In art (in the broad sense), the term catharsis is used to refer to the phenomenon of someone having a strong emotional reaction through a character. Usually this is a very profound sensation and is only generated by the works of outstanding artists.

However, though many of the strongest manifestations of catharsis occur through art, the phenomenon is not confined solely to it. It also happens to some people who watch sports -- and, I've noticed, frequently occurs in all sorts of role-playing games, from the simplest Monty Haul hack-and-slash munchkinfest to the deepest dramatic games that could arguably be called art in themselves.

Of course, some people, most notably the "Religious Right", tend to mistake catharsis for confusing fantasy with reality or worse, especially when it happens through RPGs. Heaven forbid that their children experience something meaningful that doesn't have to do with their parents' narrow view of what God is...

Aristotle defined tragedy as a catharsis of pity and fear. The theory of catharsis is an affective fallacy (Wimsatt and Beardsley), a confusion between the poem and its results, for it judges the work in terms of its effect on the reader or spectator.
Three ideas:

An experience that is deeply emotional, intense and/or purifying/purgatory. Prolonged crying, religious epiphany, a plunge in to the icy sea..

You don’t have to be drunk to be honest.

Just let someone get to the long end of your short rope. Watch as you are forced to cover their inabilities and watch them go about in oblivion in air-conditioning as you run around in a large unconditioned warehouse. Watch as everyone agrees with you that this person is as mediocre as you know they are and no action is taken. Let it churn in your stomach and wreck your spleen.

Then, this person lets your anger and frustration surface by asking for your respect due to age and not to merits. Suddenly everything that a right-minded person in a genteel society would never allow to escape their mind floods out as you maintain eye contact, bearing down, so sure you are in the right. Without cursing and making yourself hoarse, you let them know exactly where they stand in your hierarchy of competency. You let them know that you don’t appreciate them gabbling to their friends, or spending an egregious amount of time surfing the net to rent their house, or complaining about their weight and not doing anything about it. Like a hard sponge, they absorb nothing, and they refuse to learn.

The hurricane is ferocious and you feel like the last 25 meters of a track race, muscles painfully full of lactic acid, needing to get it out, but on an adrenaline rush to finish faster, stronger, even if the effort kills you. Ultimatums come, slightly childish, the person knocked over by words like boulders. Huffing and puffing, but the house still has hope.

The ship breaks through the ice. The race is over. Your legs are wobbly. The hurricane has subsided, or perhaps you are just in the eye of the storm. It’s pure release.


The rest of the day is spent as if gliding about. You know it’s over (for now) and you actually enjoyed the battle. It’s as if you released a rabid wolverine from within you and flowers and euphoria took it’s place.

Is this what make up sex is like?

Ca*thar"sis (?), n. [NL., fr. Gr. &?;. See Cathartic.] (Med.)

A natural or artificial purgation of any passage, as of the mouth, bowels, etc.


© Webster 1913

Ca*thar"sis (?), n. (Psychotherapy)

The process of relieving an abnormal excitement by reëstablishing the association of the emotion with the memory or idea of the event that first caused it, and of eliminating it by complete expression (called the abreaction).


© Webster 1913

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