The word “surrender” is a personal growth term co-opted from military parlance. And there are others: “Defense mechanism” and “armoring” are both popular psychology terms that spring to mind. You’d think something as touchy feel-y as personal growth wouldn’t have much use for the language of war. But it happens to fit surprisingly well.
We live in a harsh world. We forget how vulnerable we are, but the fact is we can be easily hurt, not just physically, but emotionally. Keep in mind there’s a difference between being what we call “too sensitive”, and the fact that we are emotionally sensitive by our very nature. For that reason, we have human defense technology built right in, and it’s called the ego.
Emotions provide an extraordinary dimension to life, and without them we’d be little different from robots. But emotions can get damaged, just as the body can. So the ego acts as a kind of regulator, to keep the damage under control. It’s part of our defense system, against harsh emotional treatment.
When we’ve been under emotional threat, our ego builds up defenses. Emotional threat can be anything from not getting enough attention, to being severely traumatized. Because of our natural emotional sensitivity, it doesn’t take much for us to feel threatened. And as soon as that happens, we begin armoring ourselves.
For example, suppose a child is mostly ignored by her parents, told she’s in the way, she’s a lot of trouble, or she’s not much use to anyone. As children we’re hard wired to seek love, affection, and
positive attention as a matter of survival, because we can’t fend for ourselves. So such repeated negative messages from our parents are emotionally painful, and in order to manage the pain the child withdraws into herself. She stops looking for affection in order to avoid further disappointment and hurt. That strategy of withdrawal is a defense against harsh emotional treatment. Once that strategy is learned in her formative years, it gets carried forward into adulthood as an unconscious pattern of behavior.
Someone with that particular defense strategy can appear remote, withdrawn, and closed in on herself. It’s a way of being that doesn’t allow love in, or out, much like an unnecessary coat of armor.
This is where the notion of surrender comes in. In war, we surrender our weapons and our armor to the enemy. In life, we surrender our ego defenses to life itself. This has to happen if we’re ever to get our sensitivities back, so we can experience life fully once more. Is it risky? Sure, because there’s always a chance we might get hurt again. But the chances are much less than they were when we first started armoring up, assuming we’re grown up and for the most part out of harms way.
For those with a spiritual orientation surrender also implies putting our lives in the hands of a something greater and wiser than ourselves. The 12 Step folks call it turning it over to our higher power. The beauty of this is with surrender, we not only get to let go of negative programming, we open to a life that’s far beyond what we might have imagined for ourselves, programmed from on high.
How do we surrender a pattern that’s become an unconscious part of the way we live? We begin by watching for signs of it in our daily life, and stopping it when we notice ourselves doing it. And we watch for opportunities to open up and become more vulnerable. It helps to have a supportive environment, and one or more people who can help us see when we’re being defensive. Once we decide to make a change, the real work begins. Surrender, or letting go as it’s also called, is a day to day process that happens over time.
In my intuitive counseling work I help people learn how to surrender, in one on one sessions and groups. I’ve also developed a number of audio and video programs related to the subject. One of them is called Releasing Bitterness, and Opening To Love. You can find that program, and all of my work, here at The Healing Waterfall.