When you hear the word “confession” you may immediately think of the confession box sitting in Catholic churches. Adherents confessing their dishonesty to priests quietly and getting forgiveness. To skeptics and observers of some misdemeanors committed in churches (not just Catholic ones), doubts arise on the efficacy of confessions. That is because the perpetrator seems to commit the same ‘crime’ over and over again and getting forgiveness is just to enable the continuation of bad behaviour. Besides Christianity, Buddhism encourages confessions if one has done something wrong as well. Why do religions encourage confessions? We look at why confessions lead to wellbeing.
When You Hold a Secret
I am sure you have had a secret before which you were dying to tell someone about it. It could be something you lied about, did something bad without telling anyone. You could have purposely divided people who were great friends or couples. Or you might have hidden your gender preference. All of these things, which the general public disapproves of, we tend to hide. However, when we hide something or hold some information from those around us, we tend to feel stuck. Stuck in the sense that our minds keep ruminating on the act. We may feel tension, a tighter and shorter breath. It is definitely not a feeling of relief or relaxation.
Confessions Bring Wellbeing
Research has shown that confessions do lead to wellbeing. Just imagine letting out and letting go of your secret to someone. If you have experienced holding a secret and telling it to someone, how did you feel after letting go? Did you feel a sense of relief? Were you able to breathe better? Research from the American Psychology Association (APA) found out that when we transgress, there is that nagging feeling of guilt. By confessing to our guilt, we let go of the feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety. The study by APA also found that those who only partially confessed their transgressions felt more guilty and anxious than those who fully admitted to their wrongdoing. As we all know, the prolonged feeling of guilt and anxiety do not promote good mental and physical health.
Why Do We Not Confess?
Since confessions bring about wellbeing, why then do most of us keep a secret of our transgressions or a part of ourselves we feel others cannot accept? This is a deep question to ponder. Is this also what makes us inauthentic as we constantly seek general consensus from others? Perhaps we have to ask ourselves this question. Why do we object or show disdain to certain behaviors and preferences? Why do we not allow others to be?
I am not saying that we should encourage lying or killing or cheating on others. What I am saying is, do we need to have adverse reactions to what we disagree with that causes fear to others? It could be fear that discourages us from confessing our guilt. It could be fear that discourages us from confessing or being honest with who we really are.
There is a moral compass built within us that causes us to want to do right (despite rampant conspiracy theories floating in social media). For most of us who are sensitive enough and healthy, we experience a certain level of guilt when we lie. We can see how lies can bring about fear in one’s heart. This is encouraging to know. To help others, as well as ourselves to be able to live a healthy and happy life, perhaps it is necessary for us to learn to be open-minded. To accept that people, including ourselves can do wrong. Also, we can be more forgiving, instead of showing disdain immediately to what we disagree with – be it others’ transgressions or choice of lifestyle.
What Next After Confessing?
Perhaps the word ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ bring up passions of opposition. Killing, cheating and stealing are labeled as wrong. Instead of calling it wrong, perhaps we can explore with the person who confessed, his or her thoughts and feelings after committing the action they regretted and how they feel after telling someone about it? By comparing one’s feelings and state of mind before and after, helps us understand why we may not want to make a wrong choice to hurt ourselves and others again.
Even though confessions lead to wellbeing, it should not be something we do to only to allow us to commit the same action that brings discomfort within again. Mindfulness-Based Strategic Awareness Training enable us to sustain wellbeing by making wise choices. Participants learn positive exercises to reframe unhelpful beliefs and mindfulness allows us to notice when we are about to do something which might threaten our wellbeing. Although it takes time to recognise unhelpful and ignorant mind states that causes us to choose actions that bring grief and anxiety, the 8-week mindfulness training is an excellent start point towards a better self and happier mind.