Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships

Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships

by Harriet Lerner


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The renowned classic and New York Times bestseller that has transformed the lives of millions of readers, dramatically changing how women and men view relationships.

Anger is something we feel. It exists for a reason and always deserves our respect and attention. We all have a right to everything we feel—and certainly our anger is no exception.

"Anger is a signal and one worth listening to," writes Dr. Harriet Lerner in her renowned classic that has transformed the lives of millions of readers. While anger deserves our attention and respect, women still learn to silence our anger, to deny it entirely, or to vent it in a way that leaves us feeling helpless and powerless. In this engaging and eminently wise book, Dr. Lerner teaches both women and men to identify the true sources of anger and to use it as a powerful vehicle for creating lasting change.

For decades, this book has helped millions of readers learn how to turn their anger into a constructive force for reshaping their lives. With a new introduction by the author, The Dance of Anger is ready to lead the next generation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062319043
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/25/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 24,644
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.58(d)

About the Author

Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., is one of our nation’s most loved and respected relationship experts. Renowned for her work on the psychology of women and family relationships, she served as a staff psychologist at the Menninger Clinic for more than two decades. A distinguished lecturer, workshop leader, and psychotherapist, she is the author of The Dance of Anger and other bestselling books. She is also, with her sister, an award-winning children's book writer. She and her husband are therapists in Lawrence, Kansas, and have two sons.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Challenge of Anger

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.

Women, however, have long been discouraged from the awareness and forthright expression of anger. Sugar and spice are the ingredients from which we are made. We are the nurturers, the soothers, the peacemakers, and the steadiers of rocked boats. It is our job to please, protect, and placate the world. We may hold relationships in place as if our lives depended on it.

Women who openly express anger at men are especially suspect. Even when society is sympathetic to our goals of equality, we all know that "those angry women" turn everybody off. Unlike our male heroes, who fight and even die for what they believe in, women may be condemned for waging a bloodless and humane revolution for their ownrights. The direct expression of anger, especially at men, makes us unladylike, unfeminine, unmaternal, sexually unattractive, or, more recently, "strident." Even our language condemns such women as "shrews," "witches," "bitches," "hags," "nags," "man-haters," and "castrators." They are unloving and unlovable. They are devoid of femininity. Certainly, you do not wish to become one of them. It is an interesting sidelight that our language--created and codified by men--does not have one unflattering term to describe men who vent their anger at women. Even such epithets as "bastard" and "son of a bitch" do not condemn the man but place the blame on a woman--his mother!

The taboos against our feeling and expressing anger are so powerful that even knowing when we are angry is not a simple matter. When a woman shows her anger, she is likely to be dismissed as irrational or worse. At a professional conference I attended recently, a young doctor presented a paper about battered women. She shared many new and exciting ideas and conveyed a deep and personal involvement in her subject. In the middle of her presentation, a wellknown psychiatrist who was seated behind me got up to leave. As he stood, he turned to the man next to him and made his diagnostic pronouncement: "Now, that is a very, angry woman." That was that! The fact that he detected--or thought he detected--an angry tone to her voice disqualified not only what she had to say but also who she was. Because the very possibility that we are angry often meets with rejection and disapproval from others, it is no wonder that it is hard for us to know, let alone admit, that we are angry.

Why are angry women so threatening to others? If we are guilty, depressed, or self-doubting, we stay in place. We do not take action except against our own selves and we are unlikely to be agents of personal and social change. In contrast, angry women may change and challenge the lives of us all, as witnessed by the past decade of feminism. And change is an anxiety-arousing and difficult business for everyone, including those of us who are actively pushing for it.

Thus, we too learn to fear our own anger, not only because it brings about the disapproval of others, but also because it signals the necessity for change. We may begin to ask ourselves questions that serve to block or invalidate our own experience of anger: "Is my anger legitimate?" "Do I have a right to be angry?" "What's the use of my getting angry?" "What good will it do?" These questions can be excellent ways of silencing ourselves and shutting off our anger.

Let us question these questions. Anger is neither legitimate nor illegitimate, meaningful nor pointless. Anger simply is. To ask, "Is my anger legitimate?" is similar to asking, "Do I have a right to be thirsty? After all, I just had a, glass of water fifteen minutes ago. Surely my thirst is not legitimate. And besides, what's the point of getting thirsty when I can't get anything to drink now, anyway?"

Anger is something we feel. It exists for a reason and always deserves our respect and attention. Weall have a right to everything we feel--and certainly our anger is no exception.

There are questions about anger, however, that may be helpful to ask ourselves: "What am I really angry about?" "What is the problem, and whose problem is it?" "How can I sort out who is responsible for what?" "How can I learn to express my anger in a way that will not leave me feeling helpless and powerless?" "When I'm angry, how can I clearly communicate my position without becoming defensive or attacking?" "What risks and losses might I face if I become clearer and more assertive?" "If getting angry is not working for me, what can I do differently?" These are questions. that we will be addressing in subsequent chapters, with the goal, not of getting rid of our anger or doubting its validity, but of gaining greater clarity about its sources and then learning to take a new and different action on our own behalf.

The Dance of Anger. Copyright © by Harriet Lerner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

1The Challenge of Anger1
2Old Moves, New Moves, and Countermoves17
3Circular Dances in Couples: When Getting Angry Is Getting Nowhere41
4Anger at our Impossible Mothers: The Story of Maggie67
5Using Anger as a Guide: The Road to a Clearer Self88
6Up and Down the Generations: Katy and Her Aging Father108
7Who's Responsible for What: The Trickiest Anger Question122
8Thinking in Threes: Stepping Out of Family Triangles154
9Tasks for the Daring and Courageous189
Epilogue: Beyond Self-Help222

What People are Saying About This

Peggy Papp

“Of all the books that have been written about the personal relationships of women and what to do about them, this is the most sound. Like a family heirloom, it can be passed from generation to generation as it is based on profound and lasting truths.”

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
Women have long been discouraged from discussing anger. We are the nurturers, the soothers, the peacemakers, the steadiers of rocked boats. We learn to fear our anger, because it not only brings about the disapproval of others but also signals the necessity for change.

The taboos against expressing anger are so powerful that we may not even know when we are angry. Or we may vent anger in a way that leaves us feeling helpless and powerless ensuring that change does not occur. Or we may wrap feelings of guilt and self-blame around ourselves like an old familiar blanket. Many of us feel guilty if we are anything less than an emotional service station to others.

The Dance of Anger shows readers how to identify the actual sources of anger and to use anger as a tool for change. Lerner illustrates how getting angry gets nowhere if we do not identify and change our own part in the pattern.

Questions for Discussion
1. What are the forces from family and culture that encourage us to deny our own legitimate anger? Why is women's anger threatening to others and ourselves?

2. What are the typical ways we manage anger (for example, venting, distancing, blaming) that don't work for us over the long haul? Discuss case examples from the book that illustrate "anger gone wrong" and see what you learn from them.

3. Discuss the following concepts and themes that are illustrated by case examples in The Dance of Anger. Move from the examples in the book to examples in your own life.

  • Emotional pursuer-- emotional distancer (Chapter 3)
  • Anger at our mothers (Chapter 4)
  • Triangles (Chapter 8)

    Remember, there are important "howto" lessons contained in each woman's story throughout the book. A group situation is an ideal place to connect these with your own life and formulate new steps to move differently in relationships.

    Quotes for Discussion

    "Anger is a signal and one worth listening to." (Page 1)

    "Those of us who are locked into ineffective expressions of anger suffer as deeply as those of us who dare not get angry at all." (Page 5)

    "It is not just anger and fighting that we learn to fear; we avoid asking precise questions and making clear statements when we unconsciously suspect that doing so would expose our differences, make the other person feel uncomfortable, and leave us standing alone." (Page 93)

    About the Author: Harriet Lerner Ph.D., is an internationally acclaimed expert on the psychology of women and family relationships. She is a staff psychologist and psychotherapist at the Menninger Clinic and a distinguished lecturer, consultant, and workshop leader. She has a monthly column in New Woman magazine. Her latest book is The Mother Dance: How Children Change Your Life

  • Customer Reviews

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    Dance of Anger 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 67 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I read this book many years ago when it was recommended by a therapist. I immediately knew it was going to help me. I read it again and again thru the years....sometimes start to finish....sometimes sections I knew I needed that day. I recommend it to everyone. The simplest yet most difficult truth to can only change yourself!
    juliecr More than 1 year ago
    I have read this book and listened to it on tape a number of times. I recommend it to my clients, and not just women. It is very helpful in negotiating difficulties with relationships and difficult relationships. Lerner provides insight and helpful steps to hold on to yourself while keeping the relationship intact.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book changed my life. I have a grasp on how to respond to negative people. I don't engage in the dance of argument. I just say "I" know that you are upset, but "I" don't like it when to speak to me that way. They don't know what to say back and "I" have difused the argument. Once you learn how to put "I" first, then you are ahead of the argument. Try it. It really worked for me.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book was fabulous and it is great one of showing of we women fell into a dance pattern and never get what we want - without realizing that we can ultimately control the dance by changing the steps and better for us longterm
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I read this book my senior year of high school (about 6 years ago) an it really helped me be a better girlfriend, daughter, and sister. I even used it as a reference in a communications class the following year. I was constantly lashing out at the people I loved most (not my acquaintances) and saying what I said just to hurt them, not to prove a point. Now I feel like I can better deal with my emotions and help the people I love instead of hurting them with words or silence. It doesn't tell you to bury the hurt but instead express it to your person in a more healthy way. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to develop a healthy pattern of expressing hurt in their most important relationships.
    jowejr More than 1 year ago
    Don't let the title fool you. While this book may be written from a woman's perspective, it contains some very insightful material regardless of who you are. I am a mature male adult who was raised by a strong independent single parent - my mother. Perhaps that is the reason why I personally identified with most of the content contained in "The Dance of Anger". In any event, I would honestly say that this book has made a positive impact on my life and that I am looking forward to reading it again.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book really hit home for me. It's almost as if this book was written just for me. I read the book straight through - I couldn't put it down. I have learned so much about myself and how I deal with anger. This is a must-read book for every woman!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was first published in 1985. I read it First in the 80s and now just recently read it Again. It is a great book...for men and women It is great to see ur pattern of anger and Learn to develop healthier ways to handle Ur responses. A must read for women And men.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book is right on..........excellent read and extremely helpful.
    Chapulina More than 1 year ago
    This is one of those books everyone should read.... men included! I am looking forward to practice what I learned, I'm sure it will be very helpful. Don't miss it!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book works for men also. This book was invaluable for me as I am a male in a long term relationship who has allowed himself to be dominated by a female. Then I read The Art of Love by Erich Fromm, and oh boy, what a difference two books can make.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I found this book quite good... did open my eyes to myself and family connections.
    monroe More than 1 year ago
    This book does not offer any further insight into understanding anger and how it affects relationships than what has already been written and widely circulated for years. It was an okay read, but no new information was garnered from it.
    cmbohn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I was in therapy this summer briefly, but long enough for my therapist to recommend this book. I read through it and several times spotted some things that I do sometimes, but I can't say it was life changing. Mostly it reminded me that I need to be honest about my feelings and I need to set clear boundaries and stick to them.
    kaitye2409 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Very good. Her book allowed me to apply some of her methods into practice for my household. I recommend this book to those who wish to work on their relationships with their love ones.
    thesmellofbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    An incredibly helpful book, if used and not just read through, in restructuring relationships of all kinds into positive and healthy ones. Not so complicated as we might expect!
    dancingwaves on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A really good (though sometimes cheesy) look at relationships and how to change some of the patterns we find ourselves in within those relationships. Highly recommended.
    herebedragons on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is a great book for helping to unlock the reasons we hold onto anger, an emotion which is so, so damaging to our health and relationships.
    maryh10000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Lots of good stuff, but also lots of generalizing about "we women" that I could have done without. However, if you read it as gender neutral, all the advice seems to be spot on.
    disneypope on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I have referred many people to this book over the years to help learn about basic systems theory. Most helpful.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    She yawned.
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