Public Confessions of Private Affairs
Tune in to the trend of Internet- and TV-based confessions to find out why it’s happening and whether it’s helpful.
Confessions = Catharsis? continued...
Simply writing our deepest emotions may make for a healing experience. James
Pennebaker, PhD, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University,
has long studied the healing effects of unloading on paper an emotional
upheaval. He's conducted several studies on the topic; the highlights have
found their way into academic journals and, more recently, into his book
Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma & Emotional
The upshot of Pennebaker's work is this: Writing about painful experiences
can improve health by enhancing immune response, reducing recovery times, and
promoting overall well-being. In a landmark study led by Pennebaker,
participants who wrote about personal and painful topics actually experienced
an increase in the levels of white blood cells (key to immune function)
circulating in their bodies. Conversely, the control group who suppressed their
emotions had a significant drop in immune-fighting cells.
The Role of the Audience
Are those on the receiving end of confessions simply modern-day voyeurs, or
is there something more to tuning in to public confessions?
Odd as it may sound, some say it feels good to know that other people feel
bad. "We watch because we feel vicarious pleasure and power over people
whose secrets we know. We can point and say 'that poor sap' without revealing
our own guilt and shameful feelings," says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a
psychotherapist and author of several self-help books.
Fox concurs. "People have said things to me like, 'I came to your web
site and realized my life isn't all that bad," he says.
The reality show The Moment of Truth bears this out. Recently, 10
million viewers tuned in to watch a young man confess, in front of his
girlfriend and mother no less, to having had sex with more than 100 people.
It's possible to put a positive spin on our voyeuristic tendencies.
Recently, MTV ran a public health campaign on depression. In it, they relied on
the public revelation of rock musician Pete Wenz's battle with depression to
raise public awareness of this mental health problem that's often battled in
private. Not only did Wenz confess to dealing
with depression, but he also urged people suffering from depression to
get professional help. As this example illustrates, the media can and have used
public confessions in a positive way.
While TV and the Internet serve simply as the tools used in modern-day
public confessions, the larger question of why they've become a conduit of
choice for confessors remains. "Whether that's because people don't have
real communities, or the electronic versions are easier and require less work,
is hard to know," Janata says.