Psychoanalysis and Menstruation

Early Psychoanalysis

An early psychoanalytic work about menstruation is seen in Mary Chadwick’s, The Psychological Problems in Menstruation (1932), which describes the fears that accompany the first menstruation (Delaney et al., 1976). An adolescent girl becomes ashamed of her developing body, but her greatest shame is her menstrual cycle: “She believes that she has injured herself, that it is some horrible disease, or that divine punishment has fallen upon her as retribution for former misdeeds” (Chadwick, 1932).

Helen Deutsch and the Interpretation of Menstruation

Biography of Helen Deutsch

Biography of Helen Deutsch

One of the most influential theorists in the 1930s was Helen Deutsch. Deutsch, like Freud, defines menstruation as “agitated periods during which previously repressed feelings are released” (Delaney et al., 1976). Deutsch infers that menstruation is a negative symbol when she labels women as ‘servants of the species. Menstruation carries a negative connotation that reminds the female she has, as Deutsch asserts, “forever lost her wish for an imagined penis” (Delaney et al., 1976).


Another interpretation of women’s psychological reaction to menstruation is that losing blood in the menstrual cycle is equivalent to losing a child. Deutsch believes that all women desire to be mothers; therefore, each menstruation is a continual reminder that a woman has failed to become pregnant (Delaney et a., 1976). This theory is surprisingly restated by various analysts, among them Erik Erikson, who writes in his famous essay, Womanhood and the Inner Space, “that a woman is most vulnerable and hurt when she is empty, ‘Each menstruation . . . is a crying to heaven in the mourning over a child’” (Delaney et al., 1976).

Karen Horney and Clara Thompson

Karen Horney

Clara Thompson

Psychoanalysts Karen Horney and Clara Thompson view society to be the basis of the destructive attitudes in women (Delaney et al., 1976). Horney purports that learning about menstruation from an “embarrassed” or “worried” mother can create a negative reaction in the daughter (Delaney et al., 1976). In fact, Horney asserts that mothers who have learned to fear and resent their own bodies are likely to pass negative feelings concerning menstruation to their daughters (Delaney et al., 1976). Horney and Thompson attempt to emphasize that society is primarily responsible for the internalized resentment of menstruation.

 In conclusion

Horney’s theory of menstruation is viewed within a social context (Delaney et al., 1976). According to Horney, man devalues a woman’s functions with the intention of keeping her out of his domain. She states that this perpetuates the ideology of the powerful man and the inferior woman (Delaney et al., 1976). “The male sees the female as biologically incapable of assuming positions of power. This certainly is the theme that dominates intersexual relations among the primitives, and it clearly conditions the economics of the contemporary world.”


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