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Submission v Surrender

“I am learning to live between effort and surrender. I do my best and hope for what I want but I do not resist the direction of the wind”


I've just returned from a six day trip where I've had to surrender my expectation of what a good holiday should be. My beloved and I chose to escape to our favourite spot in the Northern Rivers before the Easter rush. As we've experienced in the past, I had visions of days eating well, relaxing on the deck by the river, connecting with nature and each other.

Instead we had lots of rainy days, I struggling with digestive issues and the COVID outbreak in the area led to lockdown and changed plans with friends.

I felt disappointment and that I had been cheated in some way.

Merriam-Webster defines surrender as, to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand. To give up completely or agree to forgo in favour of another, or to give oneself up into the power of another especially to a stronger person (perpetrator) or over to something such as an influence over you.

In his article, The Act of Surrender in the Therapeutic Process, Dr Tiebout states that surrender is an unconscious process that cannot be defined in direct conscious terminology but must be understood by its unconscious impact before its true inner meaning can be glimpsed.

Like acceptance and grace, surrender is a word most of us intuitively understand but may find it difficult to articulate its meaning.

I believe that the reason surrender has such a bad rap is that a lot of people confuse surrender with submission and believe that surrender means giving up or being defeated in some way. To give a personal example, In 2017 a member of my family had a serious illness and the news left me feeling sad and overwhelmed. Though I wanted to be there and support her, I felt powerless and doubted that my efforts could really have lasting effect on the situation.

In submission, the feelings of powerlessness and being overwhelmed would take over and lead me to give up or submit to what I believe to be the inevitability of the situation. Tiebout explains that, “In submission, there is at best a superficial yielding, however the tension continues."

Surrender in this particular case means that I accept the gravity of the situation while at the same time doing all I can to offer support. This would include gathering information about treatment options, offering practical and emotional support to her and other family members. Ultimately, I accept that though I have little control over the final outcome, I am empowered to be present and assist in the situation as much as possible. I want my family member to make a full recovery and I intend to do all that I can to assist her to this end but not knowing her soul’s purpose, I surrender to the final outcome.

Dr Tiebout says, "When an individual surrenders, the ability to accept reality functions on the unconscious level, and there is no residual of battle; relaxation with freedom from strain and conflict ensues. In fact, it is perfectly possible to ascertain how much acceptance of reality is on the unconscious level by the degree of relaxation that develops. The greater the relaxation, the greater the surrender”.

It was in the final two days of our holiday that I was able to let go and surrender my expectations. I accept that the holiday was exactly the experience we were meant to have. Although it was not the holiday I wanted to have, I was able to let go, relax and enjoy the location and our time together.

Dr Tiebout and many psychologists agree that surrender is the bridge between acceptance and real change.

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