Objectives: This study aimed to compare and contrast detailed accounts of a community sample of women, with prospectively defined low or high premenstrual symptoms, highlighting differences/similarities.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 16 women (9 with 'low' and 7 with 'high' symptom levels) and analysed using template analysis.
Results: 'Low symptom' women perceived themselves as generally laid back but demonstrated a need for organization and control in the family environment. They accepted less than perfect relationships, compared themselves favourably to others and perceived themselves as having strong support networks. There was a negative perception of the introduction to menarche but this was coupled with strong maternal support. 'High symptom' women showed patterns of perfectionism, an emphasis on self-sacrifice and unfavourable comparison of self with others. They reported feeling alone, overwhelmed by tasks and experienced relationships as characterized by unresolved tensions. Menarche was viewed as a positive experience but accompanied by low maternal support. Both groups viewed their symptoms as irrational and controllable outside the home, but vented on partner, close family and children. There was acknowledgement of difference from 'normal' ('low') with an emphasis on the all-encompassing nature of symptoms ('high').
Conclusions: Women with high and low menstrual cycle symptoms viewed aspects of themselves and their relationships with others in both similar and different ways. A major issue for high symptom women was that they struggled to tolerate imperfections, both in their own performance or in their relationships with others, potentially emphasizing the role of cognitive appraisals in interventions.