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.