Why sometimes it’s healthy to give things up

Are you forcing yourself to continue learning a language? How about waiting to close a relationship that ended abruptly? Or continue a friendship that leaves you feeling exhausted more often than not?

It might be okay, even healthy, to give up these kinds of things, says Adam Phillips, author of “On Giving Up.”

The new book is an introspective look at the psychology of letting go and aims to give readers insight into their own lives in the process.

Phillips is a practicing psychoanalyst, someone who helps people understand themselves and make better decisions in life, according to the American Psychological Association. For Phillips, this means letting people speak freely about the things that concern them.

Many people have talked to Phillips about giving up some things. There is a duality to the notion, she says.

Most of the time, it is assumed that by giving something up, people will get something better in return; for example, quitting smoking in exchange for better health. Or that they can’t change and that’s why they stop trying, like when someone smokes so much that it becomes part of their identity.

It’s psychological, but it’s also deeply influenced by cultural norms.

“We tend to value, even idealize, the idea of ​​seeing things through to the end, of finishing them rather than abandoning them,” Phillips says in the book. “Giving up has to be justified so that termination is not… (usually) considered a failure rather than a way to succeed at something else.”

Say, for example, you’ve been trying to learn to play the guitar. For some reason, you haven’t been able to commit to it, but instead of giving up, you keep working hard or telling yourself that you still plan to learn.

In this scenario, do you really want to learn to play the guitar? Or do you have other more important things that you would rather focus your time and energy on? Either way, giving up may be the best option. It could actually be seen as an investment in becoming successful at something else rather than giving up the guitar.

To delve deeper into the idea of ​​giving up and how it affects people throughout their lives, CNN spoke with Phillips about “On Giving Up” after its release. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Adam Phillips: When people give up certain things (chocolate or alcohol), there is obviously an assumption that you can change, that you are capable of change. When people give up, they believe they can’t change.

So I was interested in the idea, since many people talk a lot about giving up things, in this type of exchange or deal. If I give up something, I’m supposed to get something better in return. I find that, like all exchanges, it’s a bit unpredictable.

It was also because of how powerful (at least in some cultures) the idea of ​​sacrifice is, which is a version of this, that something has to be sacrificed to get something better and it seems like that often involves quite a bit of cruelty.

What are some examples of cruelty that you have seen in relation to this?

If I am an alcoholic, alcohol is my self-healing. If I give up alcohol, the question is: what alcohol was originally there to medicate me? You probably have to stop drinking, but to stop drinking, the consequence is that you discover, possibly, what it was that you originally had to deal with with your drinking, what the solution or self-healing was. That is hard.

You mention in the book that hate, prejudice, and scapegoating have such an influence on people that it can be difficult to give these things up. Because?

We are full of feelings that scare us a lot, one of which is hate. So what we can do is put our hate on other people and then try to get rid of them. The scapegoat is there to carry or contain all the parts of ourselves that scare or disturb us the most.

In a better world, so to speak, we would be better able to contain the full range of our feelings and therefore would not need to scapegoat other people, because other people are being punished for what are actually our pleasures. prohibited.

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to give up something or make a massive change in their life?

Take it a step back. So when I think: “What do I want? I want a cigarette or a drink”, at that moment I have organized all my desires and located them.

Quitting smoking is the first step. The second stage, once you have successfully quit smoking, is what you will feel then and whether you will be able to withstand the initial stage of deprivation and anxiety. So once you stop, you will probably go back to being prone to a lot of anxiety and a lot of suffering, not forever, but temporarily. And you have to be able to endure it and you will need a little support from other people.

Many people take up a hobby, but then realize that they don’t really want to do it or don’t have time for it. But they feel like they’ve invested so much time or effort into it that they don’t want to give it up.

What I want the book to do is advocate for the need to have the freedom to surrender. We were raised to believe that persistence and determination are good things. Well, of course they are good things. If you want to learn to play the piano, you can’t just give up when it’s hard. But on the other hand, do you really want to learn to play the piano?

Likewise, it might be good to give up on relationships or interests when you realize they are no longer alive for you. But people find this extremely difficult, because we are not supposed to give up. In the book I say that the tragic heroes of plays are people who never give up, and by never giving up, they simply create havoc.

Are there any examples of things that people should agree to give up and that they might not agree to give up?

People should agree to give up on a relationship when the relationship actually numbs or bores them, or makes them feel helpless or worse about themselves. Being in a relationship should be because it brings out the best in you and you enjoy it.

If people want to be athletes, musicians, dancers, writers, whatever, you have to persist. You have to overcome resistance. One beautiful thing that psychoanalysis adds to the conversation is that we resist things, either because we don’t want them or because we really want them.

You have to experiment. The risk will probably always be giving up too soon and too quickly, but the other risk is taking too long to give up.

Everyone has a different idea of ​​what life they want or what a good life is. If there was a criterion, or a test, it would be: how alive something or someone makes you feel, whether in the company of them, do you feel genuinely uplifted. Almost as if the person brings out the best in you. Now, that can’t happen all the time, but it can happen more often.

Why do we have this notion that giving up is a bad thing?

That is the question the book attempts to address. And it’s a very good question. And I don’t know the answer.

In cultures where we are encouraged to work, to be loyal, to be consistent and to be trustworthy, if these are going to be our values, then the point is not to give up.

Then it becomes a question of what kind of world you want to live in or what your idea of ​​a good life is, and it may be one that you never give up on.

But it seems to me that there are many examples of people who never give up and who do terrible things because they can’t think twice. They can’t check things. They cannot reconsider what they are doing. So, indeed, they are some kind of megalomaniacs.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

I want people to make of it what they want and feel free to interpret it in their own way. It is not intended to be propaganda or an attempt to persuade anyone of anything.

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