The word ‘catharsis’ has its roots in the Greek language, meaning “cleansing” or “purging”. As recorded in history, Aristotle used this concept in the art of theater, using intense storylines to induce extremely powerful emotions in the audience. When living with fears, one is deprived from freedom. Fears keep you bound in a constant state of alert, in self-defense mode.
Fears are not real. They are illusions created by our mind, resulting from emotional experiences in life, whether our own or those we witness. We tend to forget our traumatic experiences but our mind (mostly at subconscious levels) doesn’t and continues to protect us by adapting patterns of behavior which keep us safe from experiencing the same pain again.
Although catharsis is not a frequently used word in day-to-day vocabulary, the meaning of catharsis can be found in several common situations. For a better understanding, I present a few examples below that are easy to relate to.
Swimming and the Fear of Water
The fear of drowning is a learned ‘skill’. In the first nine months of our life, we basically live and swim in water (inside the womb). Many mothers choose to give birth in water; babies are natural swimmers. It is an easier transition from the watery womb into the world.
We are born fearless because as newborns, we do not yet have any mental or emotional programming.
To understand the phenomenon of catharsis, imagine a person who has never had the courage to defeat their fear of drowning. This person is forced unexpectedly to jump into a body of water, only to realize that nothing bad happens. Some swimming teachers use the element of catharsis in the first lesson with a group of new swimmers. They simply throw them in the swimming pool, forcing them to instantly kill their fears.
Jumping into water without knowing how to swim will create a cathartic moment, in which the fear of swimming will be defeated.
Self-Esteem and the Fear of Rejection
Whether being an introvert or an extrovert, we all go through situations where we would rather hide than face being rejected. Why are we afraid of rejection and how does it affect our health? It’s a question to ponder deeply, but usually is a result of a lack in self-confidence.
Accidents – a Form of Catharsis
Many accidents are not an expression of random coincidence. We create them subconsciously as a form of self-defense. Day after day, our emotional endurance grows until one day, our subconscious mind officially launches a self-sabotage attack, expressed through either an accident or an illness. It is the voice of the inner self saying: “Enough is enough! You need a break”.
Just as we cannot multitask on more than one idea (its true), we cannot feel pain in more than one place. Therefore, through attracting accidents, we are ‘causing’ pain in a different bodily location, a physical one, in order to temporarily stop feeling the emotional pain. It is a form of catharsis created without choice.
My first experience performing in public was not through speaking. I was part of my high-school musical choir. I was confident to be part of the group and didn’t experience any stage-fright issues as I was among friends and colleagues and we were all in the same position. But one day, the solo singer didn’t show up and the master of the choir decided to make me the solo of the choir, on the day of the concert! This was a real cathartic situation. I experienced kidney pain, heart pain and difficulty breathing, not to mention the emotional pain which caused all of the above in the first place. I almost lost my voice completely!
Speaking in front of a public audience is quite stressful. It’s considered among the top 3 fears in people, next to the fear of dying, and fear of rejection.
If you are among those afraid of public speaking, there is only one solution: practice public speaking! Again and again. The first time will be in the domain of catharsis, but the following times will become easier until you become professional at it.
Explosion of Anger – a Form of Catharsis
When building frustrations, we have only two ways to release them: implode or explode. The implosion is usually more harmful to self, because all the energy is directed inwards. Explosion may also be harmful, if not well articulated. What I mean is that when anger is expressed outwards, it must be well explained to the exterior world (those who it is directed or expressed at) so it doesn’t repeat again in the future.
Anger is not present in the first place if all emotions are balanced. Catharsis in this case allows one to express these suppressed emotions to unfold – to be understood in order to extract the wisdom from every situation.
Resignation – Catharsis in the Corporate World
When you cannot continue in the same job because of different reasons, the decision to resign is led by an emotional overload, probably accumulated over a long period of time. It goes without saying that firing someone is usually the same case.
I have resigned a few times in my life, changing jobs and relocating to three different countries. It is never easy to make such decisions, especially when you have children and you must provide for their needs. At different stages of my life, I was motivated, or better said, inspired by different desires or goals. In recent years, I started to appreciate freedom and health more than anything else. Having said that, how are catharsis and self-healing really connected?
Self-Healing and Catharsis
To achieve perfect health, we must attain inner balance in all areas – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. When we look at the Yin-Yang symbol, we see how they coexist with each other. Too much of only one of them causes imbalance, and therefore illness. The complete absence of any of them causes us to disappear completely i.e. to die!
Homeostasis of an imbalanced life is the worst situation of all. It is the life of those who choose to live with destructive habits (smoking, over drinking, taking drugs, accepting illness, overeating, living with stress and fear, etc.). Imbalance brings about more imbalance.
Things are not getting better, we are just covering the issues in ignorance or escaping from them.
Catharsis is needed to release all accumulated emotional charges. Persistent emotions are the main cause of illnesses. Living in a certain vibration, given by different types of emotions, will create blockages of energy in our system, which, if maintained long enough, will cause a physical damage – illness (or accident).
Releasing emotions takes courage and self-confidence. Becoming aware of the damage created by long-term emotions is the first step in achieving perfect health – balanced emotions, neutrality and inner peace.
A Cultivation Exercise of Forgiveness and Catharsis
Let’s suppose you want to forgive someone (it could even be yourself). Feelings of regret, guilt, anger and resentment are an amalgam of disharmonious vibrations which are attached to a certain situation you chose to let go of. Write a short but detailed letter with regards to the entire situation. Describe how you feel, use colorful language and large fonts to display your story, your truth. Feel and multiply by 1000 times the feelings you have about this situation. Add one paragraph where you forgive everyone involved in the situation, including yourself (very important). Write that you choose to let go of it. Believe it! Sign it! And burn the letter!
Catharsis followed by forgiveness is truly healing.
Make a list of all the situations you can remember and repeat the exercise for each one. By the end of this experiment, you will be liberated from the past emotional attachments. You will be free, neutral and healed.
Emotional detox is a must for those who take the path of self-healing. Catharsis is a great tool to release unwanted emotions, but not the only tool. Meditation, Tai Chi, Ba Gua, Qi Gong, Hypnotherapy and other forms of therapy are available to those who truly want to heal.