I won't go into details, but I am dealing with horrible guilt and shame over cruel acts I have committed in the past. It feels like I am now come to terms with the significance of these actions, and seeing the ripening of this accumulated negative karma into a hellish mental state. I had previously compartmentalized what I did and not fully engaged with its reality, but a recent experience caused me to realize that I can't fool myself or cut off parts of myself. This is also in the context of developing my metta and other brahmaviharas, and better understanding how truly blameless and blissful these states are and how sick and painful it was to commit cruelty. I am willing to open and be accepting of my current suffering because it is the natural consequence of what I did. I also truly believe that I understand how incredibly foolish and unskillful I was in the past and am able to commit to restraining from that behavior in the future, and feel confident that I will be able to.
I know that for lay Buddhists there is not the same emphasis on sin and confession as in Christianity, and that the most important thing is to accept responsibility and guilt for my past actions and their karmic repercussions, and to vow to act skillfully in the future. However, what I am struggling with is to know whether to confess to people close to me, or even just to my therapist, because it feels so painful and alienating to have done these things and essentially "gotten away with them." Nobody knows that I had this tendency in the past. It is not something that I would go to jail for now, and while I caused suffering I don't believe I caused any irreparable damage other than to my own heart. But if I told people close to me it would change the way that they see me, and in the process could cause more suffering to the people I love and who trust and depend on me. It sickens my heart to think of keeping this secret until my death, but it also sickens me to think of the destruction that I could cause by telling my loved ones. I would deeply appreciate any thoughts or guidance.