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What is Catharsis and How Does It Help In Emotional Release

What is Catharsis and How Does It Help In Emotional Release

Updated on Dec 08, 2022

Catharsis - Meaning, Characteristics, Benefits, Effect & How to Achieve

Are you carrying an emotional bag of past sufferings that is irksome? Do you think that an emotional release and purgation would have helped you at this moment? 

Then, you must be in a search of an answer to what is catharsis and how will it free you from the burden of trapped feelings?

Simply put, the cathartic process is an emotional release that cleanses and purifies your inner being. You are allowed to let go of past sufferings and move on with life with happiness and bliss.

Let’s get into the groove of this process here….

Catharsis Infographics

Catharsis - Definition, Characteristics & Benefits
Catharsis – Definition, Characteristics & Benefits
Ways to Achieve Catharsis
Ways to Achieve Catharsis

What is Catharsis?

Catharsis is defined as a process of emotional release through verbal, non-verbal, and artistic expressions. It involves purification and cleansing of negative emotions that were put on hold or repressed in the unconscious mind for a long time.

When you experience unfortunate events in life, or pass through a trauma such as the death of a loved one, divorce, losing a job, or facing a financial crisis, you may feel emotionally overwhelmed.

These overwhelming feelings need to be released from time to time to attain emotional mastery, otherwise, it starts bottling up and creates problems in psychological wellness.

If you carry the heavy trauma burden for a long time, or it gets repressed, you will carry the suffering all along with you. Thus, the bottled-up tensions and negative emotions call for an immediate release.

This emotional release or cleansing of repressed emotions is technically known as catharsis. Catharsis is a purification or purgation process. 

It’s done through drama, art forms, music, psychodrama, writing and journaling, and many more.

In layman’s terms, crying is a form of catharsis. When you feel too heavy at heart, you should cry because it will give a vent to your pain and suffering. 

You must have seen a small child crying aloud and feeling happy and relaxed thereafter.

Catharsis also works in a similar way. The motive of this process is to allow free expression of bottled-up emotions that were repressed and never allowed to surface in conscious awareness.

Catharsis is an emotional release meant to express pity and fear, anger, resentment, sorrow, and stress. Releasing pent-up emotions is good because it is a form of emotional healing.

Ancient Greeks used Greek tragedy dramas to elicit emotions in people. When the mass related them to the character in the drama, they were able to vent out their repressed emotions.

Characteristics of Catharsis

The main characteristics of a cathartic moment are as follows:

  • Catharsis is venting out repressed emotions.
  • It is a cleansing and purgation process that gives relief from negative emotions.
  • The person feels better after the emotional release.
  • Through catharsis, a person achieves renewal and transformation.
  • Catharsis is a phase of liberation from agony and suffering.
  • The word catharsis comes from the Greek word ‘Katharsis’ meaning purification or cleansing
  • In psychology, catharsis was linked with Freudian Psychoanalytic theory as a way to release and express buried trauma.
  • Catharsis has therapeutic usefulness and is used in psychodynamic therapy quite frequently.
  • When you experience catharsis, positive emotions begin to flow inside you. At the same time, your clarity and awareness improve.

Benefits of catharsis in psychology 

The effectiveness of catharsis as a medium for emotional release is praise-worthy.

Cathartic experiences are significant in helping a person relieve anxiety and stress. This is particularly important for releasing emotions that have been repressed.

Mere expression of thoughts, sharing of experiences, or giving voice to fears and anxieties can provide a sense of release.

It helps in removing the stifling feeling of being bottled up. Our life is full of back-to-back emotional experiences that feel heavy at times. Thus, the person needs a process to give vent some of the emotions that are not needed. 

You can say it is a liberating process of attaining inner happiness and peace. When you allow someone to express their deepest feelings freely they feel lighter from within, as if they could let go of the burden bothering them for a long time.

Evidence suggests that when you allow unaddressed emotions to flow freely out of their unconscious source, you actually feel at peace with yourself. Thus, the process helps people to cope with difficult emotions in an easier way.

The concept of catharsis helps in stopping rumination, anger issues, or aggressive responses of the person. Venting anger releases these negative feelings to a great extent.

Cathartic release – a few examples

We have come across cathartic experiences in or day to day life. It gives moments of bliss to the wandering mind. It’s like winning over an inner battle that was taking you nowhere down the street. 

Have you seen an anxious person moving restlessly to and fro inside a room, or an angry person murmuring words of frustration? 

This is nothing but bottling up repressed emotions that are troubling and heavy to hold back even further.

Some of the simple examples of catharsis in everyday life are as follows:

  • An unhappy child cries aloud just to vent out his or her disappointment of not getting what has been desired.
  • A woman who has suffered domestic violence may cry and yell aloud after seeing a movie showing similar content. The show reminds her of the past trauma as if she could relate and attach her to the content and wants to get rid of her emotional baggage.
  • An angry man shouts and abuses because the repressed anger and disappointment feel heavy at heart and he doesn’t wish to carry it any longer.
  • You must have seen that when a relationship ends or divorce takes place, both partners wish to get rid of each other’s used stuff, or throw it out so that the past horrors of fights and suffering cannot haunt their future life. 
  • Loved ones of a departed soul cry and lament the loss for days after the death incident just to cleanse the emotions feeling heavy on them. This is grief catharsis that allows renewal of emotional health all over again.
  • Many people suffering from problems of intense aggression are advised to use rage rooms by a therapist so that they can let all their anger out in the place without harming others. Smashing and breaking-off objects may be beneficial to lessen anger that was bottled up for a long time. You can say it’s a way to extinguish the flame of anger burning inside you.

Some more examples to consider

  • You may shout at your annoying boss one day just to relieve the coop-up anger and frustration built in you for the past few days.
  • Sometimes forgiving someone is a cathartic release because it gives you peace and happiness. You’re not carrying any more resentment that can pull you down further in the darkness of unhappy feelings.
  • Playing the guitar is cathartic when facing stress in life. A student overloaded with studies can play the guitar or sing a song loudly just to take off the pressure of studies. Maybe, it renders an ‘aha’ feeling after a lot of mental pull and push.
  • Social catharsis happens when a large crowd voices their feelings loudly by shouting, or cheering their teams, as you may see during a sporting event or election campaign. This is also catharsis because it is again releasing strong emotions freely and unconditionally without inhibitions.
  • Several works of literature such as ‘Romeo and Juliet, ‘And Othello’ has scenes that led to cathartic experiences.

So the list can go on and on. We have so many instances to discuss from our everyday life that shows a catharsis is a handy tool for purging and clearing our repressed feelings that are mentally troubling and desolate.

Emotional catharsis – 15 Ways to do it right

If you are feeling buried in negative emotions, it’s time to release them and make peace with yourself. Emotional catharsis or simply catharsis is a process of releasing emotions the way they are. 

It means you are not doing anything to judge your emotions, but rather giving them free expression for the ultimate ‘let go’.

There are various ways through which catharsis occur in our daily life. Some of them are discussed below:

1. Music

As we know music is food to the soul. Soothing music is a way to process the deepest feelings. The humming of a sad tune can remind you of past pain and bring drops of tears to your eyes.

By doing this, you’re giving an outlet to feelings that were repressed or never allowed to surface in reality. Likewise, the happy and joyful song can bring back good memories of the past and allows you happiness beyond a limit.

Music dispels sad feelings and paves way for positive emotions to feel your heart. Research findings have also confirmed the therapeutic uses of music for emotional healing.

2. Open your heart to a friend

As the saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed. In emotional catharsis, friends and close pals do play a significant role. You must have shared your sad and happy stories with your friend. 

Even sharing anger, disappointment, and regrets with a friend tends to lessen the emotional overload. 

When you discuss your problems with your friend, you gather insight that helps to resolve the issue. So, it serves emotional release as well as cognitive awareness.

Knowing the root cause of your emotional problem, you can decrease its impact on your mental health. Research findings of Carnegie Mellon University have shown that people use their friends and family as stress buffers in times of adversity.

3. Forms of art

If you create art whether in the form of drawing, painting, or sculpting, it means you’re using your emotions in creative ways. Sometimes, drawing allows your deepest feelings to pour out of you. 

Paintings are a way to release trapped trauma, the burden that feels heavy and painful deep within. Artwork is a powerful releasing method because it stirs powerful emotions that call for ultimate healing.

4. Punching bag method

You must have seen people hitting and punching a bag full of sand when they are feeling angry and irritable inside. Do you know why they do it and how it is helpful?

Punching bags release the anger that was trapped and never allowed to flow out freely due to social inhibitions or the stigma of being an unethical practice.

Researchers are still not sure about the efficacy of using a punching bag to release anger. It may give temporary relief from stress and mental pressure but people with chronic anger issues may not get any benefit from this process.

5. Psychodrama

Psychodrama is a therapeutic method where you will have to act out past events that are painful and needs to be released. Sometimes, when you act out the past scenes all over again, it means you’re revisiting them again.

The past trauma, pain, and suffering feel hurtful and you have learned to accept them as they are.

Self-validation of your past feelings as they are leads to healing of those scars. You are no longer carrying the burden of trauma in yourself, thus feelings relaxed.

All those feelings that were overlooked before are brought into the conscious awareness for complete healing and recovery.

6. Revisit traumatic experiences

When you relive past trauma, you process those emotions that are feeling like a big burden. In this way, you will be able to release them easily without the need to hold on any longer.

Going back to the past scenes of trauma actually leads to inner healing. The long-held back emotions surface freely and lead to a complete ‘let go’ process.

You can revisit your past trauma in a therapist’s office or on your own. In this way, the purpose is to move toward profound healing.

7. Primal therapy

The primal therapy is to heal the childhood trauma of the patient. This form of catharsis is usually undertaken in a therapist’s office because revisiting childhood sufferings can make the person extremely overwhelmed.

This form of catharsis aims to pay attention to the needs of a person’s inner child.

The pain and bottled-up emotions of childhood due to parental neglect, lack of attachment, and abuse is brought to the surface for complete processing and healing.

8. Expressive writing

This method is one of the best emotional outlets that allows you to pen down your deepest feelings, no matter good or bad. You are free to choose your words and express your feelings the way you want.

When struggling to be free from negative emotions, just write down whatever comes to your mind. All the stuck feelings will be released and you’ll feel empowered from within.

Expressive writing is highly beneficial. This is why many mental health professionals highlight the importance of journaling to release and master your emotions.

Writing down your experiences and feelings allows for processing both good and bad feelings. Thus, you feel much better after the writing process is done.

9. Reading literary stuff and watching movies

Reading stories that have some relevance to your life can have a cathartic effect on you. If you can attach your feelings and experiences to the characters in the story, you may feel a sudden upsurge of emotions that allows healing.

The tragic stories can bring back some memories of the past that were forgotten but were painful to be kept in your conscious awareness. The story helped to process those buried feelings and led to a cleansing and purgation process.

When was the last time you cried after seeing a sad movie? Do you think the scene helped you uncover your feelings and allowed healing?

Sad movies can help to bring grief and suffering to the surface for a good cry and release the pain in return.

10. Volunteering

If you have recently suffered a trauma, you may try to help others facing similar life issues. For example, trauma victims associate themselves with support groups where both sharing and caring with each other lead to a cathartic effect. 

11. Confession

Sometimes when you share your deepest feelings and troubling thoughts with others or confess your mistakes that you have realized now can lead to a cathartic release.

Here, you’re giving vent to those feelings that you never know existed.

12. Physical exercise

Exercise promotes good physical and mental health. During hard core exercise, you can vent out your feelings as well. 

Emotional catharsis brings inner peace and happiness. You will feel more positive emotions after a regular workout because it releases the tension through various body movements.

Science-backed research has proved that exercise boosts emotional well-being. It nurtures happiness, teaches you to release pent-up emotions, and helps in overall good effect on mental health.

13. Use of humor

Smile and laughter are the best medicine. Thus, use humor to relieve stress and anxiety. You will feel control of your negative emotions. A comedy TV show can bring laughter and help release pent-up tensions. Catharsis teaches emotional mastery.

When you know what to do with your negative emotions, you feel empowered. The buried negativity can no longer bother you and you will surely find peace in yourself.

14. Progressive muscle relaxation

This method uses your body muscles to relax your anxiety and stressed-out feelings. Your mental well-being is enmeshed with physical fitness. 

Catharsis will be successfully done when you will use your body muscles to release stress and anxiety. Relaxing the tense muscles of the body feels relaxing and gives a vent to your pent-up tensions and nervous feelings.

15. Make some noise to release tension

Have you ever screamed at someone when felt angry? Did you cry aloud on a pillow? Maybe you have done all these lots many times in your everyday life. 

These simple things release strong emotions. You feel lighter and happy from the inside. Sometimes singing loudly in an open space can also feel great. Would you like to give it a try one day?

History of the Catharsis theory

The catharsis theory has its roots in Ancient Greece. In psychology, the term was first used by Sigmund Freud’s close companion Joseph Breuer while treating hysteria patients.

Breuer found that when patients were allowed to express their unconscious emotions freely, they felt better and their disease symptoms became better. 

Thus, in psychoanalysis, catharsis is intended to be a substitute for therapy where patients are free to express all their repressed feelings in a healthy manner.

Freud and Breuer used catharsis as a therapeutic process. Hypnosis was used for therapy where patients were allowed to revisit the past trauma and relive moments of unhappiness and pain. 

In this way, revisiting old wounds released the stress and helped patients recover from stifled emotions.

Freud further added that emotional release is a process of venting out past hurts that could otherwise become the source of unhealthy behavior in the person.

Down the timeline, psychologists have stopped using catharsis as a therapy process because hysteria is no longer a separate psychological disorder. It is nowadays known as dissociative and somatoform disorders.

However, catharsis remains a major tool for emotional release. Maybe the way it is used in modern psychology has changed. 

It still remains the best way to cleanse old wounds and learn the process of ‘let go and heal from deep inside.

It does have a healing effect beyond doubt.

How to achieve catharsis?

Catharsis is achieved when the burden of trauma and negative emotions no longer irks you in reality. You feel free and lighter as if the stuck feeling is all gone and you’re experiencing a process of renewal.

No matter how you choose to give a vent to your tied-up and sticky feelings the entire end will be great if you feel relaxed and composed from the inside.

The cathartic release will be successful if you have learned to forget and forgive, no resentments are stuck in your heart, and your mind is clear and unblocked.

You will be free from harboring anger, anxiety, and gloom. Rather you will appear vibrant and happy and shall radiate hope and a new beginning all around you.

Catharsis effect – Why does it feel so good

So far, we have discussed what catharsis is and how it should be done in our daily life. Now it’s time to highlight why the person does feel good after passing through a cathartic process.

In psychology, catharsis aims to serve two purposes. One is to attain emotional release and vent it out all. The other is cognitive awareness.

This means that when you release emotions that were heavy on you, it means you are bringing the unconscious thoughts related to the repressed emotions into the conscious awareness. 

You are gaining enough insight into the troubling thoughts all over again.

By doing this, you are able to gain control over these thoughts and emotions. Maybe the burden feels lighter now. You have learned to let go of your past sufferings and move them off-shelf as soon as possible.

Your burden is lifted now and positive emotions start to rebuild all over again. Catharsis feels happy and poised because your cleaning of repressed emotions is done and you’re experiencing a process of emotional renewal.

Sometimes, digging into your past issues and revisiting them can be a difficult experience but it helps once done in the right way. 

Thus, you can take help from a psychotherapist who will guide you through the process, helping you start living in a happy and healthy way.

Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’

From all the detailed discussion done so far, we can conclude that catharsis is like breaking a glass bottle to gain access to something sweet and savory to be enjoyed for a lifetime.

The bottled-up emotion screams and shouts to be taken out because it is irksome to keep negative things piled up for a long time.

The heavy burden becomes heavier if not allowed to flow out freely to soothe the ‘inner self’ that lies within all of us.

Thus, make it a habit to cleanse your stuck and confined feelings from time to time so that mental health stays fit and fine always.

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