Confession & Anonymity

Confession. For me, the term most immediately conjures up an image of a Catholic priest in a long cassock sitting on one side of a wooden booth with a trembling parishioner on the other side whispering his sins through a screen. But confession isn’t limited to the Catholic tradition. It is common practice in many of the world religions and is an integral part of twelve-step recovery programs. Today’s blogging, tweeting and posting seem to be modern day forums for confession, with the notable distinction that the audience has swollen from one to many.

I’ve been an off and on journaler since I was 13 years old. My first journal had a mini padlock and accompanying key. The pen that came with the journal had a built in flashlight so you could write under the cover of darkness. Secrecy was paramount. Around the same time I started journaling, I read The Diary of Anne Frank for the first time. I could appreciate that her journal chronicled the horrors of the Holocaust in a very intimate way, but my 13 year old self couldn’t really get past the idea that her journal—her secret repository of her secret thoughts—had been published for the world to see.

So why go from being a journaler who kept my thoughts under lock and key to a budding blogger?

In her book I Thought It Was Just Me, social worker and author Brene Brown writes: “One of the most important benefits of reaching out to others is learning that the experiences that make us feel the most alone are actually universal experiences.” This, in essence, is my answer to why I decided to crack open my façade and expose what is most raw in me. So many people in my life opened up to me in this way, and this was perhaps the only truly effective medicine, besides time, for my own healing. Even though I was alone with the particularities of my story line and my unique cocktail of thoughts and emotions, I felt real kinship with the experiences of my friends and family and this commonality kept (and keeps) assiduous loneliness at bay.

Frank Warren’s community art project, Post Secret, is a visual representation of the value of sharing with others that which you’ve kept hidden. In November of 2004 he printed up 3,000 self-addressed post cards that were blank on one side and had instructions on the other: “Share an artful secret that you’ve never shared with anyone.”  His project quickly grew and today is represented in several coffee table books as well as the world’s most visited ad-free blog. Many of us are hungry to share, or to know, what lies beneath the shiny, happy exterior.  When I have revealed parts of myself that feel ugly and messed up and bad, and then have heard from others, “I have those parts too,” the relief has been palpable, and I have been able to move closer towards those elusive states called “self-compassion” and “accepting reality.”

Both confessing and receiving confession are healing. So why not share everything with everyone all the time? Why pair confession with anonymity?

In another book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown states: “Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.”

Deciding who belongs in your circle of trust is immensely important. The people who will scoff at, or poke and prod, those raw places in you do not deserve to hear your full story. Intuition has been my best guide for choosing which people to open up to. I’m not far enough along my own path at this point to want to attach my name to my blog, or to truly blog about everything—some topics will always be reserved for in person conversations with people I already hold dear. But in my experience, the longer I sit on a secret, the larger it looms in my mind and heart and the more self-flagellation (proverbial) I endure because of it.

So find your people and share your secrets, or if you can’t yet share them directly find a way to release them anonymously to the wider world. Write them down on slips of paper and throw them into a fire. Send your own postcard to Frank Warren. Find a private place and simply say them out loud.

If you need to be on the receiving side of confession visit postsecret.com or read Cheryl Strayed’s advice column gone book Tiny Beautiful Things and luxuriate in the realization that no matter what it is that makes you feel broken, you are not alone—you are simply human.