Review of "Fear and Other Uninvited Guests"

By Harriet Lerner
HarperCollins, 2004
Review by Patricia Ferguson, Psy.D. on Jan 24th 2005
Fear and Other Uninvited Guests

Fear and Other Invited Guests is as well-written and useful as Lerner's previous books, such as The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Intimacy. In this one, she specifically addresses anxiety, fear and shame. I have had my clients read her books occasionally because she speaks so well of connecting with your past and facing it now, so that you can move on and have a more fulfilled life.

 After graduate school, when I discovered Lerner, I wished I had read her works while I was in school, because she writes about several of the approaches I incorporate in my practice as a therapist. As I see it, anyway, her books combine feminism and familial relationships with Bowenian therapy. While I was receiving training in all types of therapy, I believed Bowen's theories about clinical work was one of the most useful I had studied. His theory goes back to the family of origin and details triangulation, but was difficult reading, to put it mildly. But when I read Lerner's first book, it made sense out of Bowen's ideas while combining it with feminist, cognitive and other approaches.

Fear and Other Uninvited Guests ties feelings of anxiety and fear to shame. In fact, at one point in the book she states that most negative emotions are tied to shame. In her second and third chapter, she provides some examples of clinical work with fear.  In the next two chapters she how explains the positive and negative effects of fear. Chapter 6 explains why we fear change and new learning and adventure. Chapter 7 talks about how anxiety isn't personal, but rather is a part of all human experiences. Chapters 8, 9 and 10 include a more in-depth look at how the shame is experienced and Chapter 11 is about courage and acting even when we are afraid, and about internalizing the shaming messages of others. The theme of the book is that anxiety and fear are shame-based, and often the shame goes back to the family of origin.

My last test I had to pass before graduation from my doctoral program was to provide a tape of a therapy session, a write-up of the information about the case, and most terrifying, an oral test after the professors had a month to review the case. I presented a case that would have best been described in many of Lerner's works, if only I'd been able to put it so succinctly. Although I passed the test, it was as difficult as anything I did as a graduate student, and it probably was better for me professionally to put it all together in my own words anyway. Still, her books speak to me on many levels.

As stated above, in this book she relates anxiety and fear to shame. And she is right, of course. No one can avoid anxiety or the other emotions, so everyone has to deal with them. For some people, anxiety can become a constant companion, for others, depression.  But this book deals head on with anxiety, including one of the most common causes of it: public speaking. She starts out the book with a great metaphor about her cat, who she says lived like a Buddhist. And when you think about it, most animals do. They live in the moment; they don't sit around worrying about what will happen if they don't get food, or pay the rent, and have a healthy fight-or-flight response.

Unlike her cat, she had human experiences of ruminating about upcoming fearful events like anticipating allergy shots for a week beforehand, while her cat lived by the motto, "Wherever you go, there you are."  Oh, if only more of us could live like that!


© 2005 Patricia Ferguson


Dr. Patricia Ferguson is a licensed clinical psychologist who not only reviews books, but is also Editor-in-Chief of Apollo's Lyre, an award-winning ezine for and about writers. She is contributing author to several publications, and is working on her next book and a chapter contribution to another book.


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