A lot of people who come to see me think that they have a habit or a reaction that’s really obvious and it really isn’t. For instance I’ve had people come about their social blushing, and I’ve genuinely not been able to tell even though they feel they’re bright red.
Vicky* hadn’t told me what she wanted to see me about, but had just emailed me asking for an appointment. “_______ hell,” she said when she came in, “it’s _______ it down out there”. And her swearing, it turned out, was what she wanted to see me about.
Vicky had a little girl in primary school. A couple of weeks before the teacher had talked to Vicky about an incident where her daughter had sworn at another girl in the playground. “I was mortified” she told me “I could feel the teacher was judging me for what had happened, and thinking less of me because it was me my daughter was copying”.
I asked Vicky if she’d sworn while talking to the teacher. “I did a bit”, she said “but because I was upset about her attitude and not thinking about what I was saying”. It turned out that when Vicky was challenged or felt judged she would start swearing without at first noticing it.
“And by the time I do” she told me, “it’s too _______ late, and I can’t calm down. But I can hear myself, and I don’t like it – and I hate the thought of my daughter copying me”
For Vicky the problem wasn’t really her swearing. Her swearing was just a symptom of what was going on inside. She had no real self-esteem or confidence, and so when she felt anxious or threatened she would respond aggressively.
What I did with Vicky was to help her work on her self-esteem and confidence, by changing some of the thoughts she had about herself, and by challenging some of the assumptions she made about other people. This made her a much less angry and defensive person, and changed the way that she dealt with other people.
To help her stop her swearing I also taught Vicky to slow down her responses to other people – to listen to what they were saying before thinking of her reply, and to take a breath before speaking and hear what she was going to say.
“I feel like a proper role model for my little girl now” she told me at the end, “not just about not swearing but about being confident and liking myself”. That, we both agreed, was the real lesson to pass on to her daughter.
* Vicky’s real identity has been protected, and she is happy to share her story.
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