Twenty years ago I read a book that changed my life. My mom, who loves to send me and my siblings self-help books when she believes we need them, sent me a copy of Harriet Lerner's Dance of Anger.
That book did more than teach me about anger, it set the course for my career. I've read and learned from every book Harriet has written, and a few years ago I had the good fortune of meeting her. Since then, we've worked together and she has become a friend and mentor.
I can't tell you what an honor it is to introduce her to our community. Meet Dr. Harriet Lerner!
Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and is best known for her work on the psychology of women and family relationships. She has dedicated her writing life to translating complex theory into accessible and useful prose, and has become one of our nation's most trusted and respected relationship experts.
Harriet's books have been published in more than thirty foreign editions and she's sold more than three million books worldwide. Her “Dance” books include the New York Times bestselling, Dance of Anger, The Dance of Intimacy, The Dance of Deception, The Mother Dance, The Dance of Connection, and The Dance of Fear.
Harriet is currently in private practice in Lawrence, Kansas. She claims to be an undefeated champion in the game of jacks and has fallen in love with the Spanish language. Harriet has a wonderful essay about her family history on her website. I encourage you to read it.
Harriet’s new book is Marriage Rules: A Manual for The Married and The Coupled Up. I read an advance copy of it and my endorsement on the back of the book is honestly what I believe:
"This is the marriage book we''ve been waiting for! It''s packed with clearheaded counsel and small, doable steps that can turn a relationship around. I saw myself on almost every page, which led to a lot of head- nodding, laughing . . . and wincing! It''s one of those rare conversation-starting books that you dog-ear, highlight, and read aloud to your partner at night." -- Brené Brown
Here's the fun part! I love Harriet's answers, especially this piece on authenticity:
"Sometimes you have to try out a “new you” to discover what’s real and authentic. We can engage in pretending not out of fear or accommodation, but out of the courage to get off automatic pilot and try out new behaviors."
On Vulnerability, Authenticity and Courage from The Gifts of Imperfection:
Creativity, innovation, and truth-telling can be very vulnerable in our culture which is why we often feel deeply inspired when we see it. We’d love to know more about how you find the courage to share your authentic self and your work with the world.
1. Vulnerability is . . . part of being human. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. If we can’t be in touch with (and openly share) both our vulnerability and our strength in a balanced way, our self-regard suffers—and we won’t see others or ourselves clearly.
2. What role does vulnerability play in your work?
As a therapist, my ability to be helpful rests on my owning all parts of myself, including those parts which I’d prefer to not acknowledge. Ditto for being an author. My readers know about my Bad Mother Days, my worst fights with Steve, and so forth. Despite this—or perhaps because of this—people still buy my books.
3. What does authenticity mean to you and how do you practice it in your work?
Authenticity is a tricky concept. On the one hand, you should “be yourself” and no one else is as qualified for the job. But in the name of authenticity people bludgeon each other, and shut down the lines of communication rather than widen the path for truth-telling. And therapy—like all of life—requires the therapist to be real, while making wise decisions about how and when to say what to whom.
In Marriage Rules, I invite my readers to “Fake it for ten days” or “Get more bite marks on your tongue!” or “Say less” or “Call off the chase!” Sometimes you have to try out a “new you” to discover what’s real and authentic. We can engage in pretending not out of fear or accommodation, but out of the courage to get off automatic pilot and try out new behaviors.
4. Is perfectionism an issue for you? If so, what’s one of your strategies for managing it?
Perfectionism is not an issue for me. I’m a youngest child who has no trouble sharing vulnerability and asking people to do things for me, as in “Emily! Help! Come over here and pack my suitcase because I am feeling mentally ill.”
5. What inspires you?
I’m definitely not inspired by James Bond type figures. Real people who show me their fears and vulnerability as well as their creativity and courage inspire me. Then I may think, “Wow, if they can do it, maybe I can do it to!”
I’m also inspired by remembering a time in my own life when I accomplished something I was convinced I could never do. Or I did something very brave and I felt proud. When my picture of myself shrinks to a little, narrow, pathetic view, it’s hard to feel inspired.
6. What’s something that gets in the way of your creativity and how do you move through it?
It’s hard for me to write when I’m too anxious or I’m losing my confidence (“I’ll never make this book work”). And sometimes the muse decides to leave me for no good reason that I can see. Then I have to wait for a new day (or many, many new days) and trust that she’ll return. So I get through “writers block” with patience and by remembering that things change.
7. Describe a snapshot of a joyful moment in your life.
A recent vacation in Sanibel Florida, lighting the Hanukkah candles with my family—my husband Steve, my two sons, Matt and Ben, their wives, Jo and Ariana, and two grandsons, Cyrus and Theo. I grew up without any rituals and it was a beautiful moment.
8. Do you have a mantra or manifesto for living and loving with your whole heart?
No. This isn’t something I actively strive for. It comes at spontaneous moments and when I least expect it.
Now, for some fun!
From James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio
What is your favorite word? Luciérnagas (Spanish for fireflies)
What is your least favorite word? The word “guestimate” irritates me. I cringe at “Hon” (except from my best friends) and I don’t allow anyone to use the word “nuke” in my house, as in “Let’s nuke this in the microwave.”
What sound or noise do you love? Sounds from the natural world and good music
What sound or noise do you hate? People on their cell phones who don’t have the courtesy to take it out of the room.
What is your favorite curse word? F*ck. I’ve always liked the strong sound of it, though I try not to say it. When my feminist son Ben was four years old, I heard him say to a little friend, “The F-word is king of all the dirty words.” And then he added thoughtfully, “Or maybe the F-word is the queen.”
From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme
A song/band/type of music you'd risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio? I’d only risk wreck and injury to turn off hateful, mean-spirited, political talk.
Best show on television? I don’t watch television--only movies/Netflix.
Favorite movie? Sense and Sensibility, especially the final love scene. And Volver
Best concert? When I first started going to concerts, Pete Seeger and The Weavers (especially Ronnie Gilbert) made me feel that together we could change the world. Music touches us in places that nothing else can.
If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be? Plain T-shirts with no design or message is more my style.
Nightmare job? I’m just lucky to have the one I have, and to be my own boss.
A talent you wish you had? Singing and dancing and a gift for learning languages.
Dream vacation? Returning to Morelia, Mexico, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
What’s on your nightstand? So much stuff that doesn’t belong there. When the mess gets to me, I put things away and tidy up.
What’s something about you that would surprise us? My nightstand.
From Smith Magazine’s Six Word Memoir Project
Your six-word memoir: Brevity and tidiness - never my virtues.
To celebrate our interview with Harriet, we're giving away three copies of Marriage Rules! Just leave your name in the comments section and we'll draw winners on Friday!
A huge thanks to Harriet for the interview and for making the world a better place!
Congrats to Candace, Stephanie A. and Mellissa B.