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How Catharsis Sets You Free

At one of my previous jobs, we were each treated to a massage by a highly skilled masseuse.

This was my first experience with bodywork.

I went in with a clear head and no worries.

Of course, the massage felt fantastic.

But what I will never forget is what happened when the masseuse started focusing on my neck – lifting my head and working out the tension from underneath – shoulders to ears.

To my surprise, feelings that I had no idea were there bubbled to the surface.

I started fighting back tears.

There was a physical release of tension and a simultaneous release of emotion.

Afterward, the masseuse asked me what had happened, she had felt something shift as well.

I had no clue what to say or what was wrong – everything had been fine!

What I didn’t know then, but now realize, is that feelings that are shoved down inside and aren’t dealt with can be stored in the body as tension and physical pain.

At some point, something that ticked me off, made me ashamed or powerless – whatever it was – I filed away in my neck area rather than allowing myself to express it.

The masseuse had jarred it loose years after I stuck it there.

Now I know that this release of emotion is called catharsis – something I had never heard of at the time of my “cry-massage.”

In this article, I want to explore:

  • what catharsis is
  • how it’s beneficial
  • why it can be hard to do
  • the ways I want to bring more catharsis into my life (and how astrology can help with this- of course)

What Is Catharsis?

Cathartic activities let out emotions and feelings when they are overloading the system.

The people who understand how to use catharsis without even trying are toddlers.

When they have emotions – good or bad – they cry, run, break stuff, dance, scream, do whatever they feel like.

Then what do they do?

They sleep.

There is the storm and then there is the calm.

Once the emotions exit the body, toddlers feel more at peace.

This works the same way for adults, although to have anyone want to be around us, it has to look a little different at 37 than it does at 2.

What I have found is that even at 45, I need to let out way more feelings than I currently do.

Why Focus On Catharsis

My therapist first suggested that catharsis could help me let go of pent-up emotions (and the physical symptoms that come along with them – like my chronic jaw pain).

The more I looked into this, the more good reasons I found to do so.

Here are things that catharsis can do:

  • Keep us from being controlled by emotional leftovers from the past
  • Decrease some aches and pains and reduce stress
  • Lower anxiety by releasing emotional buildup and bringing more balance to the system
  • Make us feel more alive by acting on instinctive impulses (only when done in safe ways – obviously)
  • Bring a feeling of lightness by cutting the emotional anchors weighing us down
  • Allow more space inside to let in joy
  • Increase our sense of personal freedom – we aren’t as held back by old struggles

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

-Desmond Tutu
catharsis

I saw these big, important reasons to try cathartic activities, but also wondered why I hadn’t been doing them all along.

If we do this instinctively as toddlers, why am I now bound up tight as a drum and suppressing emotions like it’s my job?

Why is catharsis so hard?

Catharsis Is Instinctive But Not Easy

After realizing how catharsis is beneficial, my next question was, if it’s so great and easy, why don’t people do it more often?

Fair question.

There may be societal reasons.

Western society, at least, devalues the need to release emotions.

Here’s how:

  • “Strength” lies in endlessly absorbing and holding it all inside
  • Releasing emotions is only for women (and therefore “weak”)
  • The notion that children should learn to stop crying and store their emotions without validation of their feelings
  • “Maturity” = reserved feelings – visceral emotional outbursts are “only for the weak, wild, or deranged”

“Notice how after you scream, you feel lighter, better and ready to face your day. You will have more ease in your communications with others.”

-Tristan Elizabeth Gribbin

When wondering about why I don’t scream out loud on the daily to let out what is ticking me off, I realized that there may be some personal reservations as well:

  • It can feel silly to do some of these things – either this thought has been programmed into us, or it may just go against our nature
  • We may not connect physical manifestations in our bodies with emotions we are holding onto
  • We may not know how to let go of suppressed emotions
  • We may worry that if we allow the trickle to begin, that the entire dam will break

These reasons made me realize the importance of deliberately seeking out catharsis because:

  1. Catharsis can help release whatever is hiding in there – even if we aren’t aware we are storing any feelings.
  2. We may suppress emotions and then treat the symptoms from the suppression, not deal with it directly.

“The indirect thing is the godly thing. The direct thing is the cathartic thing”.

-Stephen Jenkinson

My next step was to figure out how to actually do this.

My Plan to Learn to Let It All Out

I researched, brainstormed, and discovered near-infinite ways to practice catharsis.

From what I can tell, the method isn’t that important.

If it works, it works.

One interesting idea came from a book I’m currently reading, “No Bad Parts” by Richard Schwartz.

He is the creator of Internal Family Systems therapy.

Dr. Schwartz’s method is much more complex and nuanced than how I will describe it – since he is an actual doctor – but here is the gist of one practice:

  1. Sense an area where you carry tension in your body.
  2. Sit quietly with your eyes closed and focus on that area.
  3. Ask the area, “What do you need me to know?”
  4. Listen for the answer.
  5. It may not arise right away and this may have to be repeated over time.

Sounds a little off the wall, I know, but since you are currently reading something called “the Woosletter,” I’m betting you’re down for it.

When I tried this method for the first time, I had zero expectations that I would “hear anything” from my super-clenched jaw.

I was wrong and what it had to tell me about my suppressed emotions was shocking, but that will have to be a topic for another day.

Beyond that idea, there are many other cathartic activities to choose from – here is the short-list:

  • crying
  • yelling and screaming
  • running or skipping
  • breaking stuff
  • intimate activities
  • dancing wildly
  • lifting weights
  • massages
  • laughing
  • singing at the top of your lungs
  • breathing techniques

You can also combine two – cry dancing, screaming while breaking stuff (in the right environment), and skipping while singing at the top of your lungs.

I am not planning on doing these the moment the urge strikes.

Reverting to toddlerhood is not the goal.

But, letting out the feelings I have crammed inside will help me be more relaxed, less driven by my triggers, and might make me an all-around better human.

Catharsis and Astrology

Think of your natal chart as a map showing the lay of the land of your soul, mind, and body.

It can offer clues as to where the caves are where we stash our emotional baggage.

And, it can point to styles and techniques we could try to drag that stored baggage back out into the light and leave it behind.

Here are places in the natal chart that could offer ideas on ways to practice catharsis:

  • Scorpio Placements – Scorpio is instinctive and wants to let out what is in.

    Are there planets there? If so, how can you imagine that planet would seek out emotional release?

    What house falls in Scorpio? Are there activities there that could help you let go?
  • 5th House – Childlike expression without overthinking is 5th house territory.

    Are there planets in the 5th house? What does that “planet at play” look like?

    What sign does the 5th house fall in? What would “expression with abandon” look like for that sign?
  • 12th House – The mysterious 12th house carries the things we hide under the surface. These could be hidden triggers that drive our behavior.

    Are planets sitting in this house? How may that planet want to deal with “stored baggage?”

    Which sign does the 12th house land in? How might this sign prefer to unearth what has is stored away in the body?

If you need help understanding the basics of astrology, our Astro Toolkit: Astrology 101 course can get you off to a good start, and it’s now free for everyone.

One thing I now realize is this:

Catharsis sets you free.

Why not drop the anchors to be able to float higher?

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Have a fantastic day and much love,