112: Creating Healthy Boundaries within Mormonism

Mormon Mental Health Podcast will be creating a 5 to 6 part series on boundaries within Mormonism. Natasha Helfer Parker has invited the providers from Symmetry Solutions to discuss boundaries… starting with a general overview, then with children, following with teens, then as adults and other topics such as sexuality, etc. in panel format. We notice in our mental health work with primarily LDS clientele, that there are difficulties understanding what healthy boundaries are and look like… as well as how to implement them in a patriarchal and authoritative structure, where often people feel like boundaries have already been set for them by the system. Unfortunately, not having the ability to create healthy boundaries for oneself, one’s children, and one’s family… can contribute to issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, negative relational dynamics and even abuse. From simple things, like whether or not one feels personal permission to reject a calling, to more serious issues such as whether or not we should support children’s interviews behind closed doors where they are asked sensitive questions including about their sexuality…. this is a relevant topic to today’s Latter-day Saints. We hope you will join in the discussion through the comments section to share either things you want us to address, things you are concerned about, ways you disagree/agree with us, things that have helped you balance healthy boundaries, etc.

In this first part Natasha is joined by Sara Hughes Zabawa and Jana Spangler for a general discussion on boundaries and some of the common issues that tend to come up within a Mormon framework.

Sara received a Masters Degree in Social Work and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies from the University of Michigan. She completed her Bachelors Degree in Social Work with a minor is Women’s Studies from Brigham Young University. She has extensive experience working with trauma survivors and with teens and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety. Sara helps LGBT+ individuals and their families develop advocacy skills, foster acceptance, and explore the relationship between their sexual and/or gender identity with their religious beliefs. Sara also helps clients navigate difficult life transitions, especially those related to their faith, is a skilled yoga instructor and uses mindfulness training to support clients in cultivating self-care practices.

Jana Spangler, IAC is an Integral Associate Coach and dedicated student of personal growth strategies. Over the past 5 years she has continually attended seminars and retreats, participated in on-line courses, studied world thought and spiritual leaders through books and interviews, and participated in several support groups. In July 2014, after having been born and raised in the LDS faith (Mormonism), she experienced a near-complete collapse in her faith. Since that time, she has used the tools she has gained through her study to travel a path of increasingly fulfilling spirituality and has spent countless hours supporting and mentoring others who are experiencing pain in their spiritual life and relationships.

Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She writes at The Mormon Therapist for Patheos: Hosting the Conversation of Faith, runs Mormon Sex Info and is the current president for the Mormon Mental Health Association.

4 comments for “112: Creating Healthy Boundaries within Mormonism

  1. Dietrich
    October 25, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    There’s a fairly famous example given by Bonhoeffer about a school boy and an intrusive teacher that may be helpful. Basically the claim is that what someone might “truthfully” state in a given situation depends on the concrete reality of the relationships that are operating in that context. http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/nursing/research/caringscience/Documents/Bonhoeffer%20What%20is%20Meant%20by%20Telling%20the%20Truth.pdf

  2. October 26, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Listening to this podcast was both encouraging and heartbreaking. It was encouraging in that the topic of boundaries and the need for them is being discussed in the context of a religious tradition that emphasizes obedience, deference to others in positions of authority, and negation of personal experiences when they don’t align with doctrine or culture. The heartbreaking part for me was that while we attempt to serve and support those who are harmed by Mormon culture/doctrine, in many cases we may do so while they remain in a context fraught with opportunities to be harmed again and again. I stood up and shouted “YES!” when Natasha mentioned that those in leadership positions are accountable for their actions, all the way up to the General Authorities. In my opinion, the issue of boundary violation and practicing beyond the scope of leadership expertise must also be addressed. Thanks for a thoughtful and timely podcast!

  3. Mortimer
    October 27, 2017 at 12:25 am

    I’m so glad you’re addressing boundaries in Mormonism! As you reach listeners in the upcoming podcasts focusing on children and youth, I hope you can discuss the enculturation we place on children and youth to ignore boundaries in order to be member missionaries. Pew Reports during and after the “Mormon Moment” showed that Mormons are one of the most negatively viewed religious groups in the country. Discrimination occurs for Mormon adults (as Mitt or Even McMullan can attest), but is also extremely intense on the playground and in middle and high school cliques and dating circles. Yet, we don’t teach children to protect themselves or to navigate these situations with anything but member-missionary bravado.

    One of the stories frequently told to even the youngest primary children is Joseph F. Smith’s “true-blue through and through” experience. Today, as this story is usually told in the following way: The “boy”, JFS, is confronted by a swearing, drunk ruffian pointing a gun at JFS’s head. The ruffian insists that JFS answer whether he is Mormon. JFS doesn’t doubt or fear and instinctively responds ‘yes sir’ee, true-blue, through and through”. The ruffian is caught off guard and then instead of harming young JFS, compliments him on his integrity/scruples. This frequently repeated story exemplifies a lack of boundaries resulting in the best possible outcome. Children are taught that this is an appropriate missionary response, and it is often coupled with the ‘be not ashamed of the gospel’ scripture mastery verse. Children are taught to be proud and vocal about who they are, and that doing so will be miraculous and life-saving.

    Yet that story has been both misunderstood and misrepresented. Studying the earliest accounts and paying careful attention to context leads one to draw a completely opposite conclusion. “The Juvenile Instructor” did a wonderful job historically reviewing the “true-blue” narratives and serves as a good reference http://juvenileinstructor.org/true-blue-depending-on-whos-telling-the-tale-the-redacted-story-of-joseph-f-smith-and-the-ruffians/

    The “real” story:

    JFS was actually a young man on return from his mission. While gathering firewood, he was confronted by a drunken ruffian on horseback swinging a revolver around. The ruffian swore at JFS and demanded an answer to ‘are you a Mormon?’ In the Anderson version of the story (1919), JFS says, “I dared not run, . . . though I trembled for fear which I dared not show”. In other words, faced with fight or flight, he quickly surmised that flight wasn’t an option – he was stuck having to either fight or appease his assailant.

    JFS was then inspired by the Spirit with a survival strategy. He wrote (1938) “Then the thought came to [me] , . . . With that thought in mind [I] boldly marched up . . . ” I read this to be that JSF was prompted from a force outside himself- with a clever/humorous response to shock the drunkard and survive. It worked.

    This story was NEVER meant to be a model response (or rote response) to the question “are you a Mormon” as is currently taught to primary and youth. This story isn’t about being a member missionary. The real moral of the story is that one should follow personal revelation which can vary drastically in differing contexts. Sadly, we incorrectly teach children to respond, “yes sir’ee, true blue, through and through”. This story isn’t about lowering boundaries or not having boundaries, or reflexively identifying oneself as Mormon. The moral is the opposite- you should listen to the Spirit and trust your survival instincts.

    Most LDS children and youth don’t face this type of 19th century violence, but in those moments when we face an assailant- when we face abuse or bullying, we may be prompted to remain quiet, to walk away, or to say something else entirely. You and I shouldn’t say, “yes sir’ee” unless we too are specifically prompted to do so, which would be highly unlikely.

  4. G
    November 27, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Listening to the pod cast I stumbled on the “we believe” stuff. For a minute. It took me a sec but even when it comes to the tiny details of the Articles of Faith. It’s taken me years to roughly understand even the most simple articles, and that is tenuous. It’s makes me all the more grateful for Joesph Smith and how he (like Christ) taught in deceptive layers. The teachings “may” seem simple but are far from it.
    Anyway back at the barnyard, I remembered the rhetoric from back in the 80’s about “good” Mormons don’t drink Coke and my mom laughing as she said that was bs and took another sip of her Diet Coke.
    My parents were far from perfect and I see how much “freedom” I had to find my own way and luckily I did (sort of). Now when I say “freedom” it isn’t because my parents paid me special attention, it’s more that so much was going on in their lives with 6 other kids and me (not an angel but) going more or less in a quiet straight line was left pretty much to my own devices. The missteps I made… if my parents knew what I did they’d wonder what they did wrong but all that searching has luckily made me a better parent (hopefully) to my kids. Though it is tough to let go of some of the “teachings” that true volunteers try to convey each week, that I was taught or my kids are taught. There are so many difficult topics found with in Gospel and with Church history for young minds, so many teachings are askewed or even lost and left behind.
    Enough rambling,
    Great podcast. I love it.

    P.s. is it to forward of my (since I love biology) to state that there are only three biological sexes. You either have a penis, a vagina, or parts of both but there are many ways to express gender. Gender and biological sex, to me, are extremely different.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *