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November 05, 2004 - Image 83

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-11-05

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studies at the University of Wisconsin in
Madison, spending her junior year in
Delhi, India. She earned a master's
degree in educational psychology from
Teachers' College of Columbia
University and a Ph.D. in clinical psy-
chology from the City University of
New York. A staff member for 20 years
at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka,
Kansas, she now devotes herself to her
private practice and writing career.
Yet, in her latest book, which she
describes as her most self-revealing,
Lerner describes the same fear of public
speaking as Mark.
This fear is not entirely unfounded,
she said, based on her podium experi-
ence. She remembers when an earring
got caught in the shoulder of her wool
suit, pinning her ear to her shoulder,
and when the unnumbered, unstapled
pages of her speech fell off the lectern.

Harriet Lerner:
For women,
appearance is
frequently the
lightening rod."

"To this day," she writes, "I prefer to
stand when someone is introducing me,
so that I won't get dizzy and pass out in
the process of rising from my chair."
Fear of speaking in public is like fear
of riding a roller coaster, she writes. "You
don't get over it. You just buy a ticket."
"Avoid avoidance," Lerner told the
Jewish News. "We know from all the
research that avoiding those things we
fear makes those fears grow."
A certain amount of fear, in the form
of anxiety, often gives us the spur to get
up and do what has to be done, she said.
"Sometimes, courage comes from
pain. The status quo is so painful, so
fraught with anxiety, that we get the
courage to act, because the fear of taking
that step is less than the pain of where
you are."

Fear and phobia are not synonyms,
she writes. "A genuine phobia, which
happily I did not have, comes complete
with a racing heart, breathing difficul-
ties, sweating, an overwhelming need to
flee the situation and sometimes the
imminent fear of death."
If someone is plagued with these "par-
alyzing neurochemical storms," only
medication and specialized treatment
will help.
But for most, avoidance of fear-induc-
ing circumstances only makes them
worse. The goal of Fear and Other
Uninvited Guests is to help readers use
their fear to find their "best and bravest
Lerner's book, which she described as
"more personal" than her earlier works,
is full of examples from her own life and
from stories told by patients.
"I have a chapter in my book about
shame, which is the fear of being inade-
quate — flawed, inferior, unworthy of
love and respect," she said. "For women,
appearance is frequently the lightening
Physical beauty gives you a good start,
Lerner conceded, "but only for about
five minutes."
"I have never once seen a relationship
between physical appearance and the
ability to maintain a loving, connected,
intimate relationship or a marriage," she
said. "It matters the least in important
Lerner has been married for more
than 30 years to fellow clinical psycholo-
gist Steve Lerner. Raising a Jewish family
in Kansas was a challenge.
"When our boys, Matt and Ben, start-
ed school in Topeka, they were the only
Jewish kids in the class," she said.
Frequently asked to school to explain
Judaism to the boys and girls, Lerner
and her husband would be introduced
as "talking about the Jewish way of cele-
brating Christmas."
Lerner, who recently turned 60, has
issues with society's fetish about aging.
"Getting older is everyone's ultimate
goal, yet we're taught not to tell our age,
like it was a shameful secret," she said.
"It is a terrible message to give young
women. Shame flourishes in secrecy" 111

Book Fair's "Health Awareness
Day" takes place Friday, Nov. 12,
at the Jewish Community Center
in West Bloomfield. Harriet
Lerner speaks at 10 a.m. A
"Healthy Luncheon" begins at
noon; the cost is $18; for reserva-
tions, call (248) 432-5577.
Florine Mark speaks at 1 p.m.


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