I was raised LDS and left the church at age 23, and resigned officially at age 33 (when I learned this was an option for me). I was raised in a large family, falling in the middle of 4 boys, I was the eldest girl. Much of my childhood is a blank as I can’t remember large sections of it, which has made me wonder if there was abuse more severe than what I recall and if I’ve blocked it out.
What I do know is my older brother harassed me relentlessly and was never punished for his abuse. Some of the abuse was of a sexual nature as he once had me do a strip tease in front of him when I was only 7 or 8 and he was about 11. He, then feeling guilty, made me pray and read scriptures with him which made me feel I’d done something wrong when I’d not understood the game was wrong or shameful being a such a young age and so innocent.
Prior to that my father made me feel ashamed on several occasions and later in life as well. He had his own issues related to sexuality because of his own childhood abuse, which I only found out about as an adult. As a result he projected his feelings of shame onto us kids. The first such memory was as early as 2 or 3 years old. I was sitting on a blanket on the floor of the kitchen while my mother worked there and while all of my clothes happened to be in the laundry. So I was naked and bored and this is how I discovered I had a hole between my legs. It really alarmed me to find a hole, I thought there was something very wrong. I started to ask what was wrong and why there was a hole. I pointed this out to my mother and father (who had just walked in). But my father said to stop talking about it and made me hush up. He made me feel very badly about having mentioned this which didn’t make any sense to me since I thought my parents would be equally concerned as I was that their child had a hole in her!!! But I must have figured out it was normal or okay somehow since they weren’t rushing me off to the hospital. But they also weren’t even looking at me. Suddenly it felt this was all my fault and that I was really bad for mentioning it. Like was supposed to have already known not to mention it and that it was some kind of secret I should have already known how to keep at 2 or 3 years old. I actually think this sad memory was my earliest one, it was certainly very powerful in it’s shame factor.
I also remember being 5 yrs. old and wanted to feel what it was like to walk around naked, as I’d seen a young 3 yr. old boy do at our house once when his family visited. His action had kind of horrified the rest of us kids who’d been taught it was very bad to be naked, esp in front of other people. But I had envied him his obvious joy in running around with no clothes and I just wanted to know what that kind of freedom felt like. So I decided to walk down the hall naked when I thought no one was around. Well my father caught me and I’ll never forget the tone of voice and his face when he found me like this. He made me feel like I’d done the worst thing I could ever possibly do. He yelled ‘WHAT are you doing???!!!!’ I didn’t know what to say so I immediately lied. I was near the bathroom so just said I needed to go to the bathroom. He told me to hurry up and get dressed! And it was clear I was NEVER EVER to do something so terrible again!
I felt as if my whole world had collapsed and that I was worth nothing. What started as an innocent event derived from sheer childhood curiosity and need to explore one’s world and feel free, to utter humiliation and excessive guilt. I suddenly felt I must be seriously flawed to have wished to do something so clearly wrong and evil. I felt hopeless as I felt I must just be inherently flawed and beyond god’s forgiveness (ideas of god were very mixed with ideas of my father as he essentially was ‘god’ in our household). I felt extra bad that I’d lied, so it felt like a compounded sin for that reason.
But that was only the beginning of decades of emotional abuse in the form of shaming in my family and at church.
Another occasion was how I was made to feel after I’d learned from my best friend (at age 7) about how babies were made. Her parents had given her a book about it and she had shown it to me. We thought it was gross and also funny and I personally was having a hard time believing it since I’d not had my parents tell me about it yet. Well we had been left to babysit the younger kids for a few hours (yes at age 7 this was considered okay to leave me in charge of younger children and a baby) and ended up drawing pictures of the bullies from school whom we didn’t like and we decided to draw them naked in bed together as we thought the idea of sex was the worst thing you could wish on someone, so this was our way of acting out our frustrations and sort of getting even at these other kids, even though we knew they wouldn’t see them.
It was so innocent that we left the drawings on the dining room table, not thinking we’d done anything wrong. Well my parents got home and found them, then called me into their bedroom for a talk which was really a heated lecture and a shaming session. I wasn’t able to say anything to defend myself when I found I’d been accused of doing something very terrible and offensive to god. They told me this act was ‘sacred’ and was not to be talked about or drawn, etc. And they said well clearly I knew about this already so they didn’t need to have ‘the talk’ with me. This was not true (which should have been clear from the crude drawings!) that I really understood procreation but yet I still didn’t know what to say so I remained silent as they chastised me. I just wanted to disappear. I felt worthless. (But I also felt relieved that I wouldn’t be getting that talk with them since I didn’t ever want to have to discuss this subject with them ever again! Not after how they handled it! I’d never felt so awful in my life up to that point!) And on top of that they decided to keep my drawings in a back drawer of their dresser as some kind of eternal evidence of my shame. I wanted to destroy those papers but knew I could never touch them. Instead sometimes I’d sneak in their room to see if the ‘evidence’ was still there. Sadly it was for a very long time and its presence served to continually remind me of how worthless and sinful I was. It served a constant reminder of my guilt and unworthiness.
I remained silent by default for most of my childhood, when it came to any personal problems I was having. I didn’t trust my parents to tell them since I continually feared shaming and punishment.
When I was only 8 or 9, again my older brother did something terrible to me and this time very much in front of my mother who ignored it. He knew that I was not wearing underwear under my PJs as my mom was doing laundry and was washing all of them. He had a friend visiting and they started making a game of chasing me which ended with my brother intentionally pulling my pants down to my ankles in front of his friend. I’d already learned that it was shameful to be naked in front of anyone and here there was this strange boy I didn’t know and my brother displaying my most private parts to him and just laughing while he did it and continuing to laugh at my response. I think his friend actually felt badly but my brother was a bully, not just to me but to his friends esp. And this one went along with it and laughed too at my brother’s prompting. I was crying and of course pulled my pants up as quickly as I could and ran down the hall to my mother who really had just been not more than 20 ft away while this was happening. She was in front of the mirror putting on her make up as she and my father were about to go out. She didn’t even turn to look at me when I told her (in tears) what happened. She only stopped to say that she would ‘talk to him’ (my brother) ‘later.’ She didn’t even hug me or comfort me in anyway. She just seemed really irritated at the interruption. She never did talk to my brother. He was the favorite and knew it and got away with everything. Once he even threatened my best friend (age 6 or 7) telling her that he would kill her were she to ever come over the house again (he did things like this to keep me from having friends as it made him jealous somehow). I only learned from her several years later that he’d done that. She did in fact stay away from our house for the rest of our childhood, always (without explanation) insisting that I come over to her house to play. She had truly been frightened by him, believing what he’d said to her. I was lucky that she invited me to her place and stayed friends, other friends never came over again but I never learned why, just assuming they didn’t like me anymore! Probably he threatened or abused others who never told me.
My father and two older brothers also abused me most of my childhood via tickle torture. I didn’t understand it as ‘abuse’ until I was in my 30s and learned more on that topic and found out that unwanted and prolonged tickling of child can be considered sexual abuse as it can be titillating for the abuser and also keeps the victim in a state of powerlessness (esp. when they ask to stop and they don’t) which sends a clear message to the child about her position. In my case I didn’t like this at all and was very sensitive (and maybe even became more sensitive due to the tickling sessions). I remember crying out for them to STOP and they would NOT stop, they never stopped when I asked and no matter how I asked. Often it was all 3 ganged up on me at once which of course made me feel helpless and worthless. It was all in the guise of ‘game’ and ‘fun/play’ and at first I would like feeling included in a game with my brothers and father since rarely did any of them play with me at all and my brothers tended to exclude me from their games, usually with the excuse of gender and their games being ‘boy games’ and thereby off limits to me., which already always felt very unfair and like a lie since I couldn’t understand why playing with toy cars or Star Wars figures required one to be a certain gender. So I would usually agree to the tickling games at first which involved a lot of chasing as well to start with. But they of course, being bigger and stronger, always ‘won’ and captured me, often under a blanket and then tickled me until I cried or could not breathe or in one case wet my pants. This was the worst case that I remember. It involved both brothers and my father all tickling me at once and they would not stop even when I kept pleading with them to stop saying it hurt. But since I was laughing still (which one cannot actually help when one is being tickled, it does not mean it’s actually fun/funny/enjoyable for the victim) but they were doing it very hard and it really hurt and I felt I would lose control of my bladder soon so I told them repeatedly they had to stop or I was going to pee. But they didn’t stop so I did wet my pants. Finally after wetting myself they stopped. But they actually found it even funnier that I’d wet myself. So to add humiliation upon shame they laughed at me as I ran off crying. My father laughed at me. He didn’t come to my aid, he didn’t apologize, he didn’t help me change. I was left alone to deal with the fall out on my own. This was typical treatment for my entire childhood. I did not have caregivers or other adults I could trust to go to for help. I had to deal with it all on my own and this made me feel very lonely and very worthless.
My low self esteem also attracted bullies to me at school and for several years I was relentlessly tormented at school as well as at home and never told my parents or anyone about it. I always just expected to be punished for being a victim so I avoided telling of my victim hood as it seemed it would just compound my problems. Instead I tried to cope by losing myself in TV and books/fantasies and junk food. This is how I handled my pain, burying it and numbing it in any way I could. (And later years I turned to drugs and alcohol as well as sex and some food addictions.. fortunately I’m free from those addictions now.)
At age 12 I had my first closed door bishop’s worthiness interview for going to the temple for baptisms for the dead. The whole ward was going, all of the youth and I was being pressured to participate and of course I’d been programmed to believe that going to the temple was the best thing that could ever happen to me. So I went along with it. I did the interview and honestly I don’t remember it well. But I DO remember being very uncomfortable with the atmosphere and questions. I’d not had a boyfriend yet and had only ever had a couple of very innocent kisses from boys in elementary school, so the whole thing was very awkward for me. But of course I didn’t tell anyone I was uncomfortable in any way. And over all, even though I felt the experience at the temple left me feeling a bit let down, I went along with pretending it was all a very uplifting spiritual experience. I remember my father being very pleased about that whole thing and I basked in his approval. And I also remember having to get fully undressed in front of strange female temple workers to change into the baptismal clothing. This part was extremely uncomfortable for me but again I didn’t say anything about it.
In high school after turning 16 and having filled out and turned out to be an above average attractive young woman, and being able to now date, I got a lot of attention from boys. I was really happy to have this attention. My whole life I’d been taught that my only true worth came from serving ‘righteous’ men, serving and obeying my father, and serving/obeying priesthood holders at church and eventually to serve and obey my husband. It was assumed I’d be married (at a young age) to a Mormon temple worthy priesthood holder and I held fast to that ideal myself. I was a ‘good Mormon’ girl, very obedient and always trying hard to please my parents, esp. my father who never seemed very proud of me as I seemed to continually disappoint him by just being myself. (Hence I lived with a feeling that ‘myself’ must be inherently flawed.)
Once at LDS girls camp we’d trained all week in a Hawaiian dance for our last night’s Luau BBQ to which our parents had been invited. I was so excited to dance for my father (who would be the one coming to pick me up) as I’d worked hard all week. I had with me a Hawaiian themed bathing suit I thought was perfect for it (it was a modest full piece with palm trees on it) with which I wore one of the long grass skirts we made ourselves. The other girls with me wore t-shirts or tank tops with the shirts. I think one other girl also wore a swimsuit. In any case I had no thought that the swimsuit would be inappropriate in any way and certainly none of the church youth leaders caring for us that week had thought or said so. Thus I wore the bathing suit and skirt and performed with the other girls for the families in attendance, including for my father. I still have the photos and it’s clear from them I was in my element (I since went on as an adult to become a pro-level dancer for some years) and really proud of myself, and that also there was nothing inappropriate or scandalous about my costume). So my shock at my father’s reaction to me after the dance is understandable. I asked what he thought of the dance, fully anticipating hugs and praise and he wouldn’t answer me. Not only would he not answer me, but he wouldn’t LOOK at me. We spent the rest of the evening in awkward silence with him clearly uncomfortable and barely talking to anyone. In the car (by this time I was trying to hold back the tears since he was clearly very angry with me but I couldn’t fathom why) he finally told me why he was upset. He couldn’t believe I would EMBARRASS HIM by dressing that way in front of everyone! Apparently what I wore was not appropriate (as I’d thought it was and been led to believe it was by my church youth leaders!) but very immodest and all of the other girls were dressed modestly but me (not true exactly, but in his eyes it was) and why did I have to do that and totally humiliate and shame him like that, etc. He just laid into me and I felt like worse than nothing. Again I’d been disappointing him when all I’d wanted to do is make him proud of me but felt somehow I must be inherently evil and sinful and this had something to do with my own sexuality which I had no control over.
There were many more such instances but those stand out the most. All of this set me up for serious abuse by men going forward as I did not know firstly how to say no to boys or men nor was I comfortable speaking out about abuse to my parents or church leaders. My first boyfriend sexually abused me in high school and I lived alone for years with the shame and humiliation. He had been a non member whom I’d been able to convert. Never before or since was my father prouder of me for the conversion. I was endlessly praised over it and I finally felt I’d done something right. Well this boyfriend wanted to marry me and we assumed we would so he used that as an excuse to go further than I was comfortable with or what was permitted in our make out sessions. I’d try to tell him I wasn’t comfortable with something but he’d make excuses for it or worse blame me in some way for his actions. I was too alluring, or didn’t I love him enough, didn’t I trust him? I was too weak willed to stand up to him and besides he now had the priesthood authority over me and I was really supposed to follow him as I had been taught. I remember the first time he really crossed a line for me and did something I never thought I’d do before marriage. I felt defeated, a terrible deep shame just ate me up from my center. I felt I could never go back and that I was now damaged goods. It also made me feel trapped with my abuser. Now the only way to make it right would be to actually marry him, have his children, stay with him not just for this life but FOREVER. Added to that was the growing discomfort I had with his escalating emotional verbal abuse. He began lashing out at me, yelling at me incessantly, always jealous of any time I had away from him, of any interests I had outside of him. I was always too selfish and letting him down and never good enough. Just as I’d felt with my father.
Early on in the sexual boundary crossing we’d both felt guilty enough to see our bishop in our ward about it. At this point it was just a little ‘light petting’ but I personally felt extremely guilty and sinful. The bishop met with us, I can’t actually remember if together or separately. This bishop actually turned out to be easy going and not very judgmental. He said it was a natural thing to have happened and not to worry about it so much and just not let it happen again. That was a huge relief to me and fully unexpected given my prior bishop’s interview experiences. However it ended up having an affect on us that was almost like a license to go ahead and continue with what we had been doing as it wasn’t really ‘that big of a deal’.. or at least that is how my boyfriend interpreted it.
This boyfriend had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder which explained his severe mood swings and abuse cycles (which neither of us really understood at the time and he wasn’t getting any help for his disorder). He’d also had troubles at home and been kicked out of his house and taken in by ward members. At one point early on in our relationship and before he converted he tried to kill himself. This was devastating to me as I’d not ever known anyone to try this and I felt a personal responsibility for it since I’d not been able to talk on the phone with him when he had called that night. After that he used the suicide attempt to manipulate me into staying with him even after the abuse got bad enough I was considering leaving him, in spite of the ‘eternal consequences’ I feared, I began fearing staying with him more. He would tell me that if I left him, ever, he would kill himself and I believed this since I’d seen him try.
I finally did leave him my 2nd year into college at BYU. He was in the MTC and safely away from me and I had the support of my roommates whom I’d finally told about his suicide threats. They told me it was not my fault if he killed himself but his. I needed someone to say this to me for me to even consider that possibility as I’d assumed it would be my fault just as he’d been telling me. So I got the nerve up and told him over the phone and he did threaten suicide but never followed through.
Before this happened, and after I thought we were on the same page about the sexual stuff and not doing it again, he came out to see me just before going into the MTC. I’ll never forget how he immediately took me into my bedroom and did things to me that were very violating and horrible feeling. He did it without asking me, just did it. Felt like being raped and it really was a kind of rape as it involved penetration (Though we never officially ‘did the deed’ so to speak). I felt like I had just disappeared like so many other times in my life, I just didn’t even exist, not really, more like a ghost of myself. Even though he did that to me, I felt guilty, I felt dirty, I felt sinful.
After he went into the MTC, he called me to tell me that he had seen the bishop there and confessed about all of the stuff we’d done. And he was told I’d have to confess as well in order for HIM to be absolved and able to go on his mission! How do you like THAT? I didn’t argue. I didn’t want to go back to a bishop and admit the wrong we’d done, not again, even though the time before hadn’t been bad, I knew the things we’d done since were much worse. None of those things I’d actually ever wanted to do myself! But always had been pressured or tricked into it or just forced really, him ignoring my feelings or needs or thoughts entirely. So I set up an appointment to see the bishop of my current ward at school. I didn’t know this man at all, I’d only been in the ward a few weeks. Well that series of interviews was one of the most horrible experiences I have ever had in the church or since leaving. Emotionally it was very damaging for me. I didn’t expect to be treated as he did.
I went in there ready to confess and ready to have it quickly over with and behind me. I was repentant, I didn’t want to sin again, I hadn’t wanted to in the first place! Well what I remember is that when I told him the nature of my sins he probed for details (something I was NOT expecting at ALL!) and I ended up telling him about the oral sex. When I told him this he actually looked at me like he intended to spit in my face and he glared at me with utter contempt and just said ‘How. Could. You.!!??’ And I will never forget that condemnation. How could I do such a thing?! This is how it continued. I knew better, etc. etc. I just broke down and cried, but he did not relent and did not soften. I have blocked out the rest. I think he wanted to know more details, when, where, how often, etc. And if that wasn’t bad enough I had to go back to him repeatedly! I don’t know how many times or what else he said or what happened. I know I wasn’t to take the sacrament for several weeks. I was so afraid because this man held the power to get me kicked out of school if he didn’t give me the clear and deem me ‘worthy’ enough to stay! And I’d worked so hard to get into the college I was in and get a scholarship. Education was actually important to me and I couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. I knew something was wrong about the whole process. I left his office that first day feeling re-victimized and helpless. I didn’t feel I could tell anyone about the interview or about how it made me feel, esp. as then I’d have to tell the reason I was there in the first place. And I had not, before telling this awful man, told ANYONE prior to that. I’d kept it all hidden as a terrible secret. I made it through the process of ‘repentance’ and those weekly interviews somehow. I remember having a lot of headaches at the time and not really making a link to the stress I was undergoing. I just felt backed into a corner. And felt resigned to keeping shameful secrets and carrying the weight of shame and guilt with me forever. I also had this nagging feeling at those interviews that this bishop was somehow ‘getting off’ on hearing my story. There was definitely an element of power tripping for one. And I remember establishing a terrible association with this man’s bald head and a penis because of what he made me talk about. The whole experience just felt gross and violating.
It was many years before I was able to tell anyone about what happened with that boyfriend and that bishop. It was many more years since I could recover from these things at all. I left the church in 1994 or 5 for a number of reasons, but partly because a new non member boyfriend got me to see the light in terms of the real history of Joseph Smith and the church and problems with doctrine. I still didn’t know what the endowment temple ceremonies involved as I’d never gotten that far and they remained a secret to me. And there were still many things I did not know. But I knew enough that I was ready to leave. However I was still following a pattern of letting men dictate things to me and decide things for me. And I went through a series of abusive relationships after that. Always thinking I had learned enough from one to not repeat my mistakes. But the influence of shame and humiliation I’d grown up with was so hard to remove from influencing not just my relationships but my life in very negative ways.
I didn’t ‘come out’ to my family about leaving the church until some years later when I had to live at home again and was expected to attend church on Sundays with them. I just couldn’t bare that. I tried once but it was too hard. So I told them and the result was terrible, so much yelling and crying and blaming and shaming. I got through it someone, but it was much worse than I could have imagined it would have been. And then years after that I married a man (non member of course) and my family at this point was just really happy I married at all, even if outside the church. But this person turned out to be an abusive alcoholic, something I hid from my family until 4 years later I got the courage up to leave him. It took me so much strength and courage to leave and to find a place for myself and be able to support myself financially that I waited to tell my family about not expecting to be supported by them. However it turned out that most of my family was supportive and behind me and did not probe for details but trusted that I had good reason to leave. Not my father. No he made me feel terrible about it, he shamed and blamed me for hours upon hours, acting as my judge and jury in a trial I hadn’t known I was on the stand for. It wasn’t enough that I was unhappy and had my reasons, he had to know what they were. Even when I told some of them (which already felt like a violation to have to tell him and not very different from being trapped in an invasive bishop’s interview.. my father actually had been a bishop at one point and anyway always felt he had the authority and right to treat us how he wished and cross boundaries if he deemed necessary), he still seemed to blame me. I should ‘forgive’ I should put up with, I should ‘endure.’ Really it came down to how others at church would perceive him. It was about ME shaming HIM, since I would be tarnishing his reputation by being divorced. It was never about me and my happiness but always about how everything reflected on him. Worse than his reaction to my divorce was the subsequent years during which he was still close friends with my ex! Essentially he sided with my abuser. It wasn’t until he had enough problems of his own with my ex that he distanced himself. I was so conditioned to abuse that it hadn’t even occurred to me how untoward and disrespectful it was that my father and family had at all remained close to my ex, esp. as he had been abusive towards me.
I struggled with depression and sometimes suicidal thoughts (often these thoughts being triggered by seemingly very insignificant events, it only took the trigger of making me feel unworthy and flawed to go down that path) for decades. I didn’t link these things to early childhood and young adult shaming until much later. I had and still have issues with my sexuality. I went through a number of years of being very promiscuous and using sex as a drug and becoming addicted to love and attention from men, to being frigid and closed off. I did finally see a therapist for some years and this helped a lot but didn’t prevent my getting involved with another person who would reject and abandon me.
I am finally in a pretty stable loving relationship with a sensitive man who understands what I’ve been through and is very patient with me in all aspects. But it frustrates me that I still struggle with being intimate. It’s particularly difficult for me to be intimate with someone who has been with me so long and knows me so well. It was easier to be intimate with someone I barely knew and could just have fantasy relationships with although those experiences ultimately hurt me a great deal because we really want to be known and have real intimacy, its something every human craves, actual belonging and acceptance. But this takes self acceptance which is extremely challenging to achieve when one has such deep seated feelings of unworthiness ingrained in one from a very young age.
I was even raped twice. Once by a stranger and once on a date. The worst thing about the date rape is that I saw this person again a couple of times after. I tried to make excuses for his harming me and also accept the ones he gave me. But I know now that I should have walked away but I wasn’t strong enough. Sometimes I now struggle with forgiving my past self for allowing abuse to occur or continue. It’s easy to want to blame and hate oneself for not having been stronger but then I’m just doing what was done to me all along and blame the victim. I don’t think I can ever overcome this with that attitude. And it’s extra challenging that this kind of attitude and behavior is reinforced socially not just in the LDS church but at large. I do think women can become empowered and learn to not allow abuse and to get out of abusive situations but it takes training and support groups and systems for this to happen and its not helpful when anyone puts blame on victims. They are victims because they were too weak to stand up for themselves. Yes they may have gotten into preventable situations but they didn’t understand that at the time or they would not have gotten into those situations! I don’t think anyone truly wants to be hurt or harmed, we just act in ways that are familiar to us, expected of us, with intentions often of doing right or pleasing someone in authority over us.
I’m nearly 50 years old but feel like much of my life and potential was robbed from me by the LDS church. I have many talents, many things I enjoy doing, I’m intelligent and have a lot of skills. But I’ve always struggled financially barely staying over the poverty line, sometimes staying under it. I’ve had chronic health problems that have often been debilitating. I’ve struggled with PTSD, Anxiety and Depression. My emotional growth has been severely stunted. I’ve struggled with being naive and overly trusting and trusting of the wrong people and being easily seduced by charming people. My low self esteem, lack of a sense of self worth has left me vulnerable to flattery and predators.
And though I am doing much better it’s constant work for me to keep diligent in my understanding of my tendencies, feelings and thoughts and to protect myself from further harm. And I still, as good and stable as I often now feel, sometimes have very sudden suicidal thoughts or thoughts of annihilation of wishing to disappear of feeling so inadequate and worthless that I wish I could just vanish. I feel I lived most of my life only half here. I’m still trying to learn to be fully engaged in my life, to be an active empowered participant.