Speaking on: Interaction of anger styles
by By ROB COOMBS ID. Min. Ph.D.
May 26, 2013 | 1249 views | 0 0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week’s column looked at five characteristic styles of managing anger as depicted by Harriet Lerner, author of “The Dance of Anger.” Today we take a look at how these styles of anger interact with one another.

Before I explain how these anger styles interact, a quick review would probably be helpful. (1) Pursuers: When angry, pursuers tend to react by seeking greater closeness in a relationship. They want to be there, right by your side, talking things out and sharing feelings, believing that you should be ready and willing to do the same. If you don’t, they tend to feel rejected. (2) Distancers: When angry, distancers want space. They consider themselves to be self-reliant and relatively private persons who typically don’t want to show their needy, vulnerable, and dependent sides to others. (3) Underfunctioners: When angry, underfunctioners become increasingly less competent. They just can’t seem to get things done, and often “forget” what needs to be done while becoming less organized and basically more of a mess. (4) Overfunctioners: When angry, overfunctioners become increasingly knowledgeable concerning not only what is best for them, but for others as well. They are quick to advise, rescue, and take over which often doesn’t allow the space and time for others to deal with their own problems. (5) Blamers: When angry, blamers attack with emotional intensity and fighting. Often they expend high levels of energy in vain attempts to change someone who does not want to be changed.

The interaction between these different anger styles typically follows gender lines. In our society, women are trained (conditioned) to be pursuers and underfunctioners, especially when it comes to relating to men. Men, on the other hand, are trained (also conditioned) to be distancers and overfunctioners. When stressed or angry, men are often excused by women, allowing them the freedom to withdraw. The truth is that men feel every bit as intensely as women but many just don’t know how to appropriately express their anger. Both genders blame, but women may do it more noticeably than men as blaming is more comfortable for women than directly dealing with their anger.

The dance between the different styles of anger often produces frustration, resentment, withdrawal, and sometimes outright rage. For examples, overfunctioners often find themselves in relationship with an underfunctioner. The more the overfunctioner does, the less the underfunctioner does. Both blame each other. The underfunctioner stops trying because the overfunctioner takes care of everything anyway, and the overfunctioner accepts that if he didn’t take care of things, things would never get done. This proves to be an endless dance until one partner (usually the overfunctioner) decides to let go of his need to over function.

Another common dance between the different styles of anger is between pursuers and distancers. Women commonly pursue men when angry. The more she pursues, the more he distances and the more he distances, the more she pursues. Blame is evident here, too. She accuses him of being cold and unresponsive. He accuses her of being pushy and hysterical. Little changes with this dance until both decide (at a neutral time) to take the necessary steps to change this dance. Little by little, he distances less and she pushes less.

Understanding and changing your dance of anger can greatly enhance the health of your marriage and increase the depth of intimacy you share.