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Catharsis: Good, bad or an undeniable necessity?

Do you know what the first sign of life is? A newborn baby is expected to cry out loud. The very first sign of discomfort in adjusting to the outside world is looked upon as life-affirming. This ironical start to all of our lives ascertains that we are wired to express our woes and joy in one way or the other. Artists like Van Gogh, Munch and Picasso have blessed the world with their beautiful expression of angst, surrealism and internal conflicts while Ragas resonate with our emotional responses and provides melodies to life’s experiences. While not all of us are artists, many of us believe in journaling our chaos to the paper. Mostly, the purpose of our expression encircles around making those words amplify the noise in our heads and make it obvious to our eyes and the world. Be heard. Be seen.

The psychosocial need of expression and being heard has therapeutic benefits and this purging of emotions resulting in solace and resolution is also clinically termed as “Catharsis”. Known to be helping in the emotional recovery and gaining a feeling of connectedness when done in a social setting, catharsis has a long history dating back to Aristotle who coined the phenomenon to be analogous to an immersive experience of a spectator watching a tragedy. The intensity of a cathartic experience has been assumed to lead to “purification” of sorts after which the amplified emotions could be given a rational threshold for future experiences. Imagine just letting out the whole commotion outside your head and body and has someone or something (journal) just acknowledged it unconditionally. Relieving, right?

A now noticeably changing trend, the world is becoming more and more acceptable in terms of talking about our problems and transgressions, especially online. A recent study reviewing stress among African women found a direct positive relationship between social media engagement (in terms of venting out in WhatsApp groups) with an increased feeling of belongingness and catharsis which is reflective on decreasing the level of stress among this strata.

However, the salient features of the budding playground of social media for mental health discourses have yet to be comprehensively assessed. Where there is undeniable potential for connectivity with an option for anonymity available online, the uncensored outpour can get overwhelming and can also become counter-productive by triggering our emotions.  

What is imperative to understand here is that not everyone is comfortable to voice their problems openly. So, the clichéd mental health slogans like “Let’s talk” about mental health is oversimplifying and hence undermining the importance of catharsis. While it is not okay to be caged in our minds and ruminate over one particular emotion, finding an all-accepting outlet that works best for one is necessary. Be it letting out a good scream or having cardio exercises work out the chaos of the mind or rhyme it out with a poem. Once the junk of negativity is out, we automatically are more attuned to make way for resolution and joy.

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