Read The Dance of Anger: A Guide to Changing the Pattern of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner Free Online
Book Title: The Dance of Anger: A Guide to Changing the Pattern of Intimate Relationships|
The author of the book: Harriet Lerner
The size of the: 37.43 MB
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Reader ratings: 6.7
Date of issue: November 1998
ISBN 13: 9780722536230
Format files: PDF
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I recently heard a sermon on anger at my church. When I saw the sermon topic printed in the bulletin, I felt reluctant. I expected to hear what you sometimes do in Christian circles, that anger is bad and one should avoid becoming angry. I was not eager to hear this message, as I had been feeling strong anger about some personal injuries I had experienced, but I prayed I would receive the message with an open mind. The rector, however, said nothing of anger being either bad or good; he said, rather, that our anger reveals what we truly value. We become angry, he observed, when something happens that does not match up with the way we think the world SHOULD be. This insight remained in the back of my mind as I read Harriet Lerner’s “Dance of Anger.”
Anger, says Learner, is neither bad or good: it simply IS. But our expression of anger can be – and often is — ineffectual. We become engaged in a “dance of anger” with our spouses, parents, children, co-workers, and others rather than using that energy to clearly define our values and take action to get for ourselves what we need. We tend, she says, to “see people rather than patterns as the problem.” To break ineffective patterns, which are often perpetuated by the way we either express or repress our anger, we need instead to use our anger to affect change. Rather than wasting our energy trying to change the opinions and values and actions of other people, over which we have no actual control, we should use our energy to clearly determine and state our own values and what action we will take on our own behalf to resolve our own problems. (The objective is not to be manipulative, however.) We also need to identify the true (and sometimes multiple) sources of our anger so that it is not misplaced. This requires changing old, familiar patterns in relationships and can therefore be difficult or frightening for any or all parties involved.
Much in “The Dance of Anger” resonated with me, and the basic premise is useful, but I was initially put off by the feminist thrust of the opening pages. Dr. Lerner seemed to define expressions of anger more in terms of sex roles, societal oppression of women, and the like rather than in terms of individual personality and life circumstances, which seems to me to have as much to do with how people express (or repress) anger as gender does. Indeed, I think (in romantic relationships, at least) that perhaps men just as often fail to admit their anger and resentment for fear of jeopardizing a relationship as do women.
It was ironic to read Lerner’s suggestion that it’s not useful to worry about who is to blame for a given situation, and then later to read her response to a question in a particular situation: “Was Melisa, then, the cause of the problem? Of course not. If Melissa had been in an institution where women were truly empowered and where she, as a female, was not a numerically scarce commodity at the top, her behavior would have been quite different. In fact, research indicates that women who hold positions of authority in male-dominated settings are not able to clearly define their own selves…” These sorts of mini feminist rants, even when I didn’t disagree with them, occasionally distracted me from the author’s overall thesis. Fortunately, they are brief and widely dispersed.
Another caution I have is that she speaks a lot of “deselfing,” and although I certainly think this sort of thing does go on for women (and yes, even sometimes men too!), there is a fine line here that must be walked, between refusing to “deself” one’s self and simply being SELFISH. And that’s a line that can be very blurry for a lot of people, myself included. I think Dr. Learner’s advice may have a tendency to push some women over onto the selfish side of that line. In her outlook, there is very little moral judgment necessary. Feelings just are, and women just need to figure out what’s best for them, personally, and take action to resolve their own problems and satisfy their own needs. “Maybe I am selfish, but…” seems to be a refrain. Really, what’s wrong with taking the time to contemplate whether or not our guilt is, in fact, telling us we’re being selfish, rather than simply overcoming it and moving on to realize our needs for ourselves? And if we can really learn to live with our feelings of guilt in order to fulfill our needs, couldn’t we just as easily learn to live with our feelings of anger and resentment in order to fulfill the needs of other people? And, if so, which SHOULD we do? I don’t think these sorts of questions can be so easily dismissed.
Perhaps the guilt/anger dilemma is so difficult for me because of my religious background. Christianity emphasizes not just sins of action but sins of the heart. “You have heard it said, don’t commit adultery, but I say, don’t even lust. You have heard it said, don’t murder, but I say, don’t even be angry with your brother without a cause.” And so forth. It’s not that Christianity claims anger itself is wrong (rather, “Be angry, yet sin not,”), it’s just that it’s sometimes difficult for me to tell when anger morphs into sinful expressions of anger, or when anger is justified and when it is “without a cause.” So I found this book quite fascinating because, given my religious confusion, the “dance of anger” has been a particularly difficult issue for me. Selflessnes (some might even go so far as to say something not terribly unlike “deselfing”) and peace are both seen as virtues in Christianity, and yet, there also exists the traditional Christian concept of the virtue of righteous anger (a concept perhaps too much de-emphasized in modern times). What Learner did for me in this book was to focus my mind on a different and probably more useful question: not, is my anger GOOD or BAD, but, rather, is my anger ACCOMPLISHING anything positive? And, if not, how can I USE it to accomplish something positive? This, I felt, was a helpful mental re-direction for me.
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Read information about the authorHarriet Lerner was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the second of two daughters. Her parents, Archie and Rose Goldhor, were both children of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. They were high school graduates who wanted their daughters to "be someone" at a time when women were only supposed to "find someone."
"Achievement was next to Godliness for my sister, Susan, and me." Harriet notes. "My father would talk about ‘My daughters the doctors’ while we were still in our strollers."
Growing up, Harriet and Susan spent weekends at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Brooklyn Museum. "These places were free and just a subway token away."
Lerner's mother had an unwavering belief in her daughters and strong principles about how to raise children. In Harriet's words:
"Even during the hardest economic times my mother, Rose, made sure that Susan and I had four things that she believed were essential to our later success:
1. Good shoes (I don't mean stylish)
2. A firm, quality mattress
3. A top pediatrician (none other than Doctor Benjamin Spock);
4. A therapist
Unlike other parents of the day who considered therapy to be a last resort of the mentally ill, my mother thought it was a learning experience. She put me in therapy before I was three, after obtaining a health insurance policy that provided weekly therapy sessions for one dollar. I later joked that my mother would send me to a therapist if I came home from school with anything less than a B plus. I was exaggerating, but only a little bit. "
Her mother's belief in therapy undoubtedly contributed to Lerner's career choice. She decided to become a clinical psychologist before finishing kindergarten - a decision she never veered from.
EDUCATION AND CAREER
Lerner attended local public schools in Brooklyn including Midwood High School. She did her undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she majored in psychology and Indian studies. She spent her junior year studying and doing research in Delhi, India. Lerner received an M.A. in educational psychology from Teachers' College of Columbia University and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the City University of New York. It was there that she met and later married Steve Lerner, also a clinical psychologist.
Harriet and Steve did a pre-doctoral internship at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco and moved to Topeka, Kansas in 1972 for a two-year postdoctoral training program at the Menninger Foundation, where they subsequently joined the staff.
"We always planned to move back to Berkeley or New York,” says Lerner. “But two years in Topeka turned into two decades - and then some.” She now identifies herself as a Kansan and claims to have overcome her coastal arrogance. She has grown to love the simple life (meaning she has never had to learn to parallel park) and the big open skies. After Menninger closed shop in Topeka and moved to Houston, Lerner and her husband moved to Lawrence, Kansas where they currently have a private practice. They have two sons, Matt and Ben.
Lerner is best known for her scholarly work on the psychology of women and family relationships, and for her many best-selling books. Feminism and family systems theory continue to inform her writing. She has dedicated her writing life to translating complex theory into accessible and useful prose, and has become one of our nation's most trusted and respected relationship experts.
Lerner's books have been published in more than thirty-five foreign editions. Her latest book (January 2012) is Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up.
HONORS AND AWARDS (PARTIAL LISTING)
New York Distinguished Honor, National Anger Management Association
Kansas Distinguished Award for Literature
William Allen White Award for Excellence in Literary and Journalistic Achievement
"Woman of Distinction," Girl Scouts of America Award
"Woman of Word