CMHC #17 Edith Eger- the psychologist who survived Auschwitz and conquered her past
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life Edith Eger 2020
Dr. Edith Eger, age 92 at the publishing of this book, is a worldwide treasure and an amazing human being. Earlier, I reviewed her first book, The Choice, (check it out here), which was an amazing journey into her experiences during the holocaust- her days at Auschwitz, near-death experience at the end of the war, and remarkable recovery and escape from communism to end up as a psychologist in Texas.
While The Choice was a chronicle of her life story and how she ended up in the psychology field, The Gift is her gift to the world on how to escape the prisons of grief and sorrow from someone who's done it. While Dr. Eger mentions her experiences with the Nazi's somewhat in this book, most of it is focused on the current day and what some of her current patients have taught her.
This book is divided into 12 brief chapters, each one devoted to different ways we imprison ourselves. She provides snippets from her life and the lives of others to illustrate how being imprisoned limits us and how to break free. Examples of prisons include victim-hood, avoidance, guilt, grief, resentment and judgment.
I cannot even begin to imagine the tragedy and sorrow that Dr. Eger witnessed, after watching her parents be sent to their deaths, having to dance before Josef Mengele, and enduring constant abuse at the hands of the Nazis. Nazi Germany was about as dysfunctional and evil as humanity has ever managed, and for someone to survive and thrive after experiencing that- they have to be an incredibly strong person.
One chapter is fittingly titled "The Nazi in You", and it's compelling reading today when alt-right militia groups are rearing their hatreds in cities all over America. Let go of judgment, Dr. Eger advises us, starting with yourself. We all have a Nazi within us and are capable of withholding compassion from others. Hatred is learned, and we need to learn from other's mistakes and release the past.
If anyone has a right to claim victimization, it's survivors of the Holocaust. But Dr. Eger says suffering is universal, victimhood is optional. She advises us to think like a survivor and ask what now instead of why me. Victimhood is just another prison we construct for ourselves in order to blame the past, and run away from responsibility for creating our future.
The opposite of depression is expression, Dr. Eger states more than once in this book. She advises all victims of bad luck, hate, or tragedy to feel the feelings so that they can heal. Everything is temporary. Don't avoid pain- let it come and then let it go.
At the end of each chapter Dr. Eger presents a helpful summary combined with concrete action steps, like "spend a day listening to your self-talk", or "visualize a person with whom you're experiencing conflict, and then envision this person's highest self." It almost makes you feel like she's right there in the room with you prodding you with advice on how to get moving and put this book into action in your life.
The 12 prisons make a nice metaphor for the structure of the book, and Dr. Eger is open and honest with her own experiences that kept her imprisoned and limited. At age 92, she's worked on herself extensively after surviving a war, moving to America, raising a family, and going back to school to get a PhD.
Hearing this strong little woman tell her story made me think my problems are tiny by comparison. If she could make it, so can all of us. Her close brushes with death and disaster have prompted her to get stronger and eventually help others. She as a lot in common with Victor Frankl and his book Man's Search For Meaning. With people today still doubting that the holocaust ever happened, and with fear, anxiety, and hatred raising their ugly heads as people look for others to blame for their problems, books like this are essential. I recommend both The Choice and The Gift very strongly.
10 Inspiring Quotes from Dr. Edith Eger's The Gift
- "Freedom means accepting our whole, imperfect selves and giving up on the need for perfection."
- "As long as you're avoiding your feelings, you're denying reality. Invite the feeling in, sit down with it, keep it company. And then decide how long you're going to hold onto it."
- "Would you like to be married to you?"
- "Healing can't happen as long as we're hiding or disowning parts of ourselves. The things we silence or cover up become like hostages in the basement, trying more and more desperately to get our attention."
- "There were two things I hoped she could let go of: guilt and worry. "Guilt is in the past," I told her. "Worry is in the future. The only thing you can change is right here in the present."
-“When you turn the other cheek, you look at the same thing from a new perspective. You can’t change the situation, you can’t change someone else’s mind, but you can look at reality differently. You can accept and integrate multiple points of view. This flexibility”
- “Hope isn’t the white paint we use to mask our suffering. It’s an investment in curiosity. A recognition that if we give up now, we’ll never get to see what happens next.”
- “But as long as you’re avoiding your feelings, you’re denying reality. And if you try to shut something out and say, “I don’t want to think about it,” I guarantee that you’re going to think about it. So invite the feeling in, sit down with it, keep it company. And then decide how long you’re going to hold on to it. Because you’re not a fragile little somebody. It’s good to face every reality. To stop fighting and hiding. To remember that a feeling is just a feeling—it’s not your identity.”
- “No more don’t, don’t, don’t,” I told her. “I want to give you lots of dos. I do have a choice. I do have a life to live. I do have a role. I do live in the present. I do pay attention to what I’m focusing on, and it’s definitely in alignment with the goals I’m choosing: what gives me pleasure, what gives me joy.”
- "I used to ask "Why me? But now I ask "Why not me?" Perhaps I survived so I can choose what to do with what happened, and how to be here now. So I can show others how to choose life, so my parents and all the innocents didn't die in vain. So I can turn all the lessons I learned in hell into a gift I offer you now: the opportunity to decide what kind of life you want to have, to discover the untapped potential lying in the shadows, to reveal and reclaim who you really are."
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The above information is provided courtesy of the author who has done his best to be factual. You are still responsible for interpreting and checking those facts elsewhere, and I make no representations that I am a mental health expert beyond what I presented. Thank you.