Guilt, shame, and anxiety

(also see “The Atonement”, “Fun”, and “Hell”)


Pros of Mormonism from the perspective of the
For some people with anxiety, believing that they are a child of a loving God who is watching over them can have a calming effect and build self-confidence.
For believing Mormons, guilt is often appreciated as a Godly gift that brings people from sin or transgression back to him. Godly sorrow leads to repentance. We are encouraged to let our sins trouble us so that we can allow God’s mercy and long-suffering to have sway in our heart. This will allow us to come unto Christ and have our weaknesses made strong. He will have compassion on us because it is his will that we overcome the world.
It is true that there are a lot of things that Mormons are supposed to do, that we can’t do them all perfectly, and that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. However, this does not mean that we need to live in guilt and shame. We are to live in joy. Elder Packer gave these comforting words:
“When you come to the temple and receive your endowment, and kneel at the altar and be sealed, you can live an ordinary life and be an ordinary soul—struggling against temptation, failing and repenting, and failing again and repenting, but always determined to keep your covenants. … Then the day will come when you will receive the benediction: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord’”
Indeed, we should not
get overwhelmed, and we are explicitly told  not to run faster than we have strength.
Another way that Mormonism helps us avoid guilt and shame is the unique teachings about the nature of man. Children are not born sinners. Little children can’t sin and aren’t enemies to God. Thus, Mormonism puts to rest one of the age old questions: people are naturally good!
For some people with anxiety, believing that they are a child of a loving God who is watching over them can have a calming effect and build self-confidence.
Cons of Mormonism from the perspective of the
Many believing Mormons suffer greatly in the church because they are wracked with guilt and shame at their shortcomings and imperfections. They are stressed and subsequently uptight. In Mormonism, we are constantly given terrifying reminders of God’s justice: God will only save us after all we can do; God’s love is conditional upon our obedience; even our thoughts will condemn us at the last day; if we are evil  we will shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment.
How does one know if they have done enough to be saved into the celestial kingdom? How do we know, if we are called to die at this time, that we have been sufficiently humble? There isn’t really a way to know, and in consequence we can end up on a never-ending treadmill of guilt for not being good enough. This treadmill makes us try harder and harder to be worthy, but as hard as we try we can never truly escape guilt and shame because we can never be perfect. All types of believers can suffer because of this, but people with anxiety or who are compulsive or obsessive often suffer the most. Some people do not suffer at all, because they are confident that Christ’s mercy and atonement will save them. However, this does not mean that the suffering is not real for many other people.
For the worrier, there is an infinite amount of opportunity to fall short of the glory of God and to feel guilt, shame, and fear. This can be overwhelming. Aside from guilt and shame for not doing enough, there can also be guilt and shame when a believing Mormon doesn’t seem to receive the blessings that God has promised or that he has given to others. When we don’t receive these blessings, we start to wonder if it’s due to some fault of our own and we start to feel guilt and shame (see “Prosperity gospel”). In sum, the believing Mormon can constantly be doubting themselves and questioning their own worthiness. Some common questions that foster guilt and shame include (in no particular order):
  1. Have I done all that I could do?
  2. If I die now, am I going to make it to the celestial kingdom?
  3. Am I dressed modestly?
  4. Do I wear garments properly?
  5. Did I partake of the Sacrament worthily?
  6. Did I adequately prepare myself during the week for the Sacrament?
  7. Did I make the Sacrament meaningful?
  8. Do I go to all of my meetings?
  9. Why can’t I feel the spirit? Am I not worthy?
  10. Am I working hard enough on genealogy?
  11. Have I gone to the temple as often as I could?
  12. Am I writing in my journal regularly?
  13. Do I have enough food storage?
  14. Did I forget to pray today?
  15. Was my prayer sincere?
  16. Did we have family prayer?
  17. Are my spouse and I praying together?
  18. Did I have personal scripture study? Was it successful? Am I ponderizing?
  19. Do we have regular family scripture study?
  20. Did I ignore a prompting of the spirit
  21. Does God trust me?
  22. Did I miss an important opportunity to
    share the gospel? If so, I will
    share that person’s sorrow.
  23. If someone rejects the Savior’s invitation because
    [I] did not do all [I] could have done, their sorrow will be [mine]
  24. Do I have blood on my hands?
  25.  Was
    a good example or a bad example to people around me today?
  26. Am I a witness of Christ at all times and places?
  27. Do I have a calling? Am I magnifying it?
  28. Did I do my hometeaching or visiting
    teaching this month?
    Am I good at it?
  29. Did I say hi to that new person at church?
  30. Am I giving adequate time and effort into my preparation for my lessons or
  31. Do I consistently have family home evenings?
  32. Are my kids unrighteous because of me?
  33. Do I have faith to be healed?
  34. Do I have enough faith/worthiness to give blessings and perform priesthood
  35. God is a God of miracles; why is he not sending me one?
  36. God will comfort those who need comfort; why do I feel nothing?
  37. If we keep the commandments we will prosper in the land; why am I not prospering?
  38. Am I having a meaningful fast at least once a month? Or did I just starve myself for no
  39. Are my fast offerings generous enough?
  40. Am I up to date on my tithing? Should I be
    paying on gross?
  41. Am I finding enough service opportunities?
  42. Did I do something for someone else today?
  43. Am I bearing my testimony often enough?
  44. Am I truly keeping the Sabbath Day holy?
  45. Did I look twice at that attractive
  46. Do I think too much about sex?
  47. Did I have any bad thoughts at all today
    that I will be
    judged on?
  48. Did I just consume some inappropriate
  49. Did I laugh too loudly? Were my thoughts too idle?
  50. Did we have enough kids?
  51. Am I preparing now to be a righteous wife and mother?
  52. I have already made a lot of mistakes. Can my soul afford to make one more?
  53. I just made a mistake; are all my previous sins now back on my shoulders?
  54. Is my sex life with my spouse clean
  55. Am I going to hell because I masturbated
    or watched porn?
  56. How many sins of omission did I willingly or unwillingly commit today?
  57. Are my activities good, better, or best?
The guilt and shame that Mormonism places on sex, masturbation, and pornography are severe. (See “Pornography and masturbation” and “Sexual purity”)
Many believers are so wracked with guilt and shame that they are unable to function. Some go into depression, some consider or commit suicide (especially LGBT members), and others go into survival mode and in necessity subconsciously turn off the guilt and shame part of their brain. All of these can have bad consequences.
The nonbeliever is likely to agree with the cons listed in the believing section, and they are not reproduced here for the sake of brevity. They might add the following thoughts:
Many nonbelievers feel that the long list of duties and requirements in Mormonism perpetuates a cycle of guilt and shame. This is good for the church in that it gives value to the product of repentance that the church sells. In other words, it would seem to a nonbeliever that the Church has no incentive to make people stop feeling guilt, shame, and anxiety. It gives little hope to outsiders that the church will ever change. The more of these negative feelings people have, the more likely they are to view themselves as broken and in need of fixing. Because of the church, they learned they were broken, and they become dependent on the church. This is a form of extortion.
To the nonbeliever, the very concept of sin can be thought of as extortion. Extortion is the process of obtaining something via threats. One who extorts creates a problem for somebody else that did not previously exist. This problem can only be solved by giving something (often money or services) to the person or organization who is extorting you. The nonbeliever likely views the religion, intentionally or unintentionally, extorts people. Because Mormonism has so many ways to sin and fall short of the glory of God, Mormonism seems to be exceptionally good at extorting people (intentionally or not).


Comments relating to your lived experience with Mormonism are welcome. Although it can be difficult to distinguish at times, please focus on how the church helps and harms rather than it being true vs untrue.