Shame and Religion

The one emotion I experienced most deeply and most frequently while I was devoutly religious? Undoubtedly, it was not the “joy” we are supposed to feel from living a pure life – it was SHAME. Crippling and unending guilt for not doing enough, being enough, striving enough – for my actions, my lack of actions, and even for my thoughts.

I clearly remember sitting through a Sunday School lesson several years ago. My children were young, I was running a large business and supporting my family single-handedly, desperately trying to survive a toxic marriage and (poorly) managing overwhelming depression.

“Name one thing you can do better!” said the Sunday School teacher, a member of the bishopric. “There is not a single person in this room doing ALL they can do.” Hands went up, and the congregation of adults began listing their myriad of shortcomings as the teacher wrote them all on the white board.

The air was sucked from my chest, my breaths coming in shallow gasps. “It’s not true, it’s not true,” was all I could think to myself. “IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO TRY ANY HARDER.”

I went home and sobbed, feeling so overwhelmed and deflated by another Sunday spent hearing my faults, being measured, and yet again, coming up short.

What did I need?

I needed a hug. I needed a friend. I needed someone to look me in the eye and say, “I see you. I see how hard you’re trying. I see you trying to just hold it all together. And it’s enough.”

So, I will tell YOU now – I see you. I know you’re trying. And YOU ARE ENOUGH.

This is not the way to live a joyful life. Shame is a method of control used by toxic systems, and it will absolutely destroy your soul and corrode you from the inside out.

What Causes PTSD?

PTSD causes:

  • Traumatic events
  • Narcissistic abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Religious Trauma 
  • High-Conflict relationships 
  • Health Problems
  • Death, Grief & Loss 

Domestic violence: 

  • Physical dominance 
  • Financial abuse
  • Stalking 
  • Harassment 
  • Verbal Abuse 
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse 
  • Spiritual abuse 
  • Isolation 

Narcissistic abuse: 

  • Sociopaths and psychopaths
  • Bait and switch tactics 
  • Covert v overt narcissism 
  • Narcissists vs APD (antsocial personality disorder) 
  • Manipulation tactics
  • Legal abuse
  • Narcissists and retaliation
  • Co parenting with a narcissist 
  • Romantic relationships with a narcissist
  • High conflict exes 

Religious trauma syndrome: High demand religions: 

  • Shame and guilt 
  • Sexual shaming 
  • Patriarchal dominance 
  • Fear and anxiety 
  • External source of control 
  • Spiritual abuse 
  • Sexual control 
  • faith And personal crisis 
  • Suppression and repression 
  • Coercive conversions – lack of common consent 
  • Self worth and identity issues

Signs of Domestic Abuse

If you can answer yes to several of these questions, please GET HELP NOW.

ISOLATION or Restricting Freedoms:

  • Tells you that you can not do something 
  • Jealous about who you see 
  • Monitors your time, makes you account for where you were 
  • Does not allow you to leave the house 
  • Makes it difficult for you to get a job 
  • Restricts your use of the car 
  • Tries to prevent you from contacting family 
  • Alienates you from family and friends 
  • Turns children against you 
  • Keeps you from getting medical care 
  • Withholds affection to punish you 
  • Tries to turn people against you 


  • Makes you account for all the money spent 
  • Keeps you short of money 
  • Makes you ask for basic necessities 
  • Undermines your attempts to improve your education 
  • Undermines your attempts to get or keep a job 
  • Controls the money 
  • Makes you ask for money 
  • Refuses to give you money 
  • Makes all major decisions about money without consulting you 
  • Spends money only on things he wants


  • Demands obedience like you were a servant 
  • Makes decisions without your input 
  • Treats you like you were inferior 
  • Tells you you can’t cope without him 
  • Treats you like a child


  • Withholds sex to punish you 
  • Pressures you to have sex 
  • Forces you to have sex against your will 
  • Pressures you to have sex after being abused 
  • Pressures or forces you into unwanted sex acts 
  • Treats you like a sex object 
  • Inflicts pain on you during sex


  • Turn people against you 
  • Leave the relationship 
  • See someone else 
  • Take children away from you 
  • Leave you short of money 
  • Come after you if you leave 
  • Have you committed to an institution 
  • Hurt or kill you and/or the children 
  • Hurt or kill himself/herself 
  • Blames you for his/her problem 
  • Drives your car in a frightening way 
  • Have someone else kill you, your family, your friends etc.


  • Changing his mood suddenly 
  • Giving silent treatment 
  • Demonstrating anger 
  • Shouting or yelling 
  • Pounding fist on table 
  • Hitting the wall 
  • Throwing or kicking something 
  • Stomping out of the room/house


  • Throws something at you
  • Pushes, grabs or shoves you
  • Pulls your hair
  • Twists your arm
  • Pins you to the wall, floor, bed
  • Chokes you
  • Kicks, hits or punches you
  • Hits, or tries to hit you with something
  • Threatens you with a knife, gun or other weapon
  • Tries to run you down with the car
  • Physically and/or sexually abuses the children
  • Kills pets
  • Deprives you of sleep


  • Says things to spite or insult you in front of others
  • Puts down your physical appearance
  • Makes out you are stupid
  • Criticizes your care of children/home
  • Calls you names and swears at you
  • Tells you you are crazy/irrational
  • Accuses you of having an affair
  • Ridicules family or friends
  • Does not show concern for children’s needs or concerns
  • Gets angry when children cry or make demands
  • Goes through personal things ie: purse, drawers, pockets
  • Frightens children’s friends so they stop coming over

Weird PTSD Symptoms

The weird and wild ways anxiety can make itself known and how trauma refuses to be ignored

There are so many ways that anxiety and PTSD can manifest. Many of them are unexpected and likely seem unrelated to past trauma. Here are some of the ways that PTSD has previously shown up in my personal life:


General dread: can begin days/weeks/months before an event I am anxious about – feels like a heavy weight, a dark cloud, etc. (depression). Increases as big events get closer. Can also occur if I have a lot of events or responsibilities when they are ongoing for long periods of time – feeling “worn down”

Nightmares: can be general stress dreams (teeth crumbling, losing control of a vehicle or myself, my loved one cheating on me, my children in danger, etc.) or very specific to the event

Ongoing physical symptoms: esophageal spasms (sometimes debilitating; requires strict and constant observance of my diet – no gluten, no acids, no spices, etc), stress headaches, migraines, fatigue

Insomnia: usually can’t sleep without a pill – or I wake up after a few hours and can’t get back to sleep again

Paralysis/procrastination: constant, invasive thoughts about a certain issue; feel stuck in cement or paralyzed by the thought of addressing all the many tasks that surround a problem. May put off important issues or procrastinate the things I really need to do by working very hard on less important things. This results in self-recrimination, feelings of guilt or shame, and frustration with myself. It also exacerbates the anxiety as deadlines draw closer and things haven’t been done

Avoidance/self-protection: removing myself from situations, loved ones, social events, etc. May ignore important issues (taxes, paperwork, accounting, etc.) that confuse me. Try to avoid at all costs doing anything that may upset someone else. Substance use to alleviate social anxiety and numb pain/depression. 

Social anxiety: Difficultly with social interaction– feeling raw, exposed, self-conscious, stiff, awkward and stilted around others. Difficulty tapping into my own creativity in front of others

Repression: hold back thoughts, feelings or emotions which may upset someone else; constantly biting my tongue. Too “polite” to stand up for myself even when the situation calls for it, unless I feel cornered and begin having a panic attack – at which point my reaction may be disproportionately intense

Hopelessness: Often occurs when I am criticized or misunderstood by others. May occur when a conversation goes badly or the other party can’t understand or acknowledge my perspective, especially when they have attributed desires, motivations or emotions to me that are incorrect or have a false belief about my intentions.

Feeling Unheard: occurs often in my marriage, especially when the other party is unwilling to alter their original interpretation after my differing explanation. Especially exacerbated if I am accused of doing something I didn’t do. This results in a feeling of powerlessness and helplessness when I am unable to get through to someone, compromise, or otherwise resolve the situation. Shortly, feelings of frustration intensify into feelings of worthlessness, injustice, being convicted of a crime I did not commit, despair/desperation (lack of light at the end of the tunnel). May result in the desire to self-harm, or exhibit my intense emotional pain in some other way that cannot be easily dismissed or diminished by others. Feels like being trapped in a deep well of despair with walls too high to climb – imprisoned with no possibility of escape. Defeat.

Feeling overwhelmed: especially when a great number of tasks must be accomplished in a short amount of time. Constantly running through lists in my head of everything that needs to be done. Exacerbated by the belief that I cannot trust or count on most other people to lighten my load due to past experiences. Exhibits as a feeling of falling, spinning, stomach dropping, going black, claustrophobia, feeling crushed into the ground. May result in tears, the intense desire to avoid, walk away, give up, run away.

Panic Attacks: ears burning/tingling, adrenaline pumping, blood pounding in my ears, blood draining from my face, feeling dizzy, seeing stars or tunnel vision, tingling in arms, intense flight/fight response, mental confusion, heart racing, sweating, chest tightness, numbness in legs, voice rising (can’t control volume), inability to discuss issues calmly, inability to control emotional responses to a situation or temper my reaction, even in front of others. Mid-level loss of control. 

Extreme anxiety: losing consciousness (fainting), feeling trapped like a wild animal in my own body, extreme urge to lash out or react in a physical way (slamming doors, banging head, pulling out hair), physical need to release intense physical energy, like I’m about to literally explode and blow apart into a million pieces if I don’t release the energy in some way. May leave the premises, drive like a lunatic, cry uncontrollably, contemplate physical harm to myself or no longer care about my personal safety. High-level loss of control. This has only ever occurred when arguing with Jared, never in any other situation.


Physical Triggers:

My sense of smell, hearing, and touch are VERY acute, sometimes to the point of aggravation. I become agitated and may react strongly when:

Physically uncomfortable: Too hot or too cold (high heat makes me faint – cold makes my arthritis very painful), in physical pain (which is constant, so that’s a hard one), extremely hungry (super distracting), tired, etc. 

Encountering a bad odor – this seems silly, but it has been a SERIOUS issue for me. I become physically nauseated by these odors, and it makes me so uncomfortable that I become angry. My sense of smell is acute, so often others can’t even smell whatever it is that’s driving me crazy. Also happens when the kids leave food or milkshakes or something in my car. I avoid places that smell offensive.

Noises – I have a very low noise tolerance. Loud or discordant music, humming fridges, clocks ticking, etc. drive me crazy. I have to sleep with a fan on to drown out all the other noise in the house. I can get unreasonably angry when my classroom is being noisy for long periods of time (the constant ‘low roar’) OR if I’m in a dance club or something where the loud noise is incessant.

Over-Stimulation: I am incapable of working, especially on something that requires creativity and thought, when there is movement, noise, music, etc. around me. Get very agitated when I’m trying to get something done and trying hard to concentrate and I am constantly interrupted or distracted.

Sensitivity to light – I can’t handle rooms with florescent lights (extreme headaches). My eyes absorb too much light, so I have a hard time in the sun (must wear sunglasses at all times) – constant squinting, eyes watering, etc. Night driving, driving sun/snow is extremely difficult for me because I’m so sensitive to glare I am often literally “blinded by the light.” Makes me very anxious with driving because sometimes I can’t see, which is a terrifying experience. I am scared I will endanger my kids or other people on the road. 

Environmental triggers:

Clutter – anything on the floors, countertops, etc. Things left in the yard (tarps, buckets, shovels, etc) and not put away in the shed or garage. Sink full of dishes so I can’t get to it. Laundry all over the floor of the laundry room or clean laundry left all over the floor or couch. Throw pillows and blankets on the floor instead of on the couches. Overflowing trash cans or trash left on the floor/kitchen table/couch. Half-drank water bottles and ½ full pop cans everywhere. Shoes left by the front door where I trip over them. Coats/bags not hung up.  I am literally incapable of thinking clearly in a cluttered room. 

Walking into the house (especially after a very long day at work) and finding it a mess can cause an immediately panic attack, BECAUSE I know I will not be able to relax or rest until I clean everything up. I am unable to relax in a messy environment – I get anxious, confused and distracted.

Discordant colors – I feel most relaxed in monochromatic environments. Each room in my house has a color scheme of 3-4 colors. If there is something in that room that doesn’t match, it will drive me to distraction. So, for example, if the kids are in the blue room and they leave the matching gray throw blanket on the couch, it won’t bother me. But if it’s a red blanket, I will feel agitated and will need to put it away – it’s like a blinking light in my face.

Visual Disorder –  I don’t really need everything to BE ordered (like my closet or under the bed might be messy, and it will bug me, but not cause me anxiety because I can shut the door). Sometimes I can mitigate my anxiety by throwing a blanket or something over the laundry etc. in order to hide the clutter/disorder so Jared and I can watch a movie, but that doesn’t work for other things like dishes. Disorder makes me feel dirty, like when you’ve been camping for days without a shower.

Broken or inefficient equipment – trying to nurse along a broken appliance or something that only works intermittently makes me agitated because I’m so busy that I don’t have time to be messing with it. I would prefer to stop wasting time and just go buy something that does what I need it to do. Inefficiency drives me CRAZY. 

Items going missing – I get very agitated when I can’t find something I need, especially if I put it away, and it’s not where I left it. My family CONSTANTLY takes or borrows my things without asking, then they do not care for them well, and they also don’t return them when they’re done – or sometimes they just lose them. Again, I get very stressed when I have to go looking for things because I am so short on time. 

Wasted time – people who waste my time drive me crazy. I hate standing in lines at the store, or when I get a super slow checker, or when people want to constantly stop me and chat. I don’t have time to chat. I am always on the clock. Barriers to getting all my responsibilities accomplished make me very anxious. 

Interactions with Others:

A loved one being disappointed or upset with anything I’ve done, haven’t done, or didn’t do to his liking (feel shame)

Children fighting or arguing – often I will avoid serious issues with the kids in order to avoid the conflict. Becoming a workaholic to escape the pressures at home. 

Walking into public areas (criticism minefield)

Being confronted by anyone who is angry or upset, via any medium (email, text, FB, phone, face to face) – family, friends, strangers, clients, etc. Avoidance of medium where this may occur – I developed an aversion to my voice mail and no longer check it, for example. Very difficult time talking to upset clients; may overreact to their objections in the moment, or may be able to hold it together (sort of) but then will be upset for days afterward. 

General fear of public places as I may be recognized by others and scrutinized or “watched.” Avoid going to public places alone if at all possible. 

Avoid driving, because I’m afraid of making mistakes (like being in the wrong lane while driving, etc.) that cause others to react negatively

Afraid of men following me around, hitting on me, etc. – especially if they force a conversation

Fear of interactions with anyone that appears to be invading my personal space, aggressive in any way OR overly friendly

Feeling Exposed: 

Desire to “hide” in plain sight – use makeup to disguise my true face AND my body, and feel that my real appearance is unworthy of public display

Fear of being “caught” without makeup on/hair done – feeling of violation and shame when this occurs – fear of exposure

Fear of appearing overweight

HATE being in public if I feel unattractive. I’m always late because I can never fix myself up ENOUGH to be on time anywhere. I never feel confident enough to force myself out the door on time. This means it take me an inordinate amount of time to get ready for anything. I have even tattooed on my eyeliner and eyebrows in the hopes of speeding up my routine but it hasn’t helped

Fear of looking older/decline of appearance – terrified by signs of aging. Seeing the changes in my face makes me feel out of control and sometimes I can’t recognize my own face anymore when I look in the mirror

Hypervigilance with online photos/images of myself – usually photoshop all my own photos to make myself look better before posting, and take control of the photography at events because I enjoy it, but also so that other people don’t have access to unflattering photos of me and can’t post them online

Fear of doing something incorrectly in front of other people, especially when I’m expected to do something well (afraid to take ballet classes, etc.)

Any situation where I am forced to do things I’m not good at in front of others (PE in school, math on the blackboard, etc.)

Feeling Confused or Intellectually Inadequate

Doing new things on my own when I don’t know the protocol or don’t have someone to explain things to me (paying bus fare, going to the gym and not knowing or remembering how to use a machine, driving a stick shift, using a slot machine for the first time, etc)

Confusion when: running into people I don’t recognize, and having to make conversation like I know them; running into people I should know, but don’t recognize (face blindness); running into people out of context and getting confused

Trying to put something together or assemble things from instructions (I try but it always turns out like crap), or using a manual to learn technical things (videos are better)

Reading, learning, or understanding technical material: feelings of being overwhelmed and frustrated when dealing with taxes, finances, electrical/mechanical issues, etc. and feeling ashamed when I try but can’t figure things out 

Feeling innately broken and inadequate when I can’t understand things the way other people do (Ie. Mormonism) and a tenacious need to push myself to the point of exhaustion in order to achieve comprehension. Constant internal dialogue and questioning things I don’t understand – discussing, diagramming and analyzing puzzling over interactions with others


Trying to navigate to somewhere I’ve never been on my own (even if I’m just walking through the mall)

Driving somewhere new, even when I have the directions and have planned my route

Driving in traffic – the noise/chaos makes me feel claustrophobic and triggers panic attacks

Driving in road construction: I become very confused when a route changes or detours. I have trouble driving with any kind of glare in my eyes, and have no depth perception when the glare is intense. Often mistake close objects for far, far objects for close, etc. or can’t tell which way to go if there are reflective cones in the road

Parking, or finding parking if I don’t know where it is in relation to the location I’m going to

Car problems, because I know nothing about cars and can’t understand them anyway. Having a breakdown or losing control of my vehicle in any way (flat tire, etc) – anything I’m helpless to fix

Trying to get back to places I’ve already been, but I can’t remember the route (this happens a lot, even with places I’ve been to many times)

Having to stop and get directions from someone I don’t know

Travelling without a cell phone, or in an area that doesn’t have cell service


The news, a violent movie, crime shows, horror movies, etc. can bother me for days so I try to avoid them if at all possible.

Hearing OR seeing or even hearing about an act of violence or even a violent accident can haunt me forever.

Violence that is unreal (like in a movie that is purely fiction) is a little more palatable, because I can tell myself it’s just drama. Even then, rape scenes or scenes where children are hurt or scared are IMPOSSIBLE for me to watch without a panic attack and I will have to leave the room and cover my ears. 

Seeing anyone weak or helpless in danger is excruciating. 

Thoughts of the end of the world, the last days, etc. have given me anxiety and nightmares since I was a little child. Hearing about it at church, when I used to go, became over time an immediate trigger for a panic attack, to the point that just entering the parking lot would send me into a tailspin requiring medication.

Do Fundamentalist Religions Create Male Narcissists?

The pattern of spousal abuse within fundamentalist religions, and the way narcissistic men can (and do) use patriarchal theology to dominate, undermine, and manipulate their female congregants, wives and/or children deserves further study and discussion.

I attended a fundamentalist church as a young mom for 6 years in a small community in rural WA, where there were about 5 of us women all the same age, raising kids together in the gospel. I don’t think it can be a coincidence that 4 out of the 5 of us were married to angry, abusive, manipulative, sexually demanding/coercive, deceitful, disloyal men.

They each seemed to feel completely entitled to dictate our lives while they partied like teenagers, flirted with other women, traded porn and sexually exploitative material, and then used it all to undermine our self-worth and pit us against each other. 

LIterally, just last week, I reminisced via phone with one of the afore-mentioned women. She told me that when we attended church together, her husband repeatedly said things like – “did you see the way Terah waited to breastfeed her baby until I was sitting right across from her? And then pulled down her shawl to make sure I could see everything?” (Might I interject here that I ALWAYS thought this man was quite literally one of the most revolting human beings on the face of the earth – not that it matters). 

One of the OTHER men told HIS wife that I hit on him while he showed me the way to the bathroom during a children’s easter egg hunt, along with other disgusting lies, all while we were just trying to be good moms to our toddlers. The men completely fabricated these events and fed these stories to us individually, just to make us all feel isolated, crazy, insecure and competitive.

The sad thing is, at the time, these women believed what their husbands said. Some of them probably still do, since I can’t refute stories I have never heard. And I had no idea these things were being said behind my back. We are still uncovering the extent of it, and these revelations nauseate me, but are also incredibly clarifying.

Every single one of our marriages eventually ended in public shame, custody and legal battles, and personal loss & disaster. Four of the five of us have also left the church. But the damage in each of our lives, and our children’s lives, is incomprehensible and irreversible. The one woman who is still a faithful member divorced her first abusive husband, but is remarried to a man who recently broke her arm.

I don’t know if the church’s doctrine regarding plural marriage and inequality (based solely on gender) exacerbates an already-present, genetic disposition towards narcissism – or if a different environment, one that valued empathy and equity, would have instilled more respectful beliefs and behaviors in these men. It’s the same-old nature vs. nurture conundrum. But outside of fundamentalist religious circles, very few of my non-member friends have ended up married to sociopathic men, as far as I am aware.

Over the years, I have begun to realize that narcissistic religious men use the EXACT tactics of manipulation that the church leadership itself employs: gaslighting, love-bombing and then withholding love, isolating people from the outside, instilling fear, re-writing history to support their own opinions, refusing to take responsibility for their actions, refusing to apologize and persisting in lies even when the evidence proves they’re wrong.

I truly believe this pattern is a silent epidemic among the church members of my generation. 

I am one of the four above women who eventually looked around at our shattered lives after doing everything the church had promised would make us “truly happy,” after we had practically – literally – killed ourselves trying to please these impossible-to-satisfy church standards and men. And as a whole, we were depressed, suicidal, crazed, drugged, exhausted, deceived and manipulated by not only our faith, but also our “faithful” husbands – all while the male leaders explained, dismissed and even endorsed their abuse, and sent the women back home again. 

One of these church leaders violated my privacy by announcing in a meeting that my ex had lost his job (again), after I had gone to him in confidence and explicitly told him my husband would punish me if he found out we’d discussed it. My ex was publicly humiliated and enraged, and I had to return home from church with an aggressive 6.5’ 275 lb bully, intent on punishing me for my indiscretion.

Eventually my conscience simply did not allow me to stay in this faith. I could not bear the thought of my daughter living this kind of life, and feeling the way about herself the way I felt about myself. She was perfect the way she was, and I could not stand by while she was shamed and humiliated simply for growing up and experiencing life.

The teachings of the church had become so obviously abhorrent to me (I especially struggled with LGBTQ rights and racism) that I could no longer attend without the sure knowledge that as I was pretending to be a faithful church member, I was simultaneously supporting a toxic system. Eventually, I physically could not stomach listening to it anymore, to the point I was driven into the chapel parking lot with bouts of hyperventilation. Sitting in that building, listening to the stories I’d been told all my life, which I knew now were complete lies – felt like selling my soul to the devil while exposing my children to poison.

Diary Peek: Fired From Therapy

A Christian therapist said I needed “Cult Deprogramming” – leaving the LDS religion

12/9/2016 – Camano Island, WA: Excerpt from my Diary

Monday morning: 

I was fired by my therapist. In a manner of speaking, anyway. Here’s what happened – I went in for my appointment, and I took the journal entry I wrote last Sunday along with me. When she asked me what I wanted to focus on for the session, I asked if she wanted to read it, and let me know what stood out to her, and then we could work on that.

She asked me to read it to her aloud, instead. I felt super awkward for the first paragraph or so, but then I relaxed and it wasn’t so bad. I’ve had a cold, so my voice wasn’t as high and squeaky as usual. I would normally detest listening to my own “Cinderella” voice for that long – it would give that fingernails-on-the-chalkboard feeling that my son has dubbed “the frizzies.”

My therapist asks some questions about the journal entry and we discuss, though she keeps peering at me with this quizzical, pinched-eyebrow expression. Thirty minutes in, when I am trying to explain the weight of my existential crisis, and how the questions of “What am I doing here? If everything I’ve ever been taught is false, what IS true?” are rumbling around in my mind, she suggests I try reading the bible for some direction.

Frustrated, I try to explain my knee-jerk reaction. “I CAN’T. I have such an aversion to scripture now. It’s all one jumbled mess in my head. I don’t want to get anywhere near conservative religion. Even the word ‘God’ is loaded with so much baggage I don’t like to use it.”

Ding: light goes on above therapist’s head, as she realizes that SHE is in over HER head. 

Yup, my brain is that screwed up. 

Suddenly, she states that she believes I’m suffering from the cumulative effects of brainwashing from my years spent in Mormonism. And although I have another, equally strong knee-jerk reaction to the term “brainwashing,” I am beginning to suspect that she is right on some level, at least this one: as a therapist, she can’t give me what I need, because she doesn’t GET it. And she’s NEVER going to GET it. 

It’s the entire content of my last journal entry – “no one understands!” and she’s one of the “no-one.” 

She kindly sends me out of the office instructing me to look for a therapist who specializes in cult deprogramming. I have absolutely no idea how to do that. 

Monday afternoon:

I go home and immediately get online, looking for a “deprogramming” therapist (they don’t exist). I look up cults, religious transitioning, ex-mormon therapy – no luck. Finally, I stumble across an LMHP in CA (Marlene Winell) who specializes in “recovery from religious fundamentalism.”

I proceed to devour every word on her website. All I can think is – Yes! That’s Me! Yes! That’s Me, Too! Finally, I am not alone. There is a group of people on the planet who are experiencing similar crises, and this mental anguish is not imagined. It is real, I am real, we are all real, and we are not crazy. 

Diary Peek: Self-Sacrifice Isn’t Love

The Erroneous Concept that Self-Sacrifice is the Highest Form of Love

Diary Excerpt 11/9/2016 (Camano Island, WA)

I just started an online course that’s supposed to help clear mental blocks (I can certainly feel that I have a few), and it’s been surprisingly enlightening! I just started it on Sunday, and within the first half hour I had some realizations that just knocked me to the floor. Isn’t it crazy how our human behavior can be rooted in programming that goes so deep we are completely unaware of it? And then once you see it clearly, of course, you see it EVERYWHERE and wonder how you ever missed it in the first place!

It occurred to me on Sunday that we as Mormons/Christians/Americans, what have you, are largely taught from a young age that we should be “Christ like.” How often did we have that drummed into us as LDS members? Our entire concept of love is rooted in self-sacrifice. God loved us, so he sent his son to die. Christ loved us, so he sacrificed himself for the world. Joseph Smith loved us, so he was willing to be martyred for the “truth.” Our pioneer ancestors sacrificed everything crossing the plains so that we could live in Zion. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, because that was the ultimate test of Abraham’s love and devotion to God. (I always found that story upsetting as a child, by the way. It seemed like a really messed up thing for a loving God to do). Even the things that are supposed to bring us the most happiness, like true love and marriage, must ultimately be sacrificed to the requirements of polygamy. Not even if our own homes, or heavens, are women allowed happiness without serious strings attached.

On top of that, you have the additional layer of guilt – “to whom is given, much is required.” We were saved for the latter days, and everyone had sacrificed so much for us, and now it was our turn to repay that sacrifice. The “debt” was presupposed. We were obligated to make payment without ever agreeing to the contract in the first place. I had the sudden realization that my entire life, I have been willingly sacrificing myself on the altar, because I believed that was the highest form of love. And the more I loved someone, or the more I desired something, the more I sacrificed. When things went badly in my life despite my very best efforts, I subconsciously felt that my sacrifices must not have been great enough to pay the price required – so I sacrificed increasingly more.

I have discovered that the limit of my sacrifice has no end. I will literally give my sanity, my health, my happiness, my time, even my life for the people I love. I know that, because I have been doing it consistently for the last 25 years. Unfortunately, what good has it actually done? How am I showing my kids more love by being so stressed and anxious that I cry all the time? What good would it do if I died and they had no mother? I am suddenly realizing that sacrifice is only one form of love, and yet it’s pretty much the only one I have been practicing. And it doesn’t work for a lot of situations! How can I create something beautiful to send into the world when my actions are often stemming from a place of pain and self-denial?

Diary Peek: Why I Left My Faith

Why I Left the Mormon Faith & LDS Church After 36 Years

Excerpt from my Diary – April 12, 2015: My “Exit Letter”

The truth is, I am a complicated person, despite all appearances. My brain is always busy, always analyzing, always spooling ahead a long list of things that have yet to be done. A constant stream of narration plays from morning until night, chronicling everything I experience for some imaginary reader. I remember doing this as a small child, even, bored on the school bus: narrating everything around me in my own mind, just to keep myself occupied. The habit seems to have stuck – so ingrained I barely notice it anymore. And, I reason, if I’m narrating anyway, I might as well write the story down somewhere, even if no one ever reads it. At some point, my entire life will be the tiniest blip, one barely-worth-mentioning event, and then forgotten all together. 

I kept a journal a long time ago, for years, and 80% of it was complete farce. Cliché’s that I wrote in an effort to be viewed by some future posterity as a faithful, devout woman, worthy of admiration. How many times was I told at church to keep a journal to inspire my imaginary descendants? Try being brutally honest while constantly imagining what my great-great-great-granddaughter would think.  How many times did I hear quotations from such ancestral journals read from the pulpit, harrowing tales of pioneer treks, dead babies left in frozen fields, their shallow graves ravaged by wolves… all these sacrifices that my ancestors made on my behalf so I would have the “truth” at some unknown, future time. Hearing these journal entries as a child, all I could think was, “What a waste. The Mormon pioneers left their families, possessions, their homes, their children, all to follow a nonsensical religious philosophy invented by a narcissist, intent on creating a religion that would support his desire to sleep with any woman (or teenage girl) he wanted.” What a WASTE.

I firmly believe that no prophet, no God, no entity worth worshipping would ask me to sacrifice my children for “truth.”  I always found the Old Testament story of Abraham being told by an angel to spear the heart of his own son harrowing. If God ever gave me a similar test of devotion, I would lie at his feet and tell him to go ahead and smite me. 

These were the facts I previously omitted from my diary. But the sweet stories detailing my adoration of my daughter Lydia were real. My grief and pain, sometimes expressed but often glossed-over, was real. The rest was mostly bullshit. I am endeavoring to be journalistically honest this time – even if it’s only with myself.

Why the lack of authenticity over the last 38 years of my life? The list is so long: (1) Growing up Mormon. (2) Perfectionistic tendencies. (3) Parents with unrealistically high expectations, bent on appearances (4) My husband’s expectations, and the “eternal” vows I made to him as a stupid teenager. (5) Oldest child syndrome. (6) The hunger to fit in to my family and Mormon culture, which required constant dishonesty on my part.

One by one, I have been shedding these lies, ridding them from my psyche and my life. But now, as a business owner, I am confronted with an entirely different reason to continue the farce – my school, my reputation, the public image I so carefully created, which is necessary for my security. I draw people to me with my false attractiveness, my friendliness, my glitter and makeup and shiny, clean life. Little girls want to grow up to be me, and their mothers pay me to be that ideal, because they want their little girls to become that ideal. And so, the farce continues. Different causes, same result. 

I wonder if there will ever exist in this world a person who really knows me.  So far, I don’t think so. This might be the only avenue to make that true. Maybe one of my kids will want to read this at some point, to try to understand the complicated mess that was their mother. Or maybe they really won’t care to bother. Maybe I wouldn’t want them to see the real me, anyway – their distorted version might be so much better. My friends know bits and pieces. Jared knows a lot, though his perception is always clouded by – well, by his incapacity to grasp my depth.

Once, I read somewhere that every person’s greatest need is to be seen. Just seen and appreciated for who they are. For the people we love, our role is to serve as a witness to their life. Without this, we have no proof that we actually exist. I don’t think anyone has ever really been able to see me. Or, perhaps I am incapable of allowing myself to be seen, incapable of real transparency, afraid of what others would find. 

I am not as good a person as I pretend. I am often self-indulgent, self-righteous, and selfish. I usually mean well, but I don’t always do well. In most respects, I think I am utterly average on the morality scale. Maybe a little more intelligent than most. Or maybe I just possess an over-inflated opinion of my own IQ. 

It does seem to me, however, that my mind churns more than is common.  My patriarchal blessing stated that I have a “brilliant and alert mind.” Of course, my rational mind does not believe in patriarchs anymore. But I wish I could believe it. I used to find some comfort in my blessing. Now, it reminds me of a low-rent horoscope. Except I place more faith in my horoscope. I read my horoscope almost every day. I find some sort of twisted joy in the irony. 

Ironic, because the one thing I have come to believe is true is this: no one on earth possesses the truth. Those who tell me they hold the path to my salvation negate their own argument with their smug, blind self-assurance. I don’t trust absolutes, or those that spout them. I hate their pride, their judgmental, oblivious narrow-mindedness. It’s insulting, the audacity of truly believing they are somehow smarter or more enlightened than I (and the rest of the non-Christian world), that I am the one who has fallen victim to worldly folly. For a long time, I believed it.  I found out the hard way that they were wrong. 

Somehow, though hard-won experience and sheer desperation, the Mormon smokescreen across my mind slowly, slowly dissipated.  My busy brain turned over and over, puzzling over each leap in logic my religion required. Eventually, my own reasoning won – these theories make no sense! But so many millions of intelligent people, like my parents, have been bought it all, over and over, every day. Entire lives dedicated to a system of beliefs that are an odd conglomeration of rewritten history, mysticism, tangential tidbits of biblical theory, and hundreds of years of inbreeding.

I am not the one who is blind. I am not the one who is crazy. But when you live every day with nice, well-meaning, blind, crazy people – well, you become the odd one out. What a conundrum – be crazy and fit in? Or be right and alone? Either option is painful. And I hate pain.

I think my pain tolerance is lower than most people’s, in almost every way. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty, or work my ass off. That might be my most redeeming quality. But many, many other things scare me, and pain is one of them. 

I seem to feel it more intensely than other people I know. I fear pain, and that is my greatest weakness. I frequently allow my fear, or my pain, or my fear of pain, to dictate my decisions. Or keep me from making the hard ones. 

Hands down, my greatest fear of all is failing my children. Failing them as a mother, failing to provide them with what they need, failure to give them the gift I want to give most – a happy childhood. The grief I would feel at failing that mission would bring more pain than I could ever bear. Fighting, separating, divorcing – even when I should, even when it’s obvious to everyone – I can’t do it. I know that it would mean looking into my children’s eyes and seeing grief – and that would undo me. And watching that grief continue to grow, day after day – watching the effect it would have on their self-worth, their relationships, their future marriages and their relationships with their own children – I am willing to do anything to prevent that, because it would be the worst pain of all, causing my children pain. 


Diary Peek: It “Feels True”

Existential Trauma and Religious Trauma Syndrome – Why “Feelings” aren’t Truth

Except from my diary: May 13, 2016 (Camano Island, WA)

When I left Mormonism, for the first several years, it was difficult in so many ways – but it was also exhilarating to throw off the beliefs that never felt right to me, and decide for myself what “felt” right. In the process of trying to undo years of programming, EVERY belief and cultural more had to be examined for veracity. Once I questioned Joseph Smith, I questioned every “prophet” – one I questioned the truthfulness of Mormon scripture, I saw the same flaws in all scripture… once I questioned the historical accuracy of the Mormon church’s “history,” I saw the same flaws in every religious history… and on and on it goes, until I no longer know if I even believe in any kind of higher power, or the continuation of life after this.

So here is my dilemma…. How the hell does one “know” anything? I had a long conversation with my mom last week, where she was telling me how she “knows” the LDS church is true because she feels it. But feelings are obviously a poor basis for determining truth. I pointed out that mothers in the middle east who send their children out on suicide bomb missions must feel to the depth of their soul that what they are doing is right, to be willing to make that sacrifice… but that feeling doesn’t make it so.

So now what? How do I determine the truthfulness of anything – does “truth” even exist, or only our individual perspectives? If I can’t trust my feelings… and I can’t trust my intellect, as it’s quite clear that as humans, we understand very little about the universe at large… what’s left?

The rational explanation would be that humans are animals, that we are born, and live, and procreate, and die, and the circle of life continues. But the thought of it is so … bleak. When I was LDS, I did have an inherent belief in some kind of afterlife. Now that it’s gone, the road ahead looks like a downhill spiral toward old-age, illness, and eventually, doom.

Yikes, that is depressing.

I have other friends who have left the church who are now atheist, and I totally understand why. In fact, I have heard that the great majority of people who have left the church become either atheist or agnostic, at least. I think it’s because once we understand how deeply we were deceived, we can’t trust anything anymore. But really, atheism isn’t working for me, personally – life seems so inconsequential and sad in that framework.

I want to keep a light of happiness inside… a path, some joy in my life. I really want to create that for myself, somehow, and I don’t know how to go about it. How did you do it? I want to feel at peace, but it seems so elusive.

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