I’ve been thinking lately of the topic of profanity. I have a weird history with it.
I grew up in a home where “shut up” was strictly outlawed and, if uttered, would result in Mom scraping a bar of soap across your teeth. My undiagnosed OCD latched onto this sin, and I spent some of my younger years tormented by swear words lambasting my mind. I remember feeling sick and sinful and guilty, and I would confess to my mom that I was “having bad thoughts.”
Years and years later, OCD had strengthened its grip on me like a vice, such that I conditioned myself to “counteract” these bad thoughts with a repetitive prayer. It started with curse words (most especially the f-bomb) but also words that sounded like curse words (class, bit, switch, luck, etc.) and eventually any word that started with the f sound. All of these would trigger my compulsive prayer (so that I would avoid the intrusive thoughts the words would also trigger). I remember one day realizing just how far it had gone when I walked by a stranger who was lightly biting down on her lower lip, and I started praying (for, of course, that is what your mouth does when you make the f sound).
In 2008, I underwent cognitive-behavioral therapy, during which I had to listen to an audio recording littered with curse words, as my doctor attempted to re-wire my brain (with success!). I didn’t know what my conservative family would think of this therapy, but my mom was supportive and understood this was essentially my last chance to get my life back. I didn’t talk details with my dad or sister, but my brother was disgusted when he heard about my therapy. He was really disappointed in me, but I knew better than he did that this necessary.
CBT broke the spell for me around profanity. For the first time in my life, I could hear it without an overwhelming reaction. I could even say those words! They found a home in my fiction as I realized how they added an element of realism to my story.
I do not have a filthy mouth, not by any means. But after a lifetime of assigning too much meaning and influence to profanity, I have now found freedom from that and power over it. It doesn’t bother me to share a curse word with a friend either in a joke or for emphasis. I feel like I’ve escaped that cage I was in.
The other week, I used the phrase “time the hell out” on my blog, and my sister called me on it. It bothered her, and she let me know. We were at our parents’ house, and Mom said that profanity in my stories didn’t bother her, but it did in my real life. My sister said both were an issue for her. I told them then that neither bothered me and that I even felt a little profanity actually worked well for a powerful emphasis when needed and that it could even improve my witness as a Christian because I didn’t seem so much holier-than-thou. They disagreed, citing verses like, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” (The version of scripture I read is ESV, which reads, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths,” which is a more literal interpretation and one that doesn’t particularly strike guilt in me.)
I do believe it wrong to use the Lord’s name in an offensive way. That one does grate against me.
Personally, I choose not to say things like “holy cow” or “holy buckets” or any one of the slew of phrases people use in this way. This is, to me, more offensive than profanity. I think that language that tears someone apart is more unwholesome than words we have a special veto on simply because they are pronounced differently than their “approved” synonyms.
What are your thoughts on this? Both sides are welcome.