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Catharsis: Releasing What's heavy

Catharsis was originally a medical term referring to the flushing out of the body during menstruation, and means to cleanse or purge. Aristotle was the first to use it in a theatrical sense, referring to the emotional discharge, a playwright hoped to affect in an audience by the release of pent up emotion, typically at the end of a good old Greek tragedy.

Healthy catharsis is part of gaining the closure people seek around not just old wounds, but break ups, job losses, health crisis, the death of a loved one, even just a social slight— the kind of release that allows you to move on. Although strong emotions are fine, and we have a great capacity for holding and managing them, over the long haul they’re better out than in. And the only way out is through.

The benefits of catharsis require that you actually feel your very emotions, not just vent them. You might argue that you’re definitely feeling anger while you’re venting it, but what about the sorrow that’s below it? And the vulnerability that’s below that? And the love that’s below THAT?

Ironically, getting closure requires opening up, though there’s an even chance that doing so will make you feel worse before it makes you feel better. Before it kicks in, catharsis will immerse you in whatever disturbing emotions have accompanied your troubles and traumas. Closure is more a verb than a noun. It can’t be forced, as hungry as you might be for emotional efficiency, to turn lemons into lemonade, or forget your troubles altogether— you’ve got to do the work.


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