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The importance of anger in peri/menopause and how to step accross the bridge from hormonal rage to assertive self confidence.
Anger and rage in perimenopause and menopause throws many of us off kilter, it frightens us and takes us into the darkness, into the fear zone. Here we feel out of control, stressed, like we’re going mad, losing our sh*t, going crazy. It can make work feel hard and relationships even harder. I wrote about some of the context to this in my previous blog.
It can also be, however, a force for change and a time to find our voice. It can give us the energy to transform and step towards our second spring (aka post menopause) empowered with reclaimed confidence.
This is the empowered side of these emotions. This is where truth speaking, clarity and fulfilment lie. This is where we express ourselves meaningfully and model a whole new way of responding to these powerful emotions to the next generations.
So how can we bridge across from the uncontrollable rage to the empowered and more meaningful anger?
Here are 4 possible ways:
1 - Fierce compassion.
There are many official definitions of compassion but here’s mine … ‘Compassion is a deep commitment to soothing the suffering that you are feeling’.
Self compassion is a process by which we express deep care towards ourselves. We have unconditional love, honour and respect towards ourselves. This is a radical 360 for many of us who have endured years of verbally abusing ourselves, criticising ourselves and struggling with self doubt, all of which trigger our threat system.
The fierce bit is an extra layer of protection. Fully committing to having your own back.
If this feels very self focused and individualised, let me tell you this...compassion for self and compassion from others flow together in one energetic pipeline!
Care for yourself and you are more likely to open to receive care from others (and you’re more able to care for others too but let’s leave that bit for now).
Compassion soothes your nervous system and help you to think clearer. Practicing fierce compassion is one bridge across to a more meaningful and confident way of expressing yourself. Look at Neff’s work for more info on this.
2 - Space.
I reckon that everything I talk/write about and teach comes down to creating space! Psychological and physical space. It’s central to everything in peri/menopause!
S P A C E
Feeling constricted will keep you in the uncontrollable rage place.
Space between us and our thoughts/feelings as well as physical space can calm our bodies and help us plan how and when to express ourselves (instead of blowing up all of a sudden).
Feels impossible? Others in your space (head and living) all of the time? I hear you, I truly do! But we can always gain 1 or 2% more space in our lives.
Create a physical place or space in your home where no one else is allowed. This may be a cupboard, a drawer, a corner of a room, a whole room (oh how blissful that would be – do it if you can). This is your place to have only your things, a place to retreat and de-compress.
Take yourself to spacious places where you can see the horizon. This helps to soothe our bodies...
Create emotional space through fierce compassion (see above).
Create thinking space through awareness and discernment. Become aware of your thoughts and feelings. Choose to engage with the ones that take you across the bridge towards clarity, meaningful living, fulfilment.
3 - Clear boundaries
I don’t think I need to tell you to put boundaries into your life. You likely know that you need to have more time for yourself, to reduce the number of responsibilities you take on, to delegate, to not accept sh*t from others anymore etc etc. We are told this time and time again.
Knowing about boundaries is not the issue. The issue is why we don’t do this.
And it’s mainly to do with the guilt and shame we feel when we set these boundaries.
So…know that any boundary is likely to trigger a whole load of emotional crap. We need to learn how to be willing to have those emotions AND set clear boundaries?
This willingness to have these emotions is tough. I know. But it is the most effective way to maintain these boundaries. If you’re willing to ride the wave of shame, you’re more likely to stick to that boundary.
(ps. I teach this ‘willingness’ skill to the Meno Stars in our Collective. If you’re interested in joining when we open the doors again next month then sign up HERE for the waiting list. £10 per month for a recorded workshop each month teaching these skills and monthly events to put them into practice)
4 - Discernment
Oh yes, let’s end on discernment. For this one I shall give you the official definition: ‘The ability to judge well’. In the context of anger and rage in peri/menopause, it’s the ability the decide when to rant and rave and when not. To take us into the place of clarity, truth speaking and meaningful expression try following this process:
- press pause once you feel the temperature rising
- step back out of the autopilot angry outburst loop
- soothe your stress system just a little
- and then think “is now the time?”
If we are speaking the truth about something then we need to do this with our thinking heads on and not when our blood is boiling. Ask yourself “will this help me express what matters to me in a meaningful way?” If not, give it time, reflect and decide how to express yourself in a way that will.
There’s a lot to think about here. Take your time to digest it and, as always, let me know your thoughts/feedback.
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Guiding you through,
Where does all this perimenopause anger and rage come from?
Of all the ‘symptoms’ in perimenopause and menopause, the one that often feels the most frightening is anger and rage. Brain fog is a close second (and I will write about that very soon) and anxiety is, by its’ very nature, frightening but the rage….well it’s in a league of its own!
Understanding the context around anger and rage in peri/menopause is important and rarely talked about.
But before I talk about context, let me describe how anger varies amongst us.
Some of us are raging left, right and centre. We feel one step away from causing serious harm at any irritation at home and in work … an overflowing bin, dirty dishes in the sink, lazy behaviour by our colleagues…our partner…our children… We’re ablaze with rage and it feels like we’re going crazy at times.
There are some who manage to keep a lid on it. Most of the time… Beneath the lid, however, it brews and bubbles and simmers and boils before we finally BLOW. And what an almighty eruption that can be. Often triggered by a tiny issue but fuelled by days, weeks, months, years of stress, frustration and anger.
Then there are others who tread carefully. The anger button is switched to OFF. They don’t dare to think, even for one minute, about their deep down feelings of anger and rage…it’s like they know it’s there but the thought of it coming to the surface is too overwhelming and too frightening for them. Their fear of what damage the rage may cause is too much. So they swallow it back down. But where does it go? Into other emotional pockets such as anxiety or maybe into their body, causing unexplained health issues and/or more intense menopause physical ‘symptoms’.
Some of us cycles through all 3 – that’s me for sure! Often depends where I am in my perimenopausal (ie. way more intense) menstrual cycle.
Regardless of how we cope with it, anger and rage is a huge issues for many of us in midlife. But where does it come from?
Here are 3 areas that seem to be fuelling our fires:
1. Historical and ancestral wounds.
• It’s simply not safe for women to feel and express strong emotions…
“For centuries around the world, the ultimate punishment for women was public death by fire. Perhaps the most well-known Burned Woman was Joan of Arc who was burned at the stake for her actions and beliefs…So when we feel the fire rising in our bellies, we also smell smoke in our nostrils. We feel passion and sense danger…bad girls are branded witches. Bad girls get burned”‘Burning Woman’ by Lucy Pearce.
We feel the pain of our ancestors. We are the descendants of those who survived and we have learned to stay small and quiet in order to stay safe.
• We are also at the end of the line of repressed women. We have received ‘genetic transmission’ from our mothers and grandmothers who were taught to squash their own needs and serve their men.
Taken from ‘Tips to look after your husband’, an extract from a 1950 Home Economics Book... “Have dinner ready, Prepare yourself, Clear away the clutter, Prepare the children, Minimize all noise, Make him comfortable, Listen to him”
• And within the workplace, we have inherited a culture of repressed women. This quote was taken from a ‘Punch’ cartoon from the 1980’s :
“That’s an excellent suggestion Miss Triggs, perhaps one of the men would like to make it”
So…we feel the pain and repressed anger from our ancestors.
2. Biological changes
As our hormones fluctuate and decline, we are psychologically ‘cracked open’.
Estrogen has left the building and has taken with it our ‘nice girl’ attitude and our ability to see the best in everything/one. Rather than having the hazy summer sun (estrogen) painting life as a lovely, rosy picture, we have the sharpness of the autumn light showing us the shit (ie truth!) that lies beneath. Our souls demand a clean up and clear out. We stand for no nonsense. This can feel like a personality change but it’s not. The nonsense was there all along and we will no longer put up with it!
Our rollercoaster hormones also dial up our threat system (via the sympathetic nervous system) so we can become hypervigilant, fists up, ready for a fight and easily triggered.
But before we all think that a good dose of estrogen will sort us out (it can help ofcourse, HRT can be a lifesaver for some) let’s also be aware of…
3. Our psychological responses
Many of us come to peri/menopause over stretched and over stressed (resulting in an exhausted adrenal system). We have no more stretchiness left to stretch and we…snap, break. Most of those who I work recognise they’re knocking on the door of menopause burned out. It’s important to recognise this to ensure the right approach and support going forward.
We also tend to stick our fingers in our ears when it comes to listening to our feelings. We try hard not to feel them and, actually, there may have been good reason for that. It’s often worked well for us to this point. However, we are given less choice once we get to peri/menopause. The ‘cracking open’ mentioned above means that unresolved issues rise to the surface and demand some attention. It’s common for past trauma to reappear at this time. Plus we have less energy to push our feelings away (overstretched/stressed) and so they can easily come flooding through when we least want or expect them and that often includes anger.
Finally, anger and rage can sometimes shield us from deeper feeling of grief and loss. It can act as a protective barrier. Menopause is a huge initiation (ending and beginning) so many women start connecting with feelings of grief and loss at this time. They can go through a phase of swinging between the grief and the anger before eventually recognising the need to stay beyond the anger and face their grief and loss. It’s time to heal those hidden parts.
So, whilst this informaotion isn’t going to take your anger and rage away (I would never want to do in any case…I’ll explain that in my next blog ‘The importance of anger in peri/menopause and how to step across the bridge from hormonal rage to assertive self confidence’) it sheds a little light on some of the context behind our strong feelings.
If you take anything away from reading this, I would hope it be this…
Anger and rage are common experiences in peri/menopause,
You’re feeling it for yourself AND your ancestors,
Expressing it is scary for many reasons,
Now may be the time to turn towards your feelings and let them fuel you forward rather than blow you up.
If this has resonated with you and you’d like to talk to me about personal therapy or coaching to help you navigate your way through these stormy waters, email me [email protected] I have 2 spaces available for my 12 week personal programme. I will email you details and you can book a free consultation to see whether now is the time for you to commit to some personal development and whether we are a good ‘fit’.
Want to know more about the going forward rather than blowing up?! Watch this space for next week’s article...
Does reassurance reduce anxiety?
Before I jump into my reflections about reassurance, I want to mention how I have procrastinated for a couple of weeks about which topic I should choose to start this blog. Maybe the back story of my own journey from fear to fulfiment, my career pivot, the importance of self compassion, letting go of the Imposter Syndrome...."What is the perfect way to begin?" I wondered. Making decisions can be tough. Searching for perfection is futile. The decision process is one of bringing together our heads and hearts and tuning into our 'gut' intuition. To do this we need to give those thoughts and feelings space to settle and be. Then we can move freely towards our chosen direction. "Sod it", I thought once the thoughts had settled, I'll write my blog on the issues that were running through my mind this morning because they are current, authentic (as always) and will resonate with many of you, I am sure! Action over procrastination. There will be plenty of time for those other topics in the future...
How many of you use reassurance to help you feel better? We all do. We try to turn our worries and anxious thoughts into positive "it's ok" ones. I am often talking to clients about the long term issues with this strategy. We may feel ok for a short while but boom...there comes that anxiety again so as well as having the original anxiety we then beat ourselves up for not being able to get a handle on it. These layers of anxiety and criticism turn our bodies into battlefields, switching on our sympathetic nervous systems. Then follows the heart pumping, stomach churning, chest tightening fight or flight response.
So this morning, I did a little experiment to check out whether my advice of letting go of the thoughts (taken from ACT - Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Training) is a helpful one or whether positive thinking reassurance actually does the trick. I constantly 'walk my talk' and trust me, being an ambitious business woman who cares deeply about juggling my contribution to the world through my business with being the best mum, wife and friend that I can to be, I have anxious thoughts and feelings galore!
The anxious thought of the morning was related to me choosing to go for a morning run rather than do the weekly 'stay and read' at school with my two young daughters (aged 5 & 7). As I ran off from school I noticed a tightness in my stomach and the thoughts "that's really selfish of you to run rather than read, they'll be sad you're not there, these are precious times whilst they are little - you should embrace them all, you're a crap mum etc etc" (familiar guilt trip anyone?!).
These sorts of thoughts used to overwhelm me and quite frankly, I would never have chosen the run over the read. This, however, was the path towards overwhelm, stress and exhaustion.
Added into the mix were the thoughts "I have so much work to do today, I should be doing that rather than running".
So instead of automatically using my ACT based way, I decided to do an experiment. I spent a few minutes reassuring myself - "You work school hours so the girls are lucky to be with you before and after school", "You have spent the whole of half term with them last week, they have had lots of time with you", "You read pretty much every week, one week won't make a difference". These are true and I focused on them for a few minutes. The result - the anxiety feeling did reduce...a bit... but there was still a tiny pull in my stomach. I went through some mini cycles of relief, phew, then the "yeah but..." thoughts kept popping up. I was in my mind and not completely aware of the lovely surroundings of my local park.
I then tried the ACT approach of acknowledging the thoughts, "I'm noticing my mind thinking that I'm a crap mum", "ah ok, that makes sense" with being willing to feel the feelings by tuning into the tightness in my stomach and opening up some internal space for it. I then said to myself "ok thoughts and feelings, you're coming with me on my run, so let's go". I let go of doing anything with them, I just let them be. It was a hand's off approach. The result.....I was free to focus on my surroundings and enjoy my run regardless of the anxiety. My mind then had the capacity to notice how my personal value of self care was priority for that half hour, which gave me purpose and a sense of fulfilment. I knew that the time would come for family relationships and commitment to work and they would take priority later.
This process of thinking and feeling really does take us from fear to fulfilment. It is not easy and can take some practice and guidance. If you are interested in dipping your toe into my appraoch then sign up for 'Ideas and Inspiration' on my website.
If you want a great and easy to read book on the foundation of this approach - get yourself 'The Happiness Trap' by Russ Harris. It is awesome.
If you are an ambitious woman wanting to let go of anxiety and self doubt so you can progress you career, grow your business and love you life right now then book your FREE call with me via the website. I would love to guide you towards your own freedom and fulfilment.
Bye for now,