The Dance of Anger

Oct 20, 2022

Harriet Lerner’s “The Dance of Anger. A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships,” is a great read.  I recommend it to all my female clients.

Reading this book was life-changing for me.  Why?  Well historically, when I got angry, I always focused on the other person.  I wanted them to acknowledge their part in our disagreement.  I wanted an apology.  Most of all, I wanted them to change their behavior – all to make me feel better.

Turns out, this perspective (“you hurt me, and your behavior needs to change”) is really self-defeating.  It leaves us with almost no chance of getting our needs met, because, in the end, we cannot control anyone else’s choices or behavior. Boo!

We can, however, control on our choices, responses and actions.  And herein lies the good news!

Harriet Lerner writes:

We maximize the opportunity for growth for all family members when we stop focusing our primary worry energy and anger energy on the under-functioning individual and begin to share a bit about our own problem with the situation. This involves a shift from “You have a problem” to “I have a problem.”


Why is this important?  It helps us to step out of old family patterns of blaming, rescuing others or being a victim of our circumstances.  When we own how we feel, and make conscious choices about how we’re going to change our behavior in response to the actions of others, our lives will change without anyone else in our lives needing to change.

Here’s a common example from my divorce practice.  Mom is angry at the kids’ Dad.  When the kids are at Dad’s place on his weekends, they have no set bed time and come home from his house exhausted, with their school for the upcoming week not completed.

Instead of raging at Dad for being an irresponsible parent, Mom says, in a matter of fact tone, “Dad, I have a problem.  The kids are coming home from your place on Sunday evenings exhausted and their homework isn’t done.  This sets the kids up for a rough start to the week.  My proposal is that they come home at 4:00 p.m. on Sundays to complete their homework and get to bed early.  What do you think?”  If Dad blows off Mom, or ridicules her, she doesn’t have to react to him!  She can call her attorney, or fill out court forms herself, to try and change the drop off time on Sunday afternoons.

Control the controllable.  The only person we can ever really control is ourselves, and herein lies immense power to meet our own needs without anyone else having to do anything differently.

Suzanne E. Grandchamp