Book Review – ‘The Dance of Intimacy’ by Harriet Lerner

Harriet Lerner takes us on a journey of human relationships. She explains how our current relationships link to the relationships we formed early in life with our family, our parents and siblings. By actualizing these relationships from our family of origin, we can become more present to the current person, without transferring past issues and old hurt onto them.

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Wouldn’t it be great if we can live in the now, without having our past interfere with it? It is true that we look at current situations through the filters that we build up throughout our lives. The same applies to relationships in which we live out past dynamics from our connection with mother and father, sometimes without realizing it.

Harriet Lerner goes through case studies form her work as a therapist and from her own family where she exemplifies how our stuck relationship with friends, lovers, husband or wife can be helped by looking at our patterns of relating to mum and/or dad. She shows how her clients work through gaining a clearer sense of personal identity, a ‘self’ that has defined needs and limit. This allows us to start relating as an adult to our mother or father as opposed to a grown up child. In actualizing our relationship we are then able to take that sense of self into the ‘we’ of any present day relationship.

Harriet Lerner explains the various ways in which we navigate in key relationships under stress. These are called the ‘dances of intimacy’: pursuing, distancing, fighting, child-focusing, over functioning and under functioning. These are normal reactions which we entertain when anxiety and emotionality is high.

Even though it is a self-help book, based on family-systems therapy, it does not offer simple steps to overcome anxiety and emotionality but shows options that you can follow to change your relationships over time. Harriet Lerner stresses the point that the process of changing the dynamics will take time and ‘change back’ reactions will most probably be part of that development.

Part of that process is creating a family genogram, which is a visual display of all the members of your extended family, back to three generations ago. You can find clear guidance on how to do that in the book. The purpose of that is to understand the underlying dynamics, find out about your family history beyond the facts that you already are aware of.

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