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Just Catharsis is not enough?

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In this post we will look at the concept of catharsis, why is it important and why it is not enough

Most of us have gone through days when we have felt despaired, depressed, helpless….

Days when we wanted to yell it all out! As if “to relieve” ourselves from the burden of ‘EMOTIONS’.. esp., the negative ones*¹.

And to do so.., to achieve our inner joy & peace back again..We would have engaged in , knowingly or unknowingly, what psychologists call “CATHARSIS”.

Well.. you might be wondering:

What catharsis is?

Catharsis, by the way, is not a new age term.., its a Greek word & its origin can be traced back to Aristotle’s time. It simply means “the process of releasing strong or repressed emotions.”

In other words catharsis is nothing but ‘venting out pent up emotions!’

And how do we do that..? How do we release our emotions?

Natural process of venting out

Emotions (like anger, sadness, jealousy, hatred, guilt…) that, over a period of time, build-up within us and cause distress, seek expression.

If we haven’t learnt constructive ways of expressing these emotion they maybe expressed, once the threshold is crossed, in the form of an “outburst” !

As a result of venting of pent up emotions, after the outburst, we generally experiences a sense of relief & lightness. This experience of sense of relief & lightness can be an important step in helping us move forward in life.

It is for this reason that catharsis (outburst in a more controlled environment) is an important part of most psychotherapeutic techniques..

The Problem with Catharsis

The problem is that releasing pent up emotions may give us relief, this relief in most cases is temporary and hence may not always be healthy!

After some time, we start feeling those troubled emotions which drag us into misery again!

Take the example of “Breaking down things into pieces & yelling and screaming out loud to relieve the anger we feel against a co-worker”. This not only leads to loss of property but may also prevent us from reaching an effective solution to the problem with the co-worker.

More constructive ways of venting out include engaging in other activities / creative arts to help oneself, like painting, sculpting, dancing, cooking, writing, exercising & for that matter even crying. Though some of these forms of catharsis are productive in nature (#history has witnessed, that all great arts are results of great emotions), even these may not be healthy in the long run.

The reason is that catharsis seems to only treat the symptom i.e. helping you ‘free yourself’ from the negative emotion. It doesn’t seem to help you overcome the cause i.e. reasons behind Why you feel those emotions!

As a result the emotions start building up and you start suppressing them again. Over a period of time we experience the need for catharsis again.

It has a potential to create a vicious cycle.

You tend to become habituated (“slave”) to that technique ..to make you feel good again, albeit temporarily!

Catharsis in other words may end up acting like a pain killer. And like most pain killers, its effectiveness reduces over a period of time or you need to use it more and more.

Not an ideal scenario if you ask me.

If catharsis is not enough, then what is?

The best way to help ourselves would then obviously require us to not only treat the symptom (to provide short term relief) but also the cause (to make this relief sustainable in the long run by reducing the chances of relapse).

Catharsis as we already know can help with the symptom but how does one exactly identify the cause, let alone work with it?

  1. One way, that is self-reliant, of identifying cause is “introspection & giving yourself time (to know oneself, people & situations better).
  2. You can keep a journal of your emotions with details about when you felt them & what were the triggers that led to these emotions.
  3. You could also consider writing the actions that you can take to avoid the triggers or to develop the skills which will help you handle the triggers more effectively.
  4. Understanding the emotions that you are experiencing and the purpose of those emotions can go a long way in helping you identify the skills and the steps needed to work with the cause. The “Advanced FLIP Model” can be a very powerful starting point for the same.
  5. However, if the emotion is too intense or you feel unable to cope up with the situation by yourself, then one must go for counseling or therapy session. Going to a specialist in mental health will provide you a safer, more controlled environment where you can not only work with the symptoms & causes but also develop overall skills and life competencies.
  6. Investing in quality self-help workshops can also help in developing competencies that you can benefit from in the long run.

Therapist Niche: Techniques to use along with Catharsis

Remember helping the client resolve a problem or get out of a difficult situation is not just about creating a change but about creating sustainable change.

Sustainable change depends on helping the client not only let go of uncomfortable emotions triggered by people or situations but also

  1. Understand and deal with the root cause behind the problem
    De-layering techniques like corrective therapy, free association, SVIT™, Regression in combination with release processes like Hypnodrama, Inner Child, Ho’ponopono, Regression therapy and metaphors from Hypnotherapy and NLP can be used by the client.
  2. Access powerful emotional states
    Hypnotic Suggestions, Anchoring, Core transformation, advanced sub-modalities and levels of transformation can be used for the same.
  3. Identify required skills &/or key learning’s that needs to be applied to prevent relapses.
    Revelation metaphors and Meta Model Questions can be used to identify the skills and learning’s. Modelling and future pacing can be used to help the client develop the required skills and apply the learning in their life.

In short, when venting out of suppressed emotions is combined with conditioning resourceful mental state, learning life lessons and developing skills, the client can experience a qualitative shift in their lives.

If you are a mental health practitioner who would like to learn these processes and further enhance your therapeutic and coaching repertoire, it is time for you to join our comprehensive program for mental health professionals. You will learn all these techniques and a lot more during the program.

*¹ [we do not label emotions as positive or negative…As each emotion is important & has function to serve when felt….Here… The expression “negative emotions” is used for ease in understanding!]
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