There is nothing like the feeling of getting something hitting you from the chest.
But sometimes sharing a secret isn’t possible.
Fear, shame, and stigma can prevent us from revealing the deeper parts of ourselves, or sometimes it just isn’t our own information.
Keeping secrets can actually cause harm “leading to fatigue, social isolation and a reduced sense of well-being,” according to researchers from Columbia University in the United States.
So how else can we communicate our concerns without hurting ourselves or others?
For some there are social networks … while others create accounts on anonymous “confession pages”.
‘A safe space’
For centuries, humans have confessed to religious leaders.
In recent decades, some radio shows and other spaces allow people to share their secrets anonymously.
In 1980, an artist created an apology line that lasted 15 years and allowed New Yorkers to leave messages on an answering machine “to provide a way for people to apologize for their mistakes to other people without putting themselves in danger.”
The tapes have now been shared on a popular podcast, proving there is an appetite for enjoying the confessions of others.
Now, in a world of airbrushed perfection and carefully curated Instagram accounts, there is a corner of the internet where people show their truest selves, without revealing their identity.
They are the online confession pages, which allow users to share secrets anonymously.
At first, forums and chat rooms seemed to be the places where such content would emerge on the Internet, and dedicated applications were developed later.
But now it is moderate social media accounts that are taking over this space.
They range from hilarious to devastating confessions and have a long history in school and college communities.
“If people can connect to online support groups, it can be a great opportunity to share something anonymously, feel validated and learn from others going through similar experiences”Says Zehra Kamal Alam, a psychologist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
“This can be extremely helpful, especially when it comes to talking about taboo topics related to sexuality, violence and sexual abuse,” he adds.
He says that in the counseling and therapy space, talking about problems is a healing process, so it’s no surprise that people are turning to the internet to share their secrets.
“In the old days of the internet, you could go to a forum and say everything with virtually no consequences,” says Rob Manuel of London, England, who is the man behind a popular Twitter confession page called Fesshole.
“You weren’t read by your family or boss and it was a safe space to clear your mind.”
“Social media is like a slot machine where if you keep playing you can win by getting thousands of useless likes and if you lose you can lose your job.”
Fesshole started two and a half years ago and has over 325,000 followers. Rob receives hundreds of confessions anonymously every day and selects just 16 to share with the public.
“I work as a kind of editor,” he explains. “I will not share things that are obviously false or that are not consensual.”
“There are some things that are just shady and I wouldn’t want to promote them by publishing them.”
Some examples of Fesshole’s confessions include a teacher cursing students behind his mask and a person inventing words to complete a crossword puzzle.
Another confessor writes: “My stepfather died last year and my mother was heartbroken, so I had to go through her things to find her passwords.”
“It turns out he was having an online affair on various dating sites. I never told him, he would break his heart. “
Rob says he wants the page to be mostly comic, but also includes stories to give the tale an “emotional range”.
Other pages, like The secret keepers, operating on Instagram, I lean towards more intense personal confessions.
“We live in a nuanced world and it can be difficult to discuss very personal topics with friends and family,” says Olivia Petter, who is behind the UK-based The Secret Keepers.
“If you are sensitive to something, you may not want to put yourself out there and feel safer and less open to judgment when it is anonymous and online.”
“That’s why people have therapists: you tell them things you would never tell your friends.”
The Secret Keepers provides an open forum for support and discussion of the confessions they share on the page, which include a woman who regrets motherhood and another who loves her partner but thinks her sex life is terrible.
Supporters of the tale, including many therapists and psychologists, encourage and advise confessors.
“Sharing secrets can make people feel less lonely and more connected when they are already isolated, as well as face the shame of many of these problems,” says Olivia.
“The page really resonates with people and it’s wonderful to see that it’s really helping.”
“We hope so The secret keepers it can help address some of the stigma around problems by showing that the feelings these people have are valid. “
However, confession platforms have a drawback, especially if left unchecked.
While anonymity can encourage honest discussion, it can also provide a barrier behind which reckless and cruel commentators can hide.
Will be was removed from Google and Apple stores in 2018 following allegations that it facilitated bullying.
Named after the Arabic word for honesty, the app was created to allow employers to receive honest and anonymous feedback from colleagues.
Conversely, some users have used the platform as a cyberbullying device.
Likewise, apps like Whisper, Secret y Ask.fm have been shut down over the years after developers failed to curb misuse and abuse.
“Online forums can be exploited by people for other reasons as well and can put the security of some vulnerable groups at risk,” says Zehra.
“People can end up feeling more overwhelmed, receiving the wrong messages, and more confused about how to manage any mental health problem due to semi-finished information and advice.”
confessions around the world
For many people, confessing their hidden secrets anonymously online is very therapeutic.
It is estimated that up to 75% of people in low-income countries who have mental health problems do not have access to mental health professionals, according to the World Health Organization’s Program of Action on the Mental Health Gap,
“This means that the therapeutic gap is huge,” says Zehra.
“The lack of availability of skilled professionals, the lack of attention to preventive activities, the limited reach of services to rural and low-income populations and mental health taboos are some of the contributing factors.”
Zehra has seen an upward trend in the number of people accessing mental health care. However, this tends to be in urban and affluent settings.
He says creating a safe space for sharing secrets is essential for online confession sites.
Talking about problems can be healing, but it can also trigger negative emotions at times.
Psychotherapist Angelo Foley, who has an Instagram account in France called Balance your fearwhich means “balance your fear”, it goes even further.
He says there is a real benefit to both those who confess and the readers who consume these anonymous posts.
“Reading other people’s confessions is like reading a novel,” he says. “We project ourselves in, we identify, the stories of others activate our own psychic and emotional process”.
He uses his account to anonymously share the deepest fears of those who text him with his 70,000 followers, in the hope that they will feel less alone.
“It feeds insatiable curiosity, a voyeurism present in all human beings,” says Angelo. “We like to know what happens to others as a survival instinct, to know if we are on the side of good or bad.”
“I think anonymity gives us the illusion of protection, both from the judgment of others, and from our loved ones who discover our intimate worlds.”
Angelo was the first person to share his fears Balance your fear and she believes her training as a psychotherapist has given her the skills to create a safe space where people can confess their secret fears.
“Fear is present in all our life experiences, in our temporary crises, in our traumas, in our sufferings, in our existential questions,” he says.
“There was no room to comment on this and I helped make Instagram more than just a showcase of people’s perfect and false lives.”
By Harriet Orrel