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Harriet Lerner

  • The term girl not only serves to avoid certain anxiety-arousing connotations inherent in the word woman regarding aggression, sexuality, and reproduction, it also serves to impart a tone of frivolousness and lack of seriousness to ambitious, intellectual, and competitive striving that women may pursue.

    • Harriet Lerner,
    • "Girls, Ladies, or Women? the Unconscious Dynamics of Language Choice," Comprehensive Psychiatry ()
  • Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to.

  • If what we are doing wth our anger is not achieving the desired result, it would seem logical to try something else.

  • Underground issues from one relationship or context invariably fuel our fires in another.

  • Many of our problems with anger occur when we choose between having a relationship and having a self.

  • ... anger is a tool for change when it challenges us to become more of an expert on the self and less of an expert on others.

  • ... deception and 'con games' are a way of life in all species and throughout nature. Organisms that do not improve their ability to deceive — and to detect deception — are less apt to survive.

  • As many have observed, it is easy to tell a lie, but it is almost impossible to tell only one.

  • What new meaning might Freud's concept of 'penis envy' take on, if we consider the fact that in his lifetime the words 'clitoris,' 'vulva,' and 'labia' were not included in the dictionary and, in this country, the only word in Webster's dictionary for female genitalia was 'vagina'? Who decides what words are included in the dictionary and who decides what is real?

  • The ideal family encourages the optimal growth of all its members and provides a safe space where individuals can more or less be themselves. At their best moments, families promote a sense of unity and belonging (the 'We'), while respecting the separateness and difference of individual members (the 'I'). Parents make and enforce rules that guide a child's behavior, but they do not regulate the child's emotional and intellectual life. Individual family members can feel free to share their honest thoughts and feelings on emotionally loaded subjects, without telling others what to think and feel, and without getting too nervous about differences. No family member has to deny or silence an important aspect of the self in order to belong and be heard.

  • The first world we find ourselves in is a family that is not of our choosing.

  • ... the body, seeking truth, sends a signal. But decoding it, interpreting its meaning, and knowing how to proceed from there is another matter entirely.

  • Self-help books for women are part of a multibillion-dollar industry, sensitively attuned to our insecurities and our purses.

    • Harriet Lerner,
    • "When Bad Books Happen to Good People," in Ms. ()
  • Although it's not useful to drown in despair, it's also not useful to keep a 'positive attitude' when this means concealing or denying real emotions.

    • Harriet Lerner,
    • in New Woman ()
  • The bolder and more courageous you are, the more you will learn about yourself.

    • Harriet Lerner,
    • in New Woman ()
  • Pretending can be a bold form of experimentation and inventiveness. In pretending joy or happiness, we may discover or enhance our capacity for it.

    • Harriet Lerner,
    • in New Woman ()
  • The more we seek exclusivity in friendship, the more it becomes obligatory and the less likely it is to fulfill the wonderful vision of what true friendship can be.

    • Harriet Lerner,
    • in New Woman ()
  • Intensity is not the same as intimacy, although we tend to confuse these two words.

  • Silence can pose a greater threat than the difficult truth.

  • Feeling inadequate is an occupational hazard of motherhood.

  • What initially attracts us and what later becomes 'the problem' are usually one and the same.

    • Harriet Lerner,
    • in New Woman ()
  • Love alone is never a good enough reason to marry.

    • Harriet Lerner,
    • in New Woman ()
  • Believing that all women should want to be mothers makes about as much sense as believing that all men should want to be engineers.

    • Harriet Lerner,
    • in New Woman ()
  • We all fear change, even as we seek it.

    • Harriet Lerner,
    • in New Woman ()
  • We commonly confuse closeness with sameness and view intimacy as the merging of two separate 'I's' into one worldview.

  • Although the connections are not always obvious, personal change is inseparable from social and political change.

  • 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, U.S. clinical psychologist, writer


Full name: Harriet Goldhor Lerner.