When people come to me for spiritual counseling, a very common issue that they’re struggling with is soul guilt. Usually they’re doing or have done something that their souls find morally offensive and they’re having trouble finding peace. If the behavior they’re upset by happens to be something that they can’t stop doing, their misery is all the more intense.
Now for many of you, using foul language just isn’t a big deal. You insert swear words into your daily dialogue without thinking twice about it, and you don’t feel any pangs of guilt. For swearing to really bother you, you first need someone else to teach you that it’s a terrible thing. Usually it’s religious communities who introduce this idea, with some communities laying the guilt on so thick that people start stressing that God will immediately reach for a lightning bolt if they let some nasty word slip into their prayers to Him.
I’m writing this post for anyone who is feeling stressed about the fact that “dirty words” keep infiltrating their speech. Even if you’re not struggling with this issue, you can benefit from reading this post, because the mechanics I’m going to explain are quite fascinating.
Demonizing the Body & Mind
For those who are struggling with guilt on this issue, it is very helpful to realize that religious communities are really leading you astray when they talk as if your soul is the only part of your being with any value. In many religions, the mind and body are portrayed as evil, loathsome burdens which do nothing but vex your soul until the day you die. Christianity, for example, teaches you to lump both your mind and body under the derogatory label of sinful nature. You’re taught to view these two aspects of your being as depraved, evil, and carnal. Then you’re told that your soul must fight to gain mastery over these two archenemies. Your soul’s success can be measured by how well you manage to silence the voices of your mind and body. And how successful you are at doing this directly impacts how God will judge you in eternity.
What a bunch of rubbish.
I was raised in Christianity and I personally have the utmost respect for the Christian Deities of Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They are fantastic, awesome, brilliant Creators. But how the organized religion of Christianity portrays these Deities is not only inaccurate, it’s also quite insulting. While Christians will say that God is a brilliant Creator, and claim to respect Him, they regularly rip on one of His most magnificent inventions: the grouping of mind, body and soul into a single being. It is endlessly fascinating to study how God designed humans to operate. Our internal mechanics are incredibly complex, with each element of our being making vital contributions to our overall ability to function. Instead of bashing on the mind and body, these two elements should be respected as the brilliant inventions that they are. And while we’re respecting brilliance, we also need to learn about limitations.
Each of your internal elements has specialized skills and severe limitations. In His genius, God has designed each of your elements to be dependent on its comrades, so that none of them can function alone. By itself, your soul can’t get you to walk across a room and pick up a glass of water. It needs the cooperation of your mind and body to pull of this simple life sustaining activity. By itself, your mind can’t help you maintain healthy relationships with other humans. Your soul plays a vital role in helping you be a good friend, spouse, and coworker. By itself, your body is incapable of keeping you out of harmful situations. It relies on the guidance of your mind to help it identify and steer clear of physical dangers.
Whether your goal is to honor God, make wise decisions, or pursue a better quality of life, learning to see value in every aspect of your being is going to be an important step forward. Unfortunately, religions aren’t going to help you in this area, because they refuse to see value in the body and mind. The sciences will also lead you astray, as they refuse to acknowledge the existence of the soul. To really do it right, you’re going to have to be brave and go down a different path. You also need to begin with the assumption that nothing about your make-up is some accidental “whoops”, but that every one of your internal processes has both purpose and value. Even swearing.
The Value of Being Verbal
Let’s start at the beginning. Swearing is a verbal activity. What’s the purpose of verbal language? Why do humans bother with words in the first place? Well, if you were to live in complete isolation from other beings, you wouldn’t need words. Technically speaking, you don’t need a verbal language to communicate with yourself. Every day, your internal elements are chatting away with each other, yet they don’t speak to each other using words (see Voices In Your Mind, Part 1: Internal Sources). Those verbal thoughts that appear in your head only represent a tiny fraction of everything you’re saying to yourself. If we define a “thought” as element-to-element conversation (mind to body, body to soul, etc.), most of your thoughts are non-verbal. It is the conscious part of your mind that enjoys translating some of your elemental discussions into verbal scripts that you can think or say out loud. But if you never learned a verbal language, you wouldn’t have fewere thoughts. Your elements would still continue to chat away, they just wouldn’t have any of their discussions translated into words. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Now humans are designed to be communal creatures. That means that we depend on interactions with other beings to grow and thrive. A human baby living in complete isolation from any other living creature would soon die. Relationships with other living beings are vital to human development. But once we start interacting with other humans, we bump into a major problem: we can’t see inside each other. You can’t hear my thoughts, and I can’t hear yours. This massive limitation makes relating to each other extremely difficult. What we need is some kind of tool that enables us to translate what we’re each privately thinking into a form that the other person can understand. Here is where verbal languages come in.
The whole concept of language is truly brilliant. But language only works thanks to group effort and a willingness to coordinate. If you and I are going to communicate efficiently, we both need to agree to use the same sounds to communicate certain things. And so we do. As you’re growing up, other humans in your life introduce you to thousands of words. I came across one estimate that the average English speaking adult actively uses about 20,000 words and is familiar with about 40,000. That’s a boatload of words. And yet thanks to the efforts of other humans introducing my mind to a vast amount of words, I can type the word foot and know that both you and I are now thinking of the same body part. Language is amazing. Language makes communicating with other humans possible because it gives us a way of compensating for our inability to see inside each other’s heads.
Now if I were to ask you to write out a list of 20,000 words right now, you wouldn’t be able to do it. You could probably come up with more than you expect, but you’d soon hit a mental wall and be unable to think up any word that isn’t already on your list. This block would occur long before you list your entire vocabulary. Why? Because your personal verbal vocabulary isn’t stored in your conscious mind. Instead, it’s stored in your subconscious. This means that when you sit down to write your list, your conscious has to keep asking your subconscious to supply it with new words. Your subconscious has better things to do than play some silly list making game, so even though it can produce more words, at some point, it’s going to refuse to keep spending its resources on an activity that it considers to be pointless. Once your subconscious tells your conscious “No more, I’m done doing this,” you will feel like you hit a mental wall. You’ll probably say something like “My mind’s a blank,” when what’s really happening is your conscious is not receiving any new words from your subconscious.
Your vocabulary isn’t just a list of words. Words are basically sets of sounds you can make, shapes you can draw (letters), or motions you can make (especially if you’re using sign language). But learning the various forms of a single word is pointless without also learning a meaning. The massive language database that exists in your subconscious contains information on how to express a word as well as the various meanings that word can communicate to others.
Now in real life, a single word can have many different meanings depending on when you use it and who you are talking to. If you love tomatoes, then to you, tomato is a positive word that makes you think of one of your favorite foods. But your friend Vito hates tomatoes, so the word triggers a negative response in him. The positive and negative emotional responses that you experience when you hear certain words is a result of your subconscious linking certain words to certain memories. The longer you live, the more memories you collect. And by the way, your memories are also being stored in your subconscious in a separate, massive database. Over time, all kinds of mental associations get formed between your massive memory database and your massive language database until these two databases become inseparable. Those mental links are also in a constant state of change.
When you were ten years old, the word Hannah made you feel happy and made you think of your very best friend. But now at age 30, the same word makes you feel sad and brings up the memory of how Hannah died in a terrible car accident. When you were a teen virgin, sex was a mysterious word that triggered feelings of excitement, eager anticipation and positive curiosity. After you are raped in your 20s, sex becomes a negative word that triggers memories of terror and pain as well as feelings of dread and repulsion. It is your subconscious that controls what words mean to you, and it constantly revises what I call your private dictionary in an effort to keep your understanding of vocabulary as accurate as possible.
Now to your mind, constantly updating your private dictionary isn’t just about helping you communicate well with other humans. It’s also to help you correctly interpret what other humans are saying to you. Keeping you safe is one of your subconscious’ top priorities. If your first experience with sex is a rape assault, your subconscious immediately revises your definition of sex to be a horrible, damaging experience that should be avoided at all costs. The next time a romantic partner suggests that he or she wants to have sex with you, your subconscious instantly interprets them as saying they want to assault you, and you respond with what you feel is an appropriate amount of venom. As far as your subconscious is concerned, the fact that it has done such a stellar job of keeping your private dictionary up to date has enabled you to quickly identify a major threat to your safety: this partner of yours who seemed nice but now is saying that they want to assault you. And yet in real life, your partner is not using the same definition of sex that you are. They are using their own definition of sex, which happens to be quite positive and does not include any amount of coercion. Unless the two of you compare definitions, you won’t understand how to fix your miscommunication (see How Can I Help My Partner Feel More Comfortable In Bed?).
Private definitions is a massive topic all on its own, but I introduced the subject here to help you see how words become so strongly linked to your personal memories and internal stress. You need to understand this link to understand why swearing is even a thing. You see, swear words are commonly viewed as a special category of words which are particularly effective in venting psychological distress. Every culture comes up with their own list of “really bad words” which they reserve for times of intense distress. And if you don’t think this is a smart idea, think again.
Why do you feel like a huge weight is lifted off of your shoulders when you finally share some terrible secret with a trusted friend? When you are feeling super stressed and super threatened, why does it feel so much more helpful to scream “Get the #&%*! out of my face!” than to just scream “Get out of my face!”? In His brilliance, God has designed humans with a fascinating ability to vent internal stress through physical methods. There are two forms of physical venting which all minds find extremely helpful: physical activity and verbal communication.
To understand how important physical venting of internal distress is, imagine blowing up a balloon and then holding its neck closed by pinching it with your fingers. As long as you’re blocking the balloon’s only valve, you’re keeping it in a state of strain. If you loosen your pinch a bit and let some of the air escape, you’ll enable the balloon to relax.
As you go through life, your internal stress levels rise and fall, depending on what’s happening to you. Whenever your stress levels start to rise, your subconscious wants to depressurize your system as quickly as possible. Constant depressurizing prevents your internal stress from reaching dangerous levels. Laughing and crying are two extremely effective ways of venting internal distress. This is why people often laugh when they are embarrassed and cry when they are in pain. Laughter and tears are so effective that they can vent old stress as well as current stress. A good, intense cry can effectively relieve your mind from stress that it’s been carrying around from an incident that happened to you decades ago.
Sometimes you find yourself laughing uncontrollably–meaning you start laughing at something funny, only to find that you’re unable to stop. Soon your diaphragm muscles are screaming for mercy, yet you are still in the grip of intense giggle fits. In moments like this, what’s happening is that your subconscious is leaping upon an opportunity to vent a build up of stress. Often in moments of uncontrollable laughter, you find yourself consciously thinking, “Good grief, what’s my problem? His joke wasn’t that funny!” Other people around you start chuckling at the site of you in stitches, but they are also at a loss about what is so hilarious. This sort of laughter usually indicates that your daily efforts to depressurize yourself either aren’t happening or aren’t working and your internal stress load is getting uncomfortably high. After you physically recover from an exhausting fit of laughter or crying, you will often feel much lighter inside as the positive effects of being depressurized kick in.
Now in many cultures, the extremely effective process of crying gets stereotyped as a bad, shameful, embarrassing thing. In other words, your subconscious suddenly has one of its most effective depressurizing tools ripped away from it. Males are especially targeted here, with the idiotic theory of “real men don’t cry” being pushed hard in many societies. What happens when your subconscious feels that it is now being threatened with punishment if it tries to vent your stress through tears? Well, your subconscious wants to keep you safe, so if feels that crying will put you in danger, it will turn to other forms of venting your stress.
Crying and laughing aren’t the only two physical activities that vent stress. Shivering, fidgeting, jaw clenching, twitching, tapping fingers, tightly crossing legs or arms, running…there are many alternate methods that your mind uses, but most aren’t as effective as crying and laughing. The less effective a method is, the more methods your mind will need to rotate between to try to keep stress manageable. Here is where we come to verbal forms of venting. Greatly increasing the volume of your voice (shouting) can help relieve stress, as can talking more rapidly or repeating yourself. Humans often use these methods automatically when they are stressed. The same is true for swearing.
Swear words are special words to your subconscious. These little gems have the potential to help release an extra amount of stress–especially when they are first introduced. New words always feel more exciting than familiar words. As your mind tests out new words, it analyzes the effect those words have and then decides how valuable they are to its own processes. In cases where you form a habit of swearing whenever you become stressed or frustrated, what’s happening is that your subconscious has latched onto those “dirty words” as being effective stress relievers. It then teaches your conscious to use those words whenever you feel certain emotions, and soon you have developed quite the foul little mouth. But is this a bad thing? Not from the perspective of your subconscious.
Your mind and body don’t define good and bad the way your soul does. To your subconscious, something is “bad” if it conflicts with your subconscious’ current agendas. Your subconscious doesn’t have a moral code. But your soul does have its own moral code. Your soul also tries to keep track of what it thinks other people’s moral codes are–especially the people who you consider to be important to your own well-being. If your soul also believes in God, then His moral code gets added to the list of codes that your soul is juggling. How much your soul is bothered by you swearing depends on how many of its important moral codes list swearing as bad. If it turns out that four of your most important people–your mother, father, husband and priest–all view swearing as an ugly, offensive thing, then your soul will feel very stressed by you using dirty words. If none of your significant people view swearing as bad, but your soul thinks that God thinks swearing is very offensive, then how bothered your soul is by you swearing will depend on how much your soul cares about pleasing God. If there is no important figure in your life who finds your swearing offensive, then your soul probably won’t care that dirty words are flying out of your mouth and it will just let your subconscious do it’s thing.
Mental associations determine how you use swear words and how possible it will be for you to stop using them. By now you might have noticed that some people seem to use swear words not to express intense emotion, but rather as fillers in a sentence. “I saw a @#$& deer the other day when I was #$%& walking out in the #$%^& forest and I was like ‘That’s #$%& cool!” Once swear words become filler words, they are no longer being used just for stress relief. Instead, the person doing the swearing often trained himself to increase his use of swear words as a means of being accepted by important people in his life. For example, Cal’s father seems to insert a swear word into every single sentence that he says. In an effort to gain his father’s approval, young Cal intentionally began to imitate his father’s style of speaking. Cal’s uncles and grandfather all talk the same way as his father, so by imitating their speech, Cal felt more accepted by them. By the time Cal is an adult, he can’t form a sentence without a bunch of swear word fillers. It’s simply the way he’s used to talking, and since he formed this habit for strategic reasons, his subconscious is not going to be willing to change it unless it can see value in doing so. If Cal should get turned down for an important job because of his dirty mouth, that might motivate his subconscious to alter its language patterns. But it’s not just going to change a working strategy just to do it. What would be the point?
Using Dirty Language With God
When people come to me for help because they feel terribly ashamed of their foul mouths, it is their souls that are feeling upset, not their minds. Usually these folks have been taught by religious communities that it is a “sin” to use foul language, therefore God is angry with them.
When habitual swearers meet God for the first time, there is often a concern that He’ll be offended if they try to talk to Him naturally, because their natural style is peppered with obscenities. In both cases, the key concern is that God is easily angered by our style of verbal communication. So is He? No, He’s really not.
For starters, God sees verbal language for what it actually is: a very helpful communication tool for beings who can’t read each other’s minds. God also understands how effective words are for venting internal stress because He’s the One who came up with that brilliant little system.
God knows you far better than you know yourself, and that means that He understands what swearing does for you. He understands its value to your mind, and He understands exactly what your mind is hoping to accomplish by having you use obscene words in certain situations. Often your soul is left out of the loop in these areas, and honestly does not understand why you keep swearing or why it’s so hard for you to stop.
When your mind is using swear words to vent stress, if you try to make yourself stop swearing, you’ll feel uncomfortably tense inside the moment that you try to stop yourself from articulating that dirty word. I once had a boss who was a chronic swearer, yet soul guilt started eating away at her. So she started trying to cut all swear words from her vocabulary, only to find it very hard to do. One day she suddenly exclaimed, “If I don’t swear, I think I’ll explode!” This is a good description of how your subconscious feels when your soul tries to block one of its effective venting methods. It’s upsetting and it only leaves you feeling more stressed.
Often when people are trying to clean up their language fast, they try to come up with substitute swear words–words that can still vent stress without violating their soul’s moral code. “Oh, carrot! Oh rats!” Your mind has to cooperate with these efforts if they are going to succeed. Usually the most effective substitute words are the ones that sound very close to the original baddie. Darn or dang instead of damn. Shoot instead of s**t. Fudge instead of f**k. Jeez instead of Jesus. Minds are generally more willing to switch to words that are very similar to their favorites and quite resistant to words that sound very different. Somehow shouting “Black onions!” or “Rainy day!” just doesn’t feel effective in venting any kind of stress.
Understanding that swearing is a subconscious thing helps you understand why your soul cannot fix this problem singlehandedly. Contrary to what many religions claim, your soul does not have the power to easily and consistently override your other elements. In times of great stress, your soul can temporarily override your body and/or mind. But such takeovers usually only last a short while and they are not always possible to pull off. The reality is that your mind has far greater sway over your body than your soul does. Since swearing is a physical activity, your mind has a clear advantage.
So what about God? While God is the Author of all languages and is fluid in all of them, He mainly communicates to your soul using a non-verbal language. Your soul uses the same non-verbal language when responding to God, so as far as He is concerned, your verbal vocabulary is irrelevant.
What matters to God is your soul’s attitude towards Him, and this is not something that can be measured with verbal words. If your soul says it’s own version of “I love You” to God, He doesn’t just take your soul’s communication at face value. He always looks at your soul’s true intentions. When He sees that your soul sincerely cares about pleasing Him, He is pleased with you, regardless of what words you use. When He sees that your soul is inwardly mocking Him, then no amount of fancy reverent language is going to fix His displeasure with you. The point is that you don’t relate to God with words. You relate to Him with soul choices and soul attitudes. But notice I’m just talking about your soul here. Your mind and body aren’t designed to care about God. He doesn’t find this offensive, because He’s the One that created this set up. Relating to God is a soul thing, and that means it really doesn’t matter what kinds of words are coming out of your physical mouth.
So long as we’re talking about dirty language, let’s tackle the infamous issue of “blaspheming God.” While humans use different definitions of blaspheming, this is considered to be a verbal activity in which you use certain words or phrases which God is supposed to find outrageously offensive. Of course the minute we’re freaking out about any form of verbal communication, we’re wandering off track and forgetting that relating to God is a soul thing.
Your subconscious uses verbal language to vent internal stress. Internal stress can come from any of your elements, including your soul. When God is driving you crazy with His obtuse Divine style, your soul will become very stressed. As your soul stresses, your overall stress levels will rise. Your subconscious will then react by trying to vent that stress. When your soul expresses its exasperated rage at God, it uses its own non-verbal spiritual language. And since that language is far more efficient than verbal languages, God receives a very accurate description of just how hacked off you are at Him. Your conscious then attempts to translate that prayer with the aid of your subconscious. As it looks for words that seem appropriate to the occasion, your subconscious decides that some of its special “venting extreme stress” words are required. Here is where you find yourself screaming up at the sky “What the @#$% is Your problem?! Why can’t You just #$%^ off and leave me alone?!” And wow you just cussed God out. Here comes the smiting, right? Wrong.
You unloaded on God when your soul originally screamed at Him. That happened before your conscious and subconscious came up with their own lackluster translation of what your soul actually said. Spiritual communications never translate accurately into verbal words, so that irreverent stuff you just screamed at the heavens wasn’t nearly as venomous as what your soul said seconds before. But the real question is: how is God reacting? God is not a human. He never spazzes over your specific choice of words. God always responds to your soul’s attitude towards Him. In real life, a whole lot of the screaming, cussing, and blaspheming at God that goes on is being motivated by a desperate fear of losing Him. Just as a mother shouts furiously at the child that she just snatched from the path of a moving car, we often shout at God out of fear that He’s pulling away from us. And just as the scolding mother then pulls her child into a tight embrace, souls that were screaming blasphemy a moment ago will often rush to grab hold of Him the moment He seems to return to them.
God knows when He’s being screamed at in love. He never misinterprets the sounds of true devotion, even when it’s being expressed with some very acrid language. So can you really trigger God’s wrath with mere words? No, you can’t. Relating to God is a soul thing.
This post was written in response to a request.
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