Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Needing to Confess

Image by Aarthi Ramamurthy

A hot, new business capitalizes on people's need to 'fess up, as well as their interest in eavesdropping on the confessions of others.

Fee-based phone services and Web sites allow customers to confess anonymously - anything from admissions of petty theft to adultery and even murder. Or, those who are inclined can listen to or read the sordid tales of others. (This is where most of the traffic is headed, by the way.) After the first year of business, one such telephone service, The Confession Line, reportedly made 17 million dollars. Plans were implemented to expand from 25 telephone lines to 100.

I question how beneficial the online confessions sites are for those who actually need to get something off their chests. There is a noticeable lack of contrition and a great deal of self justification. One gets the sense that these so-called true confessions are little more than verbal exhibitionism for contributors and voyeurism for readers. Yet the need to confess, or more importantly, to own up to past mistakes and misdeeds, is vital if one is to be truly free.

Confession is, as they say, good for the soul. And it is also good for the body. Researcher James Pennebaker, author of Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, studied health benefits of confession. Some people's secrets literally make them sick. He discovered that criminals who confessed to lie detector technicians were often so grateful for the physical relief they felt after "getting it all out," that they actually sent birthday, holiday and thank you cards to the polygraph personnel who heard their stories.

It seems that what we bury deep does not quietly go away. Like a nasty parasite, it eats us up from the inside. Our secrets become our sickness and we won't recover until what we concealed is finally revealed.

So how do we ultimately find freedom from haunting memories and harmful guilt? The best advice goes like this:

  1. Bring it up and bring it out into to light. Talk to someone safe. And if it makes sense, talk to the person you wronged. Remember, an apology must never include the the word “but.” No excuses. No rationalization. Just lay it out there and take responsibility. You may be surprised that others are quicker to understand your misdeed than you are even to admit it. But if not, you still did the right thing.
  2. Make amends if possible. This is the step most often omitted, but may be the most therapeutic for you and essential for anyone you may have wronged.
  3. Forgive yourself. Regardless of whether or not the other forgives you, forgive yourself. Once you’ve done everything else you can, self flagellation will get you nowhere.
Bring it up, make amends, forgive yourself. It sounds simple, but don’t think for a second that it is easy. Getting free from the tyranny of past mistakes can be hard work, but definitely worth the effort.

And  the payoff is health, wholeness and inner peace. In other words, you get your life back.

-- Steve Goodier



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