Catharsis vs. Discharge and Release


The following is an excerpt from Out of the Comfort Zone: Overcoming the Blocks to Living and Loving, a book in progress by Lisa Loustaunau.

The word release as it is used in Core Energetics, is not the same as acting out. When we act out an emotion, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it implies the expression of an impulse in an overt behavior without modification to comply with social norms.

Putting a fist through a wall when frustrated would be an example of such an uncontrolled outburst, where there is little or no regard for the consequences of the behavior because the neocortex is hijacked by the limbic system and bypassed. In contrast, the client who is consciously exploring the energy and embodiment of an emotion through an expressive technique is linking the emotion with its intensity, movement and sound, and staying present and aware (grounded) in the body. As emotional energy is allowed to build and movement and expression is freed from ego control, energy peaks. A letting go or discharge follows, which occurs in the form of energy vibrations and/or with a breakthrough of expression of deeper feelings, lying below the surface of the original emotion. This is integrative and fosters new connections between emotional structures in the brain and the cortex, and distinguishes what we call in Core Energetics energetic discharge from what is understood as an unmitigated cathartic experience.

Catharsis, the release of emotional tension, has come under fire in the last two decades, mainly of two kinds: one, that it tends to reinforce acting out; two, that it is potentially dysregulating to the nervous system. Studies supporting these critiques (as cited by Bushman 2002) were all focused on catharsis as venting, where subjects were encouraged to yell at, or direct aggression through use of a punching bag, toward a representation of the frustrating object. No other interventions accompanied, preceded, or followed this expression. In this context, the findings that these techniques had no therapeutic benefit make absolute sense. This kind of aggressive venting would never be used as a stand alone intervention in Core Energetics where the objective is the linking of energy and consciousness and toward redirecting chaotic emotional energy into grounded presence and physical discharge. chaotic aggression. When anger or aggressive energies are explored through movement it is always within the framework of a session that would include multiple interventions to support grounding, exploration of the deeper feelings, withdrawal of blame, judgements and projections,
responsibility-taking, and integration.

Core Energetics uses the term expressive rather than cathartic because of the tendency to see catharsis as These are powerfully therapeutic when well used. Someone who cannot cry because of the presence of a throat block that inhibits all expression of powerful emotions emerging through the voice, can be supported through various techniques to allow a burst of energy that tends to initially emerge as a scream of protest. As this energy moves fully through the block sobs begin to emerge as the individual allows themselves to cry. In the safety of the treatment room they discover that no humiliation or punishment is forthcoming as they previously feared. To the contrary their courage is named by the practitioner at their side. This is a growth promoting and energy regulating experience.

On the other hand if catharsis is made the sole objective and a hysterical individual is encouraged to scream because screaming is considered cathartic, the therapist would be doing this client a disservice given that the person that tends to hysteria all too easily funnels energy into emotional outbursts. This person can yell and scream until they exhaust themselves and perhaps even feel a better at the end of that, but little of therapeutic consequence has occurred. No new consciousness or behavior has been garnered, and so here the criticism of potential reinforcement could indeed apply. The energetic problem with someone generally known as hysteric, being the intolerance for the containment of strong feelings and energy in the body, and so these leak all over the place through flailing, strong vocalization and acting out. Such a client would be served by interventions that support energetic containment and would help them grow in their ability to stay with themselves and with what is happening. If they can be encouraged to feel, rather than throw off the feelings in a hysterical display, energy can expand and move through the internal blocks creating integration and more grounded awareness and tolerance of what is being experienced. As this integration progressed previously unrecognized emotions emerge, such as pain or loss or fear, that could be acknowledged and accepted and allowed through discharge.

So discharge in Core Energetics is a release, but not a release of the intolerable energy or feeling out of the body. It is a release through areas of the body where energy previously did not pass freely, areas that were previously cordoned off so to speak by the presence of a block. Discharge opens the gates for energy to flow and energizes the body, allows new emotions and feelings to emerge and is often accompanied by vibrations or shaking in the body. As blocks are released, the how of which will be dealt with in later chapters, these vibrations become more fluid, readily available and encompass more of the body. In this way the body is enlivened and we feel a deep sensory contact with ourselves and with the energy field of which we are a part.

Connection with the practitioner is supported as the worker is encouraged to stay real and receptive to how the energy and sensations shift and move. The process fosters new connections with the neocortex as feelings link to insights, recollections extend historical context, and doors open to different choices as disowned energy is accessed and the individual expands their tolerance for increased life force. The outcome is a decrease in unconscious acting out.