Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Fear and Other Uninvited Guests, by Harriet Lerner

Harriet Lerner, the best selling author of such works as The Dance of Anger and The Mother Dance, tackles head on the issues of anxiety, fear, and shame in her book, Fear and Other Uninvited Guests. Those three emotions: anxiety, fear, and shame, says Ms. Lerner, are what cause most of the unhappiness in our lives. Through this book, we are shown that anxiety, fear and shame are a bigger part of our lives than most of us imagine. We may go through life with issues that we never face, and feelings of frustration, anger, or sadness that ultimately comes back to anxiety and fear. Shame is the unmentionable emotion that no one wants to talk about because, ironically, it is so shameful. This is an encouraging book that anyone should read; especially anyone who realizes that anxiety and fear are simply part of living in our modern world.

Ms. Lerner begins her book with a chapter entitled, "Why Can't a Person be More Like a Cat?" This humorous beginning goes into great detail about how her cat seems so aloof to danger, and only feels fear when fear is due; for instance, when he is being forced into a carrying cage to be carted off to the vet. She goes into great detail about how the cat is unashamed to clean himself any and everywhere, regardless of who might be watching, he may enjoy a snooze in the sun without worrying that he might should be doing something more productive, and he will jump into someone's lap or jump out when he feels like it, without concerning himself about the person's feelings. He shows love when he feels love, and when he wants to be alone, he does just that. She points out that she has an idealized notion about her cat's emotional and spiritual life, but the fact is, he doesn't get bogged down by fear and shame.

The rest of us do not have it quite so easy. We have sometimes long entrenched fears that go back generations. We may have been taught by our parents to directly fear something or have anxiety about something else; or we may have been given subliminal or secret messages. The fact is, as Ms. Lerner points out, fear is powerful in all our lives because it hold us back from love and work, or it pushes us toward disaster. It causes all our problems with anger, intimacy, and self-esteem.

Of course, fear is a God given emotion that is necessary in our lives. Ms. Lerner explains how fear can be used as a means of self-preservation and protection from harm or danger. But we so often fear so much more than what is really there. She gives one example of the fear of rejection, and another of the fear of change. She then gives personal examples of people she has helped in therapy, as well as step by step suggestions and guides to dealing with and overcoming fear.

There is a very helpful chapter on dealing with fear and anxiety in the workplace. The author exhorts us to keep the proper perspective about work vs. family, and she goes into great detail about how to keep a level head in the face of workplace anxiety. She talks about what can cause workplace anxiety, and all the different facets involved with dealing with other people on a daily basis. She explains the concept that the workplace itself, as an entity, has a certain amount of anxiety, which keeps it moving forward and productive.

The chapter on shame is revolutionary; it gives specific attention to women in the area of sexuality and having shame about their bodies, and it goes into great detail about age shame, political shame, and many other areas of shame. It is amazing to see oneself in this book, and sad to realize how much shame we, as humans, suppress and suffer from.

While the book has many helpful explanations on dealing with fear, the last chapter gives us hope when it explains that once in a while, everyone freaks out, even those who are completely calm and in touch with their fears and anxieties. It reminds us that we're all human and that we can press on and move forward, even if our fears sometimes get the best of us. This book comes highly recommended.

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