Addicted to pornography and masturbation, a man confesses
to his wife, quitting his addictions cold turkey. But when he caves into his
cravings again, he chooses to tell another source altogether. He sits down at
his personal computer, logs on to dailyconfessions.com -- the oldest of several
online confessional web sites -- types his transgressions, and sends them into
cyberspace, anonymously. The confessor never knows who is privy to his most
private affairs, nor does anyone who reads the confession personally know the
Deriving pleasure from watching other people in pain is nothing new. In
ancient Greece, audiences clamored to watch tragedies unfold on stage, a
favorite pastime that was said to have a cathartic, or emotionally cleansing,
effect. Today, the obsession with peering into the pain in other people's lives
continues, with some twists. Instead of sitting in an amphitheater, audiences
now can watch personal tragedies unfold from the comfort of their living room
-- on the Internet or TV. And today, real people -- not actors -- are
confessing their deep, dark secrets to anyone who wants to listen.
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Phil McGraw has worn multiple hats in his 57 years — college football star,
clinical psychologist, trial consultant, best-selling author, talk show
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Along with this emerging trend of public confessions come a few questions.
For starters, what do public confessions of private affairs say about people
willing to bare their souls to strangers? Just as curious, why do
voyeuristic-like audiences so eagerly imbibe this normally confidential
information from strangers? At WebMD, we turned to the experts to learn more
about this popular phenomenon: what fuels confessors and audiences to engage in
this trend and what sort of impact, both immediate and long-lasting, does it
The Rise of Public Confessions
Temple University professor and former president of the American
Psychological Association Frank Farley, PhD, points to daytime TV figures such
as Jerry Springer as largely responsible for the emergence of TV confessions.
In what he refers to as "the Jerry Springer effect," Farley notes the
television personality's mastery at getting people to reveal their inner lives
to audiences. Reveling in their 15 minutes of fame, however twisted, everyday
people became motivated to share their personal sagas before millions of
viewers. In turn, audiences tuned in to the show to see what bizarre scenario
would unfold next.
Adding fuel to the public confession phenomenon is the proliferation of
psychological terminology by the public. Once reserved for mental health professionals,
terms like ADHD
and obsessive compulsive are now commonplace. "People can reveal themselves
more effectively because they have a language to use," Farley tells
A Closer Look at the Confessors
So who is airing their dirty laundry on public TV, or typing startling
confessions on their personal computers?
Anyone with access to a computer and a guilty conscience, it seems. Greg
Fox, creator and webmaster of Dailyconfession.com, says his web site gets
between 250 and 300 new confessions daily. Revelations run the gamut, from
confessions of petty shoplifting to obsessive thoughts of murder.