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The theory of positive motion in emotion aka Catharsis

“Catharsis is about cleansing and healing at one and the same time – healing memories and attitudes, healing the spirit and the heart.” ~ Desmond Tutu

Oxford dictionary defines catharsis as the process of releasing strong emotions through a particular activity or experience, such as writing or theatre, in a way that helps you to understand those emotions.

Catharsis (originated in early 19th century) is a form of emotional cleansing first defined by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. It refers to the sensation, or literary affect, that would ideally overcome an audience upon finishing watching a tragedy. The fact that there existed those who could suffer a worse fate than them was to them a relief, and at the end of the play, they felt ekstasis (literally, astonishment), from which the modern word exstasis and ecstacy are derived. While seemingly related to schadenfreude /ˈʃɑːd(ə)nˌfrɔɪdə,German ˈʃɑːdənˌfrɔydə/, it is not, however, in the sense that the audience is not intentionally led to feel happy in light of others’ misfortunes; in an invariant sense, their spirits are refreshed through having greater appreciation for life.

Sigmund Freud, an influential proponent of catharsis, believed that repressed fury could build up and fester, much like steam in a pressure cooker, to the point that it caused psychological conditions like hysteria or trip-wired aggression. The key to therapy and rosy mental health, said Freud and his followers, is to dampen the pressure of negative feelings by talking about them and releasing them in a controlled manner in and out of treatment. The Marvel comic book and movie character, “The Hulk,” is a metaphor for what happens when we fail to control the rage lurking at the fringes of consciousness. When mild-mannered Bruce Banner lets too much anger build up, or when he is provoked, he morphs into his rampaging alter-ego, the Hulk.

Personally, my anger (for better or worse) doesn’t transform into violence aimed at animate or inanimate “targets”. Through my body it just transforms to condensation in which there’s no violence necessary.

In this day and age a majority of people, me included, find some sort of catharsis in means of media. It’s (e.g. TV, radio, podcasts, TED talks, cinemas, iTunes etc) wide accessibility enables us emotionally discharge pretty much any time, place and for as long as we need it.

From my point of view, catharsis is so temperamental in day to day life. Everyday “bombshells” us with unforeseen (or foreseen) negative situations e.g. reckless drivers, tumult etc. continuously cancels out benefits of catharsis. Having said that, without this release we’d be stuck in a constant emotional strain. I can only admire those who manage to use this edge to stay on top of the “game”, though I can’t shake the feeling that it’s only a matter of time before figurative string rips and one is left in pieces.

That’s how I come up with the theory of positive motion in emotion. Motion doesn’t even have to be conscious (as in moving your limbs) for me, more times than not, makes my stomach tie into a knot or trigger my sweat glands resulting in weird perspiration. My take on catharsis is when I listen to music and all seems to be well I hear music, when troubled (e.g. depressed) I hear lyrics. Melody touches me in such delicate way, though no less significant manner, making me cringe or smile and in that, seemingly, small influence delivering catharsis.

They say each their own, so whatever route you find it most effective in terms of catharsis, as long as nobody gets hurt is okay. 

Author: Goda Kruminyte

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