Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Breaking Out of the Prison You Made

Recall one of your dark days—you know the ones—when you feel like you’re not enough and the discomforts/mistakes/disappointments that surround you are what you deserve. You struggle to do more, achieve more, be perfect—to prove you’re worthy of living, but even accolades don’t seem to help. You think you should’ve done better. Perhaps you blame your past, your parents, your misfortunes. You climb into your prison and close the door. (If this sounds familiar to you, it does to me, too.)

What you don’t realize is the prison is real. You made it yourself.

Dr. Edith Eva Eger doesn’t talk about prison from a patronizing distance. In her youth, she was groomed for the Olympics in gymnastics and then trained in ballet. She wanted to prove she was as valuable as her much prettier sister. What she didn’t know was both her gymnastics and her ballet would never bring her awards; they would each save her life. She and her family were sent to the death camp at Auschwitz.

Eger’s story of her experiences (The Choice: Embrace the Possible) is as intimate as a diary and as insightful as a psychology workshop. First, she takes the reader with her through her home life and her rocky relationship with her mother and then into the death camp where her parents were murdered. Along the way, she shares with the reader the insights she gained as her sister and she struggled to survive emotionally and physically. As I write, I don’t know how to communicate how very personal and engaging Eger’s story is. She isn’t writing to expose the horrors she encountered, but she doesn’t gloss them over, either. They are described matter-of-factly. They are devastating. Her bond with her sister and hope of finally being reunited with the boy she loves must sustain her through deprivations I had never fully understood before reading her book.

Eger eventually becomes a renowned psychiatrist, specializing in helping people overcome past traumas to move on to a fulfilling life. But she doesn’t pretend her liberation was an automatic Refresh Start—in spite of her education and the people who helped her along the way. She spent long years agonizing over the insights she forced herself to develop so she could live on—not merely survive. For example, she explains that while it’s misguided to ignore the wrongdoings of others (we must hold them to account), it’s also misguided to allow the wrongs done to you—regardless of how horrific—to warp your future. If so, you’re becoming your own jailer. What you choose to do now is up to you; your past is not responsible.

She writes, “When you have something to prove, you aren’t free.” She explains that seeking achievements to demonstrate your worth reinforces your sense of being broken. You need to recognize your individuality is your worth. No one else can do exactly what you do in the way you do it. “Most of us want a dictator—albeit a benevolent one—so we can pass the buck…You made me do that.” You make yourself a victim. Instead, you can look for the miracles that surround you in each moment. You forgive yourself and accept what is.

Eger even addresses the members of white supremacist groups in America. She refers to research that establishes most of their members lost one of their parents before they were ten years old. She says, “These are lost children looking for an identity, looking for a way to feel strength, to feel like they matter.” When I think of the many children who have been forcibly removed from their parents recently, I wonder what their future will look like. Will they find fulfillment in violence…or in pursuing their dreams? I hope they find Eger’s book and come to understand the freedom she is urging on us all.

2 comments on “Breaking Out of the Prison You Made

  1. Frances Sullivan
    August 6, 2018

    Thank you for this insight. Coming to understand we are our own ‘jailer’ is a hard lesson. I suppose the actions of those children fated to suffer is still an unknown, but here’s hoping Eger’s message reaches them by any means possible. xx

    • Setting ourselves free is quite a chore–and never done. Even Eger herself still struggles with flashbacks. She has a marvelous talk on YouTube, speaking to a group called the Wingmen (men helping one another deal with past traumas). I hope I can free myself as effectively as she did…and I didn’t have her trauma!

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