Doug Dvorak's Blog


The Role and Risks of Catharsis

Have you ever been so angry that you could hit something? Everybody has had that kind of experience, whether you have been insulted, you got into a heated argument, you saw something bad happen on the news, or you just had a plain old bad day.

In many of these instances, that anger can become overwhelming. This also applies to other strong negative emotions, such as stress or even sadness.

Some people treat these emotions in the unhealthiest way possible and take it out on others, whether it be verbally or sometimes physically. But many people treat them in a way that makes it more manageable. They exercised, played a game, watched an action movie, something that allows them to get out their aggressive emotions. The relief of intense, pent-up emotions otherwise known as catharsis.

Catharsis is not only something that everyone experiences, but also valuable to our day-to-day lives, especially in the modern day wherein we are exposed to so much negativity.

Understanding the importance of catharsis can allow us to release our pent-up frustration. However, it is also important to understand the risks of over-indulging in cathartic behaviors.

Read on to understand the role and the risks of catharsis:

The Role of Catharsis

Finding a positive outlet for someone’s negative emotions is something that can be greatly beneficial, whether it be during their daily lives or during times of intense emotional turmoil.

Catharsis involves indulging in things that either let us relieve our pent-up emotions or allows us to swim through them. In the latter case, it allows us to freely feel those emotions in a safe space so that we can come to terms with them.

Catharsis can come in many forms. It can come from engaging in certain activities, such as exercise or playing a physically active game, which is a common way for a person to relieve stress and to get out their frustrations through intense, difficult actions and movements. It can also come from engaging in your hobbies and doing things with people to relieve stress. Doing something that is fun and stimulating may be what you need to relieve your pent-up emotions.

American poet, writer and satirist, Dorothy Parker once said: “Art is a form of catharsis, emotional release, purging, cleansing, purifying.”

Art, literature, and media can also be a strong avenue for emotional catharsis, both in its consumption and its creation. Firstly, they can be fun stress relievers, where you relax to something entertaining.

Many video games and movies are designed for the release of pent-up aggression through action. Other pieces of media can help you relieve stress through making you laugh. However, books, movies, games, music, and especially art can help us experience catharsis through allowing us to explore certain emotions.

Many people listen to sad music when they are sad to experience that catharsis, and this can apply to any emotion. Sometimes, even lighthearted, fun media can slip in something that can make some feel catharsis through experiencing positive emotions they would not otherwise feel. Humor can be especially cathartic as it not only allows for the expression of negative emotions but does it through a positive lens.

This is especially evident during the creation process, in which you are not only experiencing those same emotions, but you are also expressing them through your chosen medium. It can be very cathartic to release your pent-up emotions through your art, whether it be music, painting, film, or even games.

However, people who are going through serious issues could find catharsis through therapy. Many therapists have been trained to explore and release pent-up emotions, whether it be through simple or elaborate techniques, analysis of the patient’s situation, or even just letting them talk.

Having someone there to help someone explore and understand their pent-emotions and issues can be extremely cathartic and help someone cope with the problems they are facing.

Finally, people can find long-term catharsis through finding something meaningful in their life that helps them cope. Many people dedicate themselves to causes or groups to find emotional release.

Many people find it through helping others and volunteering, whether it be for picking up litter, soup kitchens, and even building homes, especially if they have gone through a tragedy themselves. Some people join social groups if they are going through something to be able to find catharsis through shared struggle and the guidance they need. There is especially relief in knowing you are not alone and that you can get better.

The Risks of Catharsis

There is a dark side to catharsis, however. There is a chance that instead of releasing those intense emotions, sometimes avenues of catharsis can reinforce those emotions, making them worse.

Indulging in aggressive media could make someone more aggressive and sometimes depressing media can put someone in an even worse mood. When it comes to finding methods of catharsis, it is good to know how you will emotionally react to it and if it is something that is negatively affecting how you act and react to the world around you.

Moreover, methods of catharsis can sometimes be a way to completely escape from reality, rather than enrich it. If something makes you feel good, you will want to experience more of it eventually as you become numb to the smaller doses. Eventually, this can create addictions for some, and they will consume all of their time indulging in stuff that makes them feel better.

That is not to say any of these methods are inherently bad, in fact are arguably good by default, but too much of a good thing can easily make you feel worse. Instead of making it easier to take on the world, it makes it harder by taking away your ability to confront it. So catharsis is still important, but it is best used in moderation, in tandem with developing more constructive ways of working with the world and growing as a person.


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