Thursday, May 15, 2008

Anger and Menopause

Before having children, I was not aware of all the anger simmering inside. If it was ever provoked, it came out in tears. A situation at work or in a relationship could make me feel helpless, teary, overwhelmed, but not like hitting someone or yelling.

Once children came along the floodgates were opened. All kinds of emotions rose to the surface, comfortable happy giddy, or irritable, cranky and angry. Was it because of the hormone release in childbirth? was it because there were now vulnerable small people to take care of and I had no idea how to deal with their crying fits or tantrums? their obvious disregard for my needs? or simply because my own emotions were so raw from lack of sleep, nursing babies, being on call 24-7?

For whatever reason, it was always a shock to see my anger burst out, to find myself slamming cupboard doors, or needing to take a brisk walk around the block, get out of the house, let off steam. It felt even worse when I saw a white handprint on my 2 year old's red behind.

I needed to find out more about anger. I was part of a Babysitting Coop and Moms and tots group that welcomed speakers, so I found a psychologist to speak to us. She described anger as an iceberg, with sadness underneath the surface of the water. I saw a therapist at the university where I taught part-time and began to uncover the legacy of emotional hurts from childhood and the connection to mothering. A book was born along the way, "Little Mother".

A pattern emerged. It seemed that 3 days before menstruating, emotions were definitely peaking. As I grew closer to menopause, my episodes of PMS grew longer, more intense. I especially felt bad when I would blow up for no good reason, some small disregard of 'rules' or schedules by the children, now pre-teens. After one particular shrieking incident where I lost it completely, I began to see a family counsellor again, for help in dealing with my emotional overload. My father had just died and I was two years away from complete menopause.

Now, in reading about peri-menopause, I find references to anger as being a signal from our inner wisdom. I found another speaker on PMS, who also describes it in these terms, as an ally, a messenger, a loud voice that won't be shushed, uncovering the wounds and slights that I have shoved under the carpet the rest of the month. It's the way my inner self calls out for attention.

Instead of giving in to anger, or allowing it to control my relationships, I want to find out what is underneath these uncomfortable feelings, because although the outburts are less frequent, my children still receive the brunt of it, now that they are teens and mood swings are affecting all of us. Here is why it's important to act:

"Your emotions are your inner guidance system. Your thoughts, attitudes, beliefs have a most profound effect on your health", says Dr. Christiane Northrup. "Listen to your anger, discover the underlying issues and take action or it may turn inward and cause depression - a risk factor for heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis." (Wisdom of Menopause)

If I don't learn to speak up about what is bugging me, if I avoid conflict and confrontation and act like a people pleaser to keep harmony and balance in the household, if I allow myself to 'do too much for others', it always backfires and ends up exploding out of me anyway. Or I feel sad and not listened to, like I have no voice. This is no one's fault but mine. It estranges me from the people I want to be close to.

When I am courageous and say what I feel, when I stop hiding my real emotions from others, and simply state what I need in a non-threatening tone, I am surprised by the change this provokes in others. We find a closeness, a connection that is nourishing. It may be that my programming for serving others first gets in the way of my truth-speaking. Maybe I can let go of 'feeling selfish' about staying in bed one morning instead of getting up to make coffee and toast for fully grown people who know how to work the coffee machine and the toaster....

There are so many ways I want to practice being true to myself, allowing myself to feel what I feel. In this role of 'housewife' and mother that I am growing out the perfectionist attitude that doesn't allow me to focus on my own work because I might be a bad the limiting belief that my joy, my expression of creativity is less important because it doesn't bring in as much money.

Menopause has taught me a lot about myself. It is the 'mother of all wake-up calls' as Dr. Northrup puts it. The emerging self is crying out for its own needs to be met. The solution is to learn to take better care of myself, find a balance between caring for others and caring for me.

"In truth, you are being urged, biologically, to pause from everyone - from mankind in general - in order to do important work on yourself.... [one of the most common feelings is] "the longing for time alone, for a refuge that provides peace, quiet and freedom from distractions and demands.

"Even if you can't charter a plane to a deserted island, odds are that if you acknowledge and validate your need for solitude then you can clear some time and find a private corner to which to retreat daily
." [away from telephones, noise, interaction with others]

This has been my medicine for anger: to rock my soul, soothe my body and mind, with precious time alone. It's not just for the hermit in me, but a good practice.



bella said...

time alone: YES!
Anger for me feels like my armor, like I've become so comfortable with it I forget that there may be something under that iceberg.
Lately for me it is the tears that are the wake up call.
It's all good, yes? waking us up. again and again.

Lil said...

you hinted to your own anger issues on my recent post on my lovegrower blog, and here it is in more depth. i'm going to look up little mother, and i'm going to see if i can apply for psychotherapy compliments of our medical support up here (canada), i so desperately want to talk about all of this and find out the's gotta have a root, because i wasn't like this always. and what struck me the most, is that in my 42nd yr, i've got to consider that i'm peri-menipausal and that effects me as well. thank you for writing this jenn...


Jennifer Boire said...

dear bella and lil,
in therapy, the armour was cracked open, and each night I came home to lie on the couch, with aching shoulders, feeling newly vulnerable. This is vital, life-saving work. I've been 'superwoman' for so long, it's hard to be seen as less than brick-wall secure. A book I love is The Heart of the Soul, Gary Zukav/ Linda Francis. (emotional awareness 101). We are not brought up this way, to be aware, to allow ourselves to feel what we feel. Our children will be the better for the work we do.

Anonymous said...

i so agree jenn, the bit of psychotherapy i've done already has helped me gain insight into who i am now baised on my past wounds/traumas. we worked with my archetypes and chakras as well, which i found to be very profoundly healing. unfortunately that was 4 yrs ago and not enough. i will pursue this though. your book, i can't find a used copy, if you know of a site that offers it please let me know at

Anonymous said...

oops, that was me above, Lil

motherwintermoon said...

"We are not brought up this way, to be aware, to allow ourselves to feel what we feel."

This is so true, Jenn. We were taught to suppress. That is why the people-pleasing disease is so prevalent among women. Now we must learn, and help each other learn, to safely express and get to the root of our emotions. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I'm still here reading and soaking up the wise words.