Giving up is an attempt to make a different future

    This is some incredible writing from psychotherapist Adam Phillips. It’s an edited extract from his forthcoming book On Giving Up and is based on the subtle difference between ‘giving up’ something and… just giving up.

    It’s a really important read, at least for me, and particularly poignant at the start of the year. The fact that he talks about Montaigne (one of my favourite authors) and Marion Milner’s demarcation of different forms of attention makes this a highly recommended read. It’s long, but worth it.

    I’ve almost picked at random a section to quote here because it’s all fantastic.

    A wide, imaginative illustration capturing the essence of 'Giving up is an attempt to make a different future.' The scene depicts a seamless blend of characters in various states of surrender and aspiration, symbolizing the complex interplay between relinquishing and pursuing. The continuous landscape merges elements of hope and despair, reflecting the subtlety of the concept. Subtle references to Montaigne and Marion Milner, like books and thoughtful symbols, are integrated throughout.
    There are, to put it as simply as possible, what turn out to be good and bad sacrifices (and sacrifice creates the illusion – or reassures us – that we can choose our losses). There is the giving up that we can admire and aspire to, and the giving up that profoundly unsettles us. What, for example, does real hope or real despair require us to relinquish? What exactly do we imagine we are doing when we give something up? There is an essential and far-reaching ambiguity to this simple idea. We give things up when we believe we can change; we give up when we believe we can’t.

    All the new thinking, like all the old thinking, is about sacrifice, about what we should give up to get the lives we should want. For our health, for our planet, for our emotional and moral wellbeing – and, indeed, for the profits of the rich – we are asked to give up a great deal now. But alongside this orgy of improving self-sacrifices – or perhaps underlying it – there is a despair and terror of just wanting to give up. A need to keep at bay the sense that life may not be worth the struggle, the struggle that religions and therapies and education, and entertainment, and commodities, and the arts in general are there to help us with. For more and more people now it seems that it is their hatred and their prejudice and their scapegoating that actually keeps them going. As though we are tempted more than ever by what Nietzsche once called “a will to nothingness, a counter-willan aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life”.

    The abiding disillusionment with politics and personal relationships, the demand for and the fear of free speech, the dread and the longing for consensus and the coerced consensus of the various fundamentalisms has created a cultural climate of intimidation and righteous indignation. It is as if our ambivalence about our aliveness – about the feeling alive that, however fleeting, sustains us – has become an unbearable tension and needs to be resolved. So even though we cannot, as yet, imagine or describe our lives without the idea of sacrifice, and its secret sharer, compromise, the whole notion of what we want and can get through sacrifice is less clear; both what we think we want and what we are as yet unaware of wanting. The formulating of personal and political ideals has become either too assured or too precarious. And the whole notion of sacrifice depends upon our knowing what we want.

    Source: What we talk about when we talk about giving up | The Guardian

    Image: DALL-E 3

    Different ways of knowing

    The Book of Life from the School of Life is an ever-expanding treasure trove of wisdom. In this entry, entitled Knowing Things Intellectually vs. Knowing Them Emotionally the focus is on different ways of how we ‘know’ things:

    An intellectual understanding of the past, though not wrong, won’t by itself be effective in the sense of being able to release us from the true intensity of our neurotic symptoms. For this, we have to edge our way towards a far more close-up, detailed, visceral appreciation of where we have come from and what we have suffered. We need to strive for what we can call an emotional understanding of the past – as opposed to a top-down, abbreviated intellectual one.
    I've no idea about my own intellectual abilities, although I guess I do have a terminal degree. What I do know is that I've spoken with many smart people who, like me, have found it difficult to deal with emotions such as anxiety. There's definitely a difference between 'knowing' as in 'knowing what's wrong with you' and 'knowing how to fix it'.
    Psychotherapy has long recognised this distinction. It knows that thinking is hugely important – but on its own, within the therapeutic process itself, it is not the key to fixing our psychological problems.


    Therapy builds on the idea of a return to live feelings. It’s only when we’re properly in touch with feelings that we can correct them with the help of our more mature faculties – and thereby address the real troubles of our adult lives.

    The article has threaded through it the example of having an abusive relationship as a child. Thankfully, I didn’t experience that, but it does make a great suggestion that finding the source of one’s anxiety and fully experiencing the emotion at its core might be helpful.

    And it is on the basis of this kind of hard-won emotional knowledge, not its more painless intellectual kind, that we may one day, with a fair wind, discover a measure of relief for some of the troubles within.
    Source: The Book of Life