for something, fully allowing that person to make a choice. When someone doesn’t abide by our boundary request, we love ourselves enough to follow through.

Let’s look at some examples.

Hypothetical Example – Parents Send Religious Gifts

Let’s say my parents send my children Christmas or Easter gifts that include Mormon propaganda—like CTR rings, For the Strength of Youth pamphlets, scripture bookmarks, or scripture story videos. If I notice I’m resenting my parents for sending these gifts, I may want to follow the steps to set a boundary.

Get clear on my goal: Maybe I decide I want my home to be religion-free. [Notice, this isn’t a goal about changing my parents or needing them to be different. It’s a goal to protect my home from things I don’t want in it.]

Set a boundary. I tell my parents what I want and also what I will do if they choose not to honor the request. Here’s an example of what I could say:

Mom and Dad- I don’t want my kids to receive religious gifts. I want my kids to be as free as possible from religious indoctrination while they are young and I don’t want religious materials in our home. So, I am going to send these gifts back to you. If you decide to send gifts like this again, I will throw them away. I’m telling you this because I love you and I don’t want things like this to get in the way of my relationship with you or your relationship with your grandchildren. When you come over,  I don’t want you to wonder why the kids don’t have the gifts you sent.

Follow through with love. If my parents choose to send religious gifts, I throw them away. I can do this without drama or yelling or making any attempt to change them. I don’t have to make these gifts mean my parents don’t respect me. Instead, I could think, “wow, it’s fascinating that my parents would continue to send these knowing I’ll throw them away. I guess if it means that much to them to send these gifts, I can take 15 seconds to put them in the garbage.”

Perhaps, in this scenario, my parents would be honoring their values in the best way they know how. Maybe they think the failure to send religious gifts means they aren’t doing their religious duty so they choose to send the gifts. I don’t have to agree with their reasons; I just need to honor the boundary I set.

When I do, their gift-sending is no longer a problem because I take on the responsibility to make sure my home is religion free. If I value a home without religious stuff, that’s my job to create that environment.

Hypothetical example—Testimonies at a family reunion

Let’s say I’ve decided not to attend church anymore. At a family reunion, three of my cousins bear their testimony to me.

In this situation, I wouldn’t necessarily need to set a boundary. I could simply tell my cousins that I see things differently and I  love them no matter what they believe.

Or, I may decide that because I’m still working through a lot of emotions connected to my faith transition, I’m not ready to listen to them discuss their religious beliefs.

Get specific on what I want. Perhaps I decide that I want to spend time with my family, but only when they are not talking about religion.

Get clear on my goal.  Perhaps I decide I want time away from hearing other people (including family) talk about the church.

Set a boundary. I could tell my family what I want for me by saying something like this:

As you know, I’ve recently lost my belief in the truth claims of the church. I love you all and I don’t expect you to change beliefs. But I’d like to request that you not bear your testimony to me and that don’t ask me questions about what I believe. I’m also not comfortable hanging out with you while you’re talking with each other about church stuff. If religion becomes a point of conversation, I’m going to take a walk or go read for a while. Then, when you’re ready to talk about other things again feel free to come get me. Please know this isn’t anything against you. I think there will be a time when it isn’t an issue for me to be around church-oriented discussions. But for now, this is what I need to do to take care of myself.

Follow through with love. If members of my family bring up church topics from time to time, I don’t have to take it personally. I could just excuse myself and go for a walk like I said I would. If my family constantly talks about the church, I may decide to leave the reunion in order to honor my boundary. But, I could do so because I respect myself—not because I want to change or punish my family. 

Boundaries take courage

Of course, other people may not like, agree with, or understand the boundaries we set.

Having other people validate us isn’t the point of a healthy boundary. It isn’t anyone else’s job to take care of us. That’s our job.

When we love ourselves enough to take care of ourselves, we discover that resentment isn’t necessary at all. The world starts to feel like a safer place because we’ve got ourselves covered. 

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we just might realize that all we’ve been seeking from outside sources has been with us all along. There’s no place like being at home with ourselves.

Humans tend to create rules for how other people should or shouldn’t behave. We all know Mormons are particularly good at this!

The Mormon manual

A Mormon’s thoughts about someone who has left the church might look like this:

  1. You shouldn’t have let your doubts lead you astray.
  2. You should pray and read your scriptures more.
  3. You shouldn’t drink alcohol or coffee.
  4. You should remember your covenants to God.
  5. You shouldn’t wear tank tops or shorts.
  6. You should put your doubts on a shelf.
  7. You shouldn’t get tattoos or multiple ear piercings.
  8. You should keep going to church even if you’ve lost your testimony.
  9. You shouldn’t forget your spiritual experiences.
  10. You should focus on the good things the church does.

Mormons don’t think these ideas are wacky; they believe having a “manual” for how you should behave is perfectly reasonable.

The Ex-Mormon/Post-Mormon Manual

We who used-to-be Mormon don’t agree. Although we see the Mormon manual as absurd, we often come up with our own manual for what believing Mormons should and shouldn’t do:

  1. You shouldn’t judge me or anyone else for what we wear, eat, or drink.
  2. You should care enough about me to want to know why I left the church.
  3. You shouldn’t think I’ve sinned, been offended, or that I’m deceived by Satan
  4. You should want to understand the ways the church harms people.
  5. You shouldn’t see Joseph Smith as worthy of praise.
  6. You should believe me that I’m happier outside the church.
  7. You shouldn’t be ok with “worthiness” interviews.
  8. You should want to know what the church does with the money you give.
  9. You shouldn’t bear your testimony to me.
  10. You should understand how the church is gaslighting its members.

Just like believers, we think our shoulds and shouldn’ts are reasonable and good.

Manuals: how they backfire

Here’s the problem with having manuals for others: if people don’t behave how we think they should, we get frustrated, angry, or hurt.

We believe that if only they would follow our rules, no one (including us) would be emotionally hurt. But we don’t see that it’s our rules (not the other person) causing us pain.

This is a lot easier to see when we look at the Mormon manual for us.

Hypothetical: The coffee-drinking mom

If my son gets home from his mission and is disappointed that I drink coffee, it isn’t my coffee drinking behavior that would be leading him to feel sad. It would be his belief that I shouldn’t drink coffee that would lead to his negative emotions.

This is because it is our thoughts that create our emotions. No one’s behavior has any meaning (either positive or negative) until we have a thought about it.

This is good news for my son! Here’s why:

If my coffee drinking is the problem, he has no way to feel better unless I change and he has no control over me.

But my son does have control over his thoughts. In this hypothetical example, what if he were to decide to drop the defining, My mom shouldn’t drink coffee.  What if he deliberately decided to practice thinking, My mom drinks coffee and that’s her choice. This isn’t a problem for me because there isn’t anything my mom can do that will stop me from loving her.

This new thought would give my son all of his emotional power back. Rather than blaming my behavior for his sadness, he would be taking responsibility for his emotions. He would be focusing on who he wants to be and how he wants to act around his coffee-drinking mom. This is 100% in his control.

If he chooses to love me while I drink coffee, there’s even more good news for him: he’ll get to feel that love.

If he chooses to think sad thoughts while I drink coffee, he will feel sad. Feeling sad is totally fine. As humans, we have the capacity to feel sad and we don’t need to resist sadness. But if he is sad, it is because of his interpretation of what coffee drinking means, not because his mom drinks coffee.

Hypothetical: The son getting married in the temple

Now, let’s say this son decides to get married in the temple and  I cannot attend.

I could think my son shouldn’t get married in the temple or that the church should change its policy so I could attend his wedding. Or, I could blame my son for making this decision, thinking he should get married in a place I can watch him get married. Or, I could blame the church and decide we are both victims of some unethical policies. All of these thoughts would lead me to feel hurt.

If I have pain about his decision, it would not be because he’s choosing to get married in the temple. It would be because of what I am thinking about this circumstance.

This is good news for me! It means that if my son chooses to get married in the temple, I don’t have to feel bad. I have options.

Of course, I don’t get to decide where my son gets married and I don’t get to decide church policies. If I link my happiness with things outside my control, I become helpless.

There is another way. I could change my thinking. I could practice thinking My son should get married where he chooses to get married. The church should create policies for the church. And I have the power to decide who I want to be and how I want to feel in this situation.

It’s in my best interest to decide there isn’t anything the church can do that will get in the way of me loving my son when he gets married. I get my control back if I decide there isn’t anything anyone can do that will interfere with me being happy for my son as he lives the life he thinks is best for him.

If I want to feel positive emotions, I could choose to use the time of his wedding to think about all the ways I love my son. I could think of the beautiful grandchildren that may come into my life. I could think of how I might show love for my daughter-in-law and her family. And I could be ready with open arms and a big smile on my face when the bride and groom come outside.

The consequences of our thoughts

I know this feels like a stretch for many people who have left the church. I get it. It wasn’t long ago that I couldn’t imagine even wanting to change how I thought about the church.

What I want you to know is that none of this is about agreeing with church policies and none of this is about condoning behavior we consider harmful. It’s about taking back power over our feelings.

Although negative emotions aren’t dangerous and it’s advantageous to be willing to feel them, we also have the power to deliberately choose thoughts that lead to neutral or positive feelings.

This is a skill that takes time and practice. But just like repeatedly lifting weights can build muscles, thought work can create new neural pathways in our brains. We can empower ourselves by taking our focus off what anyone else “should” do and train our brain to focus on what’s in our control

We gain our power back when we ask ourselves, “Who do I want to be in this situation?”

We gain our power back when we choose to recognize that other people’s behavior doesn’t mean anything about us: it means something about them. Every. Single. Time.

We gain our power back when we see every event in life as an opportunity to love ourselves, love someone else, or both.

Believing the church or its members should be any different than they are is about as useful as banging our head against concrete.  As Byron Katie suggests, when [we] argue with reality we lose, but only 100% of the time.

What the church and its members say and do in any given moment is the reality of that given moment. Thinking what’s happening shouldn’t be happening doesn’t change it; it just drains our energy.

It’s much more useful to think other people should be exactly as they are. Why? Because that’s how they are.

Then, we can move on to empowering questions like these:

What do I value?

How do I want to think about myself?

How do I want to show up around people who might judge me?

What do I want to create in my life?

What am I avoiding because I’m blaming rather than taking responsibility for my emotions?

Who do I want to love?

No one can answer these questions for us. This is our work. And doing this work will always align us with this simple truth: we are the only ones who can be us.

Worrying about what other people should or shouldn’t do only serves to distract us from ourselves.

To fully claim our lives, we must look inward. When we live in alignment with who we want to be, it’s so much easier to love everybody else.

BONUS CONTENT

My husband and I stopped attending church about 2 months after having a son leave on a mission. Our missionary son’s older brother was coming out of a painful depression and we learned he was suffering from religious trauma.

At that time, everything we were learning about the church was so painful. And knowing we couldn’t talk face-to-face with our missionary son for another 22 months seemed nearly unbearable.

The wait is over. On July 31, 2018 (the day this post was published) our missionary comes home!

At this point in time, I am so glad I had  22 months to process feelings. And I have learned a ton of skills that have improved my mental health and brought me peace. When he comes home now, I will be relaxed and grounded. I’m not worried about him and whether or not he will stay in the church. I will support him either way.

Here are some of the thoughts that have deliberately chosen to practice thinking in preparation for my son’s return:

  1. I trust my son to make the best decisions for him. I will support him and have his back in the decisions he makes.
  2. Nothing can go wrong because I have love covered. I will love me, I will love him, and I will love those he loves.
  3. I chose to leave the church and it was the best decision for me. I own that decision. Even if other people aren’t ok with it, I’m ok with it and that’s enough.
  4. I can attend his homecoming at church and love everyone there. Loving people who see the world differently than I do increases my capacity to love.

I am ready for my son to come home so that I can love him. I accept him wherever he’s at. He gets to decide how he feels about me and any decisions I make. I’m not worried about it because there isn’t anything he can do, say, feel, or think that will change my love for him one bit.

I get to feel all that love! I am so ready for him to come back and I’m ready to give him a hug!

 

What does it mean to have your own back?

When someone else tells us they have our back, it means they are telling us that no matter what happens, they will be on our side.

Having our own back means committing to being our own ally.

It means that we choose to meet ourselves with compassion when we mess up, fall short, or are rejected in any way.

Most of us don’t have our own back in these situations. Instead, we beat ourselves up.

We tell ourselves all the reasons we aren’t good enough and produce our own shame.

In other words, we train ourselves not to trust ourselves.

Then it’s easy for us to convince ourselves not to try new things. We prefer to hide our talent rather than risk creating something that might be criticized. We hide from people that might not accept, understand, or value us.

We sabotage ourselves now so we don’t have to risk feeling bad about ourselves later. In essence, we fail ahead of time.

Crazy, right?

Here’s what I want you to know and remember:

There is no upside to negative self-talk.

It doesn’t eliminate future mistakes.

It doesn’t fix anything that’s already happened.

It doesn’t turn us into a better human being.

Treating ourselves unkindly is never useful.

Ever.

Yet most of us regularly practice being mean to ourselves.

Making a plan to have your own back

The good news is we can learn to meet ourselves with compassion. Having our own back is a skill we can master by creating a plan.

We can decide ahead of time what loving messages we will give ourselves when we experience failure or rejection. Then we can practice loving ourselves unconditionally.

This means accepting that we are worthy and lovable regardless of what we do or what happens in our lives.

We can be our own fan club

My great-grandma taught me about unconditional love when I was very young. She was encouraged me to challenge myself by learning how to say the ABC’s backward. Mistakes were never a problem. As the leader of my fan club, she genuinely rooted for me.

From where she stood, I was simply amazing.

She often said to me, “I love you more than anyone else and don’t you ever forget it.”

I knew there wasn’t anything I could do (or not do) that would lead her to love me less. I was absolutely safe in our relationship.

What if we would all treat ourselves like my great-grandma treated me?

If we did, this is what our self-talk might sound like:

I’m safe with me.

There is no failure; there is only learning.

I’m human, I’m imperfect, and that’s ok.

I’m 100% lovable in my imperfection.

Not everyone has to love me because I love me.

Life is challenging enough without beating myself up.

I choose to meet myself with compassion. Always.

I support me.

I have my own back.

Love leads to safety and growth

Some people worry that we won’t try to be better if we love ourselves when we mess up.

The truth is self-punishment never enlarges our capacity to love and to grow; only self-compassion can do that.

We cannot hate ourselves into becoming a loving human and we cannot hate ourselves toward personal growth.

Loving ourselves in our imperfection means we recognize that we are so much more than the sum total of our behavior.

When we don’t continuously need to prove our worth, we have more energy to try new things and add value to the world.

With a self-compassion mindset, we can move from a state of fearing failure to a state of being willing to fail. When we have our own back, we know we’re covered should anything go wrong.

It’s easier to love others, too, because we aren’t depending on their approval. When we don’t need them to validate us, we can relax and let other people be themselves.

Post-Mormon application

Having our own back is an especially valuable skill to have as we interact with believing family and friends. It’s reasonable to expect that those who see the LDS church as “the one true” church will not be able to see any valid reason for leaving. Of course, many will see a decision to step away from the church as wrong.

When we have our own back, we can let others be wrong about us. We can think to ourselves, “They don’t get me. But that’s ok. I got me. I can love me and I can love them. Who better than me to add love to the world?”

That’s freeing!

When we decide no one needs to earn love and we choose to give it, we empower ourselves and provide safety for others. There isn’t any downside to love.

We have a lifetime to practice self-compassion

Having our own back doesn’t come naturally to most of us, but that’s ok.

This is a skill we learn by practicing.

And we don’t have to do it perfectly.

Every time we don’t get it right is another opportunity to love ourselves. With this mindset, there is no way to lose.