Why don’t you just leave?

I’ve seen this question posed multiple times in the threads and forums of Mormondom. I’ve had friends who have run into this question in their families and wards.

And it’s heartbreaking. It is never ok to question someone’s testimony. That is bullying. It’s why this and so many Bloggernacle blogs have a policy against such accusations and similar questions. On the receiving end, it makes the person feel disposable: “That Zion we learn about at church? Don’t want you there.” “That eternal family thing? Yeah, doesn’t apply to this relationship. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

It’s devastating.

I’ve read many great responses to this question. Some will say that they have no issues with doctrine, just policy. Some shelve the tough topics. Some call upon history, “If everyone fighting for suffrage decided to leave, where would women be today?” Some call on the fact that life is complicated: some people set aside differences for the sake of family, friends, or occupation, or whatever else. We all have priorities and we don’t get to judge another’s.

But it has been my experience that responding with these doesn’t always work. You can explain your testimony until you’re blue in the face and you’ll still be written off. And I think that’s because both parties are overlooking one of the most debilitating parts of the question.

In asking, “Why don’t you just leave?” the asker is admitting, on some level, that if they had the same testimony struggles, if they had the same experiences, they would leave. Peel away the anger of “If you have all these problems with the Church, why don’t you just leave?” and you may find the scary answer, “I would have left already if I were you.”

Anger is a defensive emotion, used to hide hurt, shame, fear, guilt, and vulnerability.

What can we do on the receiving end? Deep breaths. Since it’s not actually about you,  you can kindly try focusing it back, “Hmm. Would you?” But,  “That’s not an option for me right now,” might be all you can do. Smile and keep on going. And breathe some more. Your own emotions are tricky, and dealing with someone else’s is trickier. Relationships are hard; they don’t always survive.

But know it’s ok to be on that edge. I wish there was something definitive that I could say and promise that it’ll work out or even promise that it won’t so you can move on. Some people will actually show you the door. Sometimes time heals all wounds. And if there’s anything I know about life, it’s that things will change.

Oh and, why don’t I leave? Well, God told me to stay. Take it up with Her.

TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.


  1. Great post-as an openly gay Mormon and one who has not committed to a life of celibacy *nor* denounced my orientation, I get asked this daily both by people in and outside the church. Why I stay is, admittedly, a mystery even to me. But I do think there is something here worth fighting for–and as I look at every other Mormon who feels like they’re “on the outside looking in” (for whatever reason), I *know* there is something worth fighting for: the voice and feelings of my brothers and sisters.

    • I teared up reading your comment, Mitch. Beautifully put. I wish you the best.

      And thank you, TopHat for another excellent post. It’s incredibly difficult to not react in anger when someone poses that question. I think the best options usually are to do as you suggest or just disengage. Disengaging is a lot easier on the internet, more difficult in real life. I think some discussions aren’t going to benefit either party, and sometimes it’s best to just end that discussion right there and then.

    • I’m a straight woman with 4 kids in a great marriage, and somehow, Mitch, we’ve got the same problem.

      It all started when I heard about something called “prop 8” that was happening in California. I don’t live in CA and I was involved in other areas, but I knew threw the church spiderweb that there was some vibration happening in that direction. When I heard it, I smiled, satisfied. I thought the Church had finally seen a way to address its old polygamy problem– today manifesting as chain-abuse of young girls in illegal polygamous families, and driving away of the boy-children of the same system. I thought that by making a stand that all people should have equal access to the CIVIL instrument, marriage (while still disagreeing to allow the recognition of any unions not conforming with current temples performing the religious RITE, celestial marriage) the church would begin to unwind the abusive hold in those cloistered communities through the simple act of recognizing those awful marriages in order to give the plural wives legal standing to the assets of the family, allowing them to leave and have protection of the law. This move on the Church’s part seemed very shrewd to me. The Church wouldn’t even have to defend it as we already have D&C 134 defining the function of the civil law to punish crime but not restrain the freedom of the soul, etc. etc. I wasn’t actually asked to contribute anything to Prop 8, but I figured my prayers were value enough, for the good of all the people involved. You can imagine how foolish I felt, after the Obama victory night, when I learned what Prop 8 really meant. I’m not usually a dumb or inattentive person, but it seemed to me that we could not take the position we did without violating multiple principles, so I had not paid attention to the possibility.

      I began having doubts about my understanding of “gay” people, or rather, God’s view of gay people. The first thing I noticed was that I could find no modern references (Joseph Smith +) to it at all. Even when I finally found The Boyd K Packer Talk, it left me with more rather than less questions– Packer does not explain what provoked the straight missionary’s punch of the gay missionary, AT ALL. Had the gay missionary attacked the straight missionary? I couldn’t understand it. Next, I went through Jesus’s words, and could find no condemnation of any kind directed at “gay” things. Finally, I figured all the understanding must come from Sodom and Gomorrah because everyone “knows” that is about God killing gay folks, and then, when I read and studied it, it seems that the decision to destroy the city preceded the incidents we imagine triggered it. And Ezekiel explains that the cities were destroyed for failure to share with the poor and help the stranger. Then, I looked at the other books of Moses (which were not written by Moses or the Lord, but by observers who don’t claim to be prophets) and found rules against gay actions in the same place as rules against eating seafood, stoning disobedient children, or the way to marry a girl you’ve raped. In short, I don’t believe that Law is from God at all, though it is in the Bible and Joseph Smith didn’t have the guts to strike out the whole thing (not for being mistranslated, but for being not inspired, and since Joseph was trying to correct the translation, mostly, rather than determine which was and which was not prophetic, so that makes sense). Here and there appear some homophobic allusions elsewhere in scripture but by and large they are rare and seem to pop up when discussing divisions of people who need to feel better than others.

      I considered Elder Jensen’s admission that the Church today does not describe a Plan of Happiness for gay and lesbian folks. For straight folks who never marry but are faithful, there is a plan in the here-after. But not for gay or lesbians.

      I’ve just come to the decision that a Plan of Happiness Exists for Gay and Lesbian Folks, even though we don’t know it yet.

      Are we not in the Church of continuing revelation?

      And yes, whenever I’ve explained that, I hear, “Why don’t you just leave?” which is really tragic in my case because, not having any reason to step out of normal doings myself, I am being invited out the door for … just thinking.

      • Your last line is exactly how I feel, especially when I am around my family who are forever trying to call me to repentance. I’m a temple-recommend-carrying, well-educated, (currently) stay-at-home mother of 3. Yep, I’m on the road to H-E-double hockey sticks.

    • Mitch,

      I wish I were so eloquent with my words the way you are. You explain what I feel so beautifully, I am not gay, but, the issues are still the same, what we want or rather what I want is acceptance for who I am.

      I wanted and wished that not only myself, but, others could walk thru the doors of the chapel with our heads held high as sons and daughters of God, and brothers and sisters in His restored Gospel.

      @Top Hat
      This is excellent, thank you

    • Hey, Mitch, I really appreciate your willingness to stick with the Church, in spite of the difficulties. I am a SSA man myself, and I do not have the courage or belief that anything good come come of my being publicly so…at least not yet. I think it’s going to take men and women like us to make the Church a safe place for gays and lesbians to come to Christ, and a safe place for others to love and accept us. Thanks for your efforts.

  2. I haven’t heard those fatal words–yet. But it’s mainly because only a few people know that I am hanging on by a thread. I don’t attend any longer because the hurt outweighs the good at this point. And I’m afraid that when the ‘true and faithful’ realize that I’ve ‘fallen away’ and am ‘lost’ that I will lose whatever friendships I thought I had. My friend Catherine had a good point though; she said that you’d find out pretty quick who your real friends were once they knew the facts. I’m just not brave enough to figure that out at the moment.

  3. I can understand those who think that dissenters should just leave. I have occasionally had to fight saying (or thinking) that myself, and for me it is out of frustration. It can be very frustrating to see people say things about the Church or its doctrines with a lack of desire to understand and not be able to say anything that can help. It is something to be overcome, not by those being told to go away, but by those feeling they must tell others to depart. It is our own frustration we must seek to overcome.

    The best recourse when getting frustrated by what others say is to say your piece and then say nothing at all. Discussion is good, wonderful even, but arguing between people who will not be moved is as pointless as a tug-o-war between mountain ranges. Faith can move mountains, but calling names, tossing the board, and declaring you wont play with “such people” is the antethesis of faith.

    • “It can be very frustrating to see people say things about the Church or its doctrines with a lack of desire to understand and not be able to say anything that can help. ”

      It can also be very frustrating to express a doubt or a question or just an opinion that’s perfectly in keeping with the gospel (even if out of keeping with mainstream opinions in the church) and have others respond as if I’m showing a “lack of desire to understand.” More often than not that is an absolute misperception born of the conviction that you know perfectly what the correct understanding is and if only I reached the same understanding all would be well. My suggestion is that rather than attributing such attitudes to others, you operate by assuming the best. And if the conversation leads you to conclude, based on actual evidence not just on disagreement, that the person you’re talking to truly doesn’t want to understand and truly just wants to vent their own feelings and ideas with no consideration for the ideas of others, you end the conversation and walk away.

  4. TopHat you rock! This is great. I hadn’t quite thought of it that way, that one who says this could be speaking more about themselves were they in the same position. Of course I’ll have to use the “would you?” should I ever fall into those circumstances to find out. It might help clarify to all involved just where the others are coming from. (“I would leave if I had no testimony.” “It’s not that I have NO testimony, I just don’t have a testimony of this, in fact I have a testimony contrary to this but still have a testimony of such and such.”) Thanks for the insight.

  5. I agree with you, people that tell you to leave have some of their own issues. I recently had someone tell me I’m welcome to leave if I disagree. I asked her to please not say such unkind things to me. This is my state, neighborhood, family, chuch too. And you are right, some relationships don’t survive, and that’s okay.

  6. This is awesome, TopHat. I actually hadn’t thought about that point. I haven’t been asked that question outright yet; people have hinted around it, asked me what I’m trying to accomplish, questioned whether or not there’s anything I even like about the church, and, yes, said the things I was saying sounded “anti”. I’ll have to keep this in mind for the future if (and, let’s be honest, when) I get asked.

    I wish people could see how hurtful and unkind that attitude is. I guess when you’re fighting past your own hurt and fear, though, it’s much harder to worry about how you’re making others feel and whether Jesus would do the same.

  7. I think it’s sad that people resort to mud slinging. Contention never brings the Spirit. If I find something I disagree with, and feel like I need to comment, I try to do so by bearing my testimony in a non-patronizing way. Like, if someone said, “Food storage is lame!” I’d *briefly* mention the ways it’s helped our family — from food during a time of unemployment, to the joy of learning to make super-yummy bread from scratch. I love me some wheat, lentils, and barley.

    I dunno if that made sense. All of us are going to run across someone we disagree with on the internet. I try to post in such a way that I *might* change someone’s mind, or at least let them understand my POV.

  8. There is no need to ask anyone why they stay. We need more diversity (and diversity in general) of thought and I’d love to hear more diverse thoughts voiced. For example, I’d love to hear from gay mormons in gospel doctrine, sacrament meeting and other places or from those who don’t discount the science of evolution or the value of philosophy and rational thought. I’m tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. One of the reasons I stay despite my differences of opinion and even belief is because I refuse to let anyone else define mormonism and the gospel on their terms. It doesn’t belong to any one person or group.

    • No doubt. I’d love to hear ANY discussion, of ANYthing, from ANYone in gospel doctrine or sacrament meeting. Please, for the love of all that is good and holy in this world, please–let’s discuss ideas/beliefs/experiences. All of them.

  9. I have at times wondered why people don’t leave– can’t deny that a lot of people do leave, so it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable question for someone who’s clearly deeply dissatisfied over a long period of time. I don’t ask, because it’s a very personal question, but I don’t think it’s unfair to wonder when someone says a lot of negative things and never any positive things. But I think it’s a very different question when it comes from a non-member.

    Most importantly, I would never ask “Why don’t you ‘just’ leave?” The word “just” trivializes what is for most people a major life decision. It’s rude, and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the complexity of the situation.

  10. Thank you for putting so well into words what I’ve been attempting to articulate recently.

    I think “why don’t you just leave?” can be an honest question and the best response can be to just say what you hold on to and let it be. The one that’s hard for me to deal with is, “Get with the program or get out” and all it’s variations. We should want anyone who wants to stay.

  11. I love this! I think about that all of the time too. I hate it when people say that. They talk about how eternally important Mormonism is and then in the same breath tell us that if we have a problem with some things we should just leave? It doesn’t make sense. Thank you for your well written response. Especially that last line!!

  12. Why don’t I leave? Because it is a great foundation for understanding God, Jesus, and myself. A foundation, not the whole building. I look elsewhere for the walls, chimney, windows, and so on, but without the foundation, my understanding is shaky at best.

    I just had a dream about this last night, about sorrowing at people leaving the church, but completely understanding why. Coincidence? Perhaps not–great minds think alike!

  13. I can sort of understand the defensive mentality that would lead someone to ask “Why don’t you just leave?” but it really stinks to hear the phrase tossed around, especially on the internet where anonymity allows even the nicest people to say rotten things . It just makes the listener want to, well, just leave. I think a far more productive question, if asked with the appropriate understanding and without indignation, is “What’s keeping you around?” While the wrong spirit can make those words just as poisonous, they can also invite a little self-reflection and mutual understanding…at least, I hope they would 🙂

  14. Because the Gospel is truth. Because the Church is, as the Savior said, a hospital; “the well hath no need of a physician”. If I had joined the church for the people, I’d have left the very next day. On bad days, I think of my beloved family. I would do nothing to hurt my children, active or not, and their spouses and children. I just keep thinking aboout all the poor, sick people, myself included, and do all I can to be a healer.

  15. Right now the Church is literally hemorrhaging– losing young people at an alarming rate for the Church. I would rather we save them with bandages, medication, and ingenuity, than apply a tourniquet or amputate. Asking “Why don’t you just leave?” shows a callous sense of disregard for another’s feelings when charity and sensitivity should be present.

  16. It is human to defend anything we perceive as ours. If someone makes fun of my old high school, just as an example, my natural defenses spring up. My natural defenses spring into action when anyone criticizes the Church. Sensitivity should be a two way street.

  17. I can understand the honest questioning of certain doctrines or things that happen in the church when it is indeed “honest questioning” with a desire to have things make sense and the desire to understand. However, I have seen many times, remarks that are degrading and downright rude towards people who do have deep beliefs in the church and it’s doctrines. To those who seem intent on making snide remarks about the church and it’s leaders, I do understand the statement, “Why not just leave?”. But to those who are honestly questioning and trying to make sense, of course that comment is out of place. I feel that I have a strong testimony, but from time to time, issues come up that I don’t understand or that I have a hard time making sense of from my own sense of morality and my own experiences. I have been relieved to find others who have felt the same desire to understand and make sense of things. I believe our Heavenly Father would want this. However, I have seen people who have already made up their minds that the church is wrong and they will never agree with the church on that issue and then continue not with open-minded questioning, but with degrading comments. However good the intent is, I have a hard time believing that is the way to change things. And yes, I have seen the degrading comments come from both those proclaiming to be right in line with the church doctrine and those who are questioning it. I have seen it in many comments on posts from this blog- from both sides. Unfortunately, I can understand why at times that comment is used. But, perhaps it shouldn’t be. Just understand that as hurt as some of you feel when you hear that phrase, someone else may be just as hurt by the attacks on things that are near and dear to them.

  18. Thank you TopHat. Well said, and I really appreicate it. It’s painful to be told to leave, especially if as members we Iare trying to create Zion. Is the only way to do that to throw people oukt? It would be sad if that were true.

  19. This post reminded me (in a good way) of a speech my friend gave at an alternative commencement at BYU a few years back. She started it, “A lot of people have asked me: if you disagree with what BYU or the government does, why don’t you just go someplace else? (A favorite suggested location is Berkeley.) I only know one way to answer them, which is to tell them that I love this place, and want it to be what it can be. After I answer this way, there is always another question: If you love it, why do you criticize it? My answer is the same: because I love it, and because I believe that integrity requires a mix of staying and going, charity and chastisement, and because I want to go to a school and live in a country that let me do all of the above.” And I think those things are relevant to the question, “Why don’t you just leave the Church?” I stay because I love it. I notice things that could be better because I love it.

  20. After writing about a desire for the Priestesshood and support for homosexuality, I am facing this question myself. I had a discussion with my best friend that included not just a question, but a mandate, a plea. Please leave and stop calling yourself one of us because we don’t want you as part of our group.

    It would have been more hurtful, except I know I’ve said the very same thing in the past. I’m so ashamed.

    This next week I am potentially facing the situation yet again. I will be asked why I stay, and possibly told it would be better to leave.

    I needed this post and these comments.

  21. Excellent post, TopHat. I tend to think that people who ask that question have a limited understanding of the worth of souls. I think that if they really understood how important each person is, how much our Heavenly Parents love us and patiently wait for our return, there would never be the desire to ask that question. I believe in a big tent church, because I am trying to view others as our Heavenly Parents do.

  22. In asking, “Why don’t you just leave?” the asker is admitting, on some level, that if they had the same testimony struggles, if they had the same experiences, they would leave. Peel away the anger of “If you have all these problems with the Church, why don’t you just leave?” and you may find the scary answer, “I would have left already if I were you.”

    I don’t think so. I think what people are asking is “Will you please stop trying to change us? You should find someplace you’d be more comfortable spiritually, so we can all be more comfortable around each other; good fences make good neighbors.”

    Almost every other institution in contemporary Western society reflects your feminist ideals: that except for a few body parts, men and women are interchangeable and there should therefore be no gender-based role differences. The LDS Church is one of a few places that still welcomes and affirms traditional gender roles. Why should the minority who subscribe to this view, make fundamental changes to one of their last remaining bastions to satisfy you?

    Put another way: if you leave the LDS Church, you can go almost anywhere and be accepted, even embraced. But if you succeed in remaking the LDS Church in your image, the traditionalists will have almost nowhere left to go. Viewed in that light, your wishes for the Church to conform to your wants so that you don’t feel out of place (even though doing so would leave the majority of church members feeling disenfranchised) seem incredibly selfish and narrow minded.

    I had a discussion with my best friend that included not just a question, but a mandate, a plea. Please leave and stop calling yourself one of us because we don’t want you as part of our group.

    Jenna, you called her demand “hurtful” but don’t seem to recognize how hurtful your demands are for your friend. They include a remaking of the group identity that she(? I’m assuming it’s a she) is attached to, to the extent that it would be unrecognizable to her. So you don’t want her as part of your group, either; or rather, you only want her to stay if your ideals can prevail over hers. Again, you have lots of alternatives open to you; your friend has precious few.

    • So you don’t want her as part of your group, either; or rather, you only want her to stay if your ideals can prevail over hers. Again, you have lots of alternatives open to you; your friend has precious few.

      I don’t believe its a matter of either positions prevailing. Its a matter of being accepted for who one is at their perceptive places in this journey we call life.

      And, while there might be “lots of alternatives,” some people don’t leave, and shouldn’t have to leave because they have generations of ancestors and its deeply entrenched in their blood. Let’s put this another way. I am a New York born and bread Italian girl. Do I like the suggestions that people make that because I’m Italian I’m connected to the mob. No, Why, should I deny my heritage because a few Italians like to make their life about crime. Similarly, why should anyone else have to leave because we are forced into standards that quite honestly, don’t apply in today’s standards. The survivability of church depends on its membership. And, with membership dwindling, I don’t believe people like you should be telling us to leave so that you don’t have open your eyes and be more compassionate towards those who are different.

    • unfortunately, Rik, your argument is based on a faulty premise, namely:

      your feminist ideals: that except for a few body parts, men and women are interchangeable and there should therefore be no gender-based role differences.

      I do love it when non- (or anti-) feminists ascribe to all feminists positions that not all feminists actually hold.

      No one is asking for the church or its members to make some radical change to something completely opposite to what it currently is. We are asking that the church and its members instead actually embody something it/they already claim(s) to be: an organization that embraces all of God’s children, regardless of what differences lay between those children, with love and compassion. Responding to another member’s struggles and questions with an invitation (one usually issued with an unmistakable edge of hostility, disgust, or condemnation) to just get the hell out of the church (the hell is usually implied, since we all know that uttering a profane word like “hell” is evidence of a small mind that is not creative enough to express itself without profanity) does not manifest Christlike love and compassion, no matter how much the issuer of said invitation may fear the ideas of the other person or worry that their world view (and their last bastion for that world view) is under attack.

      There is no justification for such behavior. Not even the argument you advance that this is an either-or, all-or-nothing battle between “traditionalists” and feminists (or rather your skewed perception of what you think feminists are) and that as such, those of us who ask for more acceptance in the body of the church are trying to wreak utter destruction on the last bastion for poor traditionalists who have nowhere else to turn (if you really think that, you’re not paying much attention to our world; just take a gander at some of the arguments being advanced by the Republican candidates for president and you’ll see plenty of evidence that what you deem “traditionalist” views are alive and well in our world). Inviting others to leave the church because they have doubts or questions or think things could be done differently in order to better realize the gospel of Christ in this life is simply wrong. Period.

    • Isn’t change and the ability to change a major tenet of this Church? Would the 1978 revelation have been received if there had been no one thinking things should be different? Would the Word of Wisdom have come about?

      Telling those who desire change to leave means you want to be in a Church that will never change. Perhaps that means those who are asking others to leave should be leaving themselves.

  23. I applaud anyone who is struggling in any way, and still goes to church. Many years ago, when I was struggling, I bagged the whole thing, and eventually became quite miserable. I had a life altering conversion experience which brought me back. But what I retained is a sensitivity to other members’ struggles. God loves people “on the edge” just as much as people “within the lines”. Bravo to you for being on the edge and working on your differences. That’s a lot harder than “just leaving”. Leaving is easy. Staying is hard.

  24. I came across this older post today while looking for a balm in Gilead. Thanks for this. I asked myself this question this weekend – not over any real doctrinal difference but just because, having recently moved to Utah from another state I’m struggling to find a place for myself and my family in our new ward.
    I decided that I stay because I have a testimony of Christ. I stay because I know there is room for me (and all of God’s children) in His church – even when those around me don’t make that room for me. I stay because I will not let anyone or anything come between me and my covenants. Thanks for this and giving me a place and way to find some peace.

  25. I was just reading a post on the New Order Mormon site. One of the commentators. One of the commentator stated that a bishop stated that Salt lake is concern about the number of people leaving. The person said that his friend who was Bishop told him that the number of people leaving was #350000, which equals the amount of Baptisms.

  26. Note: since many regular posters on this site are clearly masters of the English language, please forgive my grammatical errors)…

    I confess this question, “why don’t you just leave” crosses my mind everytime I take a gander on this site and other similar sites. The logic behind my question is NOT that “I would leave” if I felt the same way, but that the opposition to the “party line” or the doctrine, or policy appears apostate in nature, and frankly, if a non-member wanting to be baptized held such views, they would not be allowed to join the church. Additionally, some of the topics/views are in direct opposition to temple recommend questions/principles. I’m NOT saying anyone is devoid of agency, or that asking questions are wrong, or wrestling with truth, or discovering truth is wrong – what I am saying is that when feelings of disagreement and discontent and opposition are very strong against grounding/fundamental doctrines, those positions/view BEG the question, “why DON’T you just leave”? Also, my “subtext” for that question is NOT, “because if it were me, i would”, but to hear what some have expressed above…”becuase I belive other things, because I know that while _______ is hard for me, I know that this IS God’s church”.

    • Can you really not see that the question “Why don’t you just leave” includes an unavoidable implication of judgment and unwelcome? There is no way to hear that question without hearing “you’re not welcome here,” especially as a member of the Mormon community in which it’s already very clear that conformity is a higher value than asking questions that make people uncomfortable.

      If you want to ask the question “Why do you stay?” then I have no problem with that. At least that question implies that you genuinely want to understand, rather than that you have already reached the conclusion that your interlocutor is an apostate (which you clearly seem to have done). And, frankly, you’re not God. You couldn’t possibly reach an accurate conclusion about the apostate nature of someone else’s beliefs, not without elevating your own understanding of every single gospel principle to the level of perfect Godly understanding (and no human being’s understanding reaches that level, not even church leaders; that’s one reason why we need ongoing revelation).

      Our job as followers of Christ is not to throw people out or even imply they should leave; it is to love people and seek to understand them, no matter what they’re saying or doing that raises eyebrows, so long as it is not causing objective harm to others (and no, causing others to doubt doesn’t constitute “objective harm”).

  27. Anger is a defensive emotion, used to hide hurt, shame, fear, guilt, and vulnerability.

    Sometimes…. and sometimes it’s a really appropriate response to a great injustice or wrong. Sometimes anger isn’t hiding a damn thing. It can be a very pure emotion.

    We have our emotions because they are useful to us. Guilt and shame are profoundly unpleasant to experience, but frankly not as unpleasant as people who are immune to them. There’s no reason to pathologize anger. Mormons’ fear of anger, and especially Mormon women’s fear of anger, is, I think, a real problem. There are times when it is right to feel angry. I mean, if your employer owes you a couple thousand dollars for expenses or something and just won’t pay you, what would you feel? I would be angry. And my anger would not be a mask for fear or guilt or shame.

    • I would say in your example, the anger is hiding a feeling of betrayal. In an employer/employee situation or contract, there is an element of trust: the employee trusts the employer to compensate. Failing to compensate betrays that trust.

      I can see anger being used to hide betrayal in the “Why don’t you just leave?” situation, too. I can imagine in a typical Mormon marriage, there is an unspoken contract of going to church and having a certain kind of testimony. If someone is going through a faith transition in a marriage, the partner may feel betrayed and act or speak out in anger against that.

      I take the concept of “anger as a secondary emotion” from the book Nonviolent Communication and it’s a pretty widely-used concept in counseling and therapy. It’s not that anger is “bad,” it’s that it’s not the root of the issue and figuring out what the primary emotion is under the anger will allow for a lot of healing and understanding.

      • take the concept of “anger as a secondary emotion” from the book Nonviolent Communication and it’s a pretty widely-used concept in counseling and therapy.

        Yeah, and it’s an idea that has never made sense to me, because it’s so easy to argue that all emotions are secondary.

        You can say that happiness is secondary to a feeling of security. Or hopefulness.

        You can say that fear is secondary to a feeling of powerlessness. Or inadequacy.

        All our states our complicated. They are neurological, biological, and cognitive. They are never just one thing.

        I maintain that rhetoric like this

        It’s not that anger is “bad,” it’s that it’s not the root of the issue and figuring out what the primary emotion is under the anger will allow for a lot of healing and understanding.

        still pathologizes anger. Despite the insistence that “it’s not that anger is ‘bad,'” there is still a fear of it that compels people to distance themselves from it–to make it secondary, never a root cause, never the real problem. People are allowed to feel happy and declare it happiness. People are allowed to feel sadness and call it sadness. But if people feel anger, they’re supposed to go, “Oh! This anger is really just a cover for something else.”

        That to me seems pretty pathological–and illogical.

        • There’s nothing wrong with feeling anger and I even tell my kids that. It’s ok to be angry! I’ve even written a post about that here. But, there is an issue with using anger to act or speak violently against other people (or yourself), though. A question like, “Why don’t you just leave?” is an example of this.

      • But, there is an issue with using anger to act or speak violently against other people (or yourself), though.

        Absolutely. But that in no way suggests that anger is always a secondary emotion. And angry speech and behavior doesn’t have to involve violence. There are all sorts of ways of expressing anger that don’t involve violence. Merely speaking loudly, for instance, is not necessarily violent speech. But people often treat it as such, because we have pathologized anger.

        A question like, “Why don’t you just leave?” is an example of this.

        It can be. It can also be just sort of dismissive. That’s often how I see it posed: “Yawn. You bore me. Your concerns bore me. Why don’t you just leave? And stop boring me.”

        It’s a hurtful question, to be sure. And I think that on some level, it’s almost always intended to be hurtful. But that doesn’t mean it’s always borne of anger, or that it’s violent.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Enter your email address to receive notification of new posts.

Related Posts

Guest Post: Springtime in the Church

Guest post by Maria Mortensen-Davis. Maria Mortensen-Davis is a poet, amateur naturalist, and currently an at-home parent in her family. She lives in Utah...

Gospel Principles #36: Eternal Families

Recently, my family was planning a celebration for my parents' upcoming anniversary. We wanted to make it special for them, and one of my siblings suggested...

Guest Post: I Found Answers on the Internet

By Amy West Remember those times when people half-jokingly warned about looking for “truth” on the internet? We sat in Sunday School and asserted how...

“Do You Hear What I Hear?”

One of my most cherished childhood memories is making plates of holiday treats.  Every year my mother would emerge from the pantry, arms overflowing...
Submit a Guest Blog Post
Subscribe to Our Magazine
Social Media Auto Publish Powered By :