Perfectionism in Mormon Culture: How community members suffer from judgement and simple misunderstandings

How community members are suffering from judgment and simple misunderstandings.

Recent studies show perfectionism within the Mormon culture is having a negative effect on community members because of the high, sometimes unrealistic standard of perfection that members hold themselves and others too.

Both Kris Doty, former professor of social work at UVU, and Matthew Draper, psychologist and professor of behavioral science at UVU, found that perfectionism within the Mormon culture usually comes from an individual or a group of people misunderstanding a certain Mormon doctrine.

For example, Matthew 5:48 from the King James version of the Bible states “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” According to Doty and Draper, this scripture and the Mormon ideals about grace and the atonement contribute to followers misunderstanding Mormon doctrine.

The LDS church has standards of dress, diet, sexual activity and even daily routines, which tell community members how they should be living their lives. All these rules leave room for people to not perform them perfectly and can often lead to people feeling down about themselves for not doing so.

“Every person doesn’t respond to the teachings the same way. …  Like in Utah County, we have a lot of Mormons, but as the community becomes more diverse, people start to really define the Mormon term,” licensed marriage and family therapist Tammy Heaton said. “They’ll see someone do something and they’ll label their actions as ‘that’s not [what] it means to be Mormon.’ … As expectations start to evolve and become stricter, we can’t accept ourselves. We aren’t perfect, and this is a time to grow.”

A participant in Doty’s study who chose to go by the name of Julie recalled her experiences with perfectionism while living in Utah County and how it has impacted her.

“Living in Utah, you just try to be perfect: trying to be the perfect mom, the perfect neighbor, and nobody is. I want to move back out of Utah… [In Utah County] it’s so ‘you have to be perfect’ and if you are not perfect, you’re shunned,” Julie said.

Shelly Harris, a deaf studies sophomore, believes that there is a standard of perfectionism in the county. Born and raised in San Diego, Harris sees how different Utah County and Mormon culture are from other cultures.

“We expect a lot of ourselves, but we are also expecting a lot from other people as well,” said Harris.

During Heaton’s time as a family therapist she has seen and heard of many people, LDS and non-LDS, who have struggled with perfectionistic ideals that they believe their peers have set for them. They also struggle with perfectionistic ideals that they set for themselves. This has led to many mental health problems with many different clients over the years.

“In the mental health field, we see a lot of depression and anxiety when it comes to religion. It’s the individual interpretation that affects the way they act and changes their behavior,” Heaton said.

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