I’m so sorry. I know that feeling. It’s hell.
Yes, it really is hell…
–excerpt from a conversation I had recently with a friend who is… well, going through hell.

Younger me would have had a heart attack.

But this is the new me, and new me can appreciate a good swear word when it’s warranted.

Trust me, I’ve come a very long way on the subject. I was raised to not swear. I was raised to not even pretend swear with substitute swear words. I was raised old-school, evangelical Christian, and polite as… well, polite “AF.” I was taught as many reasons not to swear as there are swear words. I grew up with the conviction instilled in me that swearing was evil, not to mention rude, unbecoming, immature, a sign of poor breeding, and a sure-fire way to lose respect.

Seriously, my biggest vocabulary rebellion in my teenage years was the word “crap.”
Now I think that a lot of those ideas are crap. Maybe even bullshit.

What happened?
I guess life happened.

I really hadn’t progressed beyond the addition of “crap” even though I was nearly 30. Not when I suffered from severe depression that left me bedridden. Not even when I was suicidal. (Really, what did I have to lose at that point?) No, swearing didn’t enter my life until late.

It began slowly when my first son was born. He was an unhappy baby, and neither of us ever slept. I was exhausted, and desperate, and emotionally broken, and the odd swear word started popping out. Then I had an awful, miserable, 11-week pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. Then I found myself suffering from serious perinatal depression while pregnant with my second born. Then I found myself juggling a newborn who struggled to eat and a preschooler who had just been diagnosed with Autism. And then my husband and I made a mutual, albeit crazy, decision for him to go back to school, leaving me in charge of the household for weeks at a time all alone…

And the floodgates opened.

I don’t know if you will believe me when I say this, but sometimes expressing myself with colourful language was the only thing keeping me going. I tried not to swear in front of the kids, although I will admit that I failed sometimes. But the best (or worst) of it came after I finally got them down to bed each night. It became almost a habit to wait until the end of the day, go to the basement, turn on the dryer, and swear and vent and cry until I curled up in front of the washer and dryer and sobbed. It was all just too much.

This experience gave me a whole new perspective on swearing. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here right now without this one and only outlet for my stress and pain.

Science has something interesting to say about swearing. Swearing has been linked to pain relief. It’s why we instinctually cuss when we catch our poor baby toe on the edge of a doorframe and nearly rip it off. It’s why even the most well-spoken woman will let er rip while giving birth.

There was a study done that found that a person can withstand 33% more pain if they can swear through it.1

Why am I bringing this up? It’s because I think it is important to remember the pain-swearing connection when talking to people.

If swearing = pain response, then hearing someone swear (especially someone who doesn’t make a habit of swearing) should cause us to pay attention and to act.

Act–not by correcting their language and giving them a lecture or a guilt trip–but act as an emotional first-responder.

I remember one time during this rough season of life, I made the mistake of muttering, “Man, I hate my life,” a little too near to someone who went to my church. She chased me down and gave me a lecture! What an awful thing to say about the life God had given me! (Thank goodness I hadn’t actually used a cuss word… can you imagine that lecture?)

Too bad she never asked me why I hated my life. There was an open door there for her to be kind, but she missed it.

Here is my new opinion on swearing:
When someone says they’re going through hell, or they can’t take this shit anymore, or that life is too damn hard, I make the choice to look for what’s behind the words. I no longer hear the words “hell”, “shit,” and “damn.” I hear pain. I hear a person who needs me. I hear someone who needs a friend, not a lecture.

And you can bet your ass I’m gonna be there for them.

1 Articles on swearing and pain:
Keele University
US National Library of Medicine

© 2022 Ashley Lilley – First time commenting? Please read my Comment Policy.

One thought on “Can We Talk About Swearing?

  1. Good advice about listening and responding to what people are really saying. It is hard to know when people are seriously stressed when many of us talk in the extreme about our not extreme lives.
    Just another reason to listen closely and ask questions.

    Liked by 1 person

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