As I have observed in my article "Psychosomatic and Symbolic Aspects of Menstruation", the way women experience the menstrual bleeding is one of the many parameters by which we can evaluate their pattern of relationship with the female nature. Considering the powerful archetypal symbolism of blood, we can easily deduce that, for women, the constant experience of this cyclical uterine bleeding which is menstruation greatly increases their capacity of deeply experiencing the organic and visceral processes typical of the female nature, especially those related to their sexual organs and the intimacy of their pelvis.
Given the enormous emotional and archetypal importance of the genitals, bleedings originating from these organs, even physiological, as menstruation, finish by acquiring a very special symbolism. Several fantasies associating blood and sexuality may arise. In this way, through the symbolism of menstruation women can somatically express many of their psycho-sexual and emotional problems. Through the psychosomatic pathways, innumerable conflicts related to women's nature can be directly or indirectly projected on the body, originating the more varied menstrual alterations. On the other hand, through the somatopsychic pathways, menstrual dysfunctions can give rise to several psychological conflicts regarding this aspect of female nature. Therefore, the menstrual bleeding is always endowed with a very powerful symbolic force.
In some cases,
excessive and/or prolonged menstrual bleedings ( hypermenorrhea or menorrhagia
) caused by functional disorders in the intricate mechanisms of the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovaries
axis, may also be a way of expressing a "wounded" femininity,
which metaphorically "vanishes and fades away in blood" through
the genitals. From the psychosomatic point of view, intense menstrual
cramps ( dysmenorrhea ), often physically caused by an increased production
of prostaglandins in the premenstrual and menstrual endometrium, are regarded
by some authors as a possible rejection of menstruation and/or even to
the female nature itself. In cases of serious conflicts concerning femininity,
the menstrual bleeding itself can be experienced as a "hardship",
a "trial" inherent to woman's nature.
recent proposal of artificially supressing the menses through the uninterrupted
use of hormones became highly widespread just due to this old feelings
of rejection caused by menstruation, now regrettably reinforced by those
who defend the hormonal menstrual suppression even by reasons of minor
On the other
hand - though this will bother many feminists -, H.-J. Prill has mentioned
that, according to Helene Deutsch, a supposed ( and always arguable )
"fundamentally masochist" psychological structure of women also
would contribute to the development of pathological ways of experiencing
menstruation. Thus, many times the unhealthy symbolism of the menstrual
bleeding would be reinforced by stimulating masochist fantasies ( H.-J.
Prill - "Ginecologia Psicosomatica" -, Editorial Alhambra, Madrid,
of all of this, we know quite well that the establishment of such pathological
ways of experiencing this cyclical uterine bleeding which is menstruation
also happens as a consequence of the old prejudices and misconceptions
regarding this event of female physiology and nature - many of which,
unfortunately, have not been entirely eradicated yet. Nevertheless, I
want to emphasize that innumerable psychological mechanisms can be and
are involved in menstrual disorders as well as in any other gynecologic
problem. Moreover, in the area of Psychosomatic Medicine everything happens
according to highly individual patterns, and we must never forget that
each person is one person - and, obviously, in Gynecology each woman is
has always been surrounded by a rich mythology, characterized not only
by aspects regarded as positive, but also as negative. As I always emphasize,
this periodic uterine bleeding is an important archetypal symbol of women's
nature, and its regular occurrence is the more evident external sign of
the cyclical feature that characterizes female physiology. The coming
of menstruation indicates both the end of a cycle that terminates and
the beginning of a new one. Menarche, which occurs in the middle of the
puberal changes through which the girl's body acquires the features of
the adult woman, is usually endowed with a very special symbolic meaning.
Conversely, in a way menopause symbolizes the decline of femininity at
the somatic level ( though many women will disagree about that ).
there are also the old prejudices and misconceptions about the menstrual
flow, often associating it with something "impure" or "dangerous"
that, for this reason, should be eliminated and expelled from the body.
At a conscious level, for the modern and educated women these misconceptions
are already mostly outmoded. Even so, some "remnants" of them
can still remain acting unconsciously, aggravating and even originating
several cases of premenstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea. Probably even
the old idea of an "impurity" or "toxicity" intrinsic
to the menstrual blood and content was reinforced by the physical discomforts
that often precede and accompany the menses.
and esoteric literature many references can be found to "powerful
magic forces" attributed to menstruating women, characterized both
by positive and negative aspects. Nevertheless, it is fundamental to remark
that whenever we analyze this sort of material, we must be fully aware
that, in this field, concepts and ideas are presented through an essentially
symbolic language, and that, according to Jungian psychology, it is mostly
through symbolism that the archetypal contents of the collective psyche
From the standpoint
of Archetypal Psychology, in the positive aspects of the old menstrual
myths we can verify an association between the magical meaning of women
as sources of life, symbols of Eros and fertility, and the magical meaning
of blood as vital fluid. In the specific case of menstruation, blood flows
exactly from the female genitals, situated in the depth of the woman's
belly. The innumerable fantasies that were always created about the female
sexual organs reinforce this symbolism of the menstrual bleeding.
As to the negative aspects of
the old menstrual myths, I have already observed that they possibly had
originated from the widely known signs and symptoms that often precede
and go along with the menses, and that include emotional alterations and
even changes in the behaviour ( the psychical manifestations of the premenstrual
syndrome ). We also must observe that, in the past, the association of
the usually "traumatic" symbolism of blood losses in general
with the physical discomforts that often accompany menstruation must also
have contributed considerably to making this event of female physiology
acquire unfavourable connotations.
cause for the development of all menstrual mythology - not only in its
positive but also negative aspects - was the result of the association
between the mystery and the fascination of women, the fantasies about
the female genitals, the symbolism of blood and blood losses, and the
signs and symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea.
is a gynecologist dedicated to Clinical, Preventive and Psychosomatic
Gynecology. Graduated in 1974 by Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade
Federal do Rio de Janeiro, he is the author of several articles published
in medical journals and of the books "Novas
Perspectivas em Ginecologia" ("New Perspectives in Gynecology")
and "Os Órgãos Sexuais Femininos:
Forma, Função, Símbolo e Arquétipo" ("The
Female Sexual Organs: Shape, Function, Symbol and Archetype"),
published by Imago Editora, Rio de Janeiro, 1990, 1993.