Picture this: It’s a warm, early summer day. A girl, eight years old - maybe nine - is sitting on a bus, traveling from one of the suburbs to the city, on her way to the dentist. Despite the warm temperature inside the bus, it’s not air-conditioned. At least, that’s what my memory tells me - but my body is shivering. I see goosebumps on my forearms, as if I’m cold, even though I know I’m not. My throat feels closed up, my mouth dry, my mind occupied with one thought: We are pulling teeth today. 

I didn’t really know what that meant, as it was the first time I was going to have teeth pulled. Something, however, put me in a fearful state, and the feeling was getting more intense, the closer I got to my stop. I was close to tears and can’t really remember how I finally landed in the dentist’s chair. What I do remember is looking up into the orange-yellow hues of the overhead lamp, and what happened then: 

The dentist greets me, surprised: "We're pulling teeth today, you are aware of that, right?" 

I nod - did he really think I would have forgotten? 

"And where's your mum?" he asks. 

"Not here." 

He doesn’t respond to this  - or was there a sigh? -  and transitions to working with his instruments and standard dentist communication. 

“Open your mouth. More. Stay like that.” 

My body tenses up, my hands and legs clench in apprehension - like during most of my many visits to his practice. 

Interestingly, I can’t remember if the teeth-pulling was painful after all, or how the days that followed went with the wounds in my mouth. But for many years to come, my mind kept playing these scenes of the girl on the bus, all by herself, scared, and the dentist asking where my mother was - like a sequence from a movie that’s stuck in your head and you can’t get rid of.

It’s the perfect story for me to illustrate that my parents, at times, failed me. A perfect example that I simply could not rely on others to be there for me - starting with my parents. I say parents here on purpose, because this feeling relates to both of them, not just my mother. 

It became my mantra: I am alone. And to protect myself, I turned it around and expanded it into: Actually, I don’t need anyone to be there for me. The teeth-pulling day proved it: No tears, no scene, nothing to complain about, no pain to be expressed - I could do it all by myself. I kept this mantra inside like a closely-guarded secret, silently proving to the world over and over again that I could very well take care of myself, independent of any emotional support from anyone. And the world, in response, mirrored this back to me: Time and again, I ended up in situations that left me feeling alone, which cemented my belief.

Many years later, I learned that my dentist from back then had passed away. It made me reflect on the countless times I’d lain in his chair and the impact he’d had on my life. I wondered if he would remember me at all - and then it hit me: How likely would it be for him to remember me, let alone that specific day, so many years later? After all, he must have seen hundreds or even thousands of patients.

This realization led me to question why I would still want to hold on to the disappointment and isolation of that day. Nobody out there would share the sentiment of that day with me. It was a lonely experience, and one that wasn't benefiting anyone, especially not myself. I was stuck in a victim loop, replaying the scene in my head and reliving the pain, maybe hoping the repetitions would somehow magically make it disappear one day. I couldn’t wait for that day to come anymore. It was time for a shift.

Instead of continuing to wallow in the painful emotions, I started to get curious and dared to ask myself important questions. It took courage, because I knew the answers might not be easy to accept. Why did this scene keep playing in my head? Why was I allowing myself to go through these painful emotions from years ago, over and over again? And was the story I kept telling myself actually true? What if I took a step back and looked at the scene and the people involved from a different perspective?

As I zoomed out and considered different angles, I realized it was possible the dentist chose to proceed with the procedure because he believed I would be okay. That the absence of my mother did actually not impress him as much as I may have hoped, and that he was less of an ally for me in that sense. Perhaps my mother, based on her experience with me, trusted that I would handle the situation by myself. It’s possible, right? Having played with different possibilities, was it really worth the time to dwell on the one I had chosen, which might, after all, not be the full truth? And even more, I would never know the full truth, and did not even have to know. Maybe, just maybe, it was indeed time to finally let go and move on.

This shift in perspective brought a profound sense of liberation and - forgiveness. And that latter feeling was a big one for me. I had read about the importance of forgiving oneself and others, especially parents, before. And in theory, it all made sense to me: I understood that, typically, parents do the very best they can for their children, based on their own human experience. Emotionally, however, I wasn’t there, and I had to make sure I didn’t fall into blaming myself for not being able to forgive faster and “more properly”. I had to learn to be patient with myself. 

And then, on that day, when I zoomed out and saw the whole scene, the people in it, and what might have been true for them on that day, at a distance - it happened. I felt it for the first time, genuinely, deeply and powerfully: Forgiveness. What I had been waiting for, longing for, was suddenly there. A new, powerful emotion, replacing the old, stuck victimhood.

Since then, whenever I find myself falling back into the victim loop, I remind myself to zoom out and consider different perspectives. It's a creative, even playful exercise that helps me see the broader picture and move forward much faster than I have in the past. It doesn't always work perfectly. What has helped me with the exercise is to allow my emotions to cool off first, and when it’s a good moment, take the time to journal about it. And it gets easier with every round of practice.

So, I invite you to try it out for yourself. Be gentle and patient with yourself, and you might be surprised by the clarity and liberation it brings. I can't wait to hear your own "zoom out" stories!

On that note: Zoom out, and liberate yourself!