My husband and I are smack in the middle of an emotionally taxing move. Just prior to writing this piece, we willingly chose to withdraw our offer from yet another home. We had been bantering back and forth for days, thinking out loud about every possible outcome of saying yes and saying no, before finally just pulling out completely. At one point, I stared out the window and calmly said shit.
Almost immediately I could feel the dust and confusion settle. Reality took center stage, and we both moved into another level of honesty. The tension around our decision diffused enough to help us take our next right step and trust our intuition.
A year ago, I didn’t swear. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever even so much as whispered a swear word aloud, but that’s a story for another time. Now, here I am about to dedicate an entire piece to explaining the benefits and beauty of expletive words. Finally, at 38 years old, curse words have become a welcome addition to my vocabulary. You can find numerous studies available online and peruse books written about why we swear, how it affects us and others, the origins of profane language, and the various positive and negative physiological responses swear words can illicit.
Most researchers agree swearing helps.
Consider this quote from author and linguist Kate Burridge, “Swearwords are socially and emotionally indispensable, vital parts of our linguistic repertoires that help us mitigate stress, cope with pain, increase strength and endurance and bond with friends and colleagues — it’s not for nothing they are described as “strong language”.”
After a few decades of declaring profanity and the people who use it as dirty, a disgrace, disrespectful, or just plain lazy, I now see this feisty family of words as cleansing, healing, and connecting.
Curse words are cleansing.
They help to move my strongest feelings and emotions through my body. One single utterance, even under my breath, of damn and I feel how the weight of anger, shame, sadness, or hopelessness lifts and I can breathe easier. The power of swearing is noticeable in how quickly they clear the air and make space so I can process the reality before me from a new vantage point.
I also find swearing to be incredibly healing.
For so long I wanted to be more than just a human being, I wanted to be a sort of saint. I aspired to be seen as good, right, charming, and compassionate. Abstaining from things like cussing or sex before marriage were easy ways I could display my set-apart-ness from the rest of the world. Now, however, dropping the occasional four-letter word is healing because it puts me in immediate contact with my humanity. As strange as it might sound, saying fuck is one way I know I’m walking out my healing, and becoming more human. Swearing is my rebellion against striving to be perfect, to stay on the straight path, and always appear put together, spiritually superior.
Healing, wholeness, happens when I stay committed to marrying the sacred and the profane within myself and concede to this convoluted process of becoming.
Lastly, and much to my surprise, giving myself permission to say aloud a swear word or two throughout my day connects me with others in profound ways.
As I’ve become comfortable with my own use of strong language, people I wouldn’t normally relate to or bond with are less uptight around me. When I don’t cringe or become socially distant because the woman in front of me tells me about her “shitty day,” I notice, almost instantly, how she relaxes and leans in closer. What I once thought of as taboo words have now turned into wide tables where we can all chatter about the absurdities of this beautiful life.
It’s crazy to confess how, just a year ago, I immediately disregarded anyone who slipped a curse word into a conversation. In my mind, I couldn’t trust them, and they needed “saving.”
Now, swearing has become a sign of solidarity- ahhh, here is someone who is not afraid of being human. My guard goes down, I know I can be myself, and even better, they won’t try to fix me.
Cursing is this kind of shared poetry between us, alluding to the deeper nuances of our earth experiences, our visible attempt to work through complex issues or confusing emotions without going insane.
Consider what you hold at a distance- be it cuss words, certain people, forbidden books, your late-night questions or doubts, your obscure ideas, or audacious plans. Explore your fears of coming closer to them, where does the disdain originate, how could you be more curious, might you need to make some room for ambiguity?
We are allowed to change our mind as many times as we want, to scribble out a new path for ourselves around every corner, to walk in a different direction as we feel compelled, even when that way looks dissident to onlookers. If you need it, as I did, give yourself full permission to stare out the window and mutter shit to the sky because it might just help you stay grounded instead of fleeing from a difficult decision or the realities of life.