Cindy,1 was a student of mine with a tumultuous childhood. When she was a senior in high school, she knocked on her parents’ bedroom door asking to attend her grade’s graduation party the following night. Her parents were strictly opposed and too tired to discuss it further, but Cindy didn’t accept no for an answer.

The disagreement escalated until her father screamed, “I’m going to get my gun!” He jumped out of bed and ran to his closet. When Cindy saw him holding the gun, she ran downstairs, locked her bedroom door, and began to shake. With tears streaming down her face, she dialed Child Protective Services. They informed her that since she had not been physically harmed, they could not help. Alone and unprotected, Cindy felt broken.

Cindy has since received years of therapy, which helped, but memories of this painful experience sometimes crept up later in life and negatively impacted her. I offered Cindy a tool shared by Dr. Edith Eger, author and psychologist, in her new book, The Gift.

Dr. Eger suggests that one should revisit the difficult scene in their mind’s eye in order to comfort the younger self and “release” the perpetrator.2

Based on her technique, I asked Cindy to replay details of the explosion with her father in her mind's eye. I suggested, “Cindy, when your father holds his gun, freeze the scene and enter the room as the adult you are today. Offer your teen self-comfort by holding her until she feels secure.

“Then, take your hand and say, ‘Come with me. You don’t live here anymore, and I’ll protect you.’ Confidently walk out the door, go down the driveway and out onto the street until the house is out of sight. Give her a space to be angry and then show her the beauty of your present life. Go to your current home and say, ‘You live here now. You don’t have to live in that house anymore, your life is here. I’ll protect you forever.’ Show your younger self how wonderful it is to stay in the present.”

Egar explains that the next step is to go back and release the perpetrator from the grip they hold over you. She suggests putting your hand on the shoulder of that person, looking them in the eye and saying, “You can’t do this anymore. You no longer have power over me. Once I was young and weak, but now I am strong. It’s over.” As Egar writes, “releasing ourselves from victimhood also means releasing others from the role we’ve assigned them.”3

Egar is a Holocaust survivor and used this technique in her own life to help heal the wounds of survival. Cindy did try it, and later shared how powerful this exercise was in helping her move forward.

With the power of our mind, we can release ourselves from victimhood and begin living differently.

We’ve all been in painful circumstances that can make us feel powerless, unaccepted, or unloved. We don’t have the ability to change the past or how others behave, but we do have the power to love ourselves, and mentally extricate our minds from negative experiences. Everyone has a choice to either remain a victim or crawl to freedom. Releasing the shackles of victimhood is a healthier choice.

Egar’s tool can be utilized for more mundane, everyday challenges, whether it's dealing with a difficult mother-in-law, or someone overbearing at work.

Instead of rehashing painful experiences we can choose to release them and experience true freedom and joy.

By releasing ourselves from victimhood we fulfill many commandments simultaneously. Some examples include, do not hate your brother in your heart,4 and don't bear a grudge. 5 Moreover, neutralizing terrible memories helps one fulfill the commandment to serve God with joy, 6 and honor one's in-laws,7 (much easier when we are not bitter about them.)

Edgar explains, “The only one you have is you. You’re born alone. You die alone. So start by getting up in the morning and going to the mirror. Look yourself in the eye and say, ‘I love you… I’m never going to leave you. Hug yourself… try it!”8

Love yourself – a prerequisite to fulfilling the mitzvah to love others. You are the only person in the world that will remain with you forever. No other relationship has any guarantees. We owe it to ourselves to show up every day and serve as our own greatest comfort. Why hurt ourselves with thoughts of victimhood? Give yourself the gift of freedom. Let go, so that negativity doesn't occupy the precious real estate of your mind. When we release the shackles of victimhood, we can finally start to live the joyous life we all crave.

  1. Name has been changed
  2. The Gift, Edith Eger, Pg 14-19
  3. The Gift, Edith Eger, Pg 20
  4. Lev 19:17
  5. Lev 19:18
  6. Deut. 28:45-47
  7. Exodus 20:12
  8. The Gift, Edith Eger, Pg 14