Catharsis (Ancient Greek: "κάθαρσις") is a Greek word meaning "purification", "purging", "cleansing" or "clarification." The term is used in various contexts, ranging from drama to psychotherapy, medicine, religion and BDSM. The root of "catharsis" is "καθαρός", meaning "clean", "clear", "pure".
In drama, catharsis generally refers to an emotional result that derives from strong feelings such as great sorrow, fear, pity, laughter, or any other extreme change in emotion; this result has traditionally been variously described as either a purification or a purging of such emotions (whether those of the characters in the play or of the audience is also controversial). More recently such terms as restoration, renewal, and revitalization have been used in relation to the effect on members of the audience.
In modern psychotherapy, particularly Freudian psychoanalysis, catharsis is used to describe the act of expressing, or more accurately, experiencing the deep emotions often associated with events in the individual's past which had originally been repressed or ignored, and had never been adequately addressed or experienced. Catharsis is also an emotional release associated with talking about the underlying causes of a problem or seeing a dream.
"catharsis" can also refer to therapeutic release of aggression, anger, etc. via physical outlets such as a punching bag.
In medical contexts, catharsis ("purging") often refers (euphemistically) to the purging of the bowels. A drug, herb, or other agent administered as a strong laxative is termed a cathartic. See also enema.
In religious contexts, the term catharsis is used for acts of penance in order to and come to terms with guilt and sin. The idea is to cleanse the soul by means of physical suffering, such as through chastisement. It is interesting to note that the original meaning of the terms chastisement or castigation is "purification". Such forms of penance were practised for example in Roman Catholicism, and in extreme forms in Christian sects such as the Flagellants; a testimony to the age of this use is the very name of the Cathars (a medieval sect).
In BDSM, catharsis refers to the emotionally healing effects of releasing pent-up emotions through chastisement. Flagellation, spanking etc. can have a cathartic effect for both the top and the bottom, it allows both partners to release emotions.
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