A Book Review of The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life
In a series of small steps, I wandered online into a mention of Dr. Edith Eger as a psychologist and Auschwitz survivor from WWII. That eventually led me to a podcast featuring Dr Eger. Her light-hearted laughter drew me to purchase her book, The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life.
Filled with stories based on personal experience as well as the stories of clients/patients with whom she worked, Dr Eger makes points about ways to live a fuller life and illustrates those with examples. Her writing style is clear and comfortable, more like a conversation with an experienced friend over a cup of tea than any “how to” manual or psych text. On the other hand, she offers specific suggestions and potential practices to move beyond trauma.
In grad school, my first professor noticed my reticence to speak up given my first class overflowed with experienced students for whom the class was their last. The astute professor privately suggested to me, “The first rule of therapy is not about showing off, it’s to avoid causing harm. Use the tools you have: take time to listen and ask clarifying questions. You’ll help people if that’s all you ever do.” In that spirit, I will point out the obvious: any discussion or writing related to trauma carries some risks, so for folks who have trauma history, consider exploring this together with a professional. To all readers, suggest you give yourself time to pause and check in with your body, heart, and mind to note how you’re feeling through this journey.
The short volume contains 12 chapters, each with a separate topic. Chapter 1 begins with “The Prison of Victimhood” stating “victims ask, “Why me?” Survivors ask, “What now?”” In addition to some stories and a description of each topic, Each chapter closes with a “Keys to…” section that reviews some of the key points and describes actions/activities to help readers move through some self-exploration work. Note that these are not easy-peasy, do-it-once miraculous cure-all actions. Most often these require some insight, dedication, and practice, “And then keep showing up for your self all day, every day.”
Topics include victimhood, avoidance, self-neglect, secrets, guilt and shame, grief, and more. Dr Eger explores relationships, touches on careers, discusses fears, and everything leads back to ways we can unlock our mental prisons and evolve.
Through the topics she selected, the author offers insights from her own life, lessons learned from Auschwitz to marriage, motherhood and the joy of grandchildren (and great-grandchildren).
She offers practical suggestions for ways to work through ups and downs of life, from making decisions about your relationship with yourself – “…I talk to myself all the time. I say, “Edie, you’re one of a kind. You’re beautiful. May you be more and more Edie every day.”[i] – to dealing with fears – “When fear comes like a panic storm, and your body shakes and your heart races and the trauma you already survived threatens to swallow you, take your own precious hand and say, “Thank you, fear, for wanting to protect me.” Then say, “That was then, this is now.” Say it over and over again. You already made it. Here you are.”[ii]
Some of Dr Eger’s ideas, I thought initially, sounded a bit candy-coated. However, she doesn’t live in a spun-sugar world. “We live in a world with danger, and so we live in a world with fear. Your safety isn’t guaranteed.” She goes on to point readers away from a fear-based focus. “But fear and love don’t coexist. And fear doesn’t have to rule your life.” She continues by sharing a few examples.
The author defines idealism as “when you expect that everything in life is going to be fair or good or easy.” With respect to her education and experience, I view idealists as people who do what they can to make the world a better place. While some people lean into wishing and dreaming and call themselves idealists, to me idealism is giving hope feet. It’s believing in fairness and justice, yes, and it’s also taking action. Idealists don’t just wish for a cleaner environment, they act: compost, recycle, use less. Idealists don’t dream of better government: they vote, volunteer, and connect with elected officials.
Whether or not I agree with an author 100% of the time, though, I agree wholeheartedly that this book has helpful tidbits for most people. I particularly appreciate her view of grief and her perspective about hope. “Hope isn’t a distraction from darkness. It’s a confrontation with darkness.”
The book can be a quick read, if you choose to rush through it. To get the benefit from this advice, though, I’d suggest skimming or speed-reading it once just to get a bit of a sense of the layout and activities. Then go back to the beginning and take some time, in particular, to try out the exercises. As you find ones that work well for you, incorporate those into your daily self-care routine.
If you can afford it, this may be one of those books to keep for a boost or new ideas about ways to handle unexpected circumstances. If money is tight, reserve a copy at your local library (and keep notes about ideas that speak to you).
Thinking about you, hoping you find what helps your self-care journey, healing, or helps you assist others with their healing. Wishing you hope, all the support you need and want, and creative ideas about making our world a better place.
May you be healthy, happy, safe, and strong.
Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions/experiences nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. This is intended to uplift and educate, not as counseling or professional advice. If you are in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iii] If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline[iv] to connect with someone who will have your best interests at heart. Your tender heart deserves respect.
Copyright 2021 D.R. deLuis
[i] From Chapter 3
[ii] From Chapter 9 (Are you evolving or revolving?)
[iv] If you’re not comfortable speaking with someone, try reaching out to the Crisis Text Line. In the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808. To speak with someone, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.