Blanket Repentance and Mental Self-harm

Blanket Repentance and Mental Self-harm

We all do it, from time-to-time. I did it just the other evening. I got on my knees and I did what one of my step-daughters calls “blanket repentance”. Blanket Repentance: it sounds nice, doesn’t it? It sounds like it should be warm and fuzzy and cover us. But that’s not what it is. It’s ugly and mean and self-harming, faithless and ungraceful just like this:

Dear Heavenly Father, I’m a horrible person. I’m a terrible mess, and I’m sorry that I can’t ever get it right. I’m so stupid. I just keep messing up, over and over and over, and I’m useless. I hate everything about myself. I hate, hate, hate today. I hate yesterday. I hate tomorrow and I’m not even living it yet. I hate that I’m so imperfect…that I fail you again and again. I hate that I failed myself, and all the people who depend on me. I hate that I failed my family… The grace of Jesus Christ can’t be meant for me, because I take it for granted. If I really appreciated it, I would get things right. I should be able to get things right. But I screw up so often, that I’ll never get it right, ever. I’m never going to get this. Why don’t you just put me out of my misery and kill me off? Huh? I’m so tired of living. I’m so tired of being me. Please forgive me, and help me be better, if there’s any hope for me…

Then, if we haven’t already soaked the blanket and snotted up at least sixteen tissues, and pounded on something several times, we usually manage to say, “In the name of Jesus, Amen”.

Mental Self-harm

When I was growing up, physical self-harm was a thing, but it was so alien. It may not have been as rare as I thought it was, but it was certainly rarer than it is today. Back then, it was for crazy people that I didn’t know. It was for the suicidal, which occasionally popped up in the local newspaper as having a failed suicide attempt, and sometimes a successful one. There weren’t social media groups at all, let alone social media groups dedicated to self-harm, which we have today. They are dedicated to cutting oneself and punishing oneself as a person for being a human being; for being flawed and for making mistakes.

Today, not only is physical self-harm prevalent, but mental self-harm. I would venture to say that mental self-harm is even more damaging than physical self-harm, and that physical self-harm begins and grows from mental self-harm. Mental self-harm, this idea of throwing a blanket of negativity over everything we do, of seeing only the worst about everything that we are, is not okay. Nor does it have anything to do with repentance and grace.

Mental self-harm, or “blanket repentance” is not what God asks for when He asks for Godly sorrow—not even close (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). Godly sorrow is a change of heart, a desire to do God’s will genuinely and sincerely (Alma 5:12-15), instead of going our own way. It is exercising faith and embracing the covenant path (Mosiah 5:1-5).

Look at this beautiful example of godly sorrow in Mosiah 5:2-5:

And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us: and also, we know of their surety and truth because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good, continually.

And we ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things.

And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.

And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days…

Did you hear those words? Great views, great knowledge, “we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy”?

Now, if you are talented and trained at mental and spiritual self-harm, you might say in response to this, “Ya, but I felt that way. I wanted to keep the commandments. I still do. But I keep screwing up. So, me making covenants is useless. It really is. I’ve been at this for years and years…”

Did you notice, however, that this argument didn’t mention joy? Hope? Faith? Or knowledge? Where is your joy?

To you who feel this negativity about yourself, I share one of the most amazing scenes from the crowd-funded TV series, The Chosen.

There are all sorts of reasons we get down on ourselves. We are different than others socially, mentally, or physically, even spiritually. We process logic differently. We believe differently. We keep doing things that we know aren’t good, or right, or that will lead to success, even though we know better—we really do. Or, we keep doing really good things, and still things don’t seem to be working out, and so we decide that the problem must be us. We have addictions and psychological needs that are real and hungry and which aren’t being met, and we keep meeting them in unhealthy ways. We have survived our lives by saying, “It could be worse,” and have let things in our minds get worse and worse and worse, and have convinced ourselves we aren’t worthy of better; that there is always someone who has it worse and so we aren’t meant to have it better than them.

I could go on and on. Often, it’s the most spiritual and pious and intelligent that suffer from this mental, self-harm ailment. The error in them is that they think they are close to being perfect and so beat themselves up mentally and spiritually because they keep failing at arriving, when they are so close! But they aren’t close to being perfect. None of us are. I hear it time and again. I’ve said it to myself time and again, “I should be better!” Of course, you should be, but you aren’t. And let me tell you why: you’re mortal. And even more important, guess who made you mortal? God (Ether 12:27). He made you mortal, He knew you would mess up again and again and again and again and again, and that you might not ever get it right in this life.

“So why did He send me to this life, then, if He knew I would screw it up?” You ask.

First of all, the words “screw it up” are self-harm words. They are inaccurate. They indicate a final result. Thus, they are a lie. But that’s not surprising since those words came from Satan, and he’s a liar. So, let’s get back to the question. Why did God send you here to this life and make you weak and mortal on purpose? Because it matters that you choose to give Him your heart, on purpose, deliberately, even if the rest of you pulls in the other direction (Mosiah 3:19). If He has your heart, and you give it willingly, with hope and faith in Him; if you make covenants with Him because your heart wants to, then here’s the beautiful thing! That willingness, that giving of your heart with your power of choice gives Him the power to make the changes that you can’t. If you give your heart to him you can’t fail. That is the baptism of fire, and of the Spirit! This is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It isn’t self-mutilation and harm, mental or otherwise. You can’t ever suffer enough to fix yourself. The good news is that His redemption will take place despite your weaknesses and mortality IF you give Him your heart. Tada! Joy!

God made you mortal and allowed you to have mortal weakness, and spiritual and psychological weakness…why? Because His strength cannot work in you unless you are weak. His strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

Then Paul answers:

Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Self-Harm as Motivation is a Lie

It is my own personal experience that the primary motivation for self-harm, mental or otherwise, is the lie of self-motivation. The adversary tells me that if I punish myself mercilessly and destroy myself in every possible way, that it will motivate me to be better, or make me better, somehow. Satan tells me my self-harm is an offering to God. The adversary tells me that suffering leads to repentance and change, when Satan has no interest in my repentance. His interest is in my total destruction. Apologizing for being alive, a useless piece of ______, has no place in the motivation to be better, or in the repentance of sin.

From personal experience, when I beat myself up with “blanket repentance” and try to apologize to God for being flawed and mortal and sinful and weak, because “I should be better”, I get nowhere. I wander around listlessly, hating myself (Galatians 5:20-21), on edge, depressed, miserable, over-apologizing to everyone, with short temper…all the signs of Satan’s influence (ibid.). I lose patience and have no grace for others, and I bring a dark cloud of adversarial contention into my home, and my life. This is not God’s plan. This is no more repentance than wearing sackcloth and ashes and making a show of our misery while we fast, is fasting. “Is it such a fast as I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?…” (Isaiah 58:5). “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, that ye break every yoke? …Then shall thy light break forth as the morning…” (Isaiah 58:6,8).

The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), gentleness, goodness, and faith (Galatian 5:22). Repentance breeds hope and joy, as we saw in Mosiah 5. It gives us hope. It brings in light and exceedingly great joy. Only the adversary breeds misery.

Specific, Intentional Repentance

So, how do we repent when we’ve really screwed up for the zillionth time? We cast off Satan’s incorrect and useless motivation tactics, because nothing good can come from him, and we embrace grace! We do not waste it through self-harm (both mental and physical). Our body is His! He bought it through His everlasting and incredible atonement (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We don’t destroy ourselves in punishment. We look up! We fill our hearts with love and gratitude for a God who made us mortal so that His strength could be fulfilled in us! We let our disappointment in ourselves lead us to our knees in love and gratitude. We let our heart’s desire to be better to raise us up in joy and hope, because of Him we are able and can keep going! Not with misery, but with faith and hope and charity.

I’m going to quote some verses in Moroni 7 and add in some annotations for clarity.

Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is of evil cometh of the devil [such as self-destruction through mental and physical self-harm]; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.

But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. [So, if you feel like you’re so terrible you should stop serving God, that idea isn’t coming from God…]

Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil [such as mental self-harm] to be of God, or that which is good and of God [mercy, hope, faith, grace, looking up with hope and not despair] to be of the devil.

…For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name…”

…And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold, I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.

See verses 12-41, as I pulled excerpts from it throughout. Notice he doesn’t say to be raised unto life eternal “because of your perfection in Him”, or “because of your improving and getting better on your own power, timeline or expectations”. It says you will be raised up because of your “faith in Him”.

God’s promise is that if we covenant with Him, and try, and keep trying, no matter how many times we mess up, or no matter how different our brain’s processing is from other people’s, or no matter how many times we make the same mistake; He will save and exalt us. Messing up isn’t the measure of our heart. Messing up isn’t the measure of your righteousness or your worth. Falling short isn’t how God measures you. The measure of who you are is if you will not quit, if you will get back up with joy and faith in His promise, that you will be “raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith” (Moroni 7:41).

God made you mortal for a purpose. His strength is made perfect in your weakness, when you give Him your heart. He has provided sufficient grace for you, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, so that you can have joy in repentance! You can walk around with joy and peace that as long as your heart is His, you are the salt of the earth, a light to the world, despite your mortality. How cool is that?!

It’s His fault your mortal and He’s taken care of it. Stop apologizing and beating yourself up for being mortal and flawed and weak, etc. Look up!

Let’s talk briefly about blanket repentance. If we go to the Lord and tell Him we’re sorry for “everything”, it will be difficult—no impossible—for us to get peaceful, hopeful guidance on how to improve. We can’t gesture to “all of ourselves” and say, “Fix this” (nod to How to Train Your Dragon). We can’t improve everything all at once. We can give God our heart, but we can’t make any strides if we are trying to do it all, all at once. God works line upon line, precept upon precept. That’s how He works. We can’t expect ourselves to work better than God, can we?

If we desire to repent, we must first be able to repent. Some things we can’t repent for. We can’t repent for being mortal. We can’t repent for being flawed. We can’t repent for having weaknesses and mortal ailments, or struggles that are part of our human condition. We can’t repent for having a weak constitution or homosexual tendencies. We can’t repent for struggling with anxiety or depression, etc.

What do we do then, with all these weaknesses and struggles that often lead us to sin? We own them. Then, we go to the Lord, not with our list of weaknesses, but with our discouragement. Then, we say, something more or less like the following: “Father, as you made me, so I am mortal and flawed. But you have said that you have given us weakness that we may be humble. So, here I am. Currently, my weakness with __________ is really giving me trouble. What can I do to begin to turn this one, specific weakness into a strength? How can I improve this one specific sin that I often commit because of my weakness? Teach me how to turn this one aspect of my life toward Thee.”

Note that there is no groveling and mental self-harm. There is ownership of weakness, but no need for self-deprecation and moaning and groaning dramatically on the floor. There is hope and faith that God can help you begin (I stress begin) to understand how to turn this one action, or sin, which often ails you because of your weakness into a strength.

Sins are where we sin against God because of our weakness. We don’t repent for the weakness, we repent for the sin. “Father, I yelled and screamed at my family today. They didn’t deserve it. I was really tired and overwhelmed and feeling burdened because of my mortal condition. Forgive me, please, for yelling and screaming, and increase my capacity for patience and love. Help me to not react so much and to find the strength and mental capacity to choose my actions more deliberately.”

Note the specificity of the repentance. There was no mental self-harm regarding mortal weakness. There was owning of the feelings that came from being mortal, and there was owning the sinful response to those feelings. The actions can be repented of, but not necessarily the feelings. We can feel angry, but we can’t repent for feeling angry. Anger is natural and normal. But we can repent of engendering and feeding and acting on angry feelings. See the difference? The feelings are natural and mortal, part of who we are and who God made us. It is the actions we choose to embrace because of the feelings that we can repent of. This is critical to understand.

Blanket repentance is faithless, engenders self-harm (both mental and physical) and doesn’t work. Specific repentance is faithful and leads to hope, joy, peace, and personal progression. We choose, or are prompted by the Spirit, to focus on something specific we want to improve at.

Now, as I pondered this blog post, I wrote two poems. One is the mental self-harm and blanket repentance viewpoint. The other is its opposite, it’s a faithful, hopeful, and specific repentance viewpoint, but it’s realistic. I hope they help make this blog post clear. Feel free to share. I will close by reciting both of these poems.

Self-Harm Blanket

by Bethany Tolley, The Doctrine Lady

It’s been a long day, it has

I collapse inside my skin

I’m ready to give in, I swear

My self-patience is terribly thin

I forgot to get up on time

I overlooked that important note

I didn’t succeed at kindness

I jumped in the popular boat

I missed my afternoon prayer

I failed to fulfill that promise

I skipped one meal, or more

For one hour, a doubting Thomas

Why can’t I ever succeed?

Why can’t I get anything right?

One step, then three steps back

On the earth I am a blight

How dare I chance a look up

To dream of something better

I’m a useless bag of bones

Time to write that suicide letter

This is how I will rise and live

By taking a knife to my throat

I’ll repent in sackcloth and ashes

Harming myself by rote

God must be sorry He made me

So frustrated, inclined

To suffer, because I’m so worthless

By self-harm Him I will bind

I’ll make myself be better

I’ll do it with blood and tears

I haven’t tried love or kindness

‘cause those two things I fear

If I love, then I will get worse

“Put away the knife”, Not for me

If I’m kind, I’ll lean on pride

Straight to hell, if I let me be

To self-forgive is a terrible trap

To own talent an arrogant feat

To be happy, horribly forbidden

No fish, it’s a stone for me

To have hope, that’s not the plan

Not s‘posed to have any joy

It’s a lie the happy ones tell me

While their lives they do enjoy

They really don’t understand

There’s no one alive like me

No one so worthless and rotten

No one so terribly unclean

The only way to repent

Is to butcher my soul to the core

Cleanse the inside with filthy language

So, the outside is nothing but gore

Even then, I’m really not worthy

Grace is far beyond my reach

Let me find another weapon

And destroy what’s left of me

I’m all messed up, therefore lost

That’s what I hear a voice tell me

It says God uses spiritual slaying

To save someone like me

From death to resurrection

That’s how I’ll rise once more

Even then I’ll still be unworthy

To open the celestial door

Grace Blanket

It’s been a long day, it has

I collapse inside my skin

I’m ready to give in, I swear

My self-patience is terribly thin

I was unable to get up on time

So, I walked right past that note

I was in survival mode

Too tired to live by rote

I got gas instead of praying

Called and cancelled that last minute meeting

Food was too low on my list, it seems

My priorities were fleeting

I wished I had succeeded, today

I wish I’d gotten more things right

One step, then three steps back

But I’ll never give up the fight

God has told me to turn to Him

To dream of something better

I’m the purpose of all His creations

Time to write that thank you letter

This is how I will rise and live

Thru the grace God has offered

I’ll turn to Him, the best I can

He always accepts what I proffer

God really, really loves me

‘cause of that love He was so inclined

To suffer, because I’m so priceless

By repentance Him I’ll bind

I’ll try each day to be better

I’ll do it with faith and love

There’s no other pathway, I know now

To the blessings from God above

When I love, I feel so much better

When I’m kind, I lean on grace

When I’m specific, He gives me purpose

Straight to heaven and face-to-face

To self-forgive is a necessary boon

To own talent a critical fee

To be happy, God’s whole purpose

No stone, it’s a fish for me

To have hope, the entire plan

It’s all about progress and joy

It’s the truth, the Spirit tells me

“Men are that they might have joy”

I have come to internalize

That a child of God, am I

Someone so priceless and precious

I’m not here to just survive

The only way to repent

Is to search my soul to the core

Cleanse the inside with grace, because

“God remembers sin no more”

Even then, I’m really not perfect

But I’m sanctified you see

Christ fights my battles, and I know

He stands right next to me

I’m all messed up, therefore saved

That’s what God is telling me

He uses my mortal weakness

To save me, and help me see

From weak to strong, thru His pow’r

That’s how I’ll rise once more

His grace is perfectly sufficient

To open the celestial door

Check out for my non-fiction books and my fiction books, under my fiction pseudonym, Angela Tempest.


One thought on “Blanket Repentance and Mental Self-harm

  1. This is an amazing insight…not one mortal out there in this world would not understand. You have put into words the doctrine so long taught, but so long misunderstood. Satan wants us to hate our mortality, our journey to godhood, and the joy of redemption from sin now, today. He doesn’t want us to forgive ourselves, or believe it’s truly possible. The gospel message should unburden us, but by looking beyond the mark we damn our progress because we “have to use the atonement of Christ.” Love this, Bethany. Once again you’ve opened the “prison doors” that Satan has used to stop our progress.


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