Jan 15

3 Big Lessons Learned from ‘The Dance of Anger’ by Harriet Lerner


It’s OK to be angry – really.  

I just finished reading The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.  This is not a new book by any stretch, and it is not particularly written for parents.  It is written for women.  But I think it is applicable to all of us, and definitely to those parents dealing with a child who is struggling.  After all, in challenging situations with our children there is often anger involved, right?

There are so many things in the book and certainly I couldn’t cover them all, but here are 3 key points that really stood out for me:

1.  Anger isn’t right or wrong, it is just an emotion like any other.  It’s OK to be angry! Can I just scream THANK YOU a million times?  Have you ever been angry and then were told that you were wrong, that it was totally inappropriate or not ladylike, or that your anger was hurting others?  Well I certainly have, and so to read that being angry is permissible, OK, and normal, especially being a woman, was a huge relief.  So thank you Harriet Lerner – a hundred times over.

‘Anger is something we feel.  It exists for a reason and always deserves our respect and attention.  We all have a right to everything we feel – and certainly our anger is no exception’.   – Harriet Lerner

2.  Anger can be used as a signal, a sign, to indicate to us that something needs to change.  I loved the idea that Harriet Lerner conveys in the book about how our anger could be used for good, to improve our situation over time if it is used as a signal to tells us to investigate further what it is really about.  It certainly might take a while to figure that out, and like so many other things it is a process and not an event.  I have certainly found it helpful when I get angry or even irritated to ask myself, “What is this really telling me?”.  What a useful tool, and it works like a champ!

”Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to. Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something isn’t right.” – Harriet Lerner

3.  Unresolved anger will affect another relationship that may be seemingly unrelated.

Oh wow, that’s a big one, right?  We have all probably made some connection between our parent/sibling relationships and our own behaviors outside that circle of people.  However, in this book she explains it so beautifully, and offers ideas/solutions to help – taking it to whole new level for me!   (check out her relationship triangles – great stuff)  After I thought about it further, I just had to say, ‘Um, yep – that’s right….’

“Issues that go unaddressed with members of our first family only fuel our fires in other relationships”. – Harriet Lerner


To be sure, there is more to this book than what I have listed.  In fact, it could be read several times and we’d probably get more/something different each time.   I highly recommend that everyone read the book, parent of struggling child or not!  There is something in there for all of us, should we choose to see it!

I would love to hear your take on the book, my 3 points, or anger itself  – please comment in the section below!

PS.  Do you know what ‘de-selfing’ is?  Read the book to find out.  I have done it, and I bet you have to!!


Leslie Ferris is a Certified and Credentialed Life Coach

Serving the parents of struggling tweens, teens, and young adults

Contact her today for your 1/2 complimentary discussion to explore what life coaching can do for you.

Connect with her via her website at http://www.phase2foryou.com

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Click here for the Audio and Workbook – 4 Giant Pitfalls to Avoid While Your Child Is In Recovery


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  1. Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Leslie,

    The Dance of Anger sounds like a great book. Anger is such an interesting emotion. There is always that fine line between being rightfully angry and knowing when to rein it in. Your three points are well taken. When you don’t express your anger, even if it is in a calm way, it does spill over to other unrelated relationships. For me, it is when I stuff my anger, that I have problems. Great post and thanks for the tip about the book!

    1. Leslie Ferris

      Sure thing Cathy. Yes, stuffing is a bad idea in the long run. Harriet Lerner talks about how we ‘de-self’ when we do that. Not a concept I could explain here, but it is definitely worth finding out about!

  2. Lisa Frederiksen - BreakingTheCycles.com

    Boy – when my loved one entered residential treatment I was trigger angry. It was my common emotion and I erupted on a regular basis – it had such control over my life. It was through my therapy with a therapist specializing in addiction that I learned anger is a sign that something has to change and more importantly, I could feel anger but I didn’t have to act on it. To quote you, Leslie, “Can I just scream THANK YOU a million times?”! Coming to grips with the good and bad of anger and learning to recognize and accept it’s just a feeling was a huge help in my secondhand drinking recovery. Thanks so much for sharing Harriet Lerner’s book and your thoughts on some of her key points – great stuff, here!!

  3. Leslie Ferris

    Thanks Lisa. As women, culturally we are ‘told’ not to be angry, and that really hurts us all in the long run. I just love how this book highlights that, and explains to us what goes on when we don’t pay attention to it! Sounds like you are no stranger to all of this, and that you have worked through a lot of it to get to a much better place now. Love that….

  4. Beth Wilson

    Hi Leslie,

    The first time I heard it was okay to be angry, I too wanted to shout my thanks of gratitude! I come from a family where emotions–especially anger–were to be kept inside. We used humor, sarcasm or denial to cover what was really going on. Expressing anger for me today is still not easy–I still have a tendency to let it simmer until it boils over. Finding a healthy way to express anger is a vigilant process for me.

    Thanks for a great post!

    1. Leslie Ferris

      And to be honest Beth, it is hard for me too, because showing it wasn’t popular in our house either. I’ve seen sarcasm be a deadly release of anger, and it is can be pretty hurtful. All the more reason to work on this anger stuff ongoing. It’s a process and not an event!

  5. Carele

    When we let out the anger it allows us to heal faster. I find it important to let it be there.
    Thank you for you advice.

    1. Leslie Ferris

      True enough Carele, thanks for stopping by my Blog….

  6. Bill White, Licensed Counselor

    Thanks for the important and useful post, Leslie. Anger is such a powerful issue, as so many are harmed by its expression (and repression). Yes, anger is an acceptable emotion – we’re human, we do anger. However, its monitoring and management are essential. And each of us are responsible for doing just that. I might also point out that anger is energy. And what better way to work through it but to channel that energy to positive purpose. Just sayin’. Always glad to stop by and support your work, Leslie. Thank You..

    1. Leslie Ferris

      Thanks Bill – and yes anger is energy and it’s gotta go somewhere and there are many places it can go, for good or for not good! Thanks for pointing that out Bill, and thanks for dropping by my blog. As always, it is appreciated!

  7. Herby Bell

    SO love the way you remind us in this informative post that we don’t have to marginalize part of the emotional domain. ESPECIALLY the core, primary emotion of anger. Just reading your post allows me to recruit questions about some things I’ve been angry about, (tell tale sign: CAPS…) and honestly and all kidding aside, anger gets transformed into something generative and productive like tears or empathy or understanding.

    I was in the gym this morning noticing I’m angry…again. Movement…music…a bit of primal noise and voila, “Oh! THAT’S what was bothering me.”

    Off to the surf lineup for some more primal processing. Thank you, little anger.

    Another bitchin’ post, Coach. Thank you.

  8. Leslie Ferris

    Well Herby it looks like you are very adept at seeing a little anger as a sign, and that sounds pretty healthy to me! Good on you! I bet the surfing waves absorbed some of that anger energy, and left you feeling mighty fine. Awesome, and thanks as always!

  9. grant

    This is a really good book. I read it a while ago. Almost forgot about it. Will read again now :)

  10. Landonnab

    I appreciate perusing your web sites. Kudos! https://happywheelsrr.wordpress.com

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