Book Review: Harriet G. Lerner, The Dance of Anger – A Woman’s Guide to Changing the 
Patterns of Intimate Relationships

1989, Thorson’s London, ISBN 0 7225 
3623 2

Although this book is written primarily to help women develop a new perspective 
on anger, it will nevertheless provide many valuable insights for anyone, male or
 female, who seeks more clarity and direction in coping with this complex emotion,
 and how it affects important relationships with family, colleagues and friends.

Ms Lerner, who is a practising therapist in the American Mid-West, adopts an even-
handed, compassionate and creative outlook on a subject that might conceivably 
become a vehicle for a hard-line feminist agenda in less capable hands.

The book is remarkably easy to read, full of examples from casework with clients
 and relies on the practical rather than the theoretical to provide the reader with a 
wide variety of perspectives on family systems and relationship issues. It looks at
 the many traps and pitfalls that prevent authentic communication and gives ways 
of creating a clearly-defined, non-blaming autonomy that encourages both
 separation and togetherness. It offers alternatives to old inherited patterns and
 myths generated by the dominant group culture, transmitted through the family and
 internalized by the self.

The unconscious dynamics underlying blaming, emotional distancing, ineffective 
fighting and silent submission are examined and strategies are given for creating  
greater clarity and awareness around habitual patterns of expressing anger. 
Comprehensive lists of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s’ are given (pi99) to help the reader
 develop and modify relationship skills.

Ms Lerner validates the almost universal confusion that anger generates in us and
 asks the reader to really tune into the true source of their anger, which can often be 
deflected into triangular relationships and may not be easily clarified as to its 
origin. She looks at the implications of taking a stance on an issue and the
 emotions it may give rise to, for example guilt, separation anxiety, the possible loss 
of a valued friendship, fears of disloyalty, of reprisal, of changing the status quo -
 and counsels courage, risk taking and perseverance. Even one small specific task
 that can be maintained in the face of countermoves by the other party will, desp
ite anxiety, lay the foundation for a healthier relationship. Tactics are outlined for
 avoiding the predictable responses designed to re-establish the status quo, both 
from within oneself and from without. There is an acceptance of the fact that 
change occurs slowly and that old patterns cannot be restructured overnight. Ms
 Lerner does not deny the value of a good fight in the short term, but long-term 
change needs a well-defined strategy if it is to be effective.

If one can take the time to ascertain the root cause of one’s resentment or anger, and 
follow this with a statement to the other of the facts surrounding the situation, sharing one’s feelings through the use of “I” statements (reiterating them like a
 broken record if necessary), one can learn the basis for congruent, non-blaming 
responses to difficult relationship issues.

The author also places considerable importance on examining the family system
 and discussing with family members with whom one is in conflict, how it is that 
they themselves have coped with similar difficulties in their lives and indeed how
 the family has traditionally approached these problems. This information, when 
shared, will hopefully replace an angry response with an empathetic and thoughtful
 one. The book is carefully written and can be highly recommended to anyone struggling 
to come to terms with anger in relationships.

Tim Hannan.