“During that time of the month, I sometimes get so angry that I turn into a violent, uncontrollable bitch. It’s really hurting my relationships. But I don’t know what to do! I just don’t seem to be able to control my PMS anger.” I’ve heard similar complaints from Cycle Harmony members over and over again.
And I’ve had similar experiences myself, so I know these feelings of desperation and helpless. It begs the question, if there is real pain and a real desire to control PMS anger, then why is it so hard to do? Can we control it? If so, how?
To make any change, we need to have a strong enough motivation. If we have a strong enough “why,” we will almost always figure out “how.”
You probably agree that anger is the most dangerous emotion, because when we’re angry we may try to harm the target of our anger, whether verbally or physically. Moreover, our anger tends to ignite and fuel anger from the other person, which sometimes causes irreversible damage to our relationships. Therefore, it is important to control our anger, to constrain the impulses for hurtful words and actions.
Though not easy for some of us who experience anger more intensely than others – whether due to premenstrual hormonal changes, genetic makeup, or environmental influences – many developmental psychologists believe that most of us can choose not to act on our anger, and control is possible for nearly everyone. This is good news. You may not believe that you can control your PMS anger right now, but it is possible, and you can, with conscious efforts, and over time.
So how can we control our anger, PMS or not? With this in mind, I consulted Paul Ekman, the world’s foremost expert on facial expressions and the professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco. Here are the five things I’ve learned...
Know when you are angry – When anger is intense, we may not initially know, or even want to know, that we’ve become angry. But only when we become aware of and attentive to our angry feelings, do we have an opportunity to regulate or suppress our impulses for hurtful words and actions, and take more constructive steps to remove the source of our anger.
The good news is that anger wants you to know it is there. It leaves signs all over your body and mind. Does your heart rate rise? Do you clench your fists? Is your mind tight and filled with negative thoughts? Do you lean forward ready to attack? Think of a time when you were really angry, and try and recall the sensations and thoughts you experienced. With time and practice, you’ll become more in tuned with your angry feelings, and recognize your anger the moment it arrives.
Understand your trigger – The most frequent cause of anger is someone interfering with what we are intent on doing. Frustration, another person’s anger, a threat of harm, being rejected, or an irritable mood during PMS, are all common triggers for anger. It is important for us to understand and determine for ourselves which are the hottest, most potent triggers for our anger. With this knowledge, over time we’ll learn to recognize our triggers, re-evaluate the situations, and diffuse our angry feelings before they are out of control.
Reappraise other people’s intention – If we think someone’s interference with our intention is deliberate, not incidental or required, if it appears that the interfering person chose to interfere with us, then our anger may grow stronger. Anger by its nature needs a target to attack. And this target is often the person who we are in conflict with.
It would be helpful to assume that the basic intention of another is not malevolent, and shift the target of our anger from the “person” to the “things.” For example, “I am not angry at my boyfriend. I am angry at these five things that he did.” With this mindset, we’ll be able to communicate more constructively and effectively with the other person, avoiding personal attacks and retaliations.
Remove the source of anger – So now we know that we’re angry, why we’re angry, and what we’re angry at, we can take constructive steps to remove the causes of our anger. For example, if you were angry that your spouse didn’t take the trash out in the morning, you could talk to him and negotiate a solution that you both would be content with. More on this subject "Stand Up for Yourself, PMSing or Not."
Manage irritable mood – Everyone has a harder time controlling their anger when they’re in an irritable mood – even more so with PMS. When we are irritable, we become angry about things that wouldn’t bother us if we weren’t irritable. We also tend to feel angry more intensively than we would normally. It comes back to many of the PMS management strategies listed on cycleharmony.com. You may want to indulge in activities you truly enjoy, spend quiet time alone, or pamper yourself. Taking better care of, and paying special attention to, yourself usually helps.
Anger in itself is not all bad. It has some benefits as well, as long as we are in control of it. With patience and practice, we can learn to gradually contain our PMS anger, live healthier and happier, and create better relationships.
Knowledge does not guarantee control, but it offers that possibility. If you were to remember one thing from this post, I hope you remember this: It is possible to control PMS anger. If you really want to, you can!
P.S. If you haven't already, download the Mood Runner iPhone App on iTunes to record, monitor and transform your PMS moods!