Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Practical Guide To Finding A Way Out Of Fighting: The Dance Of Anger

The Good: Insightful, Practical, Interesting
The Bad: Repetitive at points, Some problems oversimplified
The Basics: With humor and insight, The Dance of Anger, helps the reader identify key anger-related issues in relationships and offers practical advice for change.

I'm not a big self-help type person. I think psychotherapy is a great idea for just about everyone; after all, it can only help to have someone non-biased listen to your problems and give you a nudge in the right ethical or health direction. I loathe Dr. Phil; he is a loudmouthed, deconstructive, oversimplifying jerk who uses his position to intimidate and delegitimize the mental health field. Within ten seconds of hearing a problem, he has a loud, sound-byte answer for the viewer and he jabs the person asking for his help with his view as if it were the only truth.

So, it was unlikely that I would have given The Dance Of Anger much of a chance had it not come to me from a source I trust quite completely. Dr. Harriet Lerner, a professional in the ways of human relations with some actual credentials, has written a book exploring anger: what is it, how do we use it, how can we use it better, and how it traps us in destructive patterns.

The gist of Lerner's book is that: 1. Anger, in and of itself, is not bad and should be expressed. 2. Misinterpreting who and what one is angry at is often the cause of difficulties in relationships with others. 3. There are ways to change your behaviors and responses and most of them involve exploring your anger and figuring out where it belongs and how to express it productively (or express it at all!).

The strength of The Dance Of Anger is in its ability to be a useful tool for practical applications. I recommend reading the book once, for information, then going back through it and rereading it to apply its lessons and ideas to your own life and circumstances. What I mean is, it's very easy to read the book once and try to figure out how to apply it to your own situations, but I found that reading it first for the abstract philosophy, then rereading it with the intent of integrating its lessons into my life, to be much easier and more valuable. Moreover, it makes sense to do it this way as that way, you're not trying to adapt a philosophy you're not sure about as you read it.

The truth is, though, that the case studies Lerner uses are both timeless and handy for members of either gender. She has some keen insights into the sociology behind the inability for most women to express their anger and some very practical solutions. Moreover, her tone and exploration of the factors she writes about makes it clear that she is not trivializing the complexity of the problems nor the remedies she prescribes.

In short, Lerner instantly establishes herself as someone who realizes that there are usually multiple factors causing us to act in any way and this book is the exploration of what anger may be making us do. She writes in a way that is both engaging and non-threatening. She never seems like she is lecturing or ordering, merely making observations about the people in her case studies (and, by extension, many of those who read the book!). It is an immense strength of the book that she is able to make complex issues sound somewhat casual, but not trivial, complex, but not bewildering.

Moreover, her remedies often do work. A lot of the key to understanding The Dance Of Anger is to adapt the philosophy that it is we, the reader, who must change, and not apply the lessons of the book to other people. This is not a book about trying to change others (in fact, it belabors the point that that is a near-impossibility); it is a book about working to better ourselves.

As a result, some of the problems and their remedies begin to sound somewhat repetitive, especially near the end of the book. Lerner writes the book so clearly that the recapping chapter near the end is almost unnecessary. It's a minor problem and does not detract from most of the book.

Who will get something out of The Dance of Anger? Anyone who is in a relationship where communication has become a problem will likely benefit by finding something here that will help one to express themselves better and/or more constructively. Anyone who is having trouble maintaining relationships is equally likely to find something here that is beneficial; one of the earliest points the book - rather effectively - makes is that anger is often the unidentified cause of many of our problems.

If you're looking for a practical, insightful self-help book that will neither insult your intelligence nor require thousands of dollars in psychotherapy, this book is likely a good investment.

For other self-help or philosophy books, please check out my reviews of:
The Complete Idiot’s Guide To The Kama Sutra
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Keeping Faith – Jimmy Carter


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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