3rd July 19

What is it and where does it come from?

Let’s just get something absolutely clear, shall we? Whilst, yes, much of the female mood swing can and should be put down to the ridiculously brutal monthly event that we experience for most of our lives, I think we can all agree that being told ‘its your time of the month’, ‘or ‘it’s just your hormones’ is like a red rag (poor analogy) to a bull.

Of course our body experiences cataclysmic changes when we have PMS (more on this later) but rage (and by rage I mean the all consuming, hard to focus on anything else type) is something else entirely. Anger comes in many forms but for the most part, it’s the sudden outbursts, the feeling of losing control and physical bodily reaction that most of us are concerned with. Maybe it’s the food being thrown on the floor for the third meal in a row, your partner coming home much later than they said or your childs refusal to get changed in an already busy, behind time kind of morning. Whatever the manifestation, it can help to just tip you over the edge of an already crumbling cliff that you might well have been hanging onto with your pasta covered, dried out fingers.

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Women aren’t supposed to get angry right (just as a side note - searching for free stock photography for this article alone yielded very little results for ‘angry women’ - most were women looking sadly into the distance, contrasting highly with the mens' results depicting muscles and bared teeth)? Have you been told that ‘you’re being aggressive’ with a negative subtext or insinuation? For women in 2019, it is still suggested that assertion is actually aggression and prior to the ‘Me Too’ movement, many were told to keep quiet amidst sexual, physical or psychological abuse. Their 'assertions' were ignored at best, disregarded at worst. Those who dared were often left on their own but I digress somewhat.

In a study by Arizona State University (Jessica M. Salerno, Liana C. Peter-Hagene. One Angry Woman: Anger Expression Increases Influence for Men, but Decreases Influence for Women, During Group Deliberation.. Law and Human Behavior, 2015;), evidence found that men use anger to influence others, but women actually lose influence when they allow anger into an argument. Perhaps the mere notion of anger is enough for most of us to feel as though we have acted out of turn if underlying feelings surrounding the emotion have been previously conditioned?

It’s important to therefore explore what anger is. Therapist Carolyn Wagner suggests that ‘anger is [not] a feeling..anger is a sign post, a big old red flag alerting us to a difficult feeling. A feeling that we really, really don’t want to feel or deal with, so we push it away and “feel” anger instead. The more intense the anger, the more intense the underlying feeling'. Wagner asserts that it’s not necessarily the task in hand that drives the feeling but a much bigger picture that we aren’t perhaps seeing.

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Tara Giroud states that there are a few flags to look out for and reasons behind why you’re feeling like a pyschopath, amongst a few are;

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Being pressed for time
  • Your child being ill or experiencing a difficult phase
  • Stressed over an on-going issue
  • Lack of exercise or time to yourself
  • Not feeling valued or appreciated

Our discussion highlighted a few key points in addition to these. Aside from the frequent (but perfectly adequate) issues such as ‘not being able to find a certain item’, ‘feeding’ and ‘child’s behaviour’, many of us felt that we had limited patience when we didn’t feel in control. Sleep deprivation was a huge factor. The NHS suggest that we should be having ‘between six and eight hours sleep a night' (please, eyeroll) and with many of us having a persistent disruption to sleep, it’s probably quite likely that this is a factor. And what about expectations? We discussed social media, comments made by friends and family, unsolicited advice from the ‘not-so-friendly neighbour’. Is everyone else doing better than me? Is their child nicer or easier than mine? I'm a terrible mother who has limited patience, why is this so hard? A constant and reinforced narrative of how not to parent is hard to ignore.

With all of this in mind, what can we do? It’s nice to be able to rationalise why we feel like we do or acted a certain why retrospectively but we don’t have the privilege of time to explore this as your child kicks you in the face whilst you’re getting them into the car seat for the third time that day. Let’s briefly go back to hormones.

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As far as I’m aware, there’s two types here - postpartum and then the rest of your life after birth. In the six or so weeks that follow birth, the two big ones - Estrogen and Progesterone play a huge part with Estrogen hanging around for a long old time. Estrogen can cause a plethora of problems (you can read more here) such as fatigue, headaches, sleep deprivation and weight gain. On top of all the other ones, relaxin, oxytocin etc, postpartum makes for a heady, hard time. And that’s JUST the hormones, we aren’t even talking about the baby here.

As for the regular menstrual side of things, there’s a lot of information around but actually, somewhat inconclusive depending on what you’re looking for. The below diagram gives an overview of the seismic changes in hormone levels we experience across a cycle.

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Figure 1. Hormone levels according to menstrual cycle phase. Changing concentrations of female sex hormones (progesterone, luteinizing hormone, follicular stimulating hormone, estradiol) that characterize the 5 phases (menstrual, follicular, periovulatory, luteal and pre-menstrual) of the menstrual cycle (adapted with permission 7 ). Follicular stimulating hormone concentration changes overlayed 9 .

Nick Panay, the Chairman of the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome. says ‘The precise aetiology of PMS remains unknown, but cyclical ovarian activity and the effect of estradiol and progesterone on the neurotransmitters serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) appear to be key factors’, essentially, hormones change how our brains work. There is a chemical reaction and we are all but mere test tubes in its lab.

At the end of our discussion, we all agreed that the anger was not continuous. Aside from the general state of the world and the imminent ‘Brexit’, seemingly attaching itself to every facet of life, the moments of rage were fleeting but it didn’t stop them from feeling real and everyone experiencing hurt, especially if aimed at our children.

Being aware of external factors such as personal stresses, limitations in our abilities to do everything we want, fatigue, our cycles etc helped. We discussed writing our thoughts down (in a fit of rage or as we contemplated them at a quieter time) and bringing them up with a partner or confidant when we felt calm. Reading literature such as ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read’ (Phillippa Perry) and ‘How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7' (Faber & King) helped with extending our own knowledge and understanding to both us and our children.

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Overall, it was about making allowances for our extenuating circumstances, not stretching ourselves too far and about doing our goddamn best and actually, if you do bubble over and throw that fucking tiny piece of lego you’ve walked on for the fifth time, into the garden then whatever. Just make sure you don’t hit the overbearing, advice laden neighbour when you do it.

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