ca·​thar·​sis kə-ˈthär-səs How to pronounce catharsis (audio)
plural catharses kə-ˈthär-ˌsēz How to pronounce catharsis (audio)
: purification or purgation of the emotions (such as pity and fear) primarily through art
: a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension
: elimination of a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression

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Word History of Catharsis and Cathartic

Catharsis and cathartic both trace to the Greek word kathairein, meaning “to cleanse, purge.” Catharsis entered English as a medical term having to do with purging the body—and especially the bowels—of unwanted material. The adjective cathartic entered English with a meaning descriptive of such a physically cleansing purge. It didn’t take long for people to start using these words figuratively in reference to emotional release and spiritual cleansing.

Examples of catharsis in a Sentence

She has learned to have her catharsis, take a deep breath and move on.  … she does not dwell on the negative anymore. Selena Roberts, New York Times, 24 June 2001
… malevolence is expressed in his decision to absent himself from the courtroom, thereby denying some victims of his torture the catharsis of compelling him to hear their stories of survival. George F. Will, Newsweek, 25 May 1987
… there's the need for catharsis. If you play it all back a second time, you may wear away some of the pain, as you wear away a record with replaying. Anatole Broyard, New York Times Book Review, 14 Nov. 1982
As soon as we emerged from the gates of the White House, I became aware of that sea of faces.  … I wanted to cry for them and with them, but it was impossible to permit the catharsis of tears. Lady Bird Johnson 24 Nov. 1963, in A White House Diary1970
Acting is a means of catharsis for her. Painting is a catharsis for me.
Recent Examples on the Web These songs never reach catharsis or resolution to their grand queries, but nonetheless find moments of joy in the process of seeking answers. Vrinda Jagota, SPIN, 27 Mar. 2024 Ditto cold comfort, catharsis, and/or cheap thrills. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 15 Mar. 2024 Season 8 The final six episodes aimed for a double shot of epic-showdown catharsis. Darren Franich,, 29 Feb. 2024 The balance the album strikes between intense grief and musical catharsis is palpable. 7 pm. George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 Feb. 2024 In compositing their stories, Durkin sets up the emotional catharsis of his film, an explosive confrontation moments after Kerry’s death in which Kevin physically takes out his anger and grief on his father. Jen Yamato, Los Angeles Times, 20 Dec. 2023 This music is supremely inviting, with melodies that follow the general contours of R&B, but without any agony, no messy human catharsis to clean up afterward. Chris Richards, Washington Post, 8 Mar. 2024 Springsteen sang of being trapped on the edge of catharsis, and the music seemed to want to suspend time. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 8 Mar. 2024 To finally clear that hurdle against Alabama had to be tremendous catharsis. Zac Al-Khateeb, Detroit Free Press, 2 Jan. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'catharsis.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


New Latin, from Greek katharsis, from kathairein to cleanse, purge, from katharos

First Known Use

circa 1775, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Time Traveler
The first known use of catharsis was circa 1775

Dictionary Entries Near catharsis

Cite this Entry

“Catharsis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.

Medical Definition


variants also katharsis
plural catharses also katharses -ˌsēz How to pronounce catharsis (audio)
: elimination of a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression compare abreaction

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