Self-help books are a dime a dozen these days along with the rise of wellness gurus, financial advisers, and pop psychology experts. During the pandemic, it seemed that just about every conversation includes someone suggesting a self-help book. It tracks!

The toxic mix of the virus, remote work, lockdowns, and doom scrolling has pushed us all to the brink, and self-help books promise to give us all the tools we need to become well-adjusted adults again. At least, that’s the hope.

In the cluttered world of self-help, The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life by Dr. Edith Eger is a breath of fresh air. First of all, the title itself speaks of lessons—not instructions or steps or productivity hacks. This book is about the inner work needed to improve outer work.

In a word, this book is about healing.

Too often, self-help books can be grating, shouty, and reductive. As if the author is speaking to machines, not humans. But not Dr. Eger. She comes from a place of empathy. She’s not trying to figure out humans and fix them, she’s trying to understand and guide them.

Here are 5 takeaways from The Gift:

Emotions are meant to be felt, not controlled

“… observe how the feeling changes or dissipates.” — Dr. Edith Eger, The Gift

Feelings are there for a reason. We feel sad, mad or glad and a whole host of other emotions because something happened. As we grow up, we learn how to manage or regulate our feelings, but we have to remember to feel and understand these emotions. Then finally, let them flow through.

We tend to keep our feelings to ourselves in order to spare our loved ones. Unfortunately, the more we minimize our emotions without understanding them, the more we become prone to emotional breakdowns. As Eger wrote, “The opposite of depression is expression.”

Perfectionism leads to procrastination

“But if you’re perfectionistic, you’re going to procrastinate, because perfect means never.” — Dr. Edith Eger, The Gift

“It doesn’t take courage to strive for perfection. It takes courage to be average. To say, ‘Good enough is good enough.’”— Dr. Edith Eger, The Gift

Waiting for the perfect time means you are never going to do it and creating the perfect work means it is never going to happen. Perfection is an impossibly high bar to set for ourselves and this will only prevent us from doing the work.

This is not to say that we should not aspire for perfection, we definitely should. The ideal exists as a blueprint to follow. But we should also know that we are only human, and therefore flawed. So, let’s just do our best and forgive ourselves for not being perfect.

Only you can reject yourself

“… rejection is just a word we make up to express the feeling we have when we don’t get what we want. Who said everyone should love us?” — Dr. Edith Eger, The Gift

We don’t always get what we want. That is a fact. So, being rejected gives power to the external—and that’s something that we cannot control. And since we cannot control other people’s choices, it is important not to let this define us. 

Self-love is not selfish

“I often say that love is a four-letter word spelled T-I-M-E. Time. While our inner resources are limitless, our time and energy are limited. They run out.”— Dr. Edith Eger, The Gift

It is common in a Catholic country like the Philippines to view self-care and self-love as frivolous and selfish. We are taught to be selfless and to serve others, and that caring about looks is pure vanity. However, Eger recognizes the value of pampering as an act of self-care and a reflection of self-esteem and self-regard. There’s no reason to feel ashamed or guilty.

Eger wrote, “I am no longer in the habit of denying myself, emotionally or physically. I’m proud to be a high-maintenance woman!”

Flexibility is strength

“When we’re aggressive, we decide for others. When we’re passive, we let others decide for us. And when we’re passive-aggressive, we prevent others from deciding for themselves. When you’re assertive, you speak in statements.” — Dr. Edith Eger, The Gift

This lesson is very relevant, especially with the amount of polarization in our society. The key to managing conflict is not to be rigid with your point of view. If you merely want to get the last word in or you react instead of responding, it means you are not actually listening to the other party. You just want to win an argument. Eger encourages us to practice flexibility. To view things from another person’s perspective.

In the book she shares a story about a patient who wanted to make America white again. As a Holocaust survivor and an immigrant, Eger was furious, but she took a deep breath and said, “Tell me more.” To her this was “a tiny gesture of acceptance—not of his ideology, but of his personhood.” In doing so, she discovered a neglected and lonely child due to absentee parents. Responding in anger would have alienated him further.

He left her office in a softer mood.

Self-help books dispensing regimented approaches can sometimes seem pushy to someone experiencing a slump. And band-aid solutions like “wake up every day at 6 am” or “start a bullet journal” can overlook deep-seated problems plaguing individuals and societies at large. Not all people are cut from the same mold and “life hacks” are often simplistic solutions to systemic problems.

The Gift is a rare book that promotes introspection. If prescriptive self-help books are HIIT exercises, then The Gift is yoga. The former is about weight loss, while the latter is about spiritual gain.

3 thoughts on “The Gift: A book that keeps on giving

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