The Dance of Anger by Harriet G. Lerner

The Dance of Anger by Harriet G. Lerner

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 239 pages, 1985

Rating: 8/10

Reason for Reading: It caught my eye on Amazon.

Synopsis: Lerner, a specialist in the psychology of women, takes a look at anger: how it hurts us when we avoid it or express it in the wrong way. The ‘circle’ of the title refers to the useless patterns of arguing people fall into, creating an endless circle where nothing ever actually gets changed by anger.

Why you should read this book: Lerner’s main point is one that many people find difficult to recognize or to act on – we have the same arguments with the same people over and over and over in our lives because we don’t know how to change anything. Her advice is simple but challenging: change your own behavior instead of trying to change the other person, which breaks the ‘circle’ and hopefully eventually forces the other person to change their methods as well, allowing positive change to emerge from anger and arguing.

Why you should avoid this book: Lerner relies on example case studies of arguing, but these could all be greatly improved by the addition of simple ‘reference lists’ with things like the actual language you might try when you’re attempting to change the pattern of an argument. If you’ve been having the same argument for twenty years you obviously need a lot more help in changing your arguing style, but Lerner doesn’t always deliver on the ‘how to’ aspect of the book.

Opening paragraph:

Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to. Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right. Our anger may tell us that we are not addressing an important emotional issue in our lives, or that too much of our self – our beliefs, values, desires, or ambitions – is being compromised in a relationship. Our anger may be a signal that we are doing more and giving more than we can comfortably do or give. Or our anger may warn us that others are doing too much for us, at the expense of our own competence and growth. Just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self. Our anger can motivate us to say ‘no’ to the ways in which we are defined by others and ‘yes’ to the dictates of our inner self.

Fabulous quotes:

What happens if there is not enough ‘I’ in our relationship? Here, we sacrifice our clear and separate identity and our sense of responsibility for, and control over, our own life. When the ‘togetherness force’ is overriding, a lot of energy goes into trying to ‘be for’ the other person, and trying to make the other person think or behave differently. Instead of taking responsibility for our own selves, we tend to feel responsible for the emotional well-being of the other person and hold the other person responsible for ours. When this reversal of individual responsibility is set in motion, each partner may become very emotionally reactive to what the other says and does, and there may be a lot of fighting and blaming, as in Barbara’s case.

In addition to the task of being the caretaker in maintaining emotional contact, Maggie will now face a series of ‘tests,’ for her mother will need to determine whether Maggie really ‘means it,’ or whether she is willing to return to the previous pattern of interaction. Again, this is not because Maggie’s mother is a rigid, crazy woman, but because this is the predictable reaction in all family systems.

Also recommended: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers.

Also by this author: Fear and Other Uninvited Guests; The Dance of Connection; The Dance of Intimacy; The Mother Dance; The Dance of Deception; Life Preservers: Good Advice When You Need it Most; Women in Therapy.

Author’s website:

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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