Jul 13, 2009

Expletive Not Deleted

The Scream, c.1893

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As I wrote yesterday, more and more clinical research backs up the need to express our darker emotions. This flies directly in the face of the "positive thinking" advocacy that has dominated the "new age" arena for years; culminating in The Secret mania that has nearly driven me 'round the twist. From yesterday's Telegraph, comes a report of a new study on the efficacy of swearing.

Scientists have discovered that uttering swear words can help to lessen the feeling of physical pain.

The study by researchers at Keele University found that volunteers were able to withstand pain for longer when they swore compared to when they used words which were not offensive.

Dr Richard Stephens, who conducted the study at the university's school of psychology, believes it may explain why swearing is still common place in languages around the world.

Researchers found that participants who swore could withstand the pain of keeping their hands in ice cold water 40 seconds longer, on average, than those who used neutral language. They also noted that heart rate and other fight or flight responses were higher in the profane group; all of which raises the pain threshold.

Interestingly, the result of the study surprised researchers.

Dr Stephens said that the result was the opposite of what they had expected as most psychologists suggest that swearing is a symptom of "catastrophism", where there the drama-queen inside everyone takes over.

In other words, swearing is presumed to be too histrionic to be constructive. As I've noted elsewhere, in my endless litany against the "tyranny of a positive attitude," there is nothing new, or "secret," about emphasizing positivity. The simple truth is that, particularly in Western culture, we are very uncomfortable with all things negative. We are impatient with people who are in emotional pain. We are self critical and prone to denial, in terms of our own inner turmoil. We have all been subjected to a lot shaming language around those expressions. We do not provide a lot of room for people to move through their shadow experiences, such as the "dark night of the soul." Much of modern psychology simply pathologizes it, rather than recognizing it as an organic and natural expression of our soul's development. (See Stan Grof)

Also noteworthy, researcher Dr. Richard Stephens observes that his wife used a few blue words whilst in labor, and this his midwife reported it as quite common. The pain of labor has been on my mind of late, due to this discussion on another blog. When I was in my very prolonged labor, which culminated in an emergency C-section, you'd better believe I was swearing like a sailor.

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