The average human being finds it helpful to free himself from his impressions by “pouring out his heart” to someone. Like a sponge, the soul saturates itself; like a sponge, it must be squeezed dry before it can fill itself up again. But now and then it happens that the soul cannot rid itself of its impressions. Such persons, we say, are soul-sick and we recognize those who suffer from soul-sickness by the fact that they sedulously shun new impressions. Every disease of the soul rests ultimately upon a secret.

Children exhibit in clear and unmistakable ways the reactions of their elders. In the presence of a secret, they behave exactly as the normal person ought to behave. They cannot keep it to themselves. I recall very distinctly that as a child I was unable to sit a quarter of an hour without speaking. Repeatedly my parents promised me large rewards if I would sit a quarter of an hour without asking them a question or making some remark. The promised reward was increased from day to day because I never was quiet for more than half of the allotted period. But the obligation to keep a “secret” was even more discomforting to me. On one occasion, my brother was to be given a silver watch for his birthday. For three days I went about oppressed and restive as if something was seriously amiss. I prowled around him, watching him intently with suppressed excitement so that he finally noticed my strange behavior and demanded to know what I wanted. On the day before his birthday, I could contain myself no longer and while we were at dinner I burst out with, “Oh, you don’t know that you are going to get a silver watch tomorrow!”

All children are, doubtless, like that. A secret is to them an unbearable burden. When the time comes that they must keep some matters secret from their parents because an inexplicable shyness makes them ashamed to talk everything over with them freely, they change their attitude towards their parents and seek out a companion of their own age, some friend with whom they can discuss their secret.

Adults are really as little capable of going about with a secret as children are. It tortures and oppresses them like a heavy burden, and they are happy to rid themselves of it one way or another. If they cannot speak of it openly and frankly then they do so in some hidden, secret, or symbolic way. I could cite numerous illustrations of this but shall content myself with only one. A woman who had committed the unpardonable sin became troubled with a remarkable compulsive action. She was continually washing her hands. Why? Because she was dominated by the feeling that she was dirty, that she had become unclean. She could not tell anyone in the world what she had done; she would have loved to say to her husband and to the whole household: “Do not touch me! I am impure, unclean, an outcast!” She had found a means of making this confession, but she did so in a form that only the expert can understand. At every appropriate and inappropriate occasion, she washed her hands. If she was asked why she washed her hands she answered, “Because they are not clean.” Such symbolic actions are extremely common and constitute a kind of “speech without words”. But a symbolic action is nothing but a substitution, a compromise between antagonistic psychic currents. It bears, however, no comparison with the freeing effect of pouring one’s heart out in words to a person, a confidant one can trust.

We know from the statements of convicts that nothing is so hard to bear in prison as the impossibility of “getting things off their chest”. And why is it that when touring foreign countries we so readily make friends with our townspeople whom we happen to meet, though at home we are quite indifferent to them? Because they furnish the opportunity for a good talk, because to a certain extent they become receptacles into which we may empty our soul’s accumulations. The profound yearning that we all harbour for friendship, for a sympathetic soul, emanates from the imperative need for pouring our hearts out. By means of a good talk of this sort, we “abreact,” or throw off a part of our pent-up excitement. Children are much more fortunate than we in this regard. How easily they find a friend! The first-best playfellow becomes a friend and confidant within half an hour. But for us grown-ups, the matter is much more difficult. Before we can take anyone into our confidence, take him to our bosom, he must satisfy certain social and ethical requirements. But in reality, we disclose only the surface and retain our most oppressive secrets deep down at the bottom of the soul unless a sudden storm of passion overcomes us; then the sluice gates burst open and the dammed-up waters pour out in turgid torrents, carrying everything before them.

The tremendous power of the Roman Catholic Church is even today due to the fact that it enables its members to confess their most secret sufferings from time to time and to be absolved. Dr. Muthmann calls attention to the fact that suicides are most frequent in Protestant countries, and least frequent among Roman-Catholic peoples, and he thinks that this is to be attributed to the influence of the confessional, one of the greatest blessings for numberless people.

The psycho-analytic method of treating nervous diseases has not only made the incalculable benefit of confession its own but has united with it the individual’s spiritual education in as much as it teaches him how to know himself and to turn his eyes into the darkest depths of his soul. But there is also a kind of speaking out that is almost equivalent to confession—self-communion. That is, one’s communing with oneself. For, as Grillparzer says, every heart has its secrets that it anxiously hides even from itself. Not all of us know how to detect such secrets. The poet has this gift. As Ibsen beautifully says: “To live is to master the dark forces within us; to write is to sit in judgment on ourselves”. But only a poet is able to sit in judgment on his own soul. Not every person has the capacity for self-communion. Most of the diseases of the soul depend upon the peculiar mechanism that Freud has called “repression”. This “repression” is a semi-forgetting of displeasing impressions and ideas. But only a half-forgetting. For a part of the repressed idea establishes itself in some disguised form as a symptom or as some form of nervous disease. In these cases, the psychotherapeutist must apply his art and teach the invalid to know himself.

Goethe knew the value of confession. He reports that he once cured a Lady Herder by confession. On September 25th, 1811, he wrote to Mrs. Stein: “Last night I wrought a truly remarkable miracle. Lady Herder was still in a hypochondriacal mood in consequence of the unpleasantness she had experienced in Carlsbad, especially at the hands of her family. I had her confess and tell me everything, her own shortcomings as well as that of the others, in all their minutest details and consequences, and at last, I absolved her and jestingly made her understand that by this ritual these things had now been disposed of and cast into the deeps of the sea. Thereupon she became merry and is really cured.” Here we have the basic principles of modern psychotherapy. Unconsciously, by virtue of the hidden power of his genius, the poet accomplished what modern therapeutists also attempt.

Nietzsche, too, fully understood the value of confession. We are accustomed at once to associate with Nietzsche the concept of the Antichrist. That he has accurately conceived the essence of the true priest he shows in his description of the priestly temper in his book, “The Joyful Wisdom”. He says, “the people honour a wholly different kind of man …They are the mild, earnest, simple, and modest priestly natures … before whom one may pour out one’s heart with impunity, upon whom one may unload one’s secrets, one’s worries, and what’s even worse”. (The man who shares himself with another frees himself from himself; and one who has acknowledged, forgets.)

It would be impossible to state the value of confession more beautifully and more clearly. It will not be long ere this view which knocks commandingly at the door of science and which has already been productive of goodwill be generally accepted. It will not be long ere it will furnish us a deep insight into the genesis of the “endogenetic mental diseases,” excepting, of course, those “exogenetic” maladies that follow some of the infectious diseases. We shall look upon the “endogenetic” diseases, even delusions, as a disturbance of the psychic circulation, and it will be our task to ascertain the causes that bring these maladies about.

There are a number of substitutes that are equivalent to a kind of confessing to oneself. These are art, reading of newspapers, music, literature, and, last but not least, the theatre. The ultimate effect of a dramatic presentation depends, in reality, upon the liberation in us of effects that have been a long time pent up within us. It is not without good reason that humanity throngs to witness tragic plays during the performance of which it can cry to its heart’s content. When the spectators are apparently shedding tears over the unhappy fate of a character on the stage, they are really crying over their own pain. And the woman who laughs so heartily at the awkward clumsiness of a clown, that the tears run down her cheeks, is perhaps laughing at her husband, who, though she will not acknowledge it, appears to her just as stupid and clumsy; she is thereby excusing herself her own sins which she has possibly committed only in fantasy. The theatre serves as a kind of confessional; it liberates inhibitions; awakens many memories, consoles, and perhaps renews in us hopes of secret possibilities as to whose fulfillment we have long since despaired.

We have become accustomed of late to suspect sex-motives behind friendship. Even if we accept the theory that these motives are present, but hidden in the unconscious, it is far from an adequate explanation for the longing for friendship. The unconscious sex-motive unquestionably co-operates in a significant measure in the choice of a friend. It may be the determining factor in what we call sympathy and antipathy, although it would have to be proved with regard to the latter, and the theme is deserving of separate consideration, for it is quite possible that our antipathies are only reactions to an excessive attraction and therefore are evidence of repression. Looking at from this point of view, sympathy and antipathy is one feeling, one affect, having in the former case a positive sign and in the latter a negative sign. This secret tendency may be the deciding factor in the choice of a friend. But the need for a friend surely is in direct relation to the need for confession.

It is customary to ridicule the Germans’ passion for forming clubs, and societies of all kinds. But do these founders of fraternal associations seek for anything but an opportunity to fraternize, to have a good talk, something from which they are barred at home? The innumerable speeches that are delivered during the course of a year, and which are being poured out every second in an endless stream in some house at some meeting are apparently being spoken only for the benefit of the auditors. But every speech is a kind of relief to the speaker’s “I,” and people who have the craving to speak before the whole world are very often the keepers of a great secret which they must conceal from the world and which they are imparting in this indirect way in homeopathic doses. Just as a dye that is dissolved in a large quantity of fluid is so completely lost that the naked eye can detect no trace of it, so do occasional particles of the great secret which must forever remain hidden find their way into the elocutionary torrent.

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