Good news. I had an epiphany today that I hope has allowed me to resolve an emotionally and spiritually painful event that I experienced at the MTC in the mid 1980′s. The event had a lasting effect on me and my attitude towards members of the church. I was hurt, and the hurt lasted a long time.
Trauma doesn’t have to be physical in order for it to qualify as trauma. The psychological/emotional/spiritual effects from emotional/verbal abuse can be as real, as deep, as emotionally painful and as lasting as the psychological/emotional/spiritual effects of physical abuse.
This epiphany, or new understanding, allows me to see the event in better light, and better understand the apparent motives of the person involved. Until now, my main coping mechanism to deal with the occasional flashbacks and reliving painful memories was to focus on the atonement, to forgive the person by turning the event over to the Lord, and call upon His healing power.
Meditating on the forgiveness power and healing power of the atonement really does bring relief when something triggers painful memories to resurface.
Here is how this new understanding came about. Today I was thinking about how to motivate other LDS to consider using my casual methods of distributing church material such as the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith pamphlets, Gospel Fundamentals, pass along cards, etc.
One thing I would say to others who want to copy my methods is to ignore the “commitment pattern” that many associate with missionary work. The immediate goal should not be to get people to commit to sit through a missionary presentation. The immediate goal should merely be to offer another person some kind of printed or audio-visual material from the church. I have much more to say on that, but for this post, I merely want to say I was contemplating the standard LDS “commitment pattern” that many returned missionaries automatically associate with any form of proselyting.
I forget the chain of thoughts, but later on I was thinking of network marketing, and how during the initial pitch (verbal presentation) of a network-marketer, often-times he will avoid mention of the actual products that they push, and use leading questions and “rah-rah!” psychological motivation techniques to motivate or manipulate the listener into some kind of commitment.
“It would be better to work from home as long as you could make more money doing so than sitting in an office from 9 to 5, right?” “You’re a self-motivated person, right?” “You want to provide a good income for your family, right?” Though I don’t mean to say all network-marketing or all commitment pattern presentations are as cheesey or obviously leading as those questions. Though for someone new or unskilled, the cheeseyness seems to come more easily.
Back to the 1980′s at the MTC. The painful event consisted of the assistant Branch President using leading and manipulative questions while concealing his ultimate goal of extending a calling in the MTC branch. Only after emotionally and verbally manipulating me into a corner did he extend the calling.
The shift from the leading questions to the extending of the calling, or the “reveal”, was so jarring that my guts literally twisted. I actually had physical pains in my abdomen that lasted several seconds. The emotional pain of realizing I had been manipulated lasted a lot longer. It was a combination of fear and embarrassment that I had “allowed” myself to be manipulated, and an actual sense of violation, and anger towards the person who had manipulated me.
It was emotional and spiritual abuse.
I remember no physical contact whatsoever, not even a touch on the arm or shoulder.
I had only been a member of the church for two years, but never, ever, ever, had anyone, elders’ quorum presidents, bishops, and a stake president ever extended a calling with such a manipulative, emotional, backing-me-into-a-corner kind of intro, or build-up.
How could he have hurt me so, with just words?
I was hurt on several levels: one, that the build-up was inappropriate to the calling; two, that I fell for the manipulative and leading build-up and allowed myself to be emotionally “conned”; three, I was insulted that he thought I needed manipulating or “conning” as if I wouldn’t have accepted the calling without it; four, that he denied me the blessing of accepting the calling willingly, without deceit and manipulation.
I immeidately realized back then that I would have accepted the calling anyway, had he extended it in a righteous manner, so I did accept that temporary calling in the MTC branch.
But the pain was real.
At first, I thought it was selfish to have the “he denied me my blessing” attitude. He didn’t “owe” me a blessing, so I quickly let go that part.
Second, I was very offended on another level, which in hindsight I see as pride. I had just committed 1.5 years (the length missionary service at the time of my call) of my life to be there. I had given up a good-paying job. (I was in my late 20′s, and had worked 7 years in I.T.)
So why was he treating me like I didn’t want to be there? Why was he treating me like I didn’t want to serve? Wasn’t just being there proof enough that I was willing to serve?
The answer to the last three questions is that many missionaries at the time, in fact all the “problem” missionaries, really didn’t want to be there, and weren’t willing to serve. It was a time when 19 year old received a lot of pressure to go on a mission, no matter what. I imagine a lot of pressure and manipulation went into the process of getting those problem missionaries onto their missions.
So part of my coping strategy, or reasoning, became excusing his bullying and manipulative “build-up” by thinking that a heavy-handed style of management was needed to keep all those missionaries-who-didn’t-really-want-to-be-there in line. And the guy just treated everybody like the least-common-denominator. He likely didn’t know I was a convert or how old I was. I looked only about 20 or 21. So if he thought I was a 21 year-old who was born in the church, he may have jumped to the conclusion that I was one of the “problem elders” because I hadn’t gone on a mission at 19.
However, that coping strategy failed to explain or excuse the “unrighteous dominion” aspect of it all. How can it be right to use bullying, abusive, manipulative and deceitful management techniques in the true church?
And answer to that last question is: it’s not.
Yet according to D&C 121, it is the tendency of all men, even leaders in the missionary program, to slip into unrighteous dominion.
I believe there was a problem with the management culture of the MTC back then. He wasn’t the only one who had a condescending, brow-beating, heavy-handed attitude towards the elders. (I was there 8 or 9 weeks in preparation for a foreign language mission, and I noticed much the same attitude by the other branch presidents who spoke in the weekly assemblies.)
I don’t think it came from above, at the level of the 70′s or the apostles. I think it came from the culture of people living in Provo, the only people who were available to serve as leaders in the MTC.
I have since come to believe that small pockets of unrighteous dominion can develop as cultural traditions in the church until those who suffer from it complain loudly enough, or, in the more extreme cases, bring it to the attention of their leaders’ leaders.
To whom can a misisonary complain when his MTC branch president or assistant branch president uses unrighteous dominion? Who among 19 year-old missionaries is even going to recognize it if that heavy-handed management style matches that which they grew up with in the church?
And me, as a late 20′s missionary, I had never been approached by a multi-level marketing salesman, or been the knowing subject of a “commitment pattern” approach. I had committed to baptism before I took the first missionary lesson. So the missionaries never had to do a ‘sales job’ on me.
So here’s the epiphany: though using it in an inappropriate environment, and in a rank, amateurish, offensive manner, the poor bastard was just giving me the standard Utahan MLM approach with the “commitment pattern” thrown in.
It feels better to have an increased understanding of your offender’s motivations. Although I still think his treatment of me (and other missionaries) was wrong for the reasons I listed above, I no longer have to wonder if his behavior was due to an evil heart. He was more likely just using the techniques he was familiar with, which were acceptable in his local culture at the time, even though he misunderstood and misapplied them.
(For anyone who doesn’t see the connections I try to describe above, the 1980′s were a time when MLM was hitting its stride in Utah. In the early 1980′s, the Brethren were warning against “get rich quick” schemes over the pulpit in General Conference, clearly in reference to MLM’s without actually naming them, much like how the phrase “alternate voices” has been used to refer to Sunstone and Dialogue more recently.)