Changing minds: Catharsis revisited

Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.

Maria Popova

For the record, I have changed my mind on catharsis. I think that I had criticized so much that I wanted to hold onto something. I got caught in the dichotomy between the 12-step version of anger as a character defect, and The Haven version of living out trauma and pulling extremes of emotions to the surface. Research shows that this view of emotional expression is actually harmful.

I recall once someone bringing up this criticism. I made some trite comment about how research isn’t relevant, and those around me patted me on the back for my wisdom. I feel a bit nauseous remembering this interaction. I desperately wanted to be in the inner circle, and part of how I gained acceptance was to use my intelligence to make comments like that that appeared wise… As I originally said, wisdom is disgusting! Even when it comes from me!

We should be paying attention to the research that is out there. I was in an awkward position on this since I was unable to face my anger before I left Haven, and there were so many other things I needed to address first… And since I never properly engaged in catharsis, I am not sure I can comment from personal experience. I do remember the pressure to have an emotional outburst–to be accepted.

There is a high that comes from this, from connections to groups with their own specific culture and beliefs, and to emotional outbursts met with a song and dance and hug. But what happens after? Do people have to keep going back?

In sum, I don’t have to believe my anger is morally bad to not put it on a pedestal. After all, have I not been criticized endlessly by Haven for being angry? I am angry. I am less angry than I was. How am I less angry? I spoke truth, I didn’t bow down, and instead of throwing a fit, I take a deep breath and think of something else.

I stopped trying to be wise, stopped caring about acceptance, and faced my breath. These calm moments actually take much more courage in my books than outbursts. The courage to not be wise. The courage to change one’s mind–to have a mind. To be in the silence.

I probably should also take back some comments on sexual trauma. I am fairly certain that is one place left where I have denial. But at least my beliefs are congruent, if not always accurate. At least I have brought the Haven view of sexuality into the light. You decide.

I was 15. That is what I have. I was 15.


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