John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
My wife and I have an ongoing debate over the necessity of using swear words to express emotions. The stakes are raised by virtue of the fact that we have four children ranging in age from 3 to 14 years old. My children are very interested in the outcome of this debate.
My wife is of the opinion that swearing is low-brow, rude and unacceptable in any and all situations.
I believe that minor swear words are allowable in highly emotionally charged situations. I side with Mark Twain who said When angry, count four; when very angry, swear. The use of minor swear words helps to express and discharge destructive emotions in a manner that is more appropriate than some other ways (e.g., throwing plates, physical violence, or passive-aggressive behaviors).
According to David Spiegel, M.D. of the Stanford University School of Medicine, holding in destructive emotions can prevent happiness as well as harm our physical health.
In his talk at the Happiness and Its Causes Conference in San Francisco (November 2008), Dr. Spiegel said those trying to contain sadness are the most likely to be depressed. Those individuals who are trying the hardest to suppress fear and anxiety are the most anxious.
We now know that happiness is not the opposite of sadness.
In truth, human beings have the ability to feel more than one emotion simultaneously.
As a simple example, think of one of your favorite songs. You may feel uplifted by the lyrics, relaxed by the tempo, and melancholy due to the melody of the song. You may also have additional (constructive or destructive) feelings when you recall the first time (or most recent time) you heard the song. So here is an example where you can feel at least three emotions simultaneously about one song. Imagine how many emotions you experience when you think about or interact with your significant other!
Dr. Spiegel has found that feeling leads to healing; that stress declines and health improves when we have
1. Outlets for frustration
2. A sense of predictability and control
3. A perception that life is improving and
4. Social supports.
Research has shown that depression predicts mortality. Studies show that anxiety and fear can get stuck in the ON position, elevating cortisol levels on an ongoing basis. Research has shown that chronic anger releases chemicals into the blood stream which eat away at the inside of the arteries, increasing risk of stroke and heart disease.
The ability to manage stress and manage emotions improves mortality rates. In other words, stress management and emotional management skills enable you to live a longer, more fulfilling life.
In his 30 years of research on the effect of support groups for women with breast cancer, Dr. Spiegel has found that certain themes help to manage stress and destructive emotions. These themes include
1. Building bonds with family, friends and coworkers
2. Expression of emotions (because feeling leads to healing)
3. Reordering life priorities (to account for what is truly important to you)
4. Fortifying families (social isolation doubles your mortality risk)
In the spirit of expression of emotions, and in keeping with Mark Twains view, I believe that minor swearing is allowable and should be encouraged to help our emotionally repressed society share feelings.
Minor swearing includes words such as crap, damn, hell, and so on. It does not include major swear words such as the F-word and others. Feel free to draw your own line in the gray area between minor and major swear words.
Minor swearing needs to be restricted to reactions or outbursts resulting from pain, shock, fear, or destructive emotions. For instance, cutting your finger with a knife and muttering Damn, that hurt! is acceptable in my book.
On the other hand, swearing may never be used towards another person as an insult or verbal abuse. So telling someone You are a piece of s___! is unacceptable.
Of course, all swearing is unacceptable to my wife.
You decide what works best for you and your family!
About the Author
Dr. John Schinnerer
Dr. John Schinnerer is in private practice helping clients learn anger management, stress management and the latest ways to deal with destructive negative emotions. His practice is located in the Danville-San Ramon Medical Center at 913 San Ramon Valley Blvd., #280, Danville, California 94526. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Schinnerer has been an executive and psychologist for over 10 years. Dr. John Schinnerer is President and Founder of Guide To Self, a company that coaches clients to their potential using the latest in positive psychology, mindfulness and attentional control. Dr. John Schinnerer hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dr. Schinnerers areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to ethical and moral development, to sports psychology. Dr. Schinnerer wrote the award-winning, Guide To Self: The Beginners Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought, which is available at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com and AuthorHouse.com.