What We Need to Hear
A Friends and Family Guide to PMDD
Are you a friend or family member of someone with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD? When a loved one is living with PMDD, the sad truth is that you’re living with it too. Our condition is a serious challenge for our relationships, and admittedly, we’re not always easy to love.
PMDD can turn your kind and affectionate lover, sister, mother, girlfriend, or co-worker into an unrecognizable raging, crying ball of tension. It’s scary and confusing for everyone, not just you, and not just the women going through it… both.
Because we’re acting out–maybe yelling or saying things we shouldn’t or simply pushing you away–it can feel quite right to take it all personally. And of course, you shouldn’t have to lie down and take what we dish out. But rather than pushing back, rather than meeting us at the same level of the disorder (a disorder, I’ll remind you, that you don’t have!), the number one thing you can do for a woman experiencing PMDD symptoms is to exercise a little restraint, take a step back, and become a compassionate presence. Maybe not so easy, but definitely more effective. How to do that when you feel attacked?
Think of it this way: Imagine that the woman in your life is reflecting to you your own tantrum-throwing, wounded inner-child. Just as the woman in your life has her lessons to learn, this one might just be yours. What are you going to do? Spank this child? Yell at it to shut up? Tell it it’s very, very bad? Ignore it? These might be your inclinations, if you didn’t get a whole lot of unconditional nurturing growing up yourself, but that’s not the way to soothe the child. It will just make the child angrier and more rebellious. What the child needs is a stabilizing presence. What it needs is to hear reinforcing messages of acceptance and understanding. What is needs is support to regain emotional balance. Say the wrong thing (or even the right thing with the wrong tone) and it might just reinforce the child’s sense of isolation and fear. But the right words, expressed genuinely, can be a soothing balm of reassurance, perhaps even instantly deescalating the tension.
I asked several women with PMDD what it was they needed to hear from their loved ones when they felt their worst. It’s pretty clear that whatever you do, don’t say something like, “PMDD again? You always have PMDD!” While most of the ideas below are geared more toward family members or close friends, those of you who are only acquainted or working with women with PMDD might get some ideas too. Of course, every woman will be different wanting to hear something important and comforting to her, but this may shed some light on what works. This is what they shared…
What We Need to Hear
“I know this isn’t how you want to be. I know you’re in there, and I still love you.'”
“I’m not going to take this personally. It’s hard. But that’s what I’m going to do.”
“I feel like you might need some space. I’m going to go make dinner…” or clean the bathroom or vacuum the floor.
“You’re not alone.”
“I’m not going anywhere. I know this is temporary, it’s okay.”
“I still love you, I know your having a hard time; it will be okay… What can I do to help?”
“Hold my hand,” or just take it firmly in yours.
And if we pull away, “I know your body can’t handle being touched any more right now; I know that it doesn’t mean you’re less attracted to me.”
“I love you and know you need space, so I’m going to leave you alone with this magazine and big bar of chocolate.”
“How can I best support you today?” Or as another woman put it, “Instead of, ‘Honey can YOU?’ How about, ‘Babe let me do xyz?'”
“What can I do to make you feel better?” It also helps when he brings home flowers and fried chicken every cycle.
“Remember I love you.”
“Everything is going to be fine,” and sometime no words at all are good, just a kiss or cuddle works.
“It will be okay. I love you,” and “It’s going to be okay. I still love you.”
“Can I make you some hot tea, baby?”
“I know you are doing your best right now. I understand.”
“I am here for you… if you want me.”
More than one woman said they just wanted to be left completely alone. And yet, several women expressed the need to be held, while others expressed that being touched was too much stimulation. The lesson here is that every woman is different. So, rather than assume what’s needed or wanted, ask your partner what they prefer and realize that it might change cycle to cycle. Also, try to have the conversation before the PMDD sets in. This way, you’re prepared and not asking us to explain at a time when the last thing we may want is to expend energy making sentences. Even if it backfires, we’ll know you are trying and be grateful.
I’ll also add that, at least for myself, it is often difficult to express appreciation in the moment. So if you don’t get immediate reinforcement for something well-said (or done), wait it out. When the storm clears, you just might get a really big thank you for the tiny expression of warmth than melted a little bit of the inner ice at a painful time.
In summary, I think each of the statements these women shared reflects something pretty straight forward that every human being needs to hear:
I love you.
I accept you.
It’s all okay.
Do you have PMDD? What do you want to hear?