Emotional Catharsis: What It Is, Types, and Examples

Emotional catharsis is a concept that comes from the ancient Greek word "katharsis", which translates as "purification". Sigmund Freud practiced it in his psychoanalytic therapies.
Emotional Catharsis: What It Is, Types, and Examples

Last update: 22 February, 2023

We all suffer from inner conflicts, and an emotional catharsis is a form of liberation. The name comes from Greek and its literal meaning is ‘purification’. In this way, we remove negative emotions from within us.

Emotional catharsis became known in the psychotherapeutic field thanks to Sigmund Freud, one of the most representative intellectual figures of the twentieth century. The purpose is to turn the page and be able to assimilate those emotions or negative episodes that happened as part of life.

What is emotional catharsis?

Although Sigmund Freud was the one who developed emotional catharsis as part of his psychoanalytic theory, it was Josef Breuer who created the cathartic method, also known as free association. We can understand, then, that it’s the process through which we’re releasing repressed negative emotions. In fact, it was often used in hypnotic therapy.

Here’s Sigmund Freud’s exact definition of emotional catharsis:

“The process by which we reduce or eliminate a conflict by activating it in consciousness and allowing it to express itself.”

According to the father of psychoanalysis, those emotions, feelings, and thoughts that are kept as a reserve in the unconscious can influence the decisions we make, as well as our behavior. Hence, the importance of liberating ourselves and being able to have well-being, starting from the balance between the conscious, the subconscious, and the unconscious.

Hipnosis en psicoterapia.
Within hypnosis therapies, Freud often used emotional catharsis to help his patients release old emotional wounds.

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Types of emotional catharsis

There are several types of emotional catharsis. Because it is a process of liberation, it can be applied in various areas of life, and that’s where the fact of being able to divide it lies.

Religious emotional catharsis

When we talk about emotional catharsis in religion, we can refer to positive or negative experiences that are expressed through rituals, beliefs, preaching, or prayers. All of them end up in a release of emotions, either by crying or by other signs.

Regardless of the religion practiced, it is always common to see manifestations of this type that can be both individual and collective.

Artistic emotional catharsis

Have you ever been made to cry by a song, movie, or series? This is recognized as an emotional catharsis of the artistic type.

The emotions that you have repressed emerge through crying. That’s why many people like to play sad music if they’re going through a breakup or have had a bad day, or happy music if they’re experiencing a moment of celebration.

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Philosophical catharsis

Aristotle was responsible for including emotional catharsis as part of a philosophical process, which is characterized by representing the purification of the soul.

How is it achieved? Through the visualization of theatrical plays.

The theory is based on the fact that, through the emotions expressed by the actors or actresses, people can also release their own emotions. It’s said that this was the main type of catharsis that gave rise to all the others.

Educational catharsis

The concept of emotional catharsis changes when it comes to the educational type. Its principle is based on the assimilation of skills to improve as citizens. It also seeks to develop a capacity to reflect on ways of acting.

Catharsis in literature

Finally, we can describe another type of emotional catharsis, which is the one experienced by lovers and fans of reading. After all, who hasn’t cried over the death of their favorite character in the book, or felt emotion for the achievement of one of them? All this is a process of emotional liberation.

Why is it so important to express our emotions?

Emotions are not only that. With them, we have the possibility of obtaining learnings that guide us to greater personal growth. However, not all people have the ability to express them.

When you repress an emotion, whether positive or negative, your unconscious will store it, and it’ll explode when you least expect it.

However, thanks to the emotions we express, we can know ourselves better, because they’re part of the essence of every human being. Expressing and releasing your emotions is very important because you will have control over yourself, and you will feel balanced, mature, and able to take them as a learning experience.

According to the group of psychologists Amparo Calandín, expressing our emotions should be a fundamental part of life and relationships, both with others and with ourselves. They add that the difficulty in identifying and expressing them can represent problems and great discomfort.

Examples of emotional catharsis

Without knowing it, many people have done emotional catharsis at certain times in their lives. Some common scenarios that you may have experienced and have found helpful in releasing pent-up emotions are as follows:

  • Feeling scared while watching a horror movie.
  • Feeling compassion for a moment of sadness that a literary character is experiencing.
  • Listening to a song and being brought to tears.
  • Crying when a character risks her life to save others.
  • Getting excited, to the point of explosive weeping, when a loved one has a dream or goal fulfilled.

Tips to achieve emotional catharsis

The important thing, as we mentioned before, is that you identify the emotions you feel in order to express them and free yourself from them. Here are some practical tips to achieve emotional catharsis and learn from these experiences.

A woman having an emotional catharsis.
You can redirect crying into a moment of emotional release.

A confession ritual

As strange as it may sound, the ritual of confession can be a great help for emotional catharsis. You should start by expressing your emotions either through words, writing them down in a diary or a simple piece of paper, or telling them to someone you trust. The key is not to be afraid to do this.

Practice a sport

Some people choose to practice a sport. The idea is that you like it and that, through it, you feel that you release those emotions that you repress during the day. For example, martial arts work excellently to generate the cathartic impulse.

Take advantage of noise

Another tip for emotional catharsis is to take advantage of noise. Yes, listen to loud music, shout if necessary, and sing at the top of your lungs. Bring out all that you have inside you!

Don’t let yourself be afraid of your surroundings or of being judged by others. Just allow the emotions to flow.

You’ll have a better quality of life with emotional catharsis

There are people who come to emotional catharsis as a way to seek a better quality of life, thanks to the ability to release repressed emotions. Purging the centers of emotion is a practice that should be part of your daily life to avoid a decline in your mental health.

Do you like social networks? Take advantage of it and look for funny videos that make you burst out laughing. Laughing, crying, screaming and even moving are all contributing acts. You’ll see how your life will take a 180-degree turn with this new habit.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.