The second derivative of the Greek word katharos, clean. The purging, the cleansing, the expunging of pent-up negativity within oneself. It’s among a select few concepts recognized and regarded with esteem by artists, authors, philosophers and psychiatrists alike.
Aristotle was the first to connote the term with its contemporary associations, the vast spectrum of human emotion. He defined it as the “purging of the spirit of morbid and base ideas or emotions by witnessing the playing out of such emotions or ideas on stage.”
Two millennia later, Joseph Breuer, the mentor and close friend of Sigmund Freud, associated catharsis with one of his patients, Anna. She exhibited dozens of unexplainable symptoms, ones Dr. Breuer could only attribute to hysteria. The refusal to eat and drink, being unable to speak in her native tongue, but being able to speak English perfectly fine, even becoming mute at one point. Anna would get lost within trance-like states, hypnosis without…hypnosis, if you will. During these episodes, she’d be able to form coherent thoughts and convey them to Dr. Breuer without fail. On one occasion she recalled seeing a woman drink from a glass of water immediately after a dog took a sip from it. She was consumed by sentiments of disgust and persevering putridity, but found herself drinking water shortly after. Dr. Breuer attributed her positive change in behavior to the identification of its inhibitory roots and in turn, a profound emotional response. Catharsis in contemporary psychotherapy.
One of my best friends described feelings of anxiety to me earlier and it reminded me of myself a few years back. Having too much on my plate, dealing with contingencies which arose in the personal sphere of my life, and exhibiting bizarre, unexplainable symptoms physically which impeded my daily routine were its stimuli. I sought refuge in books, in music, medical research and eventually running.
The beauty of it lies in its idiosyncratic nature. What may be catharsis for you might be pointless to me, and vice versa. Some find it in running, some in music, others in writing, reading, weight lifting, driving, biking, even working. When you do find what works for you, you’ll know.
Witnessing a few of my close friends and my mother crumble over the past year hit home hard, and I promised myself I’d never allow it to recur within anyone I hold dear. Knowing that I have a significant voice on my blog, I felt it was imperative that I posted this. So for all of you with accrued stress, pain and anguish, don’t take the easy way out and simply give up. Find your catharsis, find your release, and let everything out. You’ll thank yourselves later.