“Anger is a signal and one worth listening to!” — Dr. Harriet Lerner

Photo by Sunflower Publications/Jason Dailey

Photo by Sunflower Publications/Jason Dailey

Congratulations to my friend Harriet Lerner whose groundbreaking book, The Dance of Anger, just passed the “3 million books sold” mark. I wouldn’t have the career I have today had I not read this soul-shaking book. Harriet’s work fundamentally changed how I thought about my relationships, how I understood my own anger, and her career has long served as an inspiration to me.

It took five years to get The Dance of Anger published. I’m so grateful that Harriet stayed strong and committed to sharing her wisdom. Harriet, your work  changed my life and the lives of so many of the people whom I love. Thank you!

To celebrate, here are three of my favorite quotes from Harriet’s work:

“It is not fear that stops you from doing the brave and true thing in your daily life. Rather, the problem is avoidance. You want to feel comfortable so you avoid doing or saying the thing that will evoke fear and other difficult emotions. Avoidance will make you feel less vulnerable in the short run but, it will never make you less afraid.”

“Those of us who are locked into ineffective expressions of anger suffer as deeply as those of us who dare not get angry at all.”


“Everyone freaks out. Sometimes the best we can do with fear is befriend it. Expect it and understand that fear will always reappear. Eventually it subsides. It will return. The real culprits are our knee jerk responses to fear and the way we try to avoid feeling fear, anxiety and shame. Don’t get me wrong, wanting to feel better fast is a perfectly natural human impulse. It is healthy to seek relief when you feel hopelessly mired in the emotional soup.

Calming down is an essential first step to accurately perceiving a problem and deciding what to do about it but the last thing you need to do is shut yourself off from fear and pain – either your own or the worlds. If there is one over riding reason why our world and relationships are in such a mess, is that we try to get rid of our anxiety, fear and shame as fast as possible, regardless of the long term consequences. In doing so, we blame and shame others and in countless ways, we unwittingly act against ourselves. We confuse our fear driven thoughts with what is right, best, necessary or true.”

If you haven’t read her books yet, do it now! You can also read a great interview with Harriet from Forbes Magazine here.

Congratulations, Harriet!


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  1. This is a great post. One I can redirect clients to who want alternative information about their emotions.

  2. I read “Dance of Anger” many years ago for myself as I dealt with the anger of an emotionally abuse relationship. Now this article has revived my interest in reading it again, though this time I will review it from the perspective of how the information might help me teach youth experiencing bully behaviors! Thank you for this awesome article! Thank you, Dr. Lerner for writing the book!

  3. I, too, have been a Harriett Lerner fan since the late 1980s. I love her wisdom, courage, humor and authenticity and I never stop learning from her terrific work. Thanks for recognizing her in this space.

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  6. Heather Anderson

    I read Dance of Anger years ago – and like Brene felt it was pivotal to everything. I find myself referring to dances all the time to help others understand they might like the tango and others the waltz…and when the waltzer tries to do the tango it doesn’t always go that well…. Harriet – congrats…you are a giant in my eyes as you nailed the word pictures I need to get through my every day…

    • Ann Leahy

      I am going to read this book:)!

  7. Domenica M. Forrester

    This book spring started so much lasting change in my life . I too tahnk you Harriet.

  8. “It is not fear that stops you from doing the brave and true thing in your daily life. Rather, the problem is avoidance.” So true – thank you for sharing.

  9. Holly

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts from – and about – Harriet Lerner. I encountered her work in the 1990s and discovered that she was then working at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas. As a young girl, I felt very trapped and alone, and her books – so brave and true! – gave me a spark of hope that someone, somewhere, knew something of my experience. My life began to feel real then, and I was able to step back from such encompassing fear, all-but-overwhelming anxiety, and deep shame. In fact, I read that word – shame – and it literally leapt off the pages and touched my deepest self in a way that no other writing, no other person, ever had. It opened something new for me: possibility. Somehow, I knew that my life could be different, and in my own way, I set out to make it so.
    Thank you…and thank Harriet Lerner!

  10. Karen Nelson

    What can I say??? I love your books! I’ve been in vocational Christian work all of my adult life. I find your words so encouraging to me personally, and so relavant to my ministry. Thank you!

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  12. Ginnell

    Can’t wait to read your book;-)

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  16. Tracey Gatehouse

    Thanks for the tip. I have just ordered the book.

  17. Holly

    This is so cool. I just started re-reading The Dance of Anger. I first read it in the 1990s, and it was so helpful. I am learning and re-learning from this amazing and powerful book! Thanks Harriet and thanks, Brene, for the post.

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  19. Sally Tarvid

    This wonderful book was first brought to my attention by a client. I have since read it and recommended it to others. The stories are so helpful and I so appreciate Harriet’s wisdom! Thank you to Harriet Lerner & to Brene Brown!

  20. I’ve long loved this book! Anger and women is a long, deep inquiry. And most often interpreted through the eyes of the patriarchy. We’ve gotta know what it means for us women, on our terms, don’t we?

    Thanks, Brene Brown and Harriet Lerner, for being the voices of this zeitgeist tsunami — you rock.

  21. Shannon

    In response to Martin’s question:

    In the Forbes interview link cited by Brené, Harriet Lerner states that her book is also for men. She responds to the interviewer’s question:, “Is The Dance of Anger for men, too?” as follows:

    “Absolutely. I believe that humans are more alike than different. Men get stuck in the same patterns of distance and blame that women do. I’m pleased that male readers just about equal my female readers these days.”

    It might be worth a read!

  22. Martin

    As a chronic ineffective expresser of anger I responded immediately when I saw this posted on Facebook.
    I see that “The Dance of Anger” is written specifically for women. Fair enough – I get that, in general terms, women and men respond differently to emotions.
    Can you recommend a similar text for men ?
    Thanks in advance

    • mashmallow

      My dad read this book years ago and it worked well for him – in addition to Alanon which he went to for a dysfunctional relationship, not an alcoholic one. So it works for men, too.

  23. Karen Melaas

    Understanding our anger allows us to accept and process that anger and use it to fuel some very positive work. With a clear understanding and the right tools, we can be moved forward in a positive way by our anger, rather than held back. So glad you shared this important book with us Brene Brown via Harriett Lerner!

  24. AnneT

    Don’t let the word “anger” scare you, right? It indicates there is something to understand and explore more deeply.