Yesterday, during a conversation with my sister, I asked her about catharsis, and she was completely unaware of it. Today, I asked a friend about catharsis, and he was not aware of what it was either. To be clear, I was not trying to test their knowledge. Both of them are quite knowledgeable and experienced people. But since this term has been at the forefront of my mind, I decided to write about it today.
Catharsis is the process of pouring out complex emotions stored in the mind and body through any medium. The word catharsis was actually used to describe the cleansing of unwanted materials within the bowels, but people started using it in reference to emotional and spiritual cleansing. Anyone who has undergone any kind of therapy will likely have heard this word. With the advancement of science and research, psychiatrists and therapists have discovered that it is not just the body that needs purification but the mind, the psyche.
In the Western medical system, early approaches toward any kind of physical or mental suffering were external. In Oriental culture, however, practitioners treated health as a holistic thing, to be dealt with in totality. Both intrinsic and extrinsic factors were addressed. However, as diagnostic processes evolved in the West and started to gain popularity across the globe, psychological factors affecting the health and body were almost completely ignored. The treatment for mentally ill patients became brutal; procedures like lobotomies were introduced which removed the connections between the frontal lobe and other parts of the brain. This was performed on patients suffering from schizophrenia and depression, indeed a violating process. Many died because of these procedures, and even if they survived, they were no better off.
Eventually, experts realized catharsis could be of immense help when it came to relieving someone of not just physical tension but mental tension as well. Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of psychoanalysis, which gained rapid worldwide popularity. The procedure included an induced deep sleep in which the patient could begin telling the therapist their fears and anxieties.
If we look carefully, we can see that our body has some built-in mechanisms for catharsis. You can see catharsis in how we cry uncontrollably when someone we love dies. Our entire being begins to mourn the death of someone we love. This is a defense mechanism of our biological system. That kind of grief, if not released from our bodies somehow, can be disastrous for our system. You may have seen people go into shock after the death of a loved one. Somehow their mind and body cannot expel the grief outside, and that grief shuts them down almost completely. While this inbuilt mechanism is only designed for extreme situations, such as death or extreme anger, humans experience a wide range of emotions on a daily basis—many positive, many negative. As much as we benefit from the positive ones, the negative ones cause damage to us in the same manner.
It is just the same as our digestive system: the useful parts support our body, and the waste comes out through the excretion process. But it seems that not enough emphasis has been placed on the importance of excreting the negative emotions stored inside us. These negative emotions, especially when intertwined with long-lasting memories, can, in the long term, produce psychosis and various types of psychosomatic disease. In order to prevent this, catharsis is required. An outpouring of emotions, rather than the suppression of them, is required. If we can let go of our piled-up emotions in a healthy and harmonious way, it can prevent the onset of various mental and physical diseases. How we want to tackle it is up to us. Cathartic therapy can come in many mediums: speaking with another person or emoting through a creative outlet or art form or hobby. No matter how, the purpose is to put all our emotions into the act we choose for relieving ourselves of these emotions.
Every person is different. While many of us share experiences, what happens to one person never happens exactly the same way for another. And hence, no one can tell you exactly what will be the best way for you to express what you feel. There is no need to force your expression; it should just be a true outpouring of your emotions. Maybe it needs to be a violent cry or a mad laugh, but, above all, it should be honest. As they say, “Life is to express, not to impress.”
Love and peace,
Sudhanshu Shekhar is not only passionate about writing but also an advocate for positive change. They use their platform to shed light on important social and environmental issues, raising awareness and inspiring action.