I recently sat down with Nate and Angilyn Bagley to discuss issues relating to unrighteous dominion in marriages. This phrase comes from the scripture in Doctrine & Covenants 121:9 that reads, “[w]e have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority…they will begin to recognize unrighteous dominion.”
Influence By Fear or By Love
As a therapist who has worked with Mormon clients for over twenty years, I’ve seen unrighteous dominion manifested in a variety of ways: making major decisions (such as financial or employment) or in any other way being controlling and manipulative. Unrighteous dominion can extend to children as well; when a mother or a father using shame or intimidation with their children, this is another example. And any type of abuse certainly falls under the category of unrighteous dominion.
I sat down with my friend and host of Mormon Matters podcast, Dan Wotherspoon for a one-on-one interview about my own life and faith journey. Talk about vulnerable. I often talk about specific topics as an “expert” but rarely interview solely about my own life and faith process.
Here’s a snippet of how Dan Wotherspoon describes this episode: “She has faced heartbreak and sadness, loss of a sense of her own place within the universe and God’s plan, difficulties navigating career and family and church and all it’s pre-prescribed roles for women, and much more. All of these, however, have been essential in her becoming such an effective therapist and insightful and sought-after teacher and speaker. In this in-depth interview about her life and careers, and her family and church lives, as well, Julie allows us a glimpse into her own journey with faith and Mormonism and how, through many difficulties, she has come to the grounding she has found—a sense of calling to this particular life among these particular people. As you listen, I know that you’ll be moved by her story, her emotion, her courage, and her emergence as a healer extraordinaire.“
I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on a recent episode of the “Mormon Matters” podcast; I joined other LDS therapists and experts to talk about ways that we can ensure ourselves and our families are protected in ecclesiastical situations. With the #MeToo movement and other instances of high-profile men abusing their position of power to take advantage of vulnerable people, it’s time we take a look at the dynamics of how all of this applies to Mormonism. The purpose of our discussion was not to instill paranoia or fear that dominates our thoughts, but instead to empower Mormon families to be smart and safe in how they approach ecclesiastical settings.
Several months ago, a family member recounted a small but powerful scenario that happened in her Sacrament Meeting. While conducting the meeting, the bishop acknowledged that one of his counselors was not present on the stand; his counselor’s wife was ill and he was sitting in the pews with his children. Interestingly, not once was the man’s spouse acknowledged for sitting alone with her children week after week while her husband sat on the stand. Why? Because women are expected to perform the bulk of the invisible labor required for maintaining relationships.
In the fallout of the news that former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter was physically violent to both his ex-wives, some have begun to question the wisdom of LDS Bishops counseling women in abusive relationships (reports indicate both women were encouraged to stay with their husbands). Working with women in private practice, I’ve heard of this kind of thing happening. It’s embarrassing, it’s infuriating, and it’s my hope that this cultural moment of awareness and the #MeToo movement can spark social change. I shared some of my thoughts on this subject with KUER news.
The #MeToo hashtag (and the subsequent exposing of many high-profile figures as sexual predators) has given us as a society a lot to grapple with. From a Latter-day Saint perspective, some are questioning how appropriate it is for bishops to be talking about sexual matters with young people (particularly girls). I recently sat down with hosts Peggy Fletcher Stack and David Noyce, and former LDS bishop Richard Ostler to talk about these critical issues for the Mormon Land Podcast. Here are some highlights from our discussion:
Why does this type of conversation take place in the first place? Why does the Church ask about sexuality at all? Part of our faith regulates sexual behavior, so there needs to be some questioning about that. Typically, bishops ask to what extent an individual is following the last of chastity for two reasons: the first is to grant a temple recommend (which requires a worthiness interview to determine whether the person is living the standards). The second is a general meeting that the bishop has with the youth about once a year to see how he/she is doing. What we may need to re-examine is the nature and the manner that these questions are asked in; how much detail is appropriate? How do we differentiate between issues like pornography usage, masturbation, or other sexual acts? What about cases of sexual abuse? All these nuances are important to consider in this very delicate subject of discussing sexuality with children.
Dr. Tina Sellers, author of Sex, God, and the Conservative Church, defines sexual shame as “a visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust toward one’s own body and identity as a sexual being, and a belief of being abnormal, inferior, and unworthy.”
Most of us grew up in a culture where parents didn’t often talk openly with their kids about bodies and sex, and a good number of us still don’t really know what to say to our own kids about the topic. In schools, many sex-education courses focuses on abstinence and skirt around topics deemed more appropriate for home discussions. Combined with our distorted, sex-saturated media, it’s no wonder so many individuals grow up with feelings of shame or inadequacy surrounding their bodies and their sexuality.
These feelings interfere with the development of our most important relationships, but they don’t have to.
Dr. Sellers suggests four steps for overcoming sexual shame:
The first step is to Frame. Framing means gaining accurate information on sexuality. Some of my favorite books on bodies, sex, and intimacy are:
For kids: “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg
For girls: “The Care and Keeping of You” by Valorie Schaefer
For boys: “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy” by Andrew Smiler
For parents of teens: “For Goodness Sex” by Al Vernacchio
On female sexuality: “Come as You Are” by Emily Nagoski
On male sexuality: “The New Male Sexuality, Revised Edition” by Bernie Zilbergeld
For LDS couples: “What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You About Sex” by Anthony Hughs
There are many more great resources out there. Having accurate and open information about your body and what “normal” looks like can help dispel the sexual myths you may have picked up growing up or through media. Education can calm anxiety and help lay out a plan for gaining the approach to sexuality that you’d like to have in your life.
Dr. Sellers’ second step is to Name. This means finding a group you feel safe in, where you can tell your story and feel heard. This could be a therapy group, it could be a book group (using any of the above suggestions!), it could be an online support group. The important thing is to find a place where people can really hear and understand you so that you can name, or verbalize your own story.
The third step is Claim: Where sex is used so commonly to sell products (either by sexualizing our lunch or pointing out our flaws in order to get us to buy the product that will “fix” everything), media and marketing can throw a real punch to our sense of self worth. We need to claim our right to be okay just the way we are. If this is an area you struggle with, reading books and sharing your story can help, but sometimes you might find you need extra help learning to heal internalized shame. Find a therapist to talk to. Practice challenging negative self-talk. Claim the amazing things that make you who you are.
The last step is Aim. Aim means to write a new story for yourself. We all have stories or narratives that we tell ourselves, and if the old one hasn’t been helpful, begin writing a new story. Learning to look at your past in new ways can help open up potential for growth and new discoveries in your future. Let the keyword for your new narrative be “hope.”
If you have struggled with shame in connection with your body or sexuality and it’s holding you back from creating the connection and pleasure you hope for in your relationships, call and schedule an appointment today at 801-944-4555.
Grab a friend and join me for this rare one-day workshop for LDS women in Salt Lake City this summer. Don’t wait! Early-bird tickets on sale (Save $50). Seating is limited. Purchase tickets and get details below:
When I read Meridian Magazine’s article8 Things that Can Pull You Away from the Church yesterday morning my heart sank. Not because I disagree with the author’s suggestions of ways to strengthen one’s faith, but because it oversimplifies the complex process individuals go through when they decide to distance from or to leave the LDS Church. (Meridian Magazine is a private online magazine whose audience is primarily active Mormons)