Definition of catharsis in US English:



  • 1The process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

    ‘music is a means of catharsis for them’
    • ‘And I think there will be a sense of catharsis and relief on the part of the majority of the Peruvian population.’
    • ‘But, we are filled with a sense of emotional catharsis when we see it because it tells the truth in a much more real way than any news story or blog post has ever done.’
    • ‘Once, she had simply blurted out her feelings, yet there had been no catharsis, no flood of relief, only an empty realisation that she had made her mother cry.’
    • ‘We're left confused, appalled, and with no clear idea about anyone's guilt and no place to put our mixed emotions, no catharsis at all.’
    • ‘It's easy to write off Dumont's dark view as cynical, even delusional and childish, and it's even easier to laugh off the film's emotional catharses in order to create a safe distance.’
    • ‘They always seem to focus on surprise and juxtaposition, or tension relief, or catharsis, or something.’
    • ‘The ending of the film also presents a twist that effectively erases the catharses that the film's events have caused several of the more prominent characters to undergo.’
    • ‘There is catharsis, release, and a dispersion of pent-up emotions and feelings.’
    • ‘Of course, a sense of catharsis is central to a book of this nature.’
    • ‘For the fans, this dance provides catharsis and releases pent-up energy.’
    • ‘They seem to be waiting for something, perhaps catharsis or relief, but it's not coming anytime soon.’
    • ‘The families are so caught up in an illogical belief in the emotional catharsis of execution that they remain in a state of suspended animation for years at a time.’
    • ‘There is a strong element of theatre, of catharsis and self-purification, to the ritual of statue-smashing.’
    • ‘For instance, Brecht challenged the worth of stories that merely entertain, amuse or at best, provide emotional involvement and release through catharsis.’
    • ‘Indeed, the author makes it clear that one of his reasons for writing the book is to assist in the grieving process - in other words, a form of catharsis.’
    • ‘Experiencing a tale from their local past can help people ‘fall in love with the theatre,’ he says, and can even give them a sense of catharsis and closure.’
    • ‘At the end of the movie, an ensemble comedy, there are about half a dozen catharses in a two-minute span of time.’
    • ‘The purpose of tragedy is catharsis, a powerful emotional experience in which the audience purges the emotions of pity and fear.’
    • ‘Most people need drama, excitement, pathos, catharsis - on some level their emotions have to connect with their minds in order to understand.’
    • ‘When did you last get that chariot ride of emotion and catharsis that Aristotle thought was so good for us all?’
    purging, purgation, purification, cleansing, release, relief, emotional release, freeing, deliverance, exorcism, ridding
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  • 2Medicine
    rare Purgation.

    • ‘These acidify the proximal colon and result in a dose dependent catharsis.’
    • ‘I wonder if he knows that catharsis can mean a cleansing or purging of the bowels.’


Early 19th century (in catharsis (sense 2)): from Greek katharsis, from kathairein ‘cleanse’, from katharos ‘pure’. The notion of ‘release’ through drama ( catharsis (sense 1)) derives from Aristotle's Poetics.