“Admitting to part of a lie does not help to relieve guilt, and may even increase anxiety and shame. Coming completely clean is the best approach.”
A line from a John Macarthur sermon? A quote from the Puritans?
Research findings published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association! You can read a popularized version of the research here. After extensive studies and experiments, researchers found:
- Confessing to some bad behavior was more common than making a full confession among those who cheated as much as possible in the study.
- Confessing to only part of one’s transgressions is attractive to a lot of people because they expect the confession to be more believable and guilt-relieving than not confessing.
- Investigators found that people feel worse when they tell only part of the truth about a wrongdoing compared to people who fully disclose their transgressions.
- Only telling part of the truth, as opposed to not confessing at all, was more likely to lead to increased feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety, the research found.
- Cheaters who confessed just part of their wrongdoing were also judged more harshly by others than cheaters who didn’t confess at all.
- Full confessors were more relieved after their confessions when compared to partial confessors.
- Participants were more likely to believe the full confession than the partial confession.
Their conclusion: “It’s best to commit to an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to confessing.”
The lead researcher commented: “Paradoxically, people seeking redemption by partially admitting their big lies feel guiltier because they do not take complete responsibility for their behaviors. True guilt relief may require people to fully come clean.”
Sometimes you have to feel sorry for scientists. They’re only a few thousand years behind God who said, “He who covers his sins will not prosper” (Prov. 23:7). But anyway, still fascinating to see some empirical research confirming what Christians have always believed and experienced.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take them another few thousand years to discover the even greater benefits and blessings of confessing all not just to other people, but to God through Jesus Christ, and receiving not just full pardon for their guilt, but also power to forsake the sins they confess.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).