A 93-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor’s Lessons To Free Your MindJan 17, 2021
At 18 years old, Edith Eger lay in a pile of corpses with a broken back, typhoid and pneumonia. Thankfully, for humanity, she survived and has blessed the world with her psychological research. You need to know there is a happy ending to be able to read her story.
Earlier in her teens, she was madly in love and training with the Hungarian Olympic gymnastics team. The Nazis slowly took her freedoms away until one day she ended up in the hell known as Auschwitz. Her parents were sent to the gas chambers on the first day. I can’t begin to imagine what those years were like for Edith.
She suffered from trauma and shame for decades after the end of the war but reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning changed everything. He survived similar horrific experiences and his words encouraged her to reclaim her mind. She went on to finish her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and has been treating others for over 40 years!
When you listen to Edith speak, you feel her love for life shine through. She’s 93 years old but it’s only a number, in her mind she is young and she certainly has the energy to make you believe her. She has recently appeared on many podcasts to promote her latest book and I strongly recommend listening to her words.
Oprah declared “I will be forever changed by Dr. Eger’s story”. So many of us let our anxieties rule us and I believe Edith’s proven philosophies could free people’s minds. I hope to give justice to some of her key lessons here.
“Remember no one can take away from you what you put here in your mind”
When the Nazis were about to storm her home, this was Edith’s mother's final lesson as a free woman to her daughter.
These words helped Edith find humor in even some of the darkest moments of the camps. Doctors extracted blood from her to send to aid German troops on the front line. Part of her body was literally saving her enemies. She imagined her blood turning these soldiers into ballerinas, making them easy targets for the allies. She could smile to herself at this fantasy and no one could stop her.
If there was anything she could do to save herself she would have but both physically fighting or fleeing was impossible. But with her mind, she fought with everything she had.
Yet in the years afterward, when she was free, this had the opposite effect. She kept the traumatic memories locked away in her mind and suffered in silence. She forgot she had the power to reframe what had happened to her and it was only when Viktor Frankl reminded her did she take back control.
When you’re feeling trapped, you can make a choice as Edith did. She believes “Auschwitz was an opportunity” for her to realize the strength of her mind. Just remember if you can read this then you can seek out help from professionals to unlock your power.
There is no crisis, only transition
I joke about my quarter-century crisis where I went to Australia for 3 weeks. It wasn’t a crisis anywhere except my own imagination. Yet this dramatic way of talking is common as we always seem to be in an emergency or on the verge of chaos. It’s not healthy to constantly be in this heightened state of alertness.
Dr. Edith believes the words we use are more important than we think. They invoke an emotive response that can trigger cortisol release. She urges people to stop talking about themselves as being in crisis because in most cases, we survive and find happiness in a new way. Don’t give up on life becoming better someday.
If your marriage is over, you’ll transition to a new relationship with yourself.
If you’ve lost your job, you’ll transition to a new phase of your career.
If your trauma feels overwhelming, you’ll transition to a happier place.
Moments in my life have felt like a cliff edge. I’ve narrowly missed out on university places, relationships, jobs, and all manner of other things I thought would complete me. The paths I traveled in my idealized dreams aren’t what happened in reality. However I wouldn’t change the past, it’s made me who I am today.
We don’t overcome anything. We come to terms with it.
I remember when I used to hear about trauma on the news and think those cases were exceptional. Their stories aren’t exceptional because they are rare but because so few people are in a place where they are comfortable speaking out.
There are many people struggling right now and they must not feel alone. It’s ok to not be perfect. People think Edith has a superpower to overcome what she did and they might think they can never do what she has done. They’d be wrong.
According to Edith, there is no hierarchy of suffering. What is devastating for one person might be brushed off easily by another. This doesn’t make anyone better or worse, we all deal with things differently. She dislikes the word “overcome” because it implies there is a point where everything just becomes ok and it’s not true for her.
“Part of me was left in Auschwitz… but I don’t live in Auschwitz anymore”
She came to terms with her past, she hasn’t forgotten it but she knows it is only part of her. There’s so much more to life, there’s so much more to her. She is not defined by the things people did to her and neither are you. You can remember and feel hurt sometimes and still be whole. The future can be full of joy even if the past wasn’t.
Forgiveness is a gift to ourselves
We’re conditioned from a young age to see forgiveness as a good deed. As us doing something for someone else and making a sacrifice ourselves. I see this view as more toxic as I grow older.
So when you hear Dr. Edith forgave her guards, don’t feel shame as this isn’t about her being a better person than anyone else. Though there’s a lesson we can take from her. How can someone who has literally been in the presence of the man known as the angel of death possibly believe in forgiveness?
“People say, you’re such a good person! No, no, I’m selfish! I want to have joy! I want to have passion!” — Dr. Edith Eger
Forget this idea you need to forgive people for their sake, do it for yourself! Hatred can cause havoc to our wellbeing and I know I’ve had sleepless nights reliving times I’ve been hurt. It takes over our mind but why let those who’ve wronged you have any control over you? Edith doesn’t want people to be hostages to their past.
We shouldn’t stop battling the evil in this world or seeking justice. Yet don’t poison your present with the terrors of times gone. You can forgive without condoning. Free your mind so you can appreciate the joy of a new day.
Dr. Edith’s words have resonated with me and the way I view the world. My struggles are incomparable to her and if she can come to terms with her demons then so can I. She’s an inspiration and I hope you search for more of her work. She is a professional and I hope you are inspired to seek out someone like her if you trying to deal with trauma. Have a wonderful day.
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