On Catharsis

June 9, 2009 · 5 comments

One of my ‘marketing’ bits for this blog is “Read this blog, it’ll make you smarter.  Guaranteed.”  And that’s not a lie.  I use a lot if large and/or obscure words, and even if you don’t google a definition here and there, just reading the words and puzzling out a meaning from the context of one of these posts is good enough exercise for your brain to make you a little bit smarter.

Getting smarter is as much about practice as anything else.  Sure, there’s a genetic component, but everyone can always use more exercise for their brain. 

Following my danged digressions is also another way to keep your brain loose.  My point to this is that I don’t usually stop along the way and help you along, dear reader, when I think I may be pulling something out of my vocabularic quiver that you haven’t seen before – I rarely define my terms.  That’s partly becuase I don’t really care if you’re picking up what I’m putting down, and partly because I’m pretty sure you’re picking up what I’m putting down already, and stopping to drop a definition effs with the flow.

That said, I’m going to define ‘catharsis’ for you.  Without the use of a dictionary, even though Google is one of the tabs open in my browser right now.  You can do it yourself if you feel like testing me or crave a little more specificity.

Catharsis is an outpouring of emotion.  It’s what all the old greek plays used to try to do to the audience.  I daresay it’s also the main objective of any literary endeavour – on paper, canvas, pixels or screen.  Whether written in words, symbols, notes, or whatever, the whole idea of the various forms of media we experience is to get us to feel something.

Though most bits of media get us to feel something, it’s not always cathartic.  Something that’s cathartic is, to a certain extent, painful, but it leaves one with a light, empty, clean feeling afterward.  You know it when you feel it afterward.  A good cry is always cathartic.  So is, if you’ll forgive me a bit of a gross analogy, puking one’s guts out.  And I’m talking not talking about merely tossing one’s cookies.  I’m talking about throwing up out of one’s entire face.  Puke, snot, tears and all kinds of other nasty stuff flowing out of every possible opening.  In my experience, this has really only happened after consuming an absurd amount of beer and then throwing a relatively intense stimulant on top.  Once all that stuff is out, walking back to bed carries a floating sensation and “sleep” comes easily.  No more bed-spins.

Because of its cleansing efffect, catharsis can serve many purposes.  And I believe it’s an essential ingredient to emotional health and stability.  We see it various forms in all different cultures:  the catholics confess their sins to a duly appointed agent of the lord and receive absolution (after penance).  Recovering alcoholics do it in steps four and five of their twelve steps.  Ever go dancing and really let yourself go?  Forget about everything around you and just be the personification of the music?  That’s cathartic.

In any case, I’ve used the term ‘cathartic’ many times in various posts, most recently in my ones about my divorce.  I’ve said things along the lines of “I need the catharsis”.  So, insert the above (short) definition into the equation and you get “I need the outpouring of emotion”.  While it might be simple to say that I’ve never really dealt with my divorce before, that would just be a simple thing to say.  I have, in fact, dealt with my divorce before, in many ways, shapes and forms.  I look at my posts about my divorce as just another opportunity for some spring cleaning of my soul.

People have said to me in person and in the comments sections that it must be hard for me to write about my divorce in such intimate terms.  It’s not.  One of the ways I’ve dealt with all the emotions (effed up and not) permeating my experiences with getting divorced has been talking about them.  Oh, sure, it was hard at first.  There were bits and pieces that I thought I’d take to my grave with me.  After a while, though, I got more comfortable with my various listeners and became able to share a little bit more than the last time.  Eventually, I’d said it all at some point or another. 

It’s just as important for me to say that I fucked up some parts of my marriage as it is for me to say that getting divorced was the most emotionally painful thing that I’ve ever been through.

I’m probably getting off track here and talking about some stuff that’s meant for later posts in the “My Story Mondays” segment, but whatever.  The main point of this post and the ones that specifically center around my divorce experiences is for me to scrape out all of the crap that’s inside of me, shake it up a bunch, and puke it out of my face.  Sure, it’s not always comfortable to dip back into those memories and feel those things all over again, but each time I do, they get diluted just a little bit more with healthy fresh air and I get rid of just a little bit more of the crap that’s stored inside.  And I feel lighter and floatier afterward.  I don’t get high off of it by any means, but I get healthier and stronger for sure.

The end.  Yay catharsis.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie June 9, 2009 at 09:46

If this was facebook I would click the “Like” button.


BRIAN June 9, 2009 at 10:58

If this was a dating website I would click on Katie.


Darth Traya June 9, 2009 at 12:37

If that is what works for you. Not everyone can just pour out their emotions like that.

But on a snarky point for a moment. I am not a member of Mensa, I went to a state college. But I knew what Catharsis meant. Just felt like being snarky, so thank you for indulging me.


Scott June 9, 2009 at 12:37

If this was a dating website Katie would block Brian


BRIAN June 9, 2009 at 15:48

I’m not a member of mensa either but I’m pretty sure I beat up some of your fellow members in school. Thanks for clearing up the meaning of catharsis for me because I always thought it had something to do with the catholic faith.


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