There once was a time when the iconic image of traditional therapy was a person lying on a couch, pouring out his or her heart to an analyst. At some point, that image transitioned to a patient pummeling pillows with a baseball bat. But it turns out expressing anger isn't productive unless coupled with problem-solving techniques. And that's where exercise comes in.
In the book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior, Scott Lilienfeld and his team explain the history of the perception of catharsis dating back to Aristotle straight though modern cultural references. Lilenfeld, et al, write:
For more than 40 years, studies have revealed that encouraging the expression of anger directly toward another person or indirectly (such as toward an object) actually turns up the heat on aggression.
In one of the earliest studies, people who pounded nails after someone insulted them were more, rather than less, critical of that person afterward. Moreover, playing aggressive sports like football, which are presumed to promote catharsis, boosts aggression.
Huh? So, all that time and energy I spent complaining about what's wrong with the world was, maybe ... inefficient? I'm not healthfully expressing my true feelings?
Look, I do make a point of being honest about my feelings -– both good and bad –- but I've also learned that I need more than to just express my frustrations. Going for a run or working out at the gym when I need to feel better fast is vital.
Strength and core training help me feel both physically and emotionally strong. It certainly has helped heal my broken-hearted days of yore. I like to feel strong, right down to my very core. So I don't go to the gym to "let off steam." No, I go to connect with my body, to create a sense of strength and wellness: to create "wholeness."
I've discovered that the one hour a day I devote to my body -– going for a run or walk to get fresh air -– makes me feel physically connected to my body and, as a result, more in touch with my feelings. And I continue to rediscover it all the time.
Aromatherapy, massage therapy, behavioral therapy and physical therapy –- have all became mainstream, productive ways of healing old wounds. I've found behavioral therapy and working out to be the one-two punch -– without the aggression –- that I needed to feel complete. And guess what? They all help unite body and mind, rather than just focusing on expressing the negative aspects of my feelings.
Luckily, if you want to get healthy, move beyond the causes of overeating, feel well again and become joyful once more –- you can find a form of therapy that works for you to resolve complex feelings, both physical and emotional, and understand what's holding you back. There are so many ways to mend a broken heart -– why not chose one that actually works?
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