The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner – Book Review

If I could define my life in one emotion, it would be Anger.

My relationship with anger has been an intimate, tricky and rather agonising one. Anger has been my constant companion from the time I was a little girl and I can safely say, it hasn’t abandoned me as yet.

The beauty of my relationship with anger is that with time, I have learnt to understand its value, interpret its language and most important of all, I have stopped trying to find newer (read clever) ways to vent it, as venting anger does not solve the problem that anger signals.

Around 5 years ago, I had written about how anger defines me or rather dictates my life in the post, Anger and Me. This was about the time, when after being burdened by the dilemma as to how could I possibly let go of my anger, I actively started looking for ways to understand the causes of my anger and ways to let go of it.

It was also the time when I felt I had transformed into the angriest version of myself. The burning rage only added to my suffering, left my mind foggy with the smoke emanating from my heart all day long. This was when, in a public forum consisting of women going through a similar crisis in their married lives (I was in the middle of getting a divorce) someone mentioned the book ~ The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.


Dance of Anger

On Googling, I learnt, it’s a self-help book for women that helps understand the anger in terms of what it represents, how it manifests itself, and its constructive use for a peaceful existence.

The blurb on the back of the book read:

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.

“Anger is a signal and one worth listening to,” writes Dr. Harriet Lerner in her renowned classic that has transformed the lives of millions of readers. While anger deserves our attention and respect, women still learn to silence our anger, to deny it entirely, or to vent it in a way that leaves us feeling helpless and powerless. In this engaging and eminently wise book, Dr. Lerner teaches both women and men to identify the true sources of anger and to use it as a powerful vehicle for creating lasting change.

For decades, this book has helped millions of readers learn how to turn their anger into a constructive force for reshaping their lives. With a new introduction by the author, The Dance of Anger is ready to lead the next generation.

I at once knew I needed to read this book.

Though I wasn’t so sure if reading a book could help fix my anger, I was clinging to the hope that maybe this would be the straw that’ll keep me afloat cause nothing else seemed to be working for me. I searched for the book online and was initially was put off by its cost.

No, I didn’t expect the book to be any cheaper simply because it was a self-help book. But rather, my troubled financial situation at that time didn’t allow me the luxury to afford the book. I added it to my wishlist to help me keep a track on its price and most importantly to not lose sight of it before I finally read it (as it was a highly recommended read).

Two years rolled past and I must say, they turned out to be some of the most turbulent times of my life because now my anger was not only affecting my normal existence but was beginning to manifest itself as physical pain. I would get unbearable headaches, spend sleepless nights, be overwhelmed by feelings of self-harm and worst of all, be fighting a losing battle with my child over every trivial issue.

Though I have been able to join the dots and correlate those events of the past to my anger issues only recently (after reading the book a couple of times).

In the due course of time, I bought the book at a discount in an online sale and was happy that maybe, finally now I had the key to solve all my anger issues.

Right from page one, I was up for another battle. The pain of coming face to face with the raw truths of my life without preparation. It was like being caught unawares, in the middle of my sleep to pose for a camera and say the most intelligent thing without having any time to think.

Halfway through the first chapter, I felt choked, suffocated and too panicked to continue reading. I kept promising myself to return to the book a few hours later, keeping it at a place where I could see it constantly. In hindsight, maybe the fear of change or the possibility of my worst fears coming true had been behind my postponing reading this book.

I couldn’t muster enough courage to read it until 6 more months flew past. This time, not my troubles but my guilty conscience pushed me to read the book, albeit in bits and pieces.

It was difficult at the start but the author’s careful and compassionate exploration of women’s anger through various relatable circumstances gave me an insight on how futile it is to fear our anger. Our anger exists and resurfaces for a reason. It wants to help us and its existence doesn’t make us a devil. This understanding helped me get rid of the guilt I’d harboured for the longest time.

The book set free the ‘nice lady’ I was expected to be but somehow could never become because a nice lady isn’t supposed to express anger openly. It fed my love for introspection and most importantly, guided me to seek answers within. There has been no looking back since.

I no longer seek refuge in, venting my anger, instead have understood that it is only in tackling the issues that make us angry lies the cure to the pain, the frustration and the depression that ensues.

“It is no wonder that it is hard for us to know, let alone admit, that we are angry. Why are angry women so threatening to others? If we are guilty, depressed, or self-doubting, we stay in place. We do not take action except against our own selves and we are unlikely to be agents of personal and social change. In contrast, angry women may change and challenge the lives of us all, as witnessed by the past decade of feminism.

And change is an anxiety-arousing and difficult business for everyone, including those of us who are actively pushing for it. Thus, we too learn to fear our own anger, not only because it brings about the disapproval of others, but also because it signals the necessity for change.

We may begin to ask ourselves questions that serve to block or invalidate our own experience of anger: “Is my anger legitimate?” “Do I have a right to be angry?” “What’s the use of my getting angry?” “What good will it do?” These questions can be excellent ways of silencing ourselves and shutting off our anger.”

It has been a long, introspective journey, but this book has changed my life for the better.

I do not say, I don’t get angry anymore. Neither have I stopped losing focus of the situation when my emotions overwhelm me. Instead, I have learnt ways to make myself come out of the mess (in due course of time) with an open mind.

The beauty of the book is it gives the reader room to think, reflect and feel a connection with our inner feelings without offering a quick fix or listing ways that promise to free us of our anger forever.

The book deals with anger issues sensitively, touching upon the causes of anger in women from cultural points of view that stand valid for women across the world.

With real-life examples of women the author came in contact with during her professional life as a psychotherapist, this book helped me see not only my issues with the people of my immediate family but also helped me understand the obstacles I faced in my professional life.

This book reinforced my beliefs and helped me see some of the very tricky situations, for which I’d been seeking closure in a clear light. This book has been my go-to in turbulent times and has helped me emerge with a clearer understanding when stuck in the doldrums of my life. No wonder, I have read this book multiple times to revisit the lessons learnt.

I have been wanting to make my mother read this book for a long time. However, my mother hasn’t shown any inclination towards reading because she believes she has NO anger issues and isn’t keen on spending time reading a self-help book. Though am not ready to give up anytime soon.

I have now devised a way out. I keep talking to my parents about the lessons I’ve learnt from the book (without obviously mentioning it) at every opportunity and it’s amazing how these discussions have helped us all see our lives in a different light, from time to time.

I highly recommend this book to women of all ages (including those who believe they have no anger issues) and also to the men who want to understand why the women in their lives behave the way they do while helping become the calmer, happier version of themselves.

About the Book:

Title –  The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Pattern of Intimate Relationships

Author –  Harriet Lerner

Publisher – William Morrow Paperbacks

Genre – Non-Fiction

Pages – 241

Price – INR 863 (get the best deal at Amazon)

ISBN – 978-0-7225-3623-0

What has been your relationship with anger? 

*Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

6 thoughts on “The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner – Book Review

  1. Era, I admire your perspective and efforts to deal with anger, which is actually a shield, a protective gear worn by those who don’t want to express their emotions openly and try to hide behind ‘Anger’ to scare others away. But there is another form of anger and I had written about it long time back. Here is an excerpt from that post:

    “My outlook on anger is slightly different, as you can see from the above arguments. I have learnt about this emotion in the school of experience, gathering all the facts and nuances directly from the source.

    I don’t believe in suppressing anger as my culture advocates, especially for women because nobody could ever explain to me why men have all the freedom to be angry and why women are expected to be calm. Each ounce of my blood revolted against this discrimination and I impulsively learnt to vent my anger…giving it back instantly.”

    Here is the link in case you want to read more:


  2. I like your new series, it’s always refreshing to be introduced to a new book and new writer that I would not have picked up at all. I am sorry you have had anger issues and glad that the book has been helpful in some ways. I get upset but never really angry, more frustrated I would say and keep a lot of it tightly bottled up. I never lose it because I never want to hurt anyone around me, words and actions once let out I can never take back and that would hurt me more I think. But having someone detail our feelings and actions is very validating to reach an understanding why we get angry and how to overcome it sensibly. Thank you ME!


  3. Thank you for sharing not just the book review but your review of you anger and the situation from your perspective Era.. Divorce is so so hard and the anger very real and painful. Though I have let go of most of mine but I feel this book will be good for me and I will order my copy soonest. Your account is so honest and from the heart, more power to you girl!!!!


  4. Mithila Menezes

    Self-help books do have that swordish way of piercing right through your conscience and heart, making you doubt everything you’ve ever believed about yourself. It is an uphill task, controlling and understanding anger. Hugs, love and much peace. Do take care, and I hope you can get your parents to read the book soon.


  5. Shilpa Garg

    While we are quick to observe and analyse other people’s words and actions, we simply dread self reflection. And when we do it, we are quick to justify ourselves, if we come across anything that does not confirm to our ‘false’ beliefs. Admire you for analyzing yourself and taking measures to learn and grow too. Kudos to you, ME. More power to you. Your post has intrigued me to check out this book. Thanks for sharing!


  6. I am a bit like your mother in that I have little faith in self-help books. That’s not to say I haven’t read them – The Secret, Don’t say yes when you want to say No.. and many more but that has only reinforced my belief that help has to come from within ourselves. However, a book that makes you introspect sounds like a good idea. Only when you look in can you bring about any kind of change. In that sense this book sounds useful. While on anger – I never had anger issues, till I had the children. In fact I find all my emotions heightened since the children came along. For their sake I need to read this one – specially with the fast approaching teens.


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