How to let go of control (when it scares the crap out of you)

There have only been a few times in my life where I could hear my heart beating in my ears. When all control was about to be taken from me regardless of if I wanted to let go of control or not. I just truly had to surrender because I really had no other choice.

I was walking into an operating room, a familiar place, one I had been many times before as a Registered Nurse. This time was different.

I wasn’t wearing scrubs but a hospital gown and those socks with the grippy bits on the bottom.

This time, the operating table in the middle of the room was for me.

It’s wild knowing exactly what’s going on, and what’s coming next, but to be on the receiving end of things. 

I climbed up on the table, took deep breaths through the oxygen mask they were giving me prior to intubation (sticking a breathing tube in my throat). I remember feeling the heaviness of the sedating medication. Taking hold, hearing the words and “here’s the propofol” – and then nothing.

Nothing until the sounds of the recovery room.

That memory still gives me chills.

I can drop right back into that moment of turning the corner and seeing the operating table that was meant for me.

The terrifying feeling of fully letting go of control and trusting in literal strangers.

Letting go of control isn’t easy for me. And the idea of “surrendering” and “trusting” in some all-knowing being – forget about it.

But, I’ve learned a way that works for me, my traumatized nervous system, and my highly sensitive nature. 

If I can learn how to let go of control and surrender, I know you can too. 

We just have to start in the right place.

Letting go of control isn’t easy for me. And the idea of 'surrendering' and 'trusting' in some all-knowing being - forget about it.

Why we struggle to let go of control

I’ve struggled with the idea of letting go of control and surrendering for all of my adult life. I’ve been let down by a lot of people, a lot of life, the medical system, and my body. It’s hard to bounce back from that. Maybe you can relate.

As humans that have lived a lot of life, we often find ourselves craving control. It’s an instinctual response to uncertainty, a way of seeking comfort, stability and safety in an ever-changing world. Sometimes, our experiences shape this need even more profoundly.

Think about those pivotal moments in our lives – the ones that leave a mark on us forever. Whether it’s dealing with trauma, loss, or just feeling adrift in a sea of chaos, these experiences can intensify our desire to hold onto control as tightly as possible. It’s like we’re trying to create our own little bubble of security in a world that feels unpredictable.

And then there’s the pressure from society, family, and even ourselves to excel in every aspect of life. We’re expected to have it all together – our careers, relationships, personal goals – all neatly packaged and under control. The truth is, trying to micromanage every detail can be exhausting. It’s like we’re constantly juggling too many balls, afraid that if we drop one, everything will come crashing down.

True surrender isn't about blindly trusting in something outside of ourselves but how to let go of control

The Paradox of Control: How Over-Controlling Can Lead to Stress and Anxiety

But here’s the thing: this relentless pursuit of control can actually backfire on us. It can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and totally overwhelmed. When things don’t go according to plan. Let’s face it, they rarely do – we’re left feeling like we’ve failed somehow.

The more we try to control everything, the more clear it becomes that there are far more things we cannot control. And that sucks. The secret is actually understanding what letting go and surrendering actually means.

What letting go of control and surrendering really means

From a trauma-informed lens, the journey of letting go of control is a deeply personal one, isn’t it? It’s not just about releasing all control and hoping for the best. Nor is it about putting blind faith in some mystical force. It’s about delving into the heart of why we feel the need to grip onto control so tightly.

For many of us who’ve experienced trauma, that need for control often comes from a place of trying to shield ourselves from further pain. It’s like we’re building walls around our hearts, desperately trying to keep out anything that might hurt us. On the flip side, we also cling to control. This is because we’re afraid of losing the things that bring us joy and comfort.

Letting go isn't about blind faith; it's about summoning courage and holding space for our fear. That is why we need to learn letting go

Here’s the thing: true surrender isn’t about blindly trusting in something outside of ourselves. It’s about looking within and finding the strength to confront our deepest fears and wounds. It’s about realizing that we can’t control everything, and that’s okay. Surrendering is a journey of self-discovery and self-empowerment, a process of learning to trust ourselves and our ability to figure life out as it comes our way.

Letting go isn’t about blind faith; it’s about summoning courage and holding space for our fear. It takes immense bravery to confront the unknown, to release our grip on control, and to face our deepest insecurities head-on. Instead of blindly trusting that everything will work out, we must acknowledge our fears and vulnerabilities, and bravely step into the uncertainty. It’s a journey of self-discovery and empowerment, where we learn to trust ourselves and our ability to figure things out in the face of life’s challenges.

Tips for how to learn to let go of control

First we have to learn how to let go of the outcome. When we can do this, we open ourselves up to a world of possibilities and find freedom, stability and safety in the midst of uncertainty. Again, I know it’s scary, but it’s also oh so very much worth it once you figure out how.

For those of us with a history of trauma, this journey can feel especially daunting. 

Releasing attachment and surrendering to the flow of life is a gradual process, one that requires patience, self-compassion, and a willingness to embrace the unknown. 

Be gentle with yourself as you navigate the process of how to let go of control

Here are a few tips to help navigate this journey:

  1. Name the emotions you experience when trying to let go: Cultivate awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Observe your attachments and fears without getting swept away by them.
  2. Remember that everything is temporary: Life is constantly changing, and holding onto rigid expectations only leads to disappointment, prolonged suffering, or fear of losing something good. By accepting the impermanent nature of existence, we can find freedom in every moment.
  3. Challenge limiting beliefs: Explore the beliefs that fuel your need for control and ask yourself if they still serve you. Often, these beliefs are rooted in past experiences of trauma and no longer reflect our present reality.
  4. Strengthen the skill of self-compassion: Be gentle with yourself as you navigate the process of letting go. Remember that healing takes time, and it’s okay to stumble along the way. Always do your best doesn’t mean always be perfect.
  5. Focus on being in the present moment: Practice being fully present in the here and now, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Allow yourself to experience life as it unfolds, trusting that you have the strength, creativity and persistence to handle whatever comes your way.

Feeling stuck? Try this:

Before we can start to dig into the learned beliefs and history that leads to our focus on needing to control as much as possible, we have to first start by mastering our stress switch. We need a regulated nervous system in order to create enough calm to scan our environment for wonder and possibility instead of threats.

Maybe it’s time we took a step back and reassessed our relationship with control. Maybe it’s okay to loosen our grip a little, to embrace the uncertainty of life instead of trying to fight it at every turn. Because when we learn to let go, we open ourselves up to new possibilities, to unexpected joys and adventures. And isn’t that what life’s all about?

Maybe it's time we took a step back and reassessed our relationship with control

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Surrender - Natalie Taylor