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“Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.”
Harriet Goldhor Lerner
“The strongest relationships are between two people who can live without each other but don't want to.”
Harriet Lerner, Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up
“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.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Fear
“We cannot make another person change his or her steps to an old dance, but if we change our own steps, the dance no longer can continue in the same predictable pattern. 4.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships
“But one of the hallmarks of emotional maturity is to recognize the validity of multiple realities and to understand that people think, feel, and react differently. Often we behave as if “closeness” means “sameness.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships
“There’s a widespread belief that if you have solid self-esteem you don’t need outside affirmation and praise. This is patently untrue, by the way.”
Harriet Lerner
“Although the connections are not always obvious, personal change is inseparable from social and political change.”
Harriet Lerner
“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.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Fear
“Differences don’t just threaten and divide us. They also inform, enrich, and enliven us.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
“Letting go of anger and hate requires us to give up the hope for a different past, along with the hope of a fantasized future. What we gain is a life more in the present, where we are not mired in prolonged anger and resentment that doesn't serve us.”
Harriet Lerner, Why Won't You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts
“Our society doesn’t promote self-acceptance and it never will. First of all, self-acceptance doesn’t sell products. Capitalism would fall if we liked ourselves the way we are now. Also, people who feel shamed and inadequate themselves tend to pass it on. I’m sure you’ve noticed that many individuals and groups try to enhance their self-esteem by diminishing others.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger
“But therein lies the paradox: Speaking out and being “real” are not necessarily virtues. Sometimes voicing our thoughts and feelings shuts down the lines of communication, diminishes or shames another person, or makes it less likely that two people can hear each other or even stay in the same room. Nor is talking always a solution. We know from personal experience that our best intentions to process a difficult issue can move a situation from bad to worse. We can also talk a particular subject to death, or focus on the negative in a way that draws us deeper into it, when we’d be better off distracting ourselves and going bowling.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
“Shame is paralyzing and debilitating. It invites us not to be heard, at least not in an authentic way. Acting courageously when shame enters the picture requires extraordinary courage because people will do anything to escape from shame or from the possibility that shame will be evoked. It is just too difficult to go there. Even for people who will walk in to the fires of transformation to face fear.

Men and women tend to manage shame differently. Generally, men have less tolerance for shame, perhaps because they are shamed almost from birth for half their humanity. The so called feminine part of themselves including anything vulnerable or seen as weak. Men often sit with shame for only a nanosecond before flipping it into something more masculine or therefore tolerable like anger or rage or a need to dominate devalue or control.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Fear
“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.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships
“We all long to have a relationship so relaxed and intimate that we can share anything and everything without first thinking about it. Who wants to hide out in a relationship in which we can’t allow ourselves to be known? Speaking in our own voice, not in someone else’s, is an undeniably good idea. I’ve yet to meet the person who aspires to be phony or invisible in her closest relationships. The dictate “Be yourself” is a cultural ideal touted everywhere, and luckily, no one else is as qualified for the job.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
“If you treat man as he appears to be, you make him worse than he is. But if you treat man as if he already were what he potentially could be, you make him what he should be.”
Harriet Lerner, Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up
“Indeed, in many situations wisdom lies in being strategic rather than spontaneous. This is especially true when we’re dealing with a difficult person, a hot issue, or a tense situation. The enormous challenge is to make wise decisions about how and when to say what to whom, and even before that, to know what we really want to say and what we hope to accomplish by saying it.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
“feeling angry signals a problem, venting anger does not solve it. Venting anger may serve to maintain, and even rigidify, the old rules and patterns in a relationship, thus ensuring that change does not occur. When emotional intensity is high, many of us engage in nonproductive efforts to change the other person, and in so doing, fail to exercise our power to clarify and change our own selves. The old anger-in/anger-out theory, which states that letting it all hang out offers protection from the psychological hazards of keeping it all pent up, is simply not true. Feelings of depression, low self-esteem, self-betrayal, and even self-hatred are inevitable when we fight but continue to submit to unfair circumstances, when we complain but live in a way that betrays our hopes, values and potentials, or when we find ourselves fulfilling society’s stereotype of the bitchy, nagging, bitter, or destructive woman. 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.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships
“Questioning ourselves for being "oversensitive" is a common way that women, in particular, disqualify our legitimate anger and hurt.
...The fact that some of us feel more vulnerable than others in a particular context does not mean we are weak or lesser in any way.”
Harriet Lerner, Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts
“But an honorable relationship, she reminds us, is one in which “we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us…of life between us.” When we are not able to speak authentically, our relationships spiral downward, as does our sense of integrity and self-regard.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
“Don’t use “below-the-belt” tactics. These include: blam- ing, interpreting, diagnosing, labeling, analyzing, preaching, moralizing, ordering, warning, interrogating, ridiculing, and lecturing. Don’t put the other person down.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger
“Anger is inevitable when our lives consist of giving in and going along; when we assume responsibility for other people’s feelings and reactions; when we relinquish our primary responsibility to proceed with our own growth and ensure the quality of our own lives; when we behave as if having a relationship is more important than having a self.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships
“If you pay attention, you may find that 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 the thing that will evoke fear and other disquieting emotions. Avoidance will make you feel less vulnerable in the short run, but it will never make you less afraid.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Fear: Rising Above Anxiety, Fear, and Shame to Be Your Best and Bravest Self
“The best apologies are short, and don't go on to include explanations that run the risk of undoing them. An apology isn't the only chance you ever get to address the underlying issue. The apology is the chance you get to establish the ground for future communication. This is an important and often overlooked distinction.”
Harriet Lerner, Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts
“Intimate relationships cannot substitute for a life plan. But to have any meaning or viability at all, a life plan must include intimate relationships.”
Harriet Lerner
“Of course, adult life is not always so simple. Some issues need to be revisited—not dropped—and talk is essential to this process. We need words to begin to heal betrayals, inequalities, and ruptured connections. Our need for language, conversation, and definition goes beyond the wish to put things right. Through words we come to know the other person—and to be known. This knowing is at the heart of our deepest longings for intimacy and connection with others. How relationships unfold with the most important people in our lives depends on courage and clarity in finding voice. This is equally true for our relationship with our self.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
“We can influence the other person through our words and silence, but we can never control the outcome.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
“We may view it as our responsibility to control something that is not in fact within our control and yet fail to exercise the power and authority that we do have over our own behavior. Mothers cannot make children think, feel, or be a certain way, but we can be firm, consistent, and clear about what behavior we will and will not tolerate, and what the consequences are for misbehavior. We can also change our part in patterns that keep family members stuck. At the same time we are doomed to failure with any self-help venture if we view the problem as existing within ourselves—or within the child or the child’s father, for that matter. There is never one villain in family life, although it may appear that way on the surface.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger
“We diminish people when we don’t allow them to help us, or when we act like we don’t need anything from them and they have nothing to offer us. We also diminish them when we allow them to go on and on, even after we’ve exceeded our capacity to pay attention.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
“When we think of fear, we think of a 'fear of' something. Far more daunting is the challenge of how to conduct ourselves in the dailiness of love and work when anxiety is high and shame kicks in. This is the human condition. We need not let anxiety and shame silence our authentic voices, close our hearts to the different voices of others or stop us from acting with clarify compassion and courage. In today's world, no challenge is more important than that.”
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Fear

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