I have been thinking about this topic a lot recently, especially as I near my due date for my third baby. I have been striving toward maintaining an attitude and perspective of “letting go” and surrendering to the events that may unfold as I bring my son into this world. I also think that this idea of surrender is one that we talk about frequently in the therapy room, though usually under the auspice of “acceptance.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines surrender in a number of ways:
1a : to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand (i.e., surrendered the fort)
b : to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another
2a : to give (oneself) up into the power of another especially as a prisoner
b : to give (oneself) over to something (such as an influence)
: to give oneself up into the power of another : yield
When you look at these definitions, it can feel daunting and scary to surrender to anything. Surrendering may potentially feel like losing yourself or giving up - both things that get a bad rap in our society. Because power is something we often try so desperately to hang onto, it can seem like a complete opposition to give it up.
When we think about and talk about surrendering to our emotions, too, it might seem like I’m advocating for listening to and responding to your emotions - i.e., allowing them to control you. But this is actually not what the surrendering process looks like. At all. In fact, the act of accepting and surrendering to our emotions is a ‘letting go’ of controlling them. It’s a letting go of whatever those emotions might spark in you - whatever urges you might feel or whatever thoughts they may bring to the surface. It’s letting go of the judgment of the emotion - allowing yourself to be in your experience fully without expectations or harsh criticisms of yourself (or the experience itself). It’s deciding that acting from the place of your emotions is really not all that effective, and so instead, I’ll sit here awhile instead and allow that emotion to exist without driving the bus.
What’s the benefit to this, you might ask yourself? Why would I choose to surrender to my emotions or experiences? Well, precisely because there is a lot in this world, in your lifetime, that is out of your control. If we look at what IS within our control, the list is quite short:
In Your Control
-Behaviors (actions, words)
Out of Your Control
-What other people do, say, think, react
-How situations unfold or are created
While we can certainly do things to influence others and the world around us, we are not responsible for how and why other people do what they do. Thank goodness! I wouldn’t want to take on that kind of responsibility!
Surrendering to the situations that are out of our control and allowing ourselves to move freely, unencumbered through them, without judgment and with openness, we actually open ourselves us to potentially creating more change and positive impact than we might if we were resistant to what’s happening.
If you’ve never heard the Serenity Prayer, its message is powerful:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we need to control it ALL, but it is so much more freeing to acknowledge what is out of our control. Surrendering to this for you might look like surrendering to your higher power, God, or the universe. Surrendering to your hope or faith, or maybe even your belief in the power of good in the world. Whatever it is for you, I hope you can find peace within it. I know that is my goal as well.