One fascinating observation I noticed when working as a new intern therapist going to Utah State’s Marriage & Family Therapy program in 1996-1998, as well as when I worked at LDS Family Services in 1999-2004 in San Diego was this: while getting to speak to fellow church members behind closed doors in therapy in a confidential setting, I learned what REALLY is going on in their lives. Not the perky good member image given on Sundays or at church activities. Not the wholesome seeming individual who makes comments in gospel doctrine and Elder’s quorum class. I was able to learn about and differentiate the good member façade commonly seen from the darker elements of a person’s existence. We regularly hear at church that fellow members “aren’t perfect” and that we need to “not expect perfection”. Nevertheless when members regularly look, sound, and act perfect-ish at church, it still often gives that impression of fellow member perfection. So when members finally experience the darker side of how many members really can be over time, there is often disillusionment as well as anger and resentment, sometimes even leading to inactivity at church or even apostasy from the church.
Why Fellow Members Often Act Fake:
So, why do many fellow members try to act so perfect at church and around others? Here are a few reasons that make sense to me:
They feel they are expected to look, sound, and act perfect, simply because that is what others have shown. We learn from the role modeling of others acting fake to then act fake ourselves. In our church subculture, we often observe and even size up other respected members in a ward for cues on how we should strive to be. So, when we observe a respected member seeming perfect, we can quickly learn that that is how we should try to look, sound, and act as well. The problem is that we all still have real issues, challenges, sins, and problems that still truly make up far short of perfect. Hence, the fakeness and phoniness.
We feel seeming perfect on the outside is a part of striving for perfection, which is our goal. So in a sense we are commanded to be somewhat fake and phony."
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