General’s Women Session Oct 2015 – A Mental Health Perspective

General’s Women Session Oct 2015 – A Mental Health Perspective October 12, 2015

Around each General Conference I try to share my thoughts about the messages we receive.  I don’t usually get around to comment on all the talks – just from a time perspective.  But I will do my best to cover a majority before our next conference.

I have found that these General Conference messages go on to color our spiritual lens in a variety of ways for the foreseeable future – in family, church, internet and many other settings.  As I participate in this bi-annual Mormon ritual, I -like many of you- have a myriad of insights, thoughts, questions, spiritual experiences, and concerns come up in regards to the many aspects of my life (personal, relational, spiritual, cultural and professional).  Please join me through the comment section in sharing your voice as to how this conference’s messages are affected you.  What can we celebrate and feel “called” to incorporate into our lives in significant ways?  What lifts and edifies? What do we need to challenge or think through in nuanced ways (understanding that it is difficult to cover any subject in complete depth within the framework of 10 to 15 minutes that these men and women are given)?  What might be healthy for some to hear while for others not so healthy (i.e. those managing depression, ocd, anxiety, etc.)?  How do we frame our ideas and thoughts in respectful ways – especially when we may disagree with one another?  How do we maintain the balance between trusting ourselves, offering our voice, and keeping our commitment to sustain our leaders (whom I believe only have positive and protective intentions)?

My comments will be italicized…

Discovering the Divinity Within by Rosemary M. Wixom

Messages I found to be healthy and uplifting:

We come to this earth to nurture and discover the seeds of divine nature that are within us.

Our divine nature has nothing to do with our personal accomplishments, the status we achieve, the number of marathons we run, or our popularity and self-esteem. Our divine nature comes from God.

Trust God and believe in good things to come.

The world needs you, and your divine nature allows you to be His trusted disciple to all His children. Once we begin to see the divinity in ourselves, we can see it in others.

One of the things I believe Mormonism (and religion in general) does well is give meaning and purpose to life.  This helps people feel centered, structured and supported as they go through both the joys and difficulties life experiences bring.  There are many positive aspects of Mormon doctrine that speak to the worth and divinity of each person – allowing for the possible development of strong self-esteem and feeling of self-worth.   

Recently, Sharon Eubank, the director of Humanitarian Services and LDS Charities…

So wonderful to see us quoting and speaking about women holding important and relevant positions in our organization.  I believe this is so important for our developing young women to see themselves mirrored in leadership roles.  

Messages I found to be needing of further nuance/discussion:

Not sure I like it when the speaker uses the speaking style of “we do this – we do that.”  Mormonism covers a large spectrum of people, faith experience and belief.  I would hope that we can embrace all kinds of Mormons into our fold – and I’m not sure that speaking for the entire membership helps include those who may not agree with whatever follows the “we…”

I am not a fan of things are so hard in “these days.”  There have always been hard days.  There are unique things to our time – but we also benefit greatly from many comforts and civil/social rights that have never existed before.  I wish we could do a better job of talking about our challenges without having to focus on things being so supposedly dire and negative around us (when the research really doesn’t support this).  I also wish we had more of a tradition of talking about the many wonderful things happening in the world around us and learning how to celebrate and be part of these things.  Focusing on the adversary and the world being so awful can unnecessarily increase anxiety and fear.  

Worthy of Our Promised Blessings by Linda S. Reeves

Messages I found to be healthy and uplifting:

Our bodies are sacred gifts from our Heavenly Father.

I believe we do a good job in Mormonism of embracing our bodies, both from an acceptance perspective and a taking-care-of perspective.  I think it’s important to have messages which counter many media and cultural standards of what it means to have a beautiful or worthwhile body.  

The Atonement, which can reclaim each one of us, bears no scars. That means that no matter what we have done or where we have been or how something happened…, He has promised that He would atone. And when He atoned, that settled that. There are so many of us who are thrashing around … with feelings of guilt, not knowing quite how to escape. You escape by accepting the Atonement of Christ, and all that was heartache can turn to beauty and love and eternity.

I am a believer in using the Atonement as a spiritual tool to help us reframe negative experiences we have had or mistakes we feel we have made.  When we hold ourselves to the standard of never failing or never falling – it is unrealistic.  It is much healthier to see mistakes and regrets as part of a long journey – things that add value to our learning experiences.  We need a lot of grace talk when it comes to sexual healing.  

Messages I found to be needing of further nuance/discussion:

“Seductive romance novels” is a hard thing to define – and for many women, these are very useful outlets to develop their sense of sensuality and erotica (which has often been highly stifled by religious cultures such as ours).  Sexuality has been a part of literature, art, music and poetry for the history of humanity – and thankfully so.  The human story would be incomplete without it.  Having sexually mature and developed women adhere to standards written for adolescents in the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet has been something I have long seen as inappropriate.  There is developmental growth and appropriateness in every aspect of our lives – including sexually.  Material I can manage in my 40s is very different than that I could manage at 15.  

Vilifying the internet is problematic.  Yes, there is a lot of stuff on the internet that is not useful or even true.  However, the internet has changed the world as far as an information revolution.  It has been extremely useful in allowing for many of us to have credible data, knowledge and information at the tips of our fingers.  I’m concerned that talks that deal with sexuality are often only presented through fear-based rhetoric, which really does not help when people truly have sexual problems – and it also doesn’t help those who don’t.  This is a cultural theme that goes way beyond this one talk.  I’ve been talking about this most of my career.    

I will also caution women from being sucked into the “pornography or sex addiction” paradigm.  Some spouses do engage in behavior that is highly deceitful, problematic and risks finances, job stability, etc.  However, this is not the majority of our population.  Although it may be very painful to find out that a spouse has not behaved sexually in a way that we had assumed – part of why I see people divorce around these issues is because we place large amounts of meaning into behavior that is not necessarily as awful as our cultural framing has made them out to be.  If we expect spouses to never have sexual thoughts, feelings or even some action (i.e. looking at porn, reading a sensual novel, etc.) outside of the “couplehood” – then divorce might be more forthcoming than if we are able to accept that all people have a sexual self separate from our own.  I have seen the word “addiction” been used inappropriately for the majority of my career – mainly because we do not know how to distinguish between unwanted behavior and dependence/addiction.  I think many Mormon couples can work through and negotiate these issues in healthier ways than we currently offer as options.  

What will it matter, dear sisters, what we suffered here if, in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the kingdom of God with our Father and Savior?

I think it is important that we validate the trials we endure.  These are not small things.  And although a belief in the afterlife and an eternal reward can help offer meaning and comfort through trials for some – others can see this type of messaging as minimizing and belittling.  Plus there is difficulty in the idea that certain trials “qualify” us.  I would never want a rape victim, for example, to frame a criminal act against them to be seen as a necessary “qualifier.”  That is not a healing or comforting concept – and in my experience, does more to separate victims from God than draw them closer.  

This whole talk was very equational.  If you do this… then you will get this…  Sometimes.  But not often.  Sexuality is complex and personal and sacred.  With a membership dealing with a wide myriad of sexual experience, exploration, development and even trauma, we need to do a lot better than what we have if we are going to address this topic to a general audience.  And this talk was focused heavily on procreation – instead of pleasure and relationship building.  I have great hope that we will be able to move towards more sex-positive messaging in the future as we learn to embrace the many sex-positive principles the gospel gives us access to.  As well as stop making the mother identity so entirely central to the female Mormon.  Yes, being a mother is a wonderful and important role.  As is being a father.  And whether or not members are mothers or fathers – there are many other aspects to each person’s identity than that of being a parent.     

If you have a diagnosis of OCD – I would caution from taking the sexual messaging we offer in our church culture too literally.  It is normal to have sexual arousal, feeling and fantasy – and trying to avoid all of that can be very damaging both spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Messages I found to be harmful:

True love requires reserving until after marriage the sharing of that affection which unlocks those sacred powers … [by] avoiding situations where physical desire might take control. …

Whether or not people go further than they may intend sexually prior to marriage should not be correlated to how much they love each other.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Including people legitimately in love.  

 

 

One comment I will make about the General Women’s Session in general: I find it inappropriate that we have invited children as young as 8 years old to attend meetings where the material is either above their developmental level – or if it is at their developmental level, then not really appropriate for adolescent and adult women to be challenged by.  When we are discussing such things like pornography, and relating stories where a mother has died and her starving baby is found beside her – these are powerful, provocative images that I would not want my 8 year old listening to.  Not to mention it’s hard for any 8 year old to sit still for this long and stay truly engaged.  I’m not sure why this decision was made a few years back.  I already have reservations with the 12 year old young men having to listen to the usually very adult messages shared in the Priesthood session.  My suggestion would be 16 years and older so the messages can really be directed towards a more adult audience. 

Natasha Helfer Parker can be contacted at natashaparker.org.


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