By Donna Hobgood, M.D.
Your husband may be the first to tell you —; or your associates at work —; or your children —; or your mother. You're angry, you're irritable, you're impatient, you're crying for no reason.
The next day you feel fine. Sure enough, your period starts that afternoon —; at least it's supposed to. Maybe its menopause, you wonder. And you decide to make an appointment to see your doctor.
On your way out the door to your appointment, your husband and children say in chorus, “Don't forget to tell the doctor how irritable and emotional you've been." Or they offer to go with you. You vow dutifully to go get yourself straightened out.
Does this seem familiar to you? Why are we women "hormonal" at times? Any age group can be affected, pre-teen to post-mature. And it is not clear what the role of hormones actually is in these symptoms. If you are tested for hormones and no abnormality is found, then what is wrong with you?
Many factors make you the unique individual that you are, some rooted in genetics and some in environment, that old “nature and nurture” truism. Maybe we will never understand all of them. But scientific inroads are being made daily into the world of emotions, feelings, and personality. The hope is that understanding them better will be the first step to diminishing our anxiety and mental suffering.
What are we discovering about understanding our emotions?
Sophisticated pharmacologic and brain imaging studies are unraveling the workings of biochemical transmitters in the nervous system as they affect our feelings and behavior. And genetic research —; now that the Human Genome Project has mapped out all the genes in our chromosomes —; promises to clarify how our brain functions: How we feel and to what purpose.
One intriguing model based on genetic traits attempts to unravel the ways by which our bodies handle our emotional response to our environment, especially in social interactions. The model, called the NPA personality theory, was developed by Dr. Anthony Benis.
According to this model, a key body organ of emotion is the “autonomic nervous system” —; the part of the nervous system that is the seat of aggressive rages, tantrums, flushing, blushing, crying and even smiling. Thus, the model proposes that analysis of a person's autonomic nervous system function should be the first step in understanding the biological personality traits of an individual.
Soon, it is thought, the genetics of the autonomic nervous system will be clarified, and this will allow laboratory testing and typing of any individual into distinct personality categories. This could lead to more appropriate diagnosis and treatment of emotional disturbances.
So when being hormonal is not caused by your hormones, we must look for other answers. If you wish to learn more about the NPA model (the letters stand for narcissism, perfectionism and aggression), a web site exists on this topic, and it includes an online NPA personality test. There is also a Wikipedia encyclopedia article on the internet. If you decide to pursue this exploration of the nature of your inherited personality traits and of your emotions, your journey is bound to be revealing - and exciting.
Donna Hobgood, M.D., board certified in obstetrics and gynecology, is
currently a practicing physician at the Women’s Institute for Specialized Health. She has been a member of the Chattanooga & Hamilton County Medical Society since 1988. Contact her at 1751 Gunbarrel Road, Suite 200, (423) 894-1355.