Catharsis and the Art of Falling Apart

Catharsis, breakdown, breakthrough, dark night of the soul, rock bottom, turning point, tipping point, crisis point, psycho-spiritual crisis;catharsis, fire, phoenix no matter what you call it, it’s the same thing.

It’s that point at which something in you decides the way you’ve been going is no longer going to work.

It can feel traumatic or easy, depending how attached you are to the way things are at present.

I’m writing about this process at the moment, and have had several years to ruminate over the different forms it can take. It all started with my own catharsis, which led me to examine my old ways of doing things in some serious detail.

I examined, and examined, and released and released and released…

What the process gave me was an opportunity to recognise the patterns around me that either lead to catharsis or look like a post-cathartic revelation.

It feels like the process of catharsis is akin to a microscope that hones in on your own stuff, so that you can let it go and feel the freedom of change. Then that lens gradually becomes wider, turning outwards so that the compassion and understanding you found (for yourself) through the process can be focussed on the world ‘outside.’

It’s a never-ending process, although the ‘big event’ catharses may only happen once (phew), and people learn to recognise when something needs to be let go. It doesn’t mean it necessarily gets easier, especially when it is something that is attached to feelings of security, identity or self-worth.

Self-worth is a tough one.

Examining self-worth

Sometimes people attach external value systems to their understandings of worthiness, and when those are gone, they feel completely without value in the world. Money is an obvious one; the sense that your intrinsic value comes from a random external figure declaring your capacity to earn or attract monetary wealth.

In this case, the loss of money would be an incredibly traumatic experience for someone with that attachment to the physical representation of wealth. Money, when broken down to its original intention, is nothing more or less than a tool to represent the exchange of energy.

The cyclical nature of the cathartic process is one of its most fascinating and important aspects.

It means that with each catharsis, change, spiral new experience of change or letting go, you can gain insight into what that powerful moment of transformation is teaching you. You can move forward to the next lesson knowing that you’re never perfect, never finished, but instead a work in progress.

You can allow yourself the freedom to make subsequent mistakes and gain a sense of presence in each encounter to identify how you might respond to it differently from the last time.

And next time, you can respond differently again.

If each time, you let go of one small block, old thought pattern or belief, you enter the next cycle lighter, freer and more conscious of the world around you and the connections that exist between you and the other beings that share our planet.

So what drives us to these moments of catharsis, and why can they feel so downright shitty?

My understanding of the process is mainly from my own experience and observations, and this is the root of what I’m after. Why, how, why now, why is it different for you and I?

Defining Rock Bottom

Each person has their own point of no return. What feels like devastation to one person may feel like a sunny afternoon in the park to another, and vice versa. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has asked herself how it is that someone can end up on the streets drug-addled and selling their body for the next fix, and maybe in some small corner of her mind wondering if it would ever be possible for her to end up in the same position.

I used to say we’re all only two or three choices away from homeless and destitute. I still believe it’s true. Three decisions, especially ones made with the belief that your choices are severely limited, can be the three that change the course of your future.

Yet everyday there are stories of addicts who hit their rock-bottom, whatever it was for them at that moment and on that day, and kicked the habit, changing their lives and outlooks to more positive and forward-moving ones. In that moment, that rock bottom, what happens?

I believe people surrender to the pain they’ve been running from for so long, and in that surrender, instead of finding the weakness they most feared, they find their strength, and the source of their power.

The things people fear most are many and varied, and each person will find their own, but the one thing I know for sure is that no matter how scary you think it is, when you get there and face it, it is not nearly as bad as you thought it would be.

The fear of what you fear is there is far worse than the thing itself.

Your Darkest Fears

For me, I believed what I would find there was the truth that I was worthless and unlovable (the result of years of abuse). It was frightening because I already believed it to be true, beyond the shadow of a doubt, and if I ‘went there’ it would be proven to me. Who wants that?

Instead what I found, when I at last surrendered to the flow of emotion, was that I am worthy simply because I exist (!) and I have an infinite capacity to give and receive love. Wow! Humungous.

So what did my catharsis look like, and how did I get there? Mine was triggered by the end of a relatiocatharsis, wave, changenship, and it looked like sobbing my guts out for months on end.

I got there through a string of relationships that looked very similar, but each time they became more extreme in one area so I finally had to sit up and listen.

I was always attracted to non-committal men. The less committed, the better.

I understand now that the pattern of non-commitment in a relationship is very much a two-way street. Someone who truly wants commitment would have no interest in someone who was not seeking the same. However, both parties believe what they want most is commitment, all the while sabotaging their own chances by believing somewhere they’re not worthy of the very thing they say they seek.

The Root of the Beliefs

At the root of my own belief system was the idea of total worthlessness, as well as three favourite descriptors used every day to describe me: stupid, fat, and useless. It’s hard not to internalise the things you’re told daily as a child, and I grew to embody those as much as possible, despite all external appearances to the contrary.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that the things people saw in me did not mirror the ‘reality’ of my own existence. I often felt confused when I did well at school and was adept at sports and languages, and picked up new skills easily.

I fully accepted the labels my abuser gave to me, which sped up the process of redefining me as something I was not.

From the perspective I have now, I can see that I gradually grew to embody the things I hated most about myself and acted in ways which reflected my beliefs about myself, even when they weren’t true. Because I believed I had no worth, I sought out people in relationships who did not value me. I took jobs below my abilities and qualifications because I believed that’s where I belonged, and would stay.

I didn’t apply for scholarships when I eventually went to University because I believed they were for the smart people. Despite getting A grades, I assumed I was in the lower portion of students because I had normalised the experience of stupidity to such an extent that other people were always smarter than me, no matter what evidence there was to refute that.

Normalising your Normal

The process of normalisation and acceptance was complete, yet I often felt frustration and confusion when I could grasp tasks others found difficult, or pass tests easily that others found challenging.

The ball was just not dropping.

As a teenager, I discovered alcohol, which I felt gave me the personality I was so sorely lacking. I had nothing interesting to add to a conversation, because everyone in the room was inevitably more intelligent and of more value than I was, according to my own beliefs. All through my twenties, I drank heavily, trying to turn the dullness of my own stupidity and worthlessness into some semblance of acceptable interaction.

There were flashes of understanding – the possibility of a different view – but I didn’t understand how to get there.

I’d become a victim of my own belief system, and in turn a victim of my circumstances. I can see now just how deeply I hated myself, or parts of me, or perhaps the struggle to get away from the pain of being two people at once. The alcohol was merely a tool for escape, and in turn a symptom of a much deeper need within me.

I don’t know if it’s true for everyone who grows up in an abusive household, but the worst part for me was not knowing what to expect. There were some days where you’d get the ‘nice’catharsis, wrong way version, and open yourself up to some trust and hope that things were turning around, only to then get the complete reversal of personality.

It was like having a rug constantly pulled out from under you, hoping one moment only to have your reality do a 180° turn to reveal a completely irrational, out-of-control monster version of your parent.

Reordering Reality

It wreaked havoc on my self-esteem and taught me to put myself aside to try to please whichever version presented itself.

As I went through the cathartic process of breaking down these old patterns and beliefs, I began to pinpoint the behaviours I’d adopted as self-protective mechanisms to keep the hurtful thoughts at bay.

I could see how I had shut off my ability to trust or to decipher who was trustworthy or not. It became obvious where I’d put everyone’s happiness ahead of my own and all authority outside of my personal knowing.

I had difficulty with the word no, for fear of offending people; accepting gifts or compliments was awkward because I didn’t feel deserving of them; I didn’t ask for help; I didn’t wish for good things because good things were for other people and not for me; so many ways I put myself last and others ahead of me.

Who would argue if I messed up job interviews or applications because I believed the other person deserved the position more than I did?

I sabotaged myself, so it wasn’t necessary for anyone else to do it for me. In the process, I reiterated the deeply-held beliefs that I’d always be less than, and always fail.

The way it played out in relationships was a slow stripping away of who I was to adopt a version of me I thought the other person wanted. It meant further suppression of my own needs and wants, and because that was how I had lived, it felt familiar, and it was easy. Crazy easy.

Catharsis as Consciousness

It’s sometimes the things most familiar to us that we believe are an intrinsic part of ourselves and the scariest to let go simply because of that familiarity.

It’s the fear of being without those things, which feel like old friends, that stops us from moving forward. ‘Who am I without this — ? I don’t know but it sounds frickin’ scary!’ The funny thing was in those relationships, the closer I got to who I thought they wanted, the further I got from the version of me they’d been attracted to in the first place. I consistently abandoned myself.

This is where catharsis comes in.

Life throws those familiar patterns in your face repeatedly and screams, ‘Look at this! Do you see what you’re doing/saying/thinking? Doesn’t it seem familiar? Wouldn’t you like to try something new?’

At first, you might start to notice there’s a repetitive pattern in your behaviour. If you’re deeply entrenched in the beliefs that got you to that point, you’ll likely feel it just IS, there’s no way to change it. So, the quality or quantity of the lessons is upped, bit by bit, becoming more and more extreme, obvious versions of what they’re there to teach you so they become harder to ignore.

At some point, something will drive you to the edge of your conscious understanding of the world and invite you to look over it.

What you find there is unique to you.

What I Found at the Edge

I found immense grief, associated with my father’s death and all the dreams I’d had and suppressed for others’ happiness. All the people I’d lost and pushed away, the potentials I’d ignored, the opportunities I felt I’d missed. I sobbed for months on end; the grief felt like it might never end, and I wondered if it would.

I took really long walks – three hours a day – which helped me reconnect through the Earth. I sought out a healing practitioner that could help me connect body, mind and spirit. What I needed was to reconnect with the parts of me I’d buried to survive in the situation I’d been born into.

What I learned was that the memories of things we hold in our minds, we also hold in our bodies and our consciousness. When we acknowledge and release them, healing can begin.

Once they’re gone, it’s not important what remains or what fills that space. The perspective is so incredibly different on the other side of catharsis that you never miss it.

It seems like choices open up all around you that never existed before, when in reality they were always there. With your limited perspective you were unable to see them.

In the depths of our darkness, we find the power to move forward. It has always been there, buried under layers of ‘should-a, could-a, would-a’s.

I know that the hardest thing to let go of is the fantasy of what could have been.

Surrender is Key

It’s the same with bereavement, with relationships, and with the things we believe about ourselves. In relationships, you want to hold on to the happy holidays or the beautiful sunsets you might have seen together. With bereavement, you wistfully consider the opportunities that person missed, or the chances you might have had to spend time watching them grow and enjoy life.

The act of surrendering means surrendering everything. This includes emotional attachment to the thing or memory itself (that’s the hard part). It hurts like crazy, but it’s so important, because ‘what if,’ and ‘what could have been,’ don’t exist. They never will.

Right now is the only moment that exists. Each breath in and out represents a new opportunity to embrace life to its fullest.

Big Love,
~ Jenny

*I’d be honoured to work with you in finding the gifts in your own transformative experiences. If you’d like more information, contact me using the form below, or visit the Intuitive Mentoring page.*

Questions? Comments? Please use the form below.

Big Love,

~ Jenny

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32 Replies to “Catharsis and the Art of Falling Apart”

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  4. Thank you so much for this post Jenny. You are just terrific, everything you write really helps me, and I just don’t understand why you and your book and techniques are not headlining workshops a couple times a year at the European equivalent of Kripalu and Esalen. We need to have a long talk with that book agent of yours!

    • Hello Judith! Thank you so much for your lovely comment! It’s so heart-warming to know that my writing helps 🙂 I so appreciate you reading it!

      According to the stars, Jupiter just headed into Virgo, so for a seven planets in Virgo gal, it might just be ‘my’ year. I’ve needed some time to practice and grow my confidence and trust, and feel ready now to step out in the light. I welcome all book agents! <3

      Thank you!
      Big Love,
      Jenny

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  7. Hi Jenny! This is one of the most powerful pieces of writing I have ever read. I could feel every emotion, see every scene, sense every fear. I felt like I was experiencing your catharsis with you. Thank you for sharing your deepest, most vulnerable you with the world. I’m so moved by what you went through, how you battled back, what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, and what you now share with the world. We do all reach these catharsis moments and in these moments we do find our strength. I couldn’t believe I found strength in my moment. After a nightmare battle with depression and chronic pain, I awoke from a coma-like existence to discover I couldn’t read. Just before my nightmare began, I was about to defend my dissertation. Now, I couldn’t read. I gave up the dream of graduating, but my heart kept telling me I had to try. I knew I had to go to that place where I feared the worst–that I wasn’t smart, that I couldn’t understand, that I couldn’t write, that I couldn’t finish–and face it all. It took me 367 days to find the courage to sit down and read the first page of my dissertation. I had panic attack after panic attack but I finally did it. To my shock, I understood the entire first page. They were my words I remembered them. You are so right that “the fear of what you fear is there, is far worse than the thing itself.” Thank you for being my guide on my new journey of self-love. I am forever grateful to have you in my life and as my friend. Big hugs & lots of love! <3

    • Thank you so much, Kelly.

      This was written several years after my catharsis, and at the point where I decided to ‘part ways with academia.’ It seemed to flow out of me like an unstoppable torrent, and I know now that it meant I no longer had to split myself in two, to be one person for academia and another for my ‘other’ work. I was declaring my readiness to own this in a very different way.

      I am So, so glad you found the courage to finish, and to stand up and be the warrior you are. You are an inspiration.

      Big Love,
      Jenny

  8. The aftermath of how you felt about yourself SOOOOO very much resonates with me!!! I too am a SURVIVOR of abuse.

    My grandfather was an awful …..awful man, and to this very day especially as of the pat few months I dream about him at least once a week. In the dreams I am usually beating the living shit out of him. The worst part about these dreams is when i first first awake from them I automatically think I m back in ELMONT LONG ISLAND…in that house!

    I picked this post today because just yesterday i pulled the RELEASE CARD out of my oracle deck.

    I acknowledge this is my pain body but I am ready for it to leave me and NEVER RETURN…….

    THANK YOU for the very very IMPORTANT beautifully written post!

    • Thank you so much for sharing a piece of your story, Angela.

      Abuse has a horrible way of normalising these beliefs to such an extent that it really is difficult to untangle what is ‘real’ from what isn’t.

      Your dreams are powerful examples of catharsis in action – you’re actually venting your anger in a safe environment by expressing it in your dreams. What a beautiful example of how our bodies and minds have such a capacity to release, whether we consciously ‘allow’ it or not!

      I love that you were guided to this post today. You’ve given me a gift with your comments, and I am so grateful for that.

      Big Love,
      Jenny

  9. Jenny, the worst part is INDEED not know what to expect.
    “Each person has their own point of no return — what feels like devastation to one person may feel like a sunny afternoon in the park to another, and vice versa “, and you’re right, it’s all relative.

    I connected on so many levels. Life can mold us into something we don’t like to see in the mirror and then when we recognize it, it takes so much work to come back to where we should be, by right of existence!

    So powerful and touching, this IS “the power of change”. Love it.

    • Thank you so much, Dawn!

      Thank you especially for recognising that this IS the power of change. This is indeed the power that change has behind it – a return to our innermost truth. It re-establishes us each with our own normal, so we can move through life aligned with that. And the in-between, the digging deep, that’s the part that hurts, and as you say it takes so much work. But it is SO worth it!

      Big Love,
      Jenny

  10. Hi Jenny,

    What a powerful piece! There are so many truths in there that I can relate to from personal experience: being unable to say no/accept compliments, addiction and escapism, self-sabotage and especially the piece about summoning the courage to face whatever it is that is haunting you head-on. For a long time after my parents passed I was terrified of being left alone for fear of what I would be left with in the silence.

    Thank you for sharing. There is so, so much wisdom in your words!

    • Thank you so much, Emma!

      I know what you mean about the fear of the silence – I think it’s what so many people are afraid of. ‘What (horrible) truths will I find there?’ If we knew beforehand we’d find only love, the process would lose some of its power, I think.

      Thank you so much for your lovely comments.

      Big Love,
      Jenny

  11. This is so raw, deep, and truthful.

    “I know that the hardest thing to let go of is the fantasy of what could have been.”

    That is, truly, the journey of life. It is the act of getting out of our own way.

    So proud of you, my friend.

    <3

    • Thank you, Vironika!

      I think we build those fantasies to keep ourselves connected to something ‘better’ than what we have, when all we need to do is find the beauty in the here and now. If only it were so simple 😉

      Big Love,
      Jenny

  12. Wow Jenny what a thought provoking, full-of-value post. Life does throw the familiar patterns in our face, pleading with us to see the lesson contained within, the change we need to make to prevent the onslaught. It sure is about surrendering the past and embracing change, catharsis right now. Happy to read of all you’ve overcome Jenny, you’re an inspiration <3

    • Thank you so much, Caroline!

      It was a messy time as I went through it, but in looking back, I can see the gifts so clearly. And I really do believe it happened then because I was ready to accept the truth behind the messages. Any time before that, I don’t know that I would have been. It’s a powerful and amazing process, and I feel really grateful for having experienced it 🙂

      Big Love to you!
      Jenny

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  14. what an inspiring story, jenny. what especially stands out for me is the emergence of patterns, and having enough insight and awareness to recognize them as they occur. thank you for a great post.

    • Thank you for your comment, April!

      I think the recognition of patterns was easier (for me) in hindsight, as I wrote about it close to six years after the event, but I agree, if we can recognise them for what they are, and not struggle or resist what is being presented, change is much easier. I am far more aware now when I see patterns, and move to shift the energy as quickly as possible. They really are a gift, coming to show us that there may be a different/easier/gentler way of doing, being or seeing.

      Big Love,
      Jenny

  15. Thank you for the inspiration, Jenny! This is the best article I’ve seen yet on navigating change and catharsis. It opens the space to build up self-worth every moment. Bravo to you!

    • Thank you, Martine!

      It was an amazing journey, and continues to provide inspiration for my work, as I see the process unfold around me. It was the most powerful and awakening experience of my life, and I am so grateful for the chance to share what I learned through it.

      Big Love,
      Jenny

  16. Wow Jenny – such an incredibly empowering post. Thank you for writing something so vulnerable. I know with my own stuff the messages start out very subtle and get bigger and bigger and bigger until they’re humungous sledgehammers that I can no longer ignore.

    There have been a few in my life and you’re SO right – once you actually face them and deal with them you wonder why on earth you didn’t do it sooner. My experience has also been that the fear outweighs the reality.

    Thank you for sharing from the heart xxx

    • No problem, Shân.

      This post flowed out of me after another, less dramatic cathartic experience, and I knew it was time to change tracks completely, from the academic realm to the spiritual. It took me a while to get to the point where I could leave behind the ‘caring what others thought,’ but I’m getting closer all the time. It’s a matter of stepping fully into the understanding of what these lessons have come to teach, and making choices to live in a way that gets you closer to that every day.

      Thank you for your beautiful comment.

      Big Love,
      Jenny

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