You may have seen recent articles in the press quoting research which seems to imply that some women are more likely to spend "excessively" in the 10 days before a period starts. The inference was that the boost from so-called retail therapy allows women to deal with the unpleasant, negative feelings created by hormonal change at this point in their cycle. Before going on I would, as a therapist, take issue with the concept of retail therapy as any boost achieved is only temporary, often leaving guilt or remorse later, when the reality of the overspending becomes obvious when the bank or credit card statement arrives. Rather than therapy, it is more like a habit or an addiction that seems to soothe and does not actually relieve the underlying problem, and which over time can become a problem in its own right.
This idea of explaining changes in behaviour by understanding changes in hormonal levels in the body and brain is very interesting and reasonably well understood. In psychotherapy many therapists will in an initial session take details of someone's medical history including maybe the last time that their bloods were checked, knowing well that hormonal deficiency or excess can often influence or even be the cause of unhappiness, depression and sometimes inappropriate behaviour. However, an interesting question to me is, does this understanding mean we should excuse “inappropriate" behaviour?
Many people think that therapy is all warm and cosy and that we seek excuses for people's behaviour, in some way absolving them of responsibility. The reverse is true, for while most therapists seek to make someone feel secure and safe while we undertake the work, we are nevertheless seeking honesty and awareness about what has happened and our role in it -- in other words we encourage people to take responsibility for past and future actions. Of course, we do work therapeutically to ensure that patients can let go of inappropriate guilt and a sense of responsibility for childhood hurts when inflicted by adults. Guilt and a sense of responsibility linger for a long time, especially in cases of child abuse.
This process of understanding and taking responsibility where appropriate is part of how people grow and develop, and is sometimes what has been lacking in their past, particularly in childhood.
Roseanne Barr the American actress once said that she enjoyed it so much when she had her period because it was the only seven days of the month that she could be herself. Everyone laughed at this comedic woman seemingly taking delight at having an explanation and almost an excuse for difficult and perhaps unreasonable behaviour towards those around her. It is an excuse though?
We do know that hormones impact behaviour and that changes in hormone levels produce changes in behaviour, but does this change someone's responsibility for that behaviour? We will look at this more next time in The Post. In the meanwhile your thoughts on this issue are very welcome at email@example.com