Bio: Becky graduated from the University of Utah in 2017 with an MSW. She is now a therapist, with a private practice and specializes in religious trauma.
I grew up in the Cottonwood Heights area of Salt Lake City. I was in Young Women’s during the 80’s. I remember when Ardith Greene Kapp was the general young women president and the church created the Young Women theme and values. It was a really big deal and there was a lot of excitement about both of these for girls in the church. These were introduced following the first worldwide celebration for Young Women. Sister Kapp stated at the time, “Never before in the history of the Church has there been such a need for young women who are willing to sacrifice popularity if necessary, suffer loneliness if required, even be rejected if needed, to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ. . . . Let us all be filled—filled with the light, the strength, the faith that comes from prayer, scripture study, and obedience to God’s commandments each day of our lives. . . . We’ll hold our torches high that Christ’s true light through us will shine, His name to glorify.”(Ardeth G. Kapp, “Stand for Truth and Righteousness,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 93)
These were the messages I was internalizing and believing wholeheartedly. I remember internalizing the Young Women values, because I believed with my whole self, that if I was obedient me and my future family would be blessed and happy. Looking back at things now, I would say the church took advantage of vulnerable young women, setting them up for lives of disappointment. As well as emotionally manipulating us. The Young Women program, and Personal Progress, I believe, instilled and reinforced self defeating ideals and behaviors for girls.
My father was an inactive member of the church for most of his life. He was a cigarette smoker, and enjoyed a beer every now and then. In the neighborhood of my childhood, this made me stand out. There were subtle and not so subtle things said. Becky’s dad smoked. The assertion by these statements were that my dad was not good enough. I took this to heart in some ways and used it as the cause of my older half sister’s battles with addiction. It was challenging, growing up in a mostly mormon neighborhood and being different.
I got married in 1992, in the Jordan River Temple. I was 23 years old and very much aware of the dangers of becoming an older unmarried woman in the church. I did not want to be labeled an old maid. I had a couple of years at the University of Utah finished, and was uneasy attending classes at the U. Feeling like I should be getting married and becoming a mother instead. The criteria I was taught to use for finding an adequate life partner was missionary service and church activity. So I married a man who fit that criteria.
However, I soon came to realize that what I had been led to believe about marriage in the church wasn’t the case for me. From the start my husband took the reins. He would remind me of his priesthood authority and therefore his ability to receive revelation from God for me. That’s a dangerous power to give men with a God complex. It had been something I had been taught though, as a young woman, not to trust myself, or my dad. My dad wasn’t worthy. But my bishop or my husband were, and I had to run everything by them to make sure I was right. More often than not, I was wrong. I came to doubt myself in many ways.
As my husband was abusive and controlling, he gaslit me on just about every topic. Over the years I came to doubt my own intuition, knowledge and experience, to keep the peace and do what he wanted me to do. We lived in a one bedroom apartment until our 2nd child was almost 1 year old. In 1996, I had our third child, and we were building a home down the street from our apartment. My husband’s parents were funding the whole thing, and my husband didn’t work for 2-3 years while he built our home on his own, with occasional help from my father or his. It was during this time that my dad came to me one day and asked me if my husband was abusive.
I’m not sure what had tipped my dad off, but I was mortified. I had internalized the blame for my husbands behavior and I felt so much shame that my dad might know that I was letting him abuse me. So I denied it, and I was alienated from my dad for a couple of years, while my husband continued to gaslight and control me. It was easier to see the flaws in my dad than to admit that he was right. My devout extended family helped reinforce this for me. My dad’s inactivity and unworthiness disqualified him from receiving revelation for me. Several times through the years, my husband would go and see one of our bishops, following a fight we had where he would break down doors, or punch holes in the walls, or break whatever was closest to him at the time. He intimidated me into staying in line with what he wanted. My mistake was trusting in the leadership in our ward to recognize abuse as it was happening, as well as trusting my husband to be honest about his confessions. I had more than one bishop tell me that my husbands violent and controlling behavior was because I had problems too.
My husbands parents seemingly knew about their son’s behavior, as it had been life long patterns that I was unaware of, and they enabled and justified it. Throughout my 22 years with him, they continually supported us financially and made excuses for his problems. After 19 years of marriage, I decided I had had enough and was seeking help from our bishop myself, after I realized how negatively my husbands controlling and spiritually abusive behavior was effecting our children.
It was then I learned that his parents had believed all along that their son was bipolar and that I “had been a champ” for “taking care” of him for all of those years. This was the first time they had told me anything like this. I had been naively caught up in a family cycle of abuse and conveniently took the blame for most of it for them. It was then that I started realizing how the LDS church had created a system that created narcissistic men who believed they were becoming Gods, and codependent women who believed it was their job to support that idea no matter what. And if we were worthy enough, we would be one of his wives and continue to have children for him throughout all eternity. When I started making these realizations, I was stunned and shocked and thought that surely if the leadership of the church knew what was happening to women, they would fix it.
I was very naive. I soon discovered that my story is one of thousands of women. When I sought for help from my Bishop, he told me that I was too emotional and that I needed medication to keep my family together. I was emotional, how could I not be, after realizing what I had been through and the mess I was in? You should be emotional when you realize you have given your life to a cause that isn’t worthy of you. That you have sacrificed your own well being to maintain an image of who your husband and family really is. The bishop’s only goal was to convince me to continue sacrificing my own well being in an effort to make sure my family stayed together. Not caring that there was no accountability for my husband’s choices, and not caring that I no longer had any individual worth.
My faith had been used against me, and my integrity had kept me in an endure to the end mindset for way too long. My divine nature was telling me that I had more value than I was being given. The knowledge I was acquiring regarding healthy relationships and equity in partnerships was dismissed, because my husband had created a narrative that I was the one who was mentally unstable, and he had more credibility, because he was the man. We worked with our Bishop for 2 years.
During this time I came to realize that our leaders were not trained to recognize abusive relationships. Which began to make sense when I began social work school, because they are part of a system that controls and gaslights members on a macro level. The institution as a whole upholds a perpetuates unhealthy power and control dynamics over individual members lives that causes harm in a myriad of ways. When my husband and I started this process, I was serving as a counselor in our Relief Society presidency and he was on the High Council. When it became apparent that I was following through with the divorce, I was released from my calling and assigned to help in the nursery. My husband was made the High Priest group leader in our ward. I was effectively put in a corner for time out, while my husband was given a prestigious leadership position.
Anyone familiar with our church dynamics can see the implications of that action. Our divorce became final in March of 2014. I moved to a new home, in a different ward and stake. Shortly thereafter, I was told that my former bishop had called my new bishop, before I had moved in, before I had met him, and told my new bishop that I had lied about the circumstances of my divorce and I had slandered my ex husband. It was also during this time that my ex husband remarried, approximately 10 weeks following our divorce, to a woman who had been in a young single adult group, in the ward he had been assigned to as a high council member, without inviting any of our children or introducing her to them. They had a baby 40 weeks later. To this day, the men in my former ward and stake, for the most part, shun me and blame me for what happened.
By now, I’m used to having my experiences dismissed. Told that what happened to me isn’t because of the church, it’s a few bad men. I used to believe things like that too. Until I realized that dismissing women’s experiences and upholding men is the status quo. It’s a systemic pattern of behavior that can’t be ignored or dismissed. It’s a pattern of behavior that is held up and maintained on a macro, mezzo & micro level in the church. It’s ugly, and maybe it’s easier for people to get defensive and say that hasn’t been their experience, rather than taking a good hard look in the mirror. I held that standard up for a long time. I’m embarrassed to say I was caught up in it. Like Aunt Lydia of The Handmaid’s Tale. My ex, his family, and my family are all part of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. While they differentiate themselves from fundamentalist sects, they fail to see how they are upholding fundamentalism in the mainstream church, and choose not to see that there are many more similarities than differences.
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