Most people learn to repress the over expressions of emotions that would lead to unfavorable social judgments. But as has been stressed above, the physical and mental preparation for emotional expression persists. Unless the bodily changes and mental states that accompany this preparation for action are made use of, they will play have with the person’s physical and psychological will being.
Just as pent-up body wastes are harmful, so are pent-up preparations for action that accompany the emotions. Consequently, to restore homeostasis the body and mind must be purged. This purging is known as “emotional catharsis” the freeing of the body and the mind of the preparations for action that normally accompany the arousal of an emotion.
Like taking a laxative clear the body of waste products that are causing headaches, listlessness, and pain, purging the body of pent-up emotional energy provides only temporary relief. It does not get at the root of the trouble. The constipated person must correct his eating habits or who will have to resort to laxative again and again. Similarly the emotionally distressed person must deal with the mental aspects of his emotional upsets as well as the physical. Purging the body of pent- up physical energy is essential, but it is only the beginning of the process of emotional catharsis, of the many cathartics used to purge the body of pent-up emotional energy, the most common are strenuous physical activity in work or play, laughing, crying, giggling, sex play, steam baths, massages, and calisthenics. Which will be used will depend upon the life experiences of the person. Some are more effective than others. Some may not be available to the person and some may be socially disapproved. A young person may be prevented from strenuous physical work by child labor laws or by overprotective parents. A person who is unattractive to members of the opposite sex may lack opportunities for petting, necking, or sexual intercourse. A physical handicapped person may not be able to engage in strenuous work or play. Crying is regarded as immature except, perhaps, at funerals. Giggling and uninhibited laughter are regarded as immature of in bad taste. Sex play with members of the same sex is taboo, and with member of opposite sex is frowned upon, except, perhaps during the engagement period and after marriage.
Thus, the person’s choice is limited by what is possible for him to use and what the social group considers appropriate. If one uses methods that are socially disapproved, he will feel guilty.
The fundamental principle of mental catharsis is to bring the underlying caused of emotional disturbance out into the open, analyze them and subject them to reality testing to see how justified they are and them find satisfactory ways of giving them expression. Strong drives which can not be expressed because of their conflict with social codes are at basis of emotional stress.
To satisfy these drives via mental catharsis the person must be willing to talk about himself to others. Through self-disclosure he bring the underlying causes of his disturbance out into the open and even more importantly, he subjects them to reality testing by getting another person’s opinion of them.
Children who have been brought up in a relatively open and democratic environment express their feelings rather freely. They criticize person who they think have treated them unfairly by name calling, ridiculing, and making disparaging comments. If they feel their achievements are superior, they boast about them. Many children however don’t have friends to confide in or parents and teachers who take time to listen to their problems. Those brought up under authoritarian child-training methods have earned not to talk freely even with friends. The result is that many people have no confidant to whom they can express their repressed feelings.
Adolescents often inhibit self-disclosures among their peers because they do not want to create an unfavorable impression by talking about how their parents restrict their activities. They thus cut themselves off from their major source of emotional catharsis.
People who lack a readily available person to turn to as a target for self-disclosure often use substitute forms of mental catharsis they may express their pent-up emotions in a daydream, fighting imaginary verbal battles with those who have frustrated them or telling an imaginary confidant things they would never tell a real person. This may give temporary relief but it has not long- term value because it does not help them to subject their problem to reality testing nor does it provide with a new prospective.
A few people especially adolescent girls find that keeping a diary helps to clarify their thoughts and feelings about problems that disturb them. This like daydreaming and mere verbalizing, provides no opportunity to get an objective view of the problem, and so is not usually successful.