The Importance of Self-Examination

We are already two weeks into the seven weeks of the season of Lent that leads up to the celebration of Easter, according to the Christian calendar. Clearly, I speak from the perspective of a Christian minister as I write this. However, from the perspective of a clinical social worker, I would suggest that the concept of being penitent and reflective exists in other world religions.

As a regular part of my clinical work with diverse clients from multiple religions and cultures, I am struck that that there is something across religions that points us humans to the value of self-reflection, service, and sacrifice.

In Christianity, it is Lent when we are called to be penitent and make confession of our wrong doings (hopefully we do that everyday). (

In Judaism, it is Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. This is a 25-hour period of intense fasting, prayer and attendance at synagogue services. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora'im ("Days of Awe") that commences with Rosh Hashanah (

In Buddhism, daily acts of confession take on a purifying role of one’s negativity. Purifying negativity is a basic theme of Buddhist phi-losophy and practice. According to the teachings of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha of our era, each being has mind, the basic nature of which is purity, goodness, compassion and wisdom. This basic nature, often called “Buddha Nature,” is the basis for the ex-perience of perfect compassion and wisdom called enlightenment. (Wesley,1999,

The Tradition of the Twelve Steps, which is used worldwide in various recovery programs, is scaffolded on this concept of confession and atonement. Most notably Alcoholic Anonymous uses the Twelve Steps, but there are many other Twelve Step groups that do the same. Here are the steps (Four-Ten) that most directly deal with the importance of confession, which begins with a Higher Power, then goes to examining ourselves, and then focuses on making things right with those whom we have hurt with our wrong-doings.

  • Step Four: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step Five: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
  • Step Six: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
  • Step Seven:“ Humbly asked Him [God or Higher Power] to remove our shortcomings.”
  • Step Eight: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
  • Step Nine:“ Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
  • Step Ten: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” (

So what is the importance of confessing to oneself, to one’s God, to each other? Clearly, there is something to this ancient concept of the rite of confession and atonement. From a psychological perspective, it clears us of angst and frees us to have been able to take in good thoughts into our lives, and to repair broken human relationships. From a religious perspective, it enables us to grow closer to our Creator and utilize that divine relationship as a foundation in our lives.