Can writing be cathartic? – Devinder Sharma


Life’s journey brings experiences some leaving scars in the person’s psyche.  These are troubling with the potential to cause damage to our lives and become obstacles to peace and happiness. Writing like other processes like prayers, pilgrimages, conversations etc offer the possibility of transferring strong emotions from the subconscious to the conscious and its ultimate extinction.

The dictionary meaning of “catharsis” is an emotional discharge through which one can achieve a state of moral or spiritual renewal, or achieve a state of liberation from anxiety and stress. I think more than renewal it is cleansing. Renewal comes later either a emptiness if not a vacuum or a purge of emotional poison produces the need for renewal. Be as it may, it is in our interest to look at it as a process because we remove the mystique that offers some control. As a process it provides relief from emotional and spiritual damage arising from strong repressed emotions. Can writing be cathartic (adjective)? Is Catharsis a process?

I believe our unresolved emotional experiences arising from situations of fear creating, strong emotions anticipating bodily or mental pain, impending danger, unsatisfactory situations foretelling serious problems, loss of a beloved one and the like gives rise to the flee or fight syndrome. Threatening situations leave us with strong emotions and affect us deeply residing in our subconscious.

What is in our subconscious lies just below the level of awareness. I don’t know but like to think what lies in someone’s subconscious affects him in ways that are individual centric though there are some which are common to all people, maybe or more likely   modified by culture. The psychological explanations say that living with these in our subconscious is like a ticking bomb. When it explodes the danger to the individual could be minor to life threatening. Danger is there, therefore strong emotions in the subconscious, specifically the negative must be purged.

Psychologists advocate a process of alleviation to understand and if not at least neutralise those emotions of fear, pain, loss, hurt, injury and complexes is bringing them from the subconscious to the conscious mind. The therapist have us believe that anything in the conscious mind is amenable to be disarmed by giving them expression, and there are course or line of action.  It is natural to remove pain and negative components which opens better understanding of the positive and happy ones.

Even strong emotions of victories, love, happiness get lodged in the subconscious and they do not cause ills and troubles for us therefore we let them be. They can also be made to move from subconscious to the conscious.

“The process of transferring emotions

from subconscious to conscious mind

holds the panacea or universal remedy

or a magic bullet for health and happiness ”

What I am referring here is the vision, an act, or a drama which unleashed emotions. Some may fade away by itself and others resolved. Laughter, crying, prayer, pilgrimage, atonement, confessions, conversations with loved ones including writing are resorted to. Getting rid of unhappy memories and coming to terms with the activities that caused them makes us not only strong, honest and brings maturity but a feeling of equanimity. The classic meaning of equanimity is to take pain and pleasure alike.

Emotions create energy within us. Emotional energy is neutral. It can be neither created nor destroyed. An emotional energy spiral moving upward is positive and downward negative.  Emotions are carrier waves for the entire spectrum of feelings. Unresolved energy lying in our subconscious is a cause of pain. We need to release this energy.

I think we should make it a habit to review our day before going to bed. Try to put your finger on those strong disturbing emotions. No analysis or record or repeating is required just their recognition.

Writing the incident describing your feeling facilitates bringing them into your conscious mind. The stronger or more damaging are the ones that need to be written. There would be places where they will fit. You can retain or crumple the paper on which it is written or printed. You may use saved narratives for your writing whether for yourself or others. Alternately you can take roll your crimpled paper into a ball and toss it into a fire. Whatever you choose you win.

One might ask, there would be many emotions that lie in the subconscious and of them some may not be accessible without a trigger. You could try to get into your subconscious and search for the most damaging one. Like one thought leads to another and network of thoughts emerge. Writing those that seem to speak out are the ones to examine. Regular writing like diarists maintain their diaries lead to catharsis today, tomorrow or another day. Over a period of say months one would have a rich repertory of situations with strong emotions. Done regularly many painful memories would be resolved and others might just drift away. The process is enriching.

Policing requires maintenance of diaries of reported and referred crimes. The reference to police departments is deliberate as we are trying to catch culprit experiences. The French diarise differently from the English or the Indian. Researchers, physicians, scientist and professions relying on intelligence to connect disparate pieces of information generate their methodologies. On a professional level a situation under study throws up new knowledge and on a personal level provides   healing process you are familiar with and its ease.

How do you surface the older ones deeply disturbing? Physiatrists pray on you to help you do that at considerable expense. Going into yourself as the protagonist as Dev does in my book “Enlightenment is the Secret to Fly” describes a process with some indications of efforts and time. Tackling major emotional bugbears in many cases creates new views of life providing emotional stability the bedrock of happiness and joy.

Writing on current anxieties to throw out the baggage of unhappy emotions is not difficult. An aspiring writer can begin and become an expert in a few days of practice. It will be rewarding for his writing and coming to peace with himself creating a positive loop and over a few months be a changed person and a writer.


I. Equanimity is a sublime Buddhist practice. It sows the seeds of wisdom, freedom, compassion and love. Equanimity is not dry neutrality or aloofness but produces radiance and warmth of fellow feeling.  Buddha described an equanimous mind as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.” The word equanimity is to description. be found repeated in the Bhagat Gita many times but I was attracted by its Buddhist description.

II. Catharsis is a Greek word that signifies a process of cleansing. History tells us Aristotle used the word catharsis first and the context was literature, probably he invented it and his definition or what he meant was the purification or purgation of the emotions (especially pity and fear) primarily through art. Aristotle stated that the purpose of tragedy was to arouse “terror and pity” and thereby effect the catharsis of these emotions. His exact meaning has been the subject of critical debate over the centuries. In literature it is the cleansing of emotions of the characters. It can also be any other radical change that leads to emotional rejuvenation of a person.

About the contributor  Devinder Sharma, is an Industrial engineer and spent 25 years 14222100_1079609388820468_2510366833652704704_nwith some of the top software companies He has written scholarly papers, talks at professional societies and travelled widely. Serial entrepreneur and a life coach facilitating people to transform their lives. He has successfully transitioned from writing technical and management papers to fiction and published five books and writes full time and lives in Bangalore.

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