Confession: It’s Good for Managing Your Anger

By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

Behavioral medicine (the science that connects mind and body) advises that excessive inhibition of emotions, especially strong emotions like anger, is unhealthy. That’s right — holding back on emotions can actually make you sick. It makes sense if you think about it.

Holding back on emotions is unnatural for humans. Babies begin life by crying whenever they’re uncomfortable — hungry, thirsty, lonely, or in pain. But then life gets a hold of them and teaches just the opposite — to keep their feelings to themselves and, in effect, cry inside. So people end up in a state of emotional paralysis, which plays itself out in a variety of emotional and physical ailments. Some of those ailments include

  • High blood pressure

  • Insomnia

  • Headaches

  • Back spasms

  • Impaired immune function

  • Depression

Will confessing your negative feelings on a regular basis result in a decrease in your need for medical services or in how often you end up being absent from work because of illness? Current science suggests that the answer is yes.

Making your confession, in this case about anger and other unpleasant emotions, is about telling a story — your story. How you construct that story, however, makes the difference between whether this exercise is a therapeutic one. Just like there are rules for Catholics who make their confession to their priest, there are rules about making this type of confession.

In confessing the emotions that made up your day, you are both the speaker and the audience. In effect, you’re entering into a private conversation that is for your eyes only. You won’t share your confession with anyone, and your confession will end when you complete the exercise. So there’s no need to construct a story to impress, educate, or make someone else feel better.

In most cases, once you’re done with your confession, you’ll want to throw it away or completely delete it from your computer — including the Recycle bin. However, if you have a highly trusted person in your life, you may find it therapeutic to share the confession.