Written in 1985 by psychotherapist Harriet Lerner, PhD, The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships is a seminal book about women and their relationships with their own feelings of anger.
A Book Written For Women
One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is Lerner’s differentiation between men and women, and the ways in which we have been societally conditioned to relate to our anger. The TLDR version: it’s just fine and dandy for men to feel and express anger (it’s one of the few feelings they are permitted) however, for women, anger is a massive no-no.
Lerner puts anger into the context of relationships, which makes sense, as anger is usually the result of something that occurs in a relationship. She stresses the value of anger as a signal, one worth listening to, as it lets us know 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.”
Other Awesome Quotes
“How can women – trained from birth to define ourselves through our loving care of others – know with confidence when it’s finally time to say ‘Enough!’?”
“As women we have developed an important and complex interpersonal skill… we are good at anticipating other people’s reactions, and we are experts at protecting others from uncomfortable feelings… If only we could take this very same skill and redirect it inward in order to become experts on our own selves.“
“It takes courage to acknowledge our own uncertainty and sit with it for awhile.”
More Specifics About the Book
Ownership and personal accountability are concepts that I talk about a lot, and Lerner clearly shares an affinity for these values as well. She writes in detail about the importance of naming what you are feeling and being curious about it as a pathway to deeper understanding and insight. I particularly enjoyed her brief discussion on guilt. She states “another person cannot ‘make’ us feel guilty: they can only try.” Ultimately, we are responsible for our own feelings, even our guilt.
Lerner uses examples from her personal life as well as many clinical examples of her work with clients to demonstrate how anger surfaces and why, and she gives instructions on what to do once you are clear about your anger. She also gives specific verbiage for having hard conversations, something I always find helpful.
Her insights about “over-functioning” and “under-functioning” in partnerships are enlightening and I imagine many of us can see ourselves in some of these dynamics. In short, she describes how we each try to maintain a certain level of homeostasis both intra and inter personally. If one of us is doing all of the emotional work in a relationship (all of the worrying, for example) it takes the other partner off the hook from having to feel or express much.
Lerner also uses the metaphor of “dancing” in relationships which has been more recently been explored in Sue Johnson’s work with couples in her book Hold Me Tight.
This is a reader-friendly book, one that I recommend highly to women of all ages and stages. Let me know what you think.
The Dance of Anger can be find at https://www.harrietlerner.com/