“LDS women in Utah are at risk for depression due to “toxic perfectionism” and a host of other cultural factors” according to Utah Valley University’s Professor Kris Doty, who presented at a conference January 31st. You can read the article here.
Throughout our membership in the church, we are constantly reminded to be perfect. We are taught that while we aren’t perfect now, but we can be. Lds.org explains, “True followers of Christ may become perfect through his grace and atonement.” I browsed talks about women and their roles and duties aimed to get them to a perfect state. Women are reminded to be good mothers, raise children in love and righteousness, to be charitable, patient, kind, loving, nurturing, to fulfill visiting teaching, to be modest, happy, be good member missionaries, to be good homemakers – but the list simply didn’t end there.
And frankly, after browsing through a few more talks, I was exhausted.
The pressure to be perfect is real – especially when it’s in a religious context. Being perfect is equated to your eternal salvation. The concept of ‘being perfect’ is pushed too hard and leads to competition and as Kris Doty reports in her study, it often leads to depression as well.
Yet, if perfection is required for both males and females in the LDS church, why aren’t men similarly affected by the same astounding rates of depression and affected by toxic perfectionism? Women in the church are adored and, as Quentin L. Cook stated in the April 2011 General Conference, “LDS Women Are Incredible!” Being adored and incredible, though, isn’t enough to even warrant an adequate budget for activities. Activity Day girls have a significantly smaller budget than Scouts, and at least in my ward, Activity Day budgets were the first to get cut. From Activity Days on, when activities actually happen, they are too often predicated on building yourself for someone else. Ladies, Young Women’s isn’t for you, it’s for your eternal companion!
Young women are taught to be unattainably perfect, but there’s little reward or acknowledgement from the church. When Priests get their Eagle Scout, they are in the paper, they are commended and it something to feel proud of. Young Women’s Personal Progress is apparently a feel-good-by-yourself project – you get up in Sacrament (maybe) and the Bishop hands you a necklace and no one ever talks about it again.
The church, if they truly believe we women are so darn incredible, needs to start making Young Women’s a priority. Young Women’s lessons need to teach and promote leadership and qualities that women and young women can do what they want with – instead of teaching 12 year old girls to be nurturing so they can be a mother and a wife. They need to divvy out budgets equally and make girls’ programs equally as important as boys’.
Not only that, the church cannot to afford to ignore that depression is a problem. When we do, many LDS women, specifically in Utah, are part of a dangerous cycle. Women strive for an unattainable perfection, this leads to depression, but when depression is viewed as a sin, the opposite of perfection, many women often hide their depression or feel guilty. In our society, but more prevalently in the church, depression is not mentioned and has often become synonymous with “sinning”. Lessons screaming “Your Attitude Makes a Difference” and “Good Cheer” with church leaders reminding women to be sweet, pure, and gentle, contrast with the completely natural feelings of anger and sadness depression brings.
Here’s the thing we don’t get taught – you can smile and do service and depression doesn’t go away. Depression is not the same as being unrighteous. Depression must be acknowledged and validated as a concern in our lessons and by the authorities. Often, professional help is needed, but with a stigma of sad feelings and anger, too many LDS women find themselves diving into the scriptures instead of seeking help elsewhere, as well. As toxic perfectionism pervades Utah Mormon culture and affects so many LDS women, there isn’t room to skirt around the issue of mental health anymore. And frankly, we can’t afford to adore women instead of implementing changes that could remedy depression in the church.
6 Responses to “toxic perfectionism”
It makes one wonder why “perfect” Utah could possibly have the highest suicide rate in the nation.
I totally agree that depression (true clinical depression) needs to be better addressed by general authorities as an illness, not just a temporary, “sin-related” condition. If you only try harder, you will feel better, is the last message someone with true clinical depression needs to hear. In fact, what got them depressed is often caused by stress, and trying to juggle too much. Adding another task to the pile is the last thing you need to do. I agree totally that when you’re simply feeling blue service, church-related activities, etc. can uplift your spirits. But, there is a world of difference between this and true depression that I fear few people in the church recognize out loud as much as they should. This is improving, but there needs to be more improvement. I feel that the reason that women are more prone to this because they are the ones having the huge swing in hormones related to pregnancy, and post-partum. In fact, 10-15% of women experience post-partum depression, just count out 1 in every 10 of the women in your ward, and that’s a lot. I think that is why women experience more depression. I totally agree with the rest of your article though, that we desperately need more awareness. It’s sad that people should struggle alone with this, never mind feel that they have done wrong when their suffering is already poignant!
I love it. It sickens me when there is not enough focus on deal with real world issues in youth programs. I remember going through young mens with teachers that were afraid to mention sex or chastity or depression. They only wanted to talk about modesty and basic gospel doctrines without applying it to our lives. That’s the point of the gospel, to help us cope with and learn how to live our lives.
Men are that they might have joy!
So why all of the guilt trips for not being perfect yet?
Anonymous – I would check your sources on that one. I am pretty sure it’s a mormon myth.
thedavidpearson- Of course teachers are afraid to mention those topics. As a Sunday school teacher it is not your job to be a parent, psychiatrist, and counselor to your students. That is left to the partents and the bishop.
As far as perfectionism goes, it seems to me that only certain personality types glean this from the gospel message. I am not blaming those people, but once one looks at Mormon Doctrine for what it is, it is hard to come to the conclusion that it is about perfection.
If girls and woman are feeling this way, than it is important to discuss the doctrine of the atonement and help them seek counseling for deeper seeded issues.
I also find it difficult to believe that the curiculum aimed at woman is responsible for the feelings of guilt that some woman have. Go to a priesthood meeting at general conference. We are torn to shreds on what it means to live as a man. A high standard indeed. However, a well adjusted healthy person knows that this is an ideal that you aim for but most likely will never reach in this life. Hence the good news of the gospel.
What I am trying to say is that I think this is more of a universal expirience among men and women who may not have understood the gospel message correctly.
If a large group of people aren’t understanding what we’re trying to tell them, we may need to look at the way we’re telling it to them. It may not be their fault for misunderstanding as much as our fault for not explaining it clearly.
[…] kind of teaching leads to the toxic perfectionism that many members are suffering. This phenomenon has been documented by psychology researchers at Utah Valley University, but they […]