Friday, April 22, 2011

The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner

The Dance of Anger:  A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner PhD is a look at relationships, with a slightly feminist slant, and how women use anger, whether overtly or through passive-aggressive manipulation to maintain relationships.  Lerner doesn’t limit her exploration to the family and/or romantic relationships but also covers professional interactions along with personal friendships.

Throughout the book, the author suggests that all relationships have certain patterns (dances) that maintain the status quo of interaction.  These patterns are typically learned in the family of origin and carried over into other relationships but some can be picked up along the way as well.  Over-functioning and under-functioning serve to keep roles defined so that the less emotional man allows the more emotional woman to do the feeling for the both of them and the nurturing mother leaves room for the distant father to withdraw.  Of course, these are not inevitable ways of interacting and they change and shift.  It is when these changes occur that things can often become frightening for both parties.  Or even for all three, where there is triangulation in a family–such as when there is a “black sheep” towards whom everyone can point a finger of blame without necessarily looking in the mirror to see the role the self plays in maintaining the relationship balance within the family.

I first read this book when I was in counseling during college.  I was going through a divorce and overwhelmed with everything happening in my life.  The book was an eye-opener for me at the time and I remember not only devouring it but calling my counselor in tears, absolutely convinced that I didn’t have the ability to change the unhealthy relationship patterns I saw on the page, the ones in which I clearly recognized myself.

Upon rereading it I realize that I have learned a lot.  One of the things Lerner says is that these patterns are normal.  She is not suggesting that every relationship interaction needs to be changed to something else.  After all, someone who is grieving a loss is likely be to under-functioning and if their partner can and will step up and take over some of the responsibilities for the time being, is there really any harm in that?  But she does invite and encourage the reader to take time to look at the various relationships and how we move through our daily life, recognize the dance for what it is, and decide what is and is not working for us on an individual level.  If there is a need for change, then we can commit to making changes. Otherwise, just knowing how the relationship functions, an awareness of the conscious and unconscious choices we make, is enough.

A very good book.  I see now why it had such an impact upon me the first time I read it.  I also see why I bought a copy for my friend Jorin and hoped we would read it together because this is a book I would have loved to discuss with someone else, someone whom I thought would be open to really thinking about the ideas presented.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if she ever received it, although I believe I finally asked and she said yes she did but she couldn’t find it or something, and then it just never came up again.  I sometimes wonder if she read it and thought I was trying to tell her something and maybe didn’t realize that I simply wanted to share a book I really liked enough to want to talk about it with someone I thought would appreciate it the way I did. *shrug*

Oddly enough, I haven’t recommended the book to anyone else as a result although I can think of a couple of people I feel would enjoy reading it and might even benefit from doing so as much as I.  It’s a really good book and if you think you might want to read it or even need to read it then you should.  I do recommend it.  Highly even.  I just don’t dare particularize to whom I would recommend it.

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