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Can PMS Affect Our Attachment Style?

Another nuanced layer of the complexity of womanhood, yay!

Can PMS Affect Our Attachment Style?

If you spend any time on TikTok, you’ve probably seen a few videos about attachment theory—there are hundreds of thousands of them. The theoretical framework has been around for decades and can provide a lot of insight on our past and how that past influences the way we navigate the world and current relationships. 

But did you know that there’s a school of thought that our menstrual cycles—specifically Premenstrual Syndrome, or PMS—can impact our attachment style? There’s even a Reddit thread on the topic, part of the 52,000 member Reddit group r/attachment_theory. While the physical symptoms of PMS like bloating, breakouts, cramps and cravings are pretty widely recognized and discussed, the effects of PMS on mental health and interpersonal relationships are less understood—and discussion of such is certainly not encouraged

The connection between PMS and attachment styles is fascinating—keep reading to better understand the complex and often confusing interplay between monthly hormonal fluctuations and emotional regulation

First Things First: What is Attachment Theory?

Simply put, attachment theory or attachment styles are patterns of relating to others that develop in infancy and persist into adulthood. Attachment theory, pioneered by British psychologist and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the late twentieth century, states that the bonds formed between infants and their primary caregivers shape their patterns of relating to other individuals throughout life. These patterns are categorized into four main attachment styles.

Secure Attachment

Experienced a happy, stable childhood? Individuals with secure attachment styles feel comfortable with intimacy and autonomy in relationships. They trust their partners, effectively communicate their needs, and have a positive view of themselves and others.

Anxious Attachment

Those with this attachment style crave closeness and worry about their partner's availability and commitment. They may be overly dependent on their relationships and fear rejection or abandonment.

Avoidant Attachment

Individuals with avoidant attachment tend to prioritize independence and self-reliance. They may suppress their emotions, avoid intimacy, and have difficulty trusting others or expressing vulnerability.

Disorganized Attachment

This style is characterized by inconsistent or erratic behavior in relationships. Individuals with disorganized attachment may have experienced trauma or inconsistent caregiving in childhood, leading to unresolved fears and conflicts in adulthood.

What Are Some Possible Effects of PMS on Attachment Styles?

Research suggests that hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can influence mood, cognition, and behavior—potentially impacting attachment dynamics. A recent study on the relationship between attachment style and premenstrual symptoms in women found “positive associations between maladaptive emotion regulation and premenstrual symptoms, and between anxious attachment and maladaptive emotion regulation for both groups of women.”

In other words, women who struggle with controlling potentially unhealthy emotions and women who have anxious attachment styles tend to experience more severe premenstrual symptoms. Additionally, for women with regular menstrual cycles, the tendency to regulate emotions poorly was found to contribute to the severity of premenstrual symptoms, particularly for those with anxious attachment styles. 

Even more simply, Feeling anxious in relationships is linked to worse premenstrual symptoms because it leads to poorer emotional regulation during that time.

While more research is needed to pinpoint the precise mechanisms at work, there are several factors that may contribute to changes in attachment styles during PMS:

Hormonal Imbalance

Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels during our cycle can affect neurotransmitter activity in the brain—particularly serotonin and dopamine—which play key roles in regulating mood and behavior. These hormonal shifts may exacerbate anxiety, depression, and irritability, influencing attachment-related thoughts and behaviors.

Emotional Dysregulation

Ever find yourself flying off the handle right before your period starts, and look back at your outburst a little surprised? You’re not alone. PMS is often associated with mood swings, irritability, and heightened emotional sensitivity. For individuals with anxious or disorganized attachment styles, these emotional fluctuations may intensify insecurities, fears of rejection, and difficulties in managing relationships. Additionally, those with avoidant attachment styles may become more emotionally distant or defensive as a coping mechanism during times of heightened stress.

Cognitive Distortions

Besides being incredibly frustrating, PMS-related symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, and brain fog can impair cognitive functioning and increase susceptibility to negative thinking patterns. This may lead to the misinterpretation of social cues, magnify conflicts, or result in maladaptive coping strategies that reinforce existing attachment insecurities.

What Happens to Our Attachment Style Right Before Our Period? 

While attachment styles tend to remain relatively stable over our lifetime, research suggests that hormonal fluctuations associated with PMS may influence attachment-related behaviors and perceptions, particularly in individuals with insecure attachment styles.

If your attachment style is anxious, you may experience heightened levels of anxiety, insecurity, and clinginess in your relationships while experiencing PMS. Anxious attached people may seek reassurance and validation from their partners more frequently, fearing abandonment or rejection.

Those with an avoidant attachment style may find that premenstrual symptoms exacerbates their tendencies to withdraw emotionally or avoid intimacy. They may become more aloof, distant, or dismissive of their partner's needs, preferring solitude or independence to cope with feelings of discomfort or vulnerability.

Individuals with disorganized attachment styles may exhibit increased emotional volatility, impulsivity, or difficulty regulating their behavior before menstruation. Past traumas or unresolved conflicts may resurface, leading to conflicts, dissociative experiences, or self-destructive behaviors in relationships.

It often feels like those of us who menstruate can’t catch a break. As if the bloating and breakouts weren’t enough, the revelation that there exists an interplay between PMS and attachment styles adds another layer of complexity to our relationships (that we’re forced to navigate). While attachment patterns are deeply ingrained and can be resistant to change, hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can influence emotional states, cognitive processes, and interpersonal behaviors, shaping the way we perceive and navigate our relationships. By recognizing the possible impact of PMS on attachment styles, we can try to cultivate greater empathy, understanding, and support for ourselves and others experiencing these cyclical changes.

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