Editor’s Note: This article, written by its author in the 1980s, deals with the theme of abuse and how it is treated. When this piece was written, the world as a whole did not have the same capabilities and specialized tools that are available to us today in treating victims of abuse, within and without the Church. This is reflected in the author’s experience with local Church leaders who, despite their efforts, did not have the knowledge needed to help such victims. Since this time, the world and the Church have grown in their abilities to help people whose lives have been marred by abuse, and Church leadership is given specialized training regarding these individuals. 


Author’s Note: This article was written around 1985 in response to an invitation from the Ensign Magazine to submit articles. This article was written in response to activities surrounding the women’s liberation movement, which began in the 1960s and continued through the 1980s (and still lives today). I submitted this article and it was not accepted for publication. I am sharing it here precisely as it was written [with some edits for clarity by the site editor] – from the perspective that was available to me when I was a 40-year-old mother of two teenage sons.


The following post will be Part 2, written from today’s vantage point, including the learning that has come to me in the meantime and the Church’s evolution regarding its programs, counsel, and support surrounding the subject of various forms of abuse and the manner in which it skews the developmental process of individuals affected, who often become silent sufferers. Please bear with me as I share the views I held 35 years ago…


As the product of many years of experience in the programs and policies of the Church, and also of the triumph over personal adversity—both as a result of my own unwise choices as well as being a victim of the circumstances of my formative years—I was not a quick learner or graceful student of life. I find myself remembering a powerful (though paraphrased) quote from The Great Gatsby: “He endeavored all his life to rise to the level of those whose company he sought, never realizing that he had far surpassed them.”


Being 40 years old in the mid-1980s brings with it an interesting vantage point from which to view society around me. We live in an age that has bridged the gap between adults who never talked openly about sex, to children who are expected to remain unspotted in a world where evil and carnage are prominent counterfeits of good, but are marketed not only as acceptable, but desirable. We are standing at the crest of the wave between yesterday and tomorrow, able to see both directions with a reasonable degree of comprehension. Couple that with an understanding of the fullness of the gospel, and we are blessed indeed.


With the trend of interpersonal relationship communication moving toward openness rather than fear of disclosure, women are finally willing to talk about the traumas that are in our lives. Most particularly, rape, incest, sexual molestation, physical, emotional, and mental abuse, such as begin gaslighted by dominate males in many aspects of life.


We are realizing many of the circumstances that have heretofore been considered too private and embarrassing to discuss were buried because we didn’t know what else to do about them. We are beginning to understand that we no longer have to carry the burden of shame for being victimized. These behaviors are unacceptable and we need to flush them from our emotions and deal with them so we can realize our full potential, free from the scars of shame.


Of major concern is the manner in which the emotional needs of women are unaddressed by the counseling local leadership in the Church other than by the blanket statement to “rely on the Spirit.” This is excellent advice, provided you can assume that each leader who counsels each sister has prepared themselves sufficiently to be worthy of intervention by the Spirit as they deal with emotional trauma. Tragedies which perhaps have beset women since the beginning of time and are just now being considered acceptable for us to bring out of the closet marked “fear of rejection.”


We must face the hard facts that many of our local leaders who are to assist us in getting our “lives in order” have as many hang-ups about dealing with these issues as we do. It is a sad commentary when, because of the manner in which she is “listened to,” a woman is made to feel like the offender when, in fact, she was the victim. Because of the inability of the counseling leadership to deal in a positive and comforting manner with these issues, women realize that they should just continue to keep quiet and go on pretending they are whole and have an inner peace when, in fact, they are on the edge of emotional breakdown and are barely holding themselves together with little bits of scotch tape.


So many times, there isn’t opportunity to receive counseling from the Church’s Social Service, who generally are more informed about how to deal with victims of abusive acts. In many cases, the red tape necessary to receive such counseling is so intimidating that the person feels it is better to just “forget about” the whole thing.


There are many who are in leadership and counseling positions who are so unprepared to consider the emotional needs of someone in these circumstances that they deal with the need by not dealing with it at all. Sitting in a bishop’s office, I heard a family plead for guidance in how to deal with my father, who had molested several of his grandchildren. The embarrassed reply of the bishop was, “If it had been more than a year since any incident of molestation, nothing needs to be done”.


We, who have the fulness of the gospel, continue to turn away those whom we have stewardship over because we are unable to overcome our own fear of talking about, or even thinking about, those who are victims or offenders of abusive crime. Where in the past, we thought females were the prime victims of abuse, we are finding that abuse is the common denominator of the human race and is no respecter of persons. How does a man who has not dealt with the abuse in his own life counsel a woman in such a situation? This perpetrates a “conspiracy of silence.”


What then is the answer? It is apparent that any person who has difficulty dealing with the social issues in our society will be ineffective in dealing with men, women, or children who are scarred, whether as a victim or an offender, by those behaviors. We are now finding that there is an ever-increasing number of Church members who have been exposed to and fragmented by these very circumstances.


Our children are growing up in a world where we fear they are becoming desensitized to crime and evil because it is so readily available at school and is considered as acceptable entertainment for movies and television. The other side of that coin is the possibility that they are also becoming more capable of dealing with these issues and will be able to help repair the damage it is doing and has done to many of us. The reason they will be capable and prepared is because they are overcoming those very circumstances, facing them head-on with the zeal and strength the gospel teaches them, and they are refusing to be intimidated by fear of disclosure and social rejection. They walk about with scars open to view and defy self-righteous piety that seeks to prevent them from realizing the miracle of the Atonement. They are truly the hope of Israel.


With the ever-increasing kidnapping of innocent and helpless children and the physical and emotional torture they are frequently subjected to, who is going to be able to counsel them when and if they are returned to us and grow up into emotionally tortured adolescents and barely functioning adults?


Do we have to wait until our youth are in leadership positions in the Church before we have persons capable of helping us who are willing to encircle us with their love and walk with us through that valley of emotional desolation? Or is there some way we can be educated and taught the skills of overcoming our own fears?


We who have the fulness of the gospel can’t seem to be able to overcome our own fear of rejection, our own false sense of security long enough to face the fact that if we can’t meet the emotional needs of our membership, how are we going to be prepared to meet the Savior? Zion will not be made up of fragmented, scarred, frightened people who run around in a mask of well-being. This is real. This is important. This is our mountain that must be climbed.


It is my belief that most people, when their emotional needs are met, are capable of handling most of the circumstances they find themselves in. When their emotional needs go unmet, you can have all the lessons, meetings, and socials you want and you will continue to have people whose relationships are surface-level and lacking in charity and compassion towards one another. More importantly, you will have people who are incapable of the human intimacy that develops celestial families and homes. We will literally be unable to fulfill the measure of our creation.


Heavenly Father planned that the union of a man and woman should create a bond whereby each could understand the needs of the other and that understanding would be the foundation for the oneness which is the purpose of our becoming equally yoked.


In order to overcome the damaging effects of abusive experience, you must educate yourself. Seek knowledge from community programs dealing with victims of abuse as well as with the offenders. Become a trained volunteer. Seek to understand how you have dealt with the circumstances of your life so you can become a resource person for others, especially in your own family. As President Spencer W. Kimball introduced the theme at a Relief Society conference in October of 1980, “Learn—Then Teach.”


The lyrics of the song written especially for that conference is one I have loved: “Learn, Then Teach.”


Seek diligently to learn / Seek diligently to grow.

Find faith in the law of the harvest / Find faith in the work of the soul.

The yield of the harvest is golden / Gently planned, the miracle begins.

Reaching into the sunlight growing upward / the seed becomes the promised grain within.


Learn and teach one another / Learn and teach, to each the task..

Send a light into shaded distant pathways / Fill the cup of all of those who ask.

Learn and then teach one another / and the harvest will rise rich the color warm.

The care must come from the sower / who knows that from the earth Eternity is born.


Seek diligently to learn / Seek diligently to grow.

Find faith in the law of the harvest / Find faith in the work of the soul.

The yield of the harvest is golden / Gently planned, the miracle begins.

Reaching into the sunlight growing upward / the seed becomes the promised grain within.


Abusive behavior is learned behavior and, as such, can be unlearned. It is truly a sin which is visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. The chain of abuse can be broken — unless you ignore it. It needs to be taken out and dealt with or it will continue to be the most rapidly growing sickness of our society. No one is immune from its effects; it is no respecter of persons and it reduces us all to a common denominator.


People react to abusive behavior in a vast number of ways. Some with anger, others with fear, withdrawal, and silence. Most react with the burden of guilt, shame, and the fear of disclosure. Whether the abuse is mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual, it scars. It destroys self-esteem and it distorts and retards our progress as productive persons. It skews our thinking and results in a flawed capacity to reason. We must realize that we have the power within us to overcome every bad thing that happens to us. One thing I’ve learned is that more pain is created by keeping secrets than was ever created by telling the truth.


I have come to realize there is pain so great that the only thing that will take it away is the Atonement of Christ and the divine intervention of the Holy Ghost. I shall be eternally grateful for that gift.


sonja harbor

To read more of Sonja’s articles, click here.

I believe as time goes forward, we will find people breaking out of this cycle of the conspiracy of silence and, as they learn, they will become teachers and mentors and ministers to others. We must learn to pull toward us those who suffer instead of pushing them away because we are uncomfortable with their pain that reflects our pain we haven’t dealt with.


We are not alone. Just as the Lord said as He comforted Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail:


“…[P]eace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all they foes.” (D&C 121.7-8)




“…if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7)


Here is an original piece I recorded in the 80s. It reflects where I was in my transformational journey. I understood the concept “a farmer knows that his crop won’t grow if he plants on barren ground,” and I knew what barren ground looked like and felt like.

About Sonja Hopkins
Sonja lives with her husband, Dale, on Anderson Island, Washington. She and her husband are Church Service Missionaries serving in the Addiction Recovery Program, focusing on pornography and sex addiction. She is also a certified life coach and teaches "Life Skills for Emotional Self-Mastery" in her stake twice a month. She does not teach you only to process something traumatic done to you in the past; rather, she helps you learn to feel it, heal it, and LET GO of whatever you still do to yourself and to others in order to cope with what was done to you in the past.

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