On surrender and resignation: One is a true letting go

clover in Tilden Park, Berkeley, CA

“I’m noticing the difference between surrender and resignation. One is a true letting go, the other is believing I am powerless.”

I tweeted this last week, not knowing why those words came to me. I liked them when I saw them written out like that. They felt right, but I wasn’t sure why they arrived at that particular moment.

Then I went to therapy. I hadn’t been in months, but I needed to talk about something very deep and vulnerable  happening in my life. Without going into the gory details, it is of the familial variety, the kind that goes to the core of your deepest, oldest stuff. The wounds reserved for your family of origin that (god bless em’) you struggle your whole life to move past. The kind that we hope we will ultimately find a place of peace with.

My therapist does EMDR with me. I have purposely not researched this too much because I like not knowing exactly what she is doing. I trust it and it works, and that is what is most important. Sometimes for me, understanding it intellectually gets in the way of its magic.

She wagged her first two fingers back and forth in front of my eyes. “Like scenery passing on a train,” she told me. “Watch it go by.” And my eyes volleyed back and forth following her fingers. After a few minutes of this, she asked, “So what did you get?”

I’m always surprised by the insights that show up during this process. And equally surprised when what came to me was that line again, the one about surrender and resignation. But this time I understood it completely– One is a true letting go, the other is believing I am powerless.

In the particular relationship we were exploring, I have always brought resignation. I have always brought my judgment (that shows up as heartache) my silence (no one listens to me anyway, I think) and a heart that is heavy knowing that things will never change, will never be how I want them, will never be the way I have always hoped for them to be. There is nothing to do because I have no impact.

I believe I am powerless.

And in a way, I am. People are simply living their lives. Doing what they do. There is a way that it is not personal.

But this distinction. This possibility of true surrender. It excites me. Quite possibly, for the first time in my life, I have just experienced a real kind of surrender. There is nothing to do, not because I am powerless, but because there is nothing to do. There is only being with what is. Being with things as they are. No agenda. I hear the voice again: Can you just be with them? without judgment, without running for air? without wanting it to be different?

The absurdity of it, or rather the simplicity of it made me laugh out loud. I got it, I said to my therapist. I might lose it any moment, but in this moment, I’ve got it.

This insight transformed this relationship. It has allowed me to simply be with this person, as they are, without all the other stuff layered on.

Your Turn

I know I am speaking abstractly here. Must protect the innocent! But I am curious if this idea resonates for any of you out there. Can you think of a complicated relationship in your life? Have you been striving for surrender? but now seeing that you actually were bringing resignation?

Would love to hear your stories. Your insights. Your questions.


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Hi, I’m Andrea

On this blog you’ll be learning with me how to use our voices, share our creative superpowers and live life in full color.

As an artist, photographer, life coach + mentor, I’m redefining what it means to be a SUPERHERO — ‘cause in my world, it’s got nothing to do with capes, spandex or sidekicks and everything to do with tenderness, intuition & baby steps of bravery.



  1. Amy

    I was sleepless last night about this. These words are empowering.

  2. karla

    this is very familiar to me. so very hard to get to this point, but when i am there it is such a relief. i have had many complicated relationships with family members and i have been able to detach from them in recent years. i thought that detaching meant staying away from them (although it still does in some ways) but detaching has really meant seeing them as people making their own decisions, as people having their own lives, and then i can see my own life as having value too. i used to be so ‘plugged in’ to them. and, this detaching helps me to not be. a good friend of mine always says ‘they have their own higher power’ and that has also helped me to truly let go. the family of origin dynamic keeps us all plugged in to one another and now i do not have to go there. i can take care of myself no matter what they do. freedom.

  3. chara

    Um…totally! I am there. Surrendering. I just wrote about this on my blog (see above) about letting go/forgiving (also of the familial variety). And after I wrote it, posted it and let it wander out in the world for the day, I was still thinking about it. I began asking “but how? how did i do it? how did i let go? and don’t i sound so *&^%ing smug if not for the how.” and then i realized it the way I had to do it was via empathy as in “she must have been in so much pain to have cut me out of her life.” and when i empathized with her, i released her. sorry to babble on but i think a “how” is important for anyone who is in similar situations of stuckness so that they don’t just resign but release.

  4. Moyra

    Ah, yes. I can go with that. Resignation is kind of depressed and lethargic and not a good feeling. Letting go. Or being with what is is a lightening, a freeing, light feeling. I have been in a very different difficult situation where things have not gone as I wanted them to. And there is nothing I can do about it. I have been studying yoga, so decided to practice being with it. Satya: truthfulness or more specifically is ness. This is what is. Not resisting it, allowing it. It’s like an insight, which can be hard to maintain. But coming back to it, when the thoughts proliferate into all the what ifs, and stuff which just isn’t. Coming back to what is. And just being. Yes.

  5. Sam

    Thank you for opening my eyes!

    Like you, I have a difficult relationship with a family member. Until recently, I had been the chief problemsolver for everything in their life as well as my own, but things got complicated and I had to focus my attention on my own situation. I thought I had resigned to having “that” relationship with this person but now I understand that I have just allowed myself to let go and surrender.

  6. Renee

    This is beautiful, Andrea – thank you for sharing. You were speaking abstractly, but I totally got it. I think surrender also denotes strength and, more importantly, a choice made; resignation just feels so passive and bleak.

  7. Kat

    Honey, I totally hear this. And am on a similar journey.
    I’ve shared a bit about this here http://isawyoudancing.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/oops-i-think-i-just-reached.html
    Keep on keeping on, beautiful one. This journey is not for the fainthearted but, really, there’s no other option.
    If you’re anything like me, you may have been more afraid than you need to be (not that it feels like that!!)
    Much love. xxx

  8. Richie

    Thank you for sharing this in your post. I am a little uncomfortable with how you use the word powerless. The first step in a 12-step program is admitting that you are powerless. However, powerless is not the same as helpless. This is a difficult concept to grasp and one I think you explain well. Helpless means nothing I do matters so why bother (ie resignation), whereas powerless, to me, involves the active choice to accept things as they are. BTW, I too have done EMDR in a therapy session (also dealing with pesky family issues) and had a very similar experience with it, although we did it for a number of sessions.

  9. Anna

    There are moments of clarity … when powerless equals letting go … then there are the nightmares that wake me up — terrified that I have missed something I could do… I guess that is why it is a process and why meditation is a practice… still practicing…

  10. Leah

    Oh, my lord. Would you believe I have been struggling with this at work? I am working with someone so very difficult, and I am actually falling into ancient patterns from my childhood with him. I am resentful and avoidant in ways I didn’t think I was capable of anymore. I have been “resigned” to the misery of working with him, but absolutely wallowing in the misery. I think some sort combination of surrender and determination is called for, but boy howdy am I having a terribly hard time of it. I so wish I had a therapist. But I always wish for one during times when I am too frantically busy to go find one.

  11. janet

    love…sometimes it has to be enough. thank you for your words.

  12. GailNHB

    I hear you, Andrea. I can even understand the distinction intellectually. But in the relationship that I’m struggling with, wrestling with, it’s very hard to fathom how I can let go without a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

    But I’m gonna print out your post, glue it into my journal, and ponder it for a good long time. Thank you for this.

  13. elisa mikiten

    My zen teacher friend once told me to visit those baggage laden relationships as if I were meeting those people for the first time. It helped me observe more and react less. I even found myself entertained by the insanity. It was like watching a Marx Bros. movie from the inside.

  14. Jennifer

    I get it (and sometimes it slips away then I get it again!). Hmmm. A story. My father was unfaithful & it sent my mother over the edge. There was a whole lotta other stuff for her before this that had nothing to do with him, which is why I say it was the thing that sent her over. She was already at the edge. The story of unfaithfulness, of being unable to trust a significant other, of not being enough of a daughter to prevent the unfaithful- wow. So much therapy. So much trying to heal. And then one day I decided to surrender. This did not mean my relationship with my father was great, but I was better. Years later, I wanted to love my dad more than anything, to have a relationship in love. I asked for his help. I said Dad, this is how it feels for me, and I think that if you could tell me you love me and it wasn’t about me, that would help me have the kind of relationship I want to have with you. And if you can’t – I’m okay too( Cause I got it then, the surrendering part). I had to come to the surrendering before I could muster the courage to ask for his help, if that makes sense, because he could have chosen not to help me in this way (but he did).

  15. Myriam

    I have been thinking about this in the context of losing loved ones. Just the thought of losing someone I care for deeply can bring me to my knees with fear. Yet when I hold the idea of surrender close, I can feel some relief in knowing that there is an order to things that is far beyond my control.It doesn’t eliminate the fear but it does bring some relief.

  16. Allison

    I almost don’t know what you to say – your words are so beautiful. So honest. Surrender is light. Resignation is heavy. Surrender frees you and resignation holds you. Believe in surrendering and let it all go. The Universe will help you. xoxo

  17. Katrina

    Thank you or sharing this Andrea! I in turn shared it with my partner, and we had a gorgeous and rich conversation about it. Your words describing this state of grace are very beautiful and elegant. Yes, yes, yes – I completely agree. I’ve been experiencing this kind of energetic shift with money and work recently. I’ve experienced it with family and friends before, and reaching surrender about money and work is not much different – it’s all about creating healthy, whole, fluid relationships, releasing old patterns, and connecting in grace, faith and love. Letting it be. It’s so worth the journey, and all the tears, pain and struggle to reach it. Laughter helps too when we’re peeling all the dross away to reach our truth. Blessings to you X Katrina

  18. Marina Shepherd

    Yes, I have a family relationship that is much better now I have accepted that it can’t be fixed, not that I have failed, but that I can’t fix it.

  19. Kate

    This almost verbatim identifies the relationship(s) I’ve had with my two oldest sisters. For years I looked at them as who I wanted them to be (which was ultimately, someone more like me.) And for years I was constantly disappointed by them. Disappointed that they didn’t call me, disappointed that they didn’t include me in family events or “forgot” about me. Disappointed that I always felt ignored around them. I got into a huge fight with one of them about 5 or 6 years ago over that exact topic (but instead of not including me, they did it to my husband) and my 3rd sister, the one I’m closest to said to me “you need to stop putting your expectations on them, and accept them for who they are, not for who you want them to be. Because if you don’t, you will always be disappointed.” It seemed so simple…like I should have gotten it years ago…that I didn’t know why I hadn’t. But in the end I think it was more my hangup, and my hope.

    Since then, I’ve learned to be far more accepting of them, and I certainly have been far less disappointed. Do I wish they would be more thoughtful and caring? All the time, but I don’t expect it anymore, and I can find peace in that.

  20. Trish


  21. Gemma

    Yes, I have experienced this in the last year with a romantic relationship that has been on-again-off-again for ten years now. What you said about your judgement showing up as heartache resonates for me. I realized I was trying to force the relationship into a particular form (marriage), and he was resisting because he could not make my form and his ideal form match up (he wants to be the sole bread winner but is putting himself through school), and that I was really angry with him about that. In a way you could say I just gave up, but in the sense of accepting Life on Life’s terms so that I chose to treasure what IS in place of mourning what’s not. We’re still not married and may never be, but we are at peace with each other, and now there is sweetness, joy, and cherishing where there was blame, withholding, and hurt. I think that’s an improvement. 😉

  22. -L

    WOW! WOW! WOW! Girl we could TALK! I have done EMDR w/ my therapist too and also for a family of origin relationship. Your words here and how you got it in the moment and didn’t know if it would slip away but how you got it in that moment . . .*sigh* I so know that and felt that based on the same concept of the not judging, not being able to really have any power to change anything but to just be w/ it. The heart ache . . . he hurt, the remembering the pain, the having know control or ability to have the person or persons understand the damage the was done or for them to hear my pain and be willing to make amends in some way part . . the feeling unimportant, misunderstood,the insult to injury. The folks who don’t really get my end of what happened because they don’t know the whole story and really I don’t see how I could ever share enough for them to care enough etc. The pain I hold onto so I let it go and then that person or persons gets in touch w/ me or I long to w/ them and because it’s all unresolved or they refuse to hear any of it . . .I feel the old wounds re-open. I reached a point in therapy many moons ago where I let go of so much that I was a free woman and then I empowered myself in so many wonderful ways. Then I had my children and my love for them is so unconditional and my heart swoons for them. I am so aware of their needs and their beauty. I find myself struggling again w/ letting go of some of the old hurts. I know I can be free of it all. I know it’s not about me! It’s hard because I am the type of person who spills my heart out, I long to communicate, to clear the air, to speak my truth. In these circumstances . . . none of that is helpful based on previous experience. I’ve never known how to talk about the weather or the latest news or food when there is a GIANT elephant in the room. I just don’t know how to hide my feelings or to eat dirt or to make myself small. In the past I’ve practiced stating boundaries, meditation (before I see or talk w/ these folks), prayer, hard exercise, yoga, taking good care of myself to feel good when we all meet, therapy session (EMDR) for support before I see or speak to them and when all is said and done . . . it all works, it all helps A LOT but it’s a lot of f%#@ing work so I can deal w/ folks who really don’t appear to care much. I know that’s a judgment after all this but!?! It can be maddening. I have found love, joy and peace in my life and I do feel tremendous love, compassion and empathy for everyone I speak of here. I could go on but I have also found a lot of help self help in other forms through some authors I love. Writing has always been huge for me as well as painting. When I can get lost in painting . . . I feel free and writing makes me feel high and happy as can be when I’m done. Ultimately, I do believe my life went the way it did for a purpose. I know I have more work to do. Ultimately I am grateful at the end of the day but I wish very deeply that I had special loving caring grandparents for my children. I accept I can not change the way others are and I know that really it’s all about how I respond to whatever I have and am given. Just have to let go, let go, let go and give up to the Gods, the universe, the powers that be. I could also go on about stuff my therapist has offered over the years about just try doing nothing regarding a specific situation and that was hard at first but it really felt amazing when I finally stepped back and did nothing;) I got really use to that and it saved me a ton of grief after a while! Thank you for your raw honest post! Kindred spirit. Much love and peace to you dear Andrea! xo -L

  23. -L

    I must just add, that I did surrender slowly over time to the bulk of it all. I had no choice. It saved my life and gave me new life. It really hit me at age 30 that I had to begin letting go of the rope and slowly but surely w/ a lot of work I did. I would not be who I am now had I not done that but there is always lingering situations and sadness surrounding the broken and non existent relationships. Self preservation is a choice that I made long ago but acceptance that “it is what it is” and being okay w/ that has been a slower process . . . it’s a surrender but there is grieving for all of the loss.

  24. Georgy

    Thank you for this post – you have helped me more than you know . . of course, you empower us all the time – BUT, you have unlocked something for me . . .

    Love & Love,


    it’s amazing how we can suddenly ‘bump’ into these words that capture us…it happened to me with the words: EMPATHY & SYMPATHY…so important in every relationship and so often confused, misunderstood or even unrecognized…thanks for your openness, which is not that abstract when we have been there…read you soon!

  26. debbie

    Such wonderful wise women. I can relate to so much of these thoughts and have had these moments of clarity and peace. But I will say I still need to remind myself, “cheer myself on” to be in that good spot of letting go, just being. I’m hoping the future holds less need for the “cheering”.

  27. sarah

    I have been to therapy for validation when I’m going through hard times because I need someone to say “It’s hard because it’s hard.” Not because I’m weak, or lacking. It’s hard because it’s hard, so stop trying to make it easy.
    That release is similar to the one that I had when my father had the most petty & selfish & egocentric reactions to my pregnancy. I chose my desire to be a good mother to my child over my desire to be a good daughter to my father (nothing is ever enough for him; he is the embodiment of wanting something for nothing). I realized that I would NEVER be able to make him happy or fulfilled, so I stopped trying. I go into a Least Reinforcing Stimulus mode (see the Amy Sutherland book, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage) and then used the bubble visualization that my friend the life coach taught me. Because I DO have control over what I am doing, when I have no control over what they are doing. I don’t have to given them what they want, just like they don’t have to give me what I want.

  28. Carole

    Andrea, I startled when I read the title of this entry – it was exactly what I was thinking about just last week! The potential fulfillment of a Mondo Beyondo was so close, but not yet certain, and in the uncertainty I found myself slipping into a sadness. I realized that what I was feeling was resignation – an expectation that what I wanted was not important enough, that it wasn’t the right timing…whatever – I was sure there was some very good reason why what I wanted was not going to come to pass. But when I called it out and as I acknowledged that feeling of resignation, I was able to move through it into peaceful surrender and trust. The next day, the Mondo Beyondo wish was realized. I am still processing what there is for me to learn through this!

  29. Rosalie

    to you all … thank you so much for helping me. I’ve been struggling with this concept of surrender for awhile now and couldn’t figure out the difference. it felt so much like just giving up (and I hate to think that I’m a quitter!) but i’m at that point in my relationship and in my life in general, where I’m too weary. Honestly, I can’t go on the way I’ve been going. I feel like i’m being overtaken by a tsunami of emotions & expectations coming from everywhere. I’m tired of fighting the current of my life. I just want to give up – but now give up. If this sounds confusing to you, it’s even more confusing to me. But this morning when I was having my coffee at my local coffee shop, imagine my surprise, when I looked up and saw a man wearing a t-shirt that said “Surrender”. I was just reading about this yesterday & here the universe was sending this thought back at me again today.

    I think I get it … surrender is almost like an acceptance? Stop fighting things? People are who they are, they will do what they will do … accept it? No, I don’t think so. I like someone’s comment here that “surrender is light” … “let go and the universe will take care of it.” Really? I’m going to try – I really am.

  30. melissa

    just googled “the difference between surrender and resignation” this morning in an effort to clarify why I loathe the expression “it is what it is”. Your post was very useful and I appreciate your words. (ironically.. have thought about trying the EMDR thing.. and will certainly resist intellectualizing the process to gain more benefit. thanks Andrea

  31. oprol evorter

    There are actually a number of particulars like that to take into consideration. That is a nice point to convey up. I supply the ideas above as normal inspiration however clearly there are questions like the one you deliver up where the most important factor will be working in trustworthy good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged round things like that, but I’m certain that your job is clearly recognized as a good game. Both boys and girls feel the influence of only a moment’s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

  32. Marilyn Haverly

    Wow! I googled Surrender vs Resignation and there was the exact blog I needed to read all these years after it was written. I’m so appreciative–both of the blog and all the comments. 10 years of living with a Mom who has dementia calls for daily practice of surrender and I’ve been struggling to find a way to get there without feeling defeated and beaten down, ie. resigned. After reading this I’m encouraged. I’m kinda sad to realize there doesn’t seem to be a once and done option but, the continued practice will hopefully save my own sanity and peace of mind. Thank you!!



  1. the one where I quit | jodimichelle - [...] On surrender and resignation: Andrea This possibility of true surrender. It excites me. Quite possibly, for the first time…
  2. Only a few more days til Mother’s Day! – Superhero Journal - [...] On surrender and resignation: One is a true letting [...]

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