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By Bruce Spittle in All Sorts
how is it possible to choose to embrace joy and freedom even in the face of suffering and problems that life bringsThe Choice
In 2017, at the age of 90 years, in the book “The Choice”, Edith Eger shared her perspective on how best to cope with the troubles that may arise in our lives. She noted that in life, at some point, we will suffer some kind of affliction, calamity or abuse, caused by circumstances, people or institutions over which we have little or no control. These problems coming from the outside may be a neighbourhood bully, a boss who rages, a spouse who hits, a lover who cheats, discriminatory laws or an accident that lands us in hospital. In response, we may feel victimized. However, being a
victim does not mean that we need to have a life of feeling that we are a victim, the condition of victimhood.
Victimhood comes from the inside. No one can make you a victim but you. We become victims, not because of what happens to us, but when we choose to hold on to our victimization. In immersing ourselves in victimhood, we develop a victim‘s mindset—a way of thinking and being that is rigid, blaming, pessimistic, stuck in the past, unforgiving, punitive and without healthy limits or boundaries. We become our own jailers when we choose the confines of the victim’s mind.
Edith Eger considered that there was no hierarchy of suffering. She considered that there was nothing that made one person’s pain worse or better than that of another. Comparing our suffering with that of others can lead us to minimize or diminish our own suffering. Being a survivor and thriving requires absolute acceptance of what was and what is. If we discount our pain, or punish ourselves for feeling lost, isolated or scared about the challenges in our lives, however insignificant these challenges may seem to someone else, then we are still choosing to be a victim and we are not seeing our choices. We are judging ourselves.
Our problems may vary from having a dying child to our new car being the wrong shade of yellow. However, the little upsets in our lives may be emblematic of larger losses. Seemingly insignificant worries may be representative of greater pain. Every person’s pain is real to them and they are deserving of our compassion.
Those experiencing pain have choices in attitude and action that can move them from victim to survivor, even if the circumstances they are dealing with do not change. Survivors do not have time to ask “Why me?” For survivors, the only relevant question is “What now?”
As a clinical psychologist, Edith Eger helped many persons and found the commonest problem was one of hunger. We are hungry for approval, attention and affection. We are hungry for the freedom to embrace life and to really know and be ourselves. We cannot choose to have a life free of hurt. But we can choose to be free and to escape the past, no matter what befalls us. We can embrace the possible. We can have freedom from the past, freedom from failures and fears, freedom from anger and mistakes, and freedom from regret and unresolved grief. We can have the freedom to enjoy the full rich feast of life.
Edith Eger commented that it is easy to make a prison out of our pain and out of the past. At best, revenge is useless. It cannot alter what has been done to us. It cannot erase the wrongs we have suffered. It cannot bring back the dead. At worst, revenge perpetuates the cycle of hate. It keeps the hate circling on and on. When we seek revenge, even non-violent revenge, we are revolving, not evolving.
Dr Eger valued what her mother told her, “We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But no one can take away from you what you put in your own mind.” Whether we are imprisoned by bad marriages, destructive families, jobs we hate, or the barbed wire of self-limiting beliefs which trap us in our own minds, we can choose to embrace joy and freedom.