The Dance of Anger: Are You Over- or Underfunctioning?

One of the most insightful books on managing anger I’ve read is The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, and in this episode I discuss the concept of overfunctioning and underfunctioning.

[00:00:00] I want to do a quick chat with you about the book dance with anger. And we have talked about this before, but I still want to talk about this today, but just one specific concept in there.
So I’ve been reading dance with anger for a couple of weeks. Now I read half the book in sort of one sitting. And then since then I’ve been reading a few pages a week, kind of very, I pick it up. I read a bit, I think about it and then I read other stuff. But, um, dance with Engel was one of the books in the anger sprint that I was going through.
Where for a couple of months, I was trying to reconnect with my anger and I was reading books about anger management and suppressed anger. And I was doing meditations and I was like into the topic of anger. Right. And I picked that book up and it was a book for women. [00:01:00] Mostly it’s a book, I think for.
Feminine anger, like female anger, like how women should deal with anger because women in society it’s even a special place on like the kind of limitations we set on girls being angry versus boys being angry or girls having being aggressive versus boys. Right. There’s like a little less.
Leeway. And maybe there’s more stigma in society. And so there’s this psychologist and she wrote this book and it’s mainly written for a female audience on how to deal with your anger. But I thought the book had such great reviews maybe I can learn something anyways. And if I don’t learn anything about my own anger, maybe I learn about the anger of the females in my life, the women in my life or something, it could be interesting.
And I found, I have to say that I found that there’s been nothing in that book that hasn’t been useful to me or interesting. It’s not the kind of book that I was reading [00:02:00] and thinking, oh, this is clearly not for man. This is not for me. I don’t understand this. It was like, I just could totally relate to these things, you know?
And I live in definitely in these situations and I, this is useful to me. So there are a bunch of concepts in that book. There’s two things that I wanted to add.

There’s one main idea that I wanted to highlight. One thing I brought up and we had talked about before once was this idea that I’d never heard before and never considered myself that sometimes when you fight, when something upsets you and you fight passionately and loudly and aggressively that fighting and getting angry and being upset.
Is not to be equated with you are truly interested and working on change. In many cases that getting angry and worked up and fighting might be a part of the mechanism that makes you not change anything about what is happening, [00:03:00] makes you comfortable about holding on to the situation and just playing out a loop.
Right. Yeah, but I’m voicing my upset. Yeah. But if you voice your upset, I mean, if you scream at somebody that they’re upsetting you and you’re not changing anything and they’re not changing anything and they are allowed to keep doing this and nothing really happens until eventually you’re upsetting your extreme.
Again, again, you’re not training them to stop. You have taught them that this is the loop of how we’re doing this. Right. And then we’ll continue doing this thing that upsets you. No matter how many times you screamed, you know, I never had considered this. I never thought about it. I’m not the kind of person that screams or there’s like a passionate fighter in relationships that has like really bad fights.
Um, that was never my thing, but I’d never considered that, that, that could be a mechanism to prevent change from happening versus something that would stimulate change. But the thing that I really [00:04:00] wanted to talk about. The main idea that I find applicable both in intimate relationships, in relationships with your children, any professional relationships at work is this concept of, you know, over-functioning and under-functioning.
So what she describes in dance with anger is this idea that, you know, relationships are. Very systematic at times. And so it’s not just what you do in a vacuum and what I do in a vacuum. It’s what you do to me and how I respond back to you. Right. It’s kind of the dance between action and reaction and no matter what we’re doing.
In a relationship in any kind of relationship. It’s always, we’ve always established a back and forth where each of us plays a certain role. You step one step forward and I follow, or you lead and I follow, I follow [00:05:00] and you lead or you take a couple of steps. And then I change. Like there’s a pattern to how we behave in certain, in the dynamics that we have in certain situations.
And so you can’t just look at one person. He’s always doing this upsetting thing you have to consider, what are you doing that leads him to do this upsetting thing. And then how are you reacting to that upsetting thing? And how is he reacting to your reaction? Like what is the back and forth? The ebb and flow and not just the one unique identified action that is the culprit of whatever.
And she has this concept or she teaches this concept that mostly. Relationships. And this could be parental there’s many examples in there of people in coming to her in therapy and describing their issues with their parents, their mothers, their fathers, you know, um, and other people in their family.
Oftentimes there is somebody [00:06:00] in the relationship that is under functioning, doing something well. At a way lower level than they’re supposed to do for their position in that relationship. And the other person is there for them. Overfunctioning to balance it out. This can also be the other way around.
Somebody is just always over-functioning. So everybody around them starts under-functioning in this area. So an example would be. You know, one example in the, the therapy book was that there was this one woman in therapy and she had a sister and her sister. No, it was actually a brother and her brother.
So it was always in need of our help. She had to give him money. She had to let him stay at her place. She had to help him, you know, fill out his, his, his taxes. She had to clean after him, basically. You know, her brother that [00:07:00] you loved very much was sort of, kind of the problem child of the family and a little bit of a loser.
And she was sort of his best friend, but by de or his mother that had to babysit him and always take care of him. This is a, this was one example where the brothers under functioning in terms of being responsible and therefore his sister has been, overfunctioning not only being responsible for our own life, but also taking on responsibility for his life.
And. This is something that I find since I’ve been observing this idea of applying this idea to many situations, I find it’s so universal. This is such a universal pattern when I see people or teams, and you can tell who’s over like overfunctioning under-functioning and how that dynamic is amplifying each other.
Now, most people that are overfunctioning. We’ll only consider the [00:08:00] other, the other side. Right? So in this case, this woman was thinking clearly, why is my brother getting his shit together? Like, why can’t he like fucking do his things? Like, clearly she’s the good one. That’s doing so much more than what would be reasonably expected of her, but it’s not that easy.
Right. She, it’s not just his fault. It is his and her fault. She’s dancing that dance with him. She’s overfunctioning, nobody’s forcing her to over-function and so they will go through this in therapy. She was basically advised, okay, you’re going to have to learn, maybe pick one area to not over-function no matter how much your brother is under-functioning and let him struggle and find other people, other solutions to this versus relying on.
And this is not just going to be difficult for him. This is going to be difficult for you as well. And so she starts doing that. And then of course, you know, she feels sorry and she feels guilty, right? This is so [00:09:00] crazy patterns. Like people feel sorry for these other people or they feel guilty or this person relies on me or look at all the suffering.
Look they have there for them. This is very difficult. But for me, this is very easy, whatever story they’re telling themselves. And then. Once she, once you, she goes through that, she would like tell her, okay, you have to learn to communicate to your brother. Hey, I love you very much. You, my brother, I am having a very difficult time right now with my own career.
And so this is an area I cannot help you with. Like when her brother would come to her and be like, ah, you know, I’m struggling with money. Can you give me a little bit money? She would have to learn to say, I love it. I’d love to help you. But right now I need to start saving money. I need to think about my own financial future.
And right now I cannot give you any more money. I need the money that I earn and make for things that I have planned for my future and for myself. And that can be very tough, obviously to do on top of it though. She would learn [00:10:00] that, um, when you say these things okay. Or when you change, basically, this is I think the, the nice metaphor when you change.
Your pattern of behavior and the dance. Like if we’ve been dancing the same tango and I start moving my feet differently, it will create an awkward reaction. At first, always upset my dancing partner, right? Like that side, that person. Right. As expects you to move a certain way, we’ve always moved away way with this sort of silent agreement.
I’m going to go left. You’re going to go, right. And then all of a sudden I go left and you go left and you leave. And I’m like, what the hell? And they’re going to do whatever they can consciously or subconsciously to try to get you back back to the dance that you’ve been dancing. Right. So they will get maybe first really upset.
Maybe then she was telling her, explain. Sometimes people do very radical things and they’re not even conscious of, it could be that your brother calls you the day and he’s going [00:11:00] to be in prison. Right. That will be a time where this thing, where these things happen, you stopped overfunctioning. He will now under function.
So hard to get you back into the day. Right. And it’s not even evil many times. It’s just, there’s a desperation to get you back to the way things were. And so as he’s going to get more desperate, it’s going to get more harder for you not to step in into the dance. It’s going to be very triggering for you.
You’re going to feel like you don’t have a choice, but to do it right, but you going to have to stand your ground. He calls you from prison and you’re going to have to say, brother, I love you. Always wanted to be there for you right now. I need to put myself first. I’m sorry. You put yourself in this difficult situation, but I know and believing you, you’re an awesome person.
You have a great heart. You will find another way out. I cannot take care of you right now. It’s like, you have to say these things and then stand your ground. [00:12:00] Because oftentimes the people, when somebody’s in this example, overfunctioning and the other person is under-functioning and then the person that is overfunctioning once to change things, they will stop doing things.
The other person will go into the extreme and then they will get upset and angry and she was, or they will withdraw, not answer the phone anymore. Right. Hide from them, you know? And she was saying, you have to stay connected. Stay connected state that you love them state, that you care about them, but also state that you have to take care of yourself.
You cannot do these things anymore. And then no matter what they do, no matter what their crazy steps are going to be on the dance floor, you just stay in your rhythm in your lane and you stay connected though with them. And eventually they will give up. And then eventually they will get into your rhythm and they will learn the new steps.
And they’re going to start dancing the dance that you want to dance with them. Right. And I find that it’s such a, [00:13:00] you will, you will respond responding because it’s such an like, ah, yeah, I’ve, I’ve done this. And I’ve seen, I’ve had people do this to me. This is such a human experience. Right. When you’re trying to change a relationship, but I, I find this metaphor in this approach, beautiful and very insightful.
And I’ve never, I had never encountered it before or thought about it quite that way. I always thought to be honest in this back in the day, when I was thinking this way, I was thinking there’s one person that’s doing too much. The other it’s a little bit too little is the bad person that just needs to change.
Right. But I was not thinking about the dynamic, the dance we’re dancing. We’re under functioning. I’m overfishing. So I have to stop overfunctioning for you, right? I can’t just be like, why can’t I over-function and you start overfunctioning too. Okay. I have to just take care of myself and step back and allow you to fail or allow you to deal with these things yourself.
And then I have to stay with you no matter what you’re going to do to try to get me back into our old day. Yeah, I do. [00:14:00] Actually, I do. I don’t believe you that you’ve never thought about it this way, but there’s a clarity in the way. I think probably she writes it or I picked it up. Yeah. And the other thing is also I just in many little relationships now, because maybe because I have this model fresh on my mind.
We’ll look at it, or when people would recently describe their problems with our parents, with their friends, with our partners. To me quite often, I would sort of see this pattern now and go, oh yeah, this is what’s happening. Have you considered this? You know? but it’s a beautiful, it’s a beautiful book that has a good amount of wisdom nuggets and really kind of cool stories.
And. Would you would think, which is just a book about like, how do you handle your anger? It’s really about relationships and change management and understanding dynamics between ourselves and others. And I’m not through with it yet, but I’m a highly recommended dance with anger. , even if you’re not a woman, apparently, I mean, [00:15:00] I really have learned a good amount and really enjoy it.

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