The Dance Of Fear: Rising Above Anxiety, Fear, And Shame To Be Your Best And Bravest Self

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-02-26
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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Unhappiness, says bestselling author Harriet Lerner, is fueled by three key emotions: anxiety, fear, and shame. They are the uninvited guests in our lives. When tragedy or hardship hits, they may become our constant companions. Anxiety can wash over us like a tidal wave or operate as a silent thrum under the surface of our daily lives. With stories that are sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking, Lerner takes us from "fear lite" to the most difficult lessons the universe sends us. We learn: how a man was "cured in a day" of the fear of rejection -- and what we can learn from his story how the author overcame her dread of public speaking when her worst fears were realized how to deal with the fear of not being good enough, and with the shame of feeling essentially flawed and inadequate how to stay calm and clear in an anxious, crazy workplace how to manage fear and despair when life sends a crash course in illness, vulnerability, and loss how "positive thinking" helps -- and harms how to be our best and bravest selves, even when we are terrified and have internalized the shaming messages of others No one signs up for anxiety, fear, and shame, but we can't avoid them either. As we learn to respond to these three key emotions in new ways, we can live more fully in the present and move into the future with courage, clarity, humor, and hope. Fear and Other Uninvited Guests shows us how.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Why Can't a Person Be More Like a Cat?
The Fear of Rejection: A One-Day Cure
Terrified? You Have to Keep Showing Up!
In Praise of Anxiety: How Fear and Trembling Keep You Safe
The Trouble with Anxiety: How It Wreaks Havoc on Your Brain and Self-Esteem
Why We Fear Change
Your Anxious Workplace: Staying Calm and Clearheaded in a Crazy Environment
The Secret Power of Shame
The Fear of the Mirror: Anxiety and Shame About Your Looks---and Being Looked At
When Things Fall Apart: Facing Illness and Suffering
Courage in the Face of Fear
Epilogue: Everyone Freaks Out 221(4)
Notes 225(6)
Index 231


The Dance of Fear
Rising Above Anxiety, Fear, and Shame to Be Your Best and Bravest Self

Chapter One

Why Can't a Person
Be More Like a Cat?

"Fear stops me from doing so many things," a neighbor confidedwhen I mentioned the subject of this book. Then, without furtherado, she launched into a description of her coworker Carmen, awoman who exuded such a deep sense of calm, joy, and peacefulnessthat everyone wanted to be around her. "Carmen never feelsfear or other negative emotions. She's always in the flow of the presentmoment. She really lives each day to the fullest." My neighborpaused to catch her breath, then exclaimed: "I would do anything to be like Carmen!"

She spoke so earnestly, her voice ringing with italics, that I restrainedmyself from suggesting that maybe Carmen had multiplepersonalities and that one of her alters might be sitting mute insome corner having wall-to-wall panic attacks. But I did tell herthis: The only being I have ever known who was entirely free offear and always "in the flow" was my cat, Felix. When Felix was alive, I aspired to be like him, much as my neighbor aspired to belike Carmen. I could relate.


Felix was my little Buddhist, my role model for mindful living. Hedemonstrated a healthy fight-or-flight response when threatened,but he only felt fear when fear was due. He became anxious and agitatedwhen forced into a carrying cage, because he knew very wellit meant a car ride to the vet. But he didn't let fear, worry, and ruminationspoil an otherwise perfectly good day.

By contrast, I recall my own human experience anticipating myfirst allergy shot as a child. For a good week before the actual appointment,I freaked myself out with fearful imaginings, all of themhaving to do with long needles and terrible pain. My mother, whohad certain Key Phrases to Live By, informed me that "a cowarddies a thousand deaths; a brave man dies but once." She learned thisaphorism from her younger brother when he went off to fight inWorld War II.

I personally found no comfort in her words. What sense didthey make to a nine-year-old? I wasn't brave, I wasn't a man, andwhy was my mother bringing death into the conversation? When Iwas older and had developed the capacity for abstract thinking, Iunderstood the lesson she was trying to convey. In essence, mymother was encouraging me to be more like Felix.

Felix lived in the moment. When he played, he played. When heate, he ate. When he had sex, he had sex, utterly unencumbered byfear, shame, or guilt. Once "fixed" (the downside of being a pet), hesettled immediately into a perfect acceptance of his situation. "Whereveryou go, there you are," was the motto I believe he lived by.

This capacity to inhabit the moment granted Felix a kind ofprofound self-acceptance. When he licked his fur, he didn't worry about whether he was doing the job well enough, or whether hewas taking too long to lick down all his hair, or whether certain ofhis body parts weren't all that attractive and perhaps shouldn't bedisplayed to my dinner guests. Nor did he dissipate his energy withanxious thoughts such as: "What's wrong with me that I don't makemore fruitful and creative use of my time?"

Because Felix didn't live a fear-driven life, he was able to operatefrom his essential Felixness. When he wanted connection, hewould jump on my lap without stopping to wonder whether Imight find him too needy and dependent (especially for a cat).With equal aplomb, he would jump off my lap and saunter out ofthe room when he felt like it, never worrying that I might take hisdeparture personally and feel really hurt. I could go on, but you getthe picture.

A sociobiologist friend tells me that I have an idealized notionof Felix's inner emotional and spiritual life, but I disagree.I'm not saying that all cats are like Felix. I've seen my share oftraumatized felines who cower or scratch when strangers approach.But I observed Felix almost daily for more than ten yearsbefore he keeled over dead one afternoon on our back porch.I'm convinced that it simply wasn't in his nature to get boggeddown in fear and shame.

Face It, You're Human

Of course, Felix didn't have it all. If he missed out on the miseriesof being human, he also missed out on some uniquely human pleasures,from reading a riveting novel to falling in love. One mightdebate whether it is preferable to be a cat or a person, but why getinto it? If you are reading this now, you are not a cat and never willbe. So along with the good days, you're going to experience theentire range of painful emotions that make us human.

This means that you'll wake up at three in the morning searchingyour breasts for lumps. You'll worry that your daughter hasdropped out of her drug treatment program (again), that your partneris getting bored with you, that you'll end up a bag lady if youleave your job, that your memory is getting more porous with eachpassing day, and that possibly you're going crazy.

You can make your own list. No one is immune to the grip ofanxiety, fear, and shame -- the "big three" that muck up our lives.These are the uninvited guests. When tragedy or hardship hits, theymay become our constant companions.

The Dance of Fear
Rising Above Anxiety, Fear, and Shame to Be Your Best and Bravest Self
. Copyright © by Harriet Lerner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Dance of Fear: Rising above Anxiety, Fear, and Shame to Be Your Best and Bravest Self by Harriet Lerner
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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