Ex-Mormons are often accused of “playing the victim” and wallowing in “victimology,” and it’s always struck me as weird that many church members simply cannot imagine that anyone might have been hurt or damaged by their association with Mormonism. People do get hurt, and often the hurt goes quite deep. Acknowledging that pain is not an indictment of Mormonism but simply acceptance of other people’s experience.
I’ve written before about how Mormonism compounded my innate issues of self-worth, guilt, and shame (I don’t think I need to explain in detail how Mormonism contributed to my feeling that I didn’t measure up and never would). In the LDS church there is a major focus on “worthiness,” meaning that one must meet a certain level of obedience before being eligible for certain ordinances, blessings, and church assignments. We could not have the influence and companionship of the Holy Spirit, we were told, unless we were worthy. Although I regularly and honestly passed my worthiness interviews, I always had nagging guilt and wondered if I really was worthy. I would beat myself up for little things, sure that I was deficient in some way. In talking with current and former members, I realize that I engaged in far less sinful behavior than most, but I was sure that God was disappointed in me for not measuring up.
Although I don’t think I’ve expressed this before, I have often felt like the damage done to my soul was permanent, that Mormonism had helped break me in ways that could never be repaired. So, yes, those feelings contributed to deep resentment toward the church; it’s natural to have bad feelings toward people and institutions that have hurt you. Many church members, particularly those I met on message boards, told me those feelings were irrational and obvious signs of a bitter apostate. One person told me that I should treat leaving the church like divorcing an abusive spouse: rather than dwelling on the ways the ex-spouse (the church, by analogy) had hurt me, I should just move on and forget about it.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, particularly when the ex-spouse makes constant efforts to get you back and your friends and family constantly tell you how wonderful the abusive spouse is and how you really should give him or her another chance. And of course, we get the constant refrain that the breakup of the relationship is our fault, not the abuser’s: we were too proud, wanted to sin, were spiritually lazy, and so on.
In one sense they are right: there’s a difference between acknowledging pain and wallowing in it. And I am sure I did my share of wallowing. But a strange thing has happened since I finally got past most of the raw emotion. Without really trying, I have reached a point at which I don’t feel like I’m permanently broken anymore. I used to feel like the guilt, the inadequacy, the shame were all just part of me that I would forever have to fight.
I really don’t know what’s changed, but I feel like I can finally put that baggage down and walk on without such a heavy load. I’m not naive enough to believe that these old and well-ingrained attitudes will just vanish, but somehow I feel hopeful, as if I am somebody worthy of self-approval. It’s one thing to have a bishop or stake president pronounce you worthy, but it’s an entirely different thing to really feel worthy. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced that before in my life.