Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Jason Harris
I had a major breakthrough on my drive home today. I have been doing “Ego Work,” “Internal Family Systems Therapy,” and “Shadow Work” with my therapist exploring those parts of myself that have been shunned to my subconsious, etc, part of healing and becoming a more fully integrated person.
I tend to be anxiously attached to my spouse. It creates problems. Psychologists tell us the source of anxious attachments are abandonment fears. Today driving, I was pondering, asking my deepest parts of myself while driving (part of internal family systems therapy) where my abandonment fears come from. I have been trying to figure this out for over a year now. And today, that deepest part of myself that fears abandonment the most revealed the answer to me, where the bulk of these fears come from.
I was never afraid to leave my parents presence that I can recall. So I couldn’t think of displaying an anxious attachment with them, so was puzzled until today why the abandonment fears. And for the most part, I have confidently moved into the world. But why my abandonment fears in my marriage, or the constant need for reassurance? And with some other friendships in my past if they start to become close friends? Why am I often anxiously attached there? There can be many reasons for this.
But what I believe to be the top one hit me like a ton of bricks today. At five years old, I was taught I needed to be perfect to get back to God. I constantly prayed for this. Daily. Conditional love and acceptance. Furthermore, I was taught at eight I would be baptized and would receive the “Gift of the Holy Ghost.” This was the “most special gift.” With this, I would have the “constant companionship of the Holy Ghost” as long as I lived worthy of it. My “Very Best Friend.” The problem was, “the Spirit” is “very sensitive” and “easily offended.” If there are feelings of anger or “contention” “The Spirit (happiness or elevation emotion as I interpret it now) leaves…. If there is swearing…. The Spirit can be offended and leave. If there is any questionable content in a movie (per Mormon doctrine) such as swearing, any promiscuity, violence, etc… the Spirit can be offended and leave. If one is hanging around people “not following the Mormon commandments” “The Spirit” can leave.
What this equated to in my own life was a constant desire to feel nothing but happy and “holy” or the elevation emotion (The Spirit”) and to rigidly follow all of the Mormon commandments so as not to lose the Spirit.
If I was ever kind or loving to another… well these were “fruits of the Spirit” and evidence the Holy Ghost was with me (not something I could own as my own emotions or motives, actions). But I needed to keep the commandments to make sure it stayed with me (read scriptures, attend church, pray and rigidly follow all Mormon commandments). Otherwise I might not be able to appropriately love others either…
The results of this were not only a fear of constantly being abandoned by “The Spirit” which was a member of the Godhead… “perfect” my “truest friend” (WHAT A FRIEND!!) But also acting around others who were just being human in a manner that would further fuel abandonment fears (who wants to hang around someone distancing themselves from them if they “sin” etc).
This was literally one of the most central teachings in Mormonism. This was the primary thing stressed during my two year mission… the importance of “keeping the Spirit.” If one broke any mission rules, etc. one could “lose the Spirit.” If there was any arguments or contention (expressions of anger) one would “lose the Spirit” (happy emotions or elevation emotion as I interpret it now). Conditional worth. Conditional acceptance. HIGHLY conditional acceptance.
CONSTANT ABANDONMENT FEARS!! Anxious attachment.
Wow. Simultaneously so healing, yet so sad and so much grief to realize that this central belief I adhered so tightly to for so many years, literally believing there was a personage of Spirit with me at all times, but only if I measured up… what an incredibly toxic and damaging belief! Perhaps the most central tenet of Mormonism. Conditional love and acceptance. Which fuels abandonment fears. Which can fuel MAJOR relationship problems in real life with oneself AND with others!
And not only was there the fear of offending the Spirit (and any good I did in my life was mostly the “fruits of the Spirit” because “the natural man is an enemy to God”) but there was also the fear that once the Spirit left me… I would be “left to the fiery darts of the adversary” or literal evil Spirits…. I would no longer be protected.
So much pathology. Not just abandonment fears… but fears of being controlled or influenced by evil entities once abandoned. Thus my entire life was one of “people pleasing” “the Spirit.” It was a transactional relationship with God. Constantly trying to be “good enough” to avoid abandonment… because if one is abandoned by the Holy Ghost… one later can’t get into heaven either. That constant companionship is necessary.
And the ironic thing!?!… as I realized this at a very deep level while driving…as that deep and scared and anxious part of myself revealed to me where these fears primarily stemmed from…. I felt an intense burning in my bosom… and enlightenment… and love. Intense love. Especially as I embraced this deep part of myself that has been hidden in my deepest shadows for so many years, not revealing itself to me consciously other than in bits and pieces. Feelings I would have previously associated with “The Spirit.” Actually this was a feeling of relief at finally understanding how this toxic (well meaning, but toxic) belief had profoundly harmed my life. This was feelings of love and compassion stemming from within MYSELF. Given by myself to myself. MINE. And an understanding (finally) of what the root of a MAJOR source of my abandonment fears was. Keeping the “constant companionship of the Holy Ghost” was literally something I reflected on several times a day… my entire life until a few years ago.
Amazing that up until now, I wouldn’t see or think of this as a source for my abandonment fears.
I’m convinced by my own experiences and life that many Mormon teachings are absolutely toxic to healthy relationships with oneself and with others. This is one of those toxic teachings. One of the most “holy” and “central” teachings of Mormonism. I currently hug my innocent child self who CONSTANTLY just wanted to be a good boy. I shed tears for that very innocent, pure and well meaning boy. All of him.
And as I reflect on this further, there was a strong element of conditional acceptance within my own family. Love shown as long as “obedient” etc. This type of conditional acceptance paradigm could create abandonment fears as well…. though I was always a good kid and didn’t really feel “abandoned” by my parents growing up (perhaps there was a deeper subconscious fear of this as well though).
But I now strongly realize the constant daily reflection about fearing losing the companionship of what I embraced as a very real entity that would constantly be with me (but only on a conditional basis) played a STRONG role in abandonment fears that have fueled anxious attachments. Because there were MANY times in my life when I felt “the Spirit leave.” Especially when it wasn’t even something I had done but others AROUND me had done…. which would then “prompt” me to leave to be with the Spirit again…. which would further fuel abandonment fears by not being able to create deep meaningful relationships with actual REAL HUMANS who were BEING HUMAN. I was “holier than though.” Had to be to keep my best friend “The Spirit.”
WALKING. ON. EGG. SHELLS.
TOXICITY disguised as “love” and “compassion” “The Spirit Loves You.” (With this “beautiful” highly conditional love that is easily offended, etc.). Emotions wax and wane. So the emotions equated with “The Spirit” will wax and wane as well. Thus ANYONE will feel “abandoned” by the Spirit at different times in their life defined this way. Even when keeping ALL the Mormon commandments perfectly!!
SO. MUCH. DAMAGE. DONE. But there IS healing. And I am optimistic.
So happy to be healing.
Jason Harris lived as an orthodox Mormon for forty years. He writes about his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made, potentially helpful and harmful. He believes there is Divinity in all of them and everywhere.