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  • Writer's pictureAntonia Higgins

"The Dance of Anger" by Harriet Lerner

Every once in a while I read a book that really 'speaks to me'. The Dance of Anger is one of those books and it's full of lightbulb moments. I first heard of it while reading Brenè Brown's work (those books speak to me too) which was enough of a recommendation to make download it and add it to my 'must-reads'.

It describes anger as patterns - or 'dances' - in relationships and explores how to change these, using case-study type stories to illustrate how these play out. There are examples of dances of anger within marriage, parent-child relationships, families, work, friendship, so it's a pretty comprehensive overview.

To stop these 'dances' someone within them needs to change how they respond - what Lerner calls a 'move'. The other(s) involved then react with 'countermoves' to try to counteract the change and keep things the same. These dances are, of course, fuelled by things like insecurity, shame, fear, guilt, the need to please others, power imbalance, a need for control...the list goes on. And those are what makes the first moves difficult. Lerner also talks about 'triangular' dances, and how 'overfunctioning' and 'underfunctioning' within relationships can create and continue the dances and the difficulties that go along with them.

Lerner urges us to get curious about patterns of anger and attitudes to moral and social issues (gender roles, for example) within our wider family and past generations as this, she says, has an impact on how we ourselves are in our relationships. She suggests that our dances are passed down to us from previous generations who have all learned them from the last one.

There were were parts of this book that I couldn't engage with, but there were many more that rung very true with me. I recognised myself in some of the stories and was able to see where I can overfunction and underfunction in relationships. It has made me reflect on my own 'dances' and the moves I could make to change these.

Harriet Lerner wrote this book for women, but the issues that The Dance of Anger looks at aren't uniquely female, and I wonder if men might not gain something from this book too, whether that is reflecting on themselves or in gaining a different perspective of the women in their lives.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who feels forever stuck in a conflict they can't remove themselves from, or who wonders about difficult relationship dynamics.

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