I do not use the phrase “must-read” lightly. There are very few books that I think every single person — or at least every single member of a given group — can benefit from. After all, we’re all different people with different intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs.
But I genuinely believe that every person who has ever left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints should read Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control by Luna Lindsey.
When I was looking for books to help me process my trauma related to growing up Mormon, I had two criteria. First, I didn’t want to just read someone else’s exit story — I wanted a book that would help me understand my trauma and how to heal from it. Second, I didn’t want to read any book that was pushing an agenda — I didn’t want to be converted to another denomination of Christianity, or to atheism. Recovering Agency meets both of these criteria and then some.
Lindsey is very clear that her goal with this book is not to convince people that the Church is evil, or even that its issues can’t be fixed. She repeatedly points out that Mormonism is right for some people. In the book’s Foreword she says, “In these pages, I describe in detail the negative power organizations have to control the hearts of men. But I also hope for that which is harder to see… that religious faith can inspire the best in people, in spite of any institution’s attempts to control.”
But at the same time, she doesn’t tiptoe around the truth or avoid making controversial statements. She’s very clear from page one that the single goal of this book is to explore how the Mormon Church uses — and has always used — cult mind control techniques on its members.
In the first chapter Lindsey says, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a high-demand group, a deceptive religion that utilizes psychological manipulation via doctrine and culture to restrict the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions of otherwise good and intelligent members. In a word — though it is admittedly a highly-charged, loaded word — Mormonism is a cult.”
The bulk of the book consists of Lindsey explaining individual control techniques, then examining how they are used in the Church. She does this by comparing research from well-respected cult experts (including Steven Hassan, Margaret Singer, and Robert B. Cialdini) with quotes from Mormon scriptures, handbooks, and talks. She also weaves in firsthand accounts from current and former Mormons.
This book is incredibly well-researched, and Lindsey inserts very little of her own opinion. All she does is connect the dots between what we know about how cults operate and what the Church is actually doing. For someone who grew up in the echo chamber of Mormonism, where everything ultimately circled back on itself and outside sources were rarely referenced, this is incredibly refreshing.
This book helped me to understand my experiences as a Mormon in a way that no other resource has.
I’ve read up on all the ways Mormon doctrine directly contradicts the Bible. I’ve studied the Church’s history, from Joseph Smith’s criminal record and child brides to the Mountain Meadows Massacre to the modern Church’s use of tithe money for business ventures. I’ve read other people’s exit stories and been reminded that experiences like mine are not uncommon. And yet, I never found a sense of closure, even though I knew without a shred of doubt that the Church was false and that my life was better off without it.
This book helped me change my approach. Before, I’d been approaching my trauma as a negative experience with a corrupt religious institution — but that didn’t explain the extent of its impact on my life. Once I changed my approach and saw my trauma for what it was — years of cult membership and thought control which I needed to intentionally deprogram myself from — everything clicked, the pieces fell into place, and I was finally able to progress in my healing.
As Lindsey points out, “Knowing a little about mind control… helps inoculate against many types of unethical persuasion.”
And as the saying goes, “The first step is admitting you have a problem.”
Like I said, I really cannot recommend this book highly enough to my fellow ex-Mormons, especially those who still struggle to come to terms with their experiences in the Church.
I recommend keeping a journal handy while reading Recovering Agency. Every time you read a section that brings up a memory, causes a strong emotional response, or connects two dots, write it down. What did the passage bring up? How can you apply cult research to help you understand this memory/feeling/experience better?
It’s almost ridiculous how easily I was able to work through my experiences once I had the right vocabulary. I was able to deconstruct my fears and traumatic memories by identifying the thought control techniques that causes them. “Oh, that’s a double-bind,” “That was love bombing,” “This is a totalist reframing,” etc. Like trying to untangle a ball of yarn, once you find that one central string, the rest almost seems to unravel itself.
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