Swearing at the Coronavirus Might Just Do You the Power of Good
Sometimes, you’ve just got to call a spade a spade and, sometimes, you’ve got to look at something that’s a bit shit and just say, “fuck it.” Believe me, it will help you, as swearing at things can be a very empowering and life-affirming thing to do.
Many studies have backed up the usefulness of swearing in a variety of settings. Swearing can help you cope with adversity, get on with people more quickly, cope with difficult and demanding situations and, even, bolster the persuasiveness of your arguments, speeches and conversations.
One such experiment, from researchers at Northern Illinois University, examined the effects of swearing on the persuasiveness of a speaker. Participants were invited to listen to three versions of a speech. One where the word ‘damn’ appeared at the beginning, one where it appeared at the end and one where it didn’t appear at all. The results showed that swearing at the beginning or the end of the speech significantly increased not only the persuasiveness of the speech but also the perceived intensity of the speaker. 1
Meanwhile, Professor Richard Stephens, over at Keele University in Newcastle, has tested swearing in a wide variety of ways over the years. He and his team have discovered that people who do swear can hold their hands in freezing cold water for longer than those who don’t swear and that, in a test of anaerobic strength, people who swore produced more power wattage and a stronger handgrip on a stationary exercise bike than those who did not.
Elsewhere, other studies have shown that people who swear, as long as swearing is part of their overall and otherwise extensive vocabulary, tend to be healthier, happier and a whole lot more honest too.
Swearing then, is not only good for your physical and mental health, but it is also a great way to gain control over your pain, your stress and your emotions.
There’s a lot going on at the moment; a lot of things are currently out of our control and it’s easy to feel powerless and lost. However, if you want to lift your spirits and feel more resilient in the face of the current adversity, don’t be afraid to drop the F-bomb.
It’s not for nothing my therapy book is called The Four Thoughts That F*ck You Up (and how to fix them). In fact, it when it comes to self-help books with swearwords in the title, it’s not alone.
We have The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (as well as his follow-up, Everything Is F*cked) and The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight, as well as Healthy as F*ck (Oonagh Duncan), Wake the F#ck Up (Brett Moran) and, my favourite, Fuck Off (a mindfulness swearword colouring book for adults). Finally, there’s the daddy of them all, F**k It Therapy by John C Parkin (plus his two f*ck-related follow ups). In a similar, but also slightly different refrain, we have Get your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight and (proving that even Knights of the Realm thing swearing is good for you) How to Fix Your Sh*t by Sháá Wasmund MBE.
Swearing crops up very frequently in my therapy room.
I once had a client who had an anger management issue and a very short fuse. “You must respect me,” he believed. “It’s intolerable to not be respected and people who don’t show respect me are arseholes.” This belief allowed him to kick off whenever he felt disrespected by anyone and, even, anything. He once ripped an IKEA cabinet to little bits and pieces just because ‘Thing A’ disrespected him by not fitting into ‘Groove B.’
The healthy alternative to all this was, “I like to be respected but I don’t have to be respected; I find it difficult to deal with when I’m not, but I know I can stand it; people who don’t respect me are not arseholes, they are worthwhile fallible human beings.”
With a little vim and vigour, his healthy beliefs became “I like to be respected but I don’t fucking have to be respected; I won’t like it when I’m not but it won’t fucking kill me and people who don’t aren’t fucking arseholes, they’re all-fucking-right really.” Eventually, over time, he whittled all this down to just, “fuck it.” And that was enough for him to gain control over his anger and keep calm, even when other people were being less than his ideal.
Profanity can be quite profound, you see; and this Coronavirus well, it can just fucking do one, can’t it?
1:Cory R. Scherer & Brad J. Sagarin (2006) Indecent influence: The positive effects of obscenity on persuasion, Social Influence, 1:2, 138-146, DOI: 10.1080/15534510600747597