Friday, January 22, 2016


Writing is very cathartic for me. As a teacher, I hear many students say that writing can be painful and exhausting. It can be, but ultimately I believe that if you push through, the process is healing and exhilarating. —Francesca Lia Block

The word “catharsis” originates from the Greek language and means to cleanse or purge. In psychotherapy, catharsis refers to the process of consciously experiencing deep emotions that have previously been repressed, thus moving them to the surface and allowing them to come out. I use the term in this sense of emotional cleansing or clearing — a release of pent-up emotional energy through experiencing and expressing emotions.

Back when I was writing research papers, ideas would swirl in my head after I'd gone to bed, and if I didn't get up and write them down, they'd be lost in the morning but then haunt me the next night. The same is true when I'm writing a story or my novel. The same is true when I have emotional issues, like those surrounding the death of my friend. I was writing an email to a friend of mine yesterday and realized that if gotten way off topic, so I put that aside and decided to turn it into a blog post. Once it was written, I shared it with a few of my friends but ultimately decided that it was too personal. It was just too close to my heart. What I realized most of all about the piece was that it gave me a sense of catharsis writing it.

Yesterday, I skipped my counseling session. I awoke with a headache and that was a good enough excuse for me. I doubt some of you who are proponents of counseling will agree with me on this, but I was doing just fine before my friend's death. I could express myself in two ways: my friend and my blog. If there was something I did not want to blog about, I had him to talk to. We were both able to be each other's counselors in times of need. No, neither of us was trained, but we could be completely and totally honest with each other about everything. I have never had that with anyone else and it was not an immediate thing with my departed friend; it developed over time. When I need someone to talk to that is when I miss him the most. 

Therefore, I sometimes write out my thoughts as a way to deal with them. Cathartic writing is like releasing the gauge of a pressure cooker. It enables you to ventilate and let the steam out, providing all important emotional release. Some people are reluctant to express their feelings on paper because they have been told that it is self indulgent or they feel that what they see on paper will not be very pretty. Frankly, what emerges in emotional writing can be far from pretty. The good, the bad and the ugly all come pouring onto the page when you write in a cathartic fashion. Often it feels like the writing is full of wailing and moaning.

When you write for yourself, and only for yourself, in a personal essay, you allow yourself to express feelings and thoughts that you might not want or dare to tell anyone else. One of the things about my friend who passed away was that we texted each other a lot and we could say things that we might not have wanted to verbalize. I might have written about things I hated to admit even to myself, such as, “I don’t really much like being Mr. Nice Guy all the time,” or “sometimes I question my relationships,” or “I feel like running away.” No matter what I wrote to him, he was always there with an encouraging word. He never criticized me, but always encouraged me to be a better person.

Writing my feelings allows me to air them. I used to send these thoughts to my friend instead of writing them for myself as I find myself doing these days. And so, rather than pushing these feelings down inside myself now and clogging my emotional being with pent up frustrations, fears, and doubts, I acknowledge them and write them down. And in so doing, I try to honor my friend and the relationship we had. I can still acknowledge and allow these feelings to have their full run.

When I write honestly and unreservedly, not only about the events in my life but also about my feelings, I unburden myself of emotions that bog me down and keep me from accomplishing what I want to accomplish or of being the sort of person I'd really like to be. Sometimes these writings become a blog post, especially if I think it might help someone else, but sometimes they are like the piece I wrote last night and are just for a select few eyes only, but sometimes for only my eyes only. When I write something though, I generally want to share it with someone.

Even if I do nothing else with my writing, but write my honest feelings, I can hope to experience the benefits of catharsis: cleansing, a sense of purification, and relief.


Michael Dodd said...

I also find writing cathartic in many ways. When things are muddled in my mind by intense emotion, getting it down in writing helps me sort through the mess and sometimes make sense of it. Other times, especially when the muddling is the result of highly charged negative emotions -- anger, resentment, judgmentalism -- writing it out can be a way of facing it, putting it into perspective and, potentially, letting it go.

In the latter case, I am reminded of something a friend of mine told me had had learned in his Twelve Step program: "Nothing succeeds like restraint of tongue and pen." When I am tempted to post a particularly heated blog, I compose it and then don't post it. Once it is written, I no longer need to express it to others. Sometimes I mess up and post it while still muddled. I go back and delete it as soon as I realize what I have done, hoping that no one had their day poisoned by being exposed to or drawn into my ire.

I have one friend, not I think nearly as close as the one you recently lost, from university days that I can and do tell just about everything. We email regularly and perhaps because we live thousands of miles apart and know none of the same people in our daily lives, feel free to say things that we would not say to other people. Since neither of us feels any need to try to resolve the problem for the other, we can hear it, say, "Yeah, that's a bitch!" and move on to more important things like the demands of my cats and his never-ending work remodeling his townhouse. (One of our favorite things, actually, is snickering over the things that our respective husbands do that drive us crazy.)

dl.miley said...

You are fortunate to have had such a Friend. It is difficult to tell your deep down feelings to another person. Too often we share those feeling with someone and they tell us we shouldn't feel that way. I keep a journal now and wonder what others will think of me if they ever read it some day. I do believe that we should just be ourselves and if someone can accept us as we are then we have accomplish something with our life. Keep writing, Joe. I like reading your blog every day.


Susan said...

Excellent comments from Michael and Dave. I agree with the need to censure yourself before sending emails or posting overly emotional blogs, only because, after the fact, you might regret the spur-of-the-moment deed. But I absolutely agree with the benefits of keeping a journal to "get out" the feelings you currently do not seem able to share with anyone else after the loss of your friend. You appear to be someone for whom writing is cathartic—one of the reasons you write your blog. I hope you never deny yourself the opportunity to engage in this activity, the public one as well as the private; they are both beneficial.