Article: Gritting Through vs. Surrender

An interesting article by Brendan Tapley appeared in the Washington Post recently about the differences between grit and surrender. As a coach for people with panic attacks and anxiety, I am often telling my clients about surrender. It's a difficult concept to understand, never mind to practice, in part because we have a general sense that surrendering is bad. In contrast, we have a general sense that gutting something out - persevering, persisting - is good. And we seem to understand these two concepts - surrender and grit - as opposites, but in reality, they are neither good nor bad, and they are not opposites.

The truth is that surrender and grit can be both good and bad, constructive and destructive. For instance, gritting through a difficult but important college course or through a rocky time in a marriage or through a difficult project at work can be rewarding and worthwhile. However, when we persist in a joyless relationship or struggle through a college program to please our parents or stick with a job we hate because we are scared of trying something new - that type of grit is hurtful and destructive. The same is true for the practice of surrendering. Surrender can certainly be unhealthy, like when we withdraw from a course we enjoy because our first test score was poor or when we end a promising relationship instead of having a difficult conversation. However, leaving a joyless relationship of many years, quitting the job we dread, or letting go of the personal goal that we've had for many years but we now realize isn't actually for us - those actions are surrender and they are absolutely healthy choices. In short, grit and surrender are not inherently good or bad. Sometimes, we even need to surrender in order to persevere. For example, maybe we experience a panic attack and take 5 minutes to cry and let it overwhelm us, and that release is enough to help us persevere despite the fact that we're experiencing more anxiety than we'd like right now.

What's important is why we let go or why we persist - what's the motive? Are we holding on or surrendering from a place of fear? Or is it coming from a healthy place, a place that brings us closer to our values? Figuring that out takes some self-reflection. Self-reflection can be especially tough when we're  struggling with anxiety. It's easy to lose trust in ourselves. Our anxious brain just keeps asking "What if this... what if that...." It can be difficult to see what is constructive self-reflection and what is anxious thinking. And that's a little bit of what I help my clients with, sorting through that web of thought and emotion, figuring out what they are trying to grit through and why, and how they can find their way to healthy surrender.