The Differences Between Surrender and Submission and How to ‘Let Go’

The simple intention to surrender control is all you need to experience miracles. – Gabrielle Bernstein

When we direct ourselves with intent, give ourselves over to something or someone, and we do it with 100% of our attention, the result of that is complete and utter liberation.

You don’t just think about what you’re feeling, you are right there in it – completely. Your body, heart, and soul, not just your mind, are all right there, in the moment, having the experience, feeling it and ‘being’ it.

Unfortunately, though, it’s becoming harder to flip the script on the distracting nature of our modern, social media connected lives which constantly pulls our focus in many different ways at once and live authentically in the moment, present in it and clutter-free.

How do we get there? What’s needed?

First, we need to consciously and intentionally choose this sense of liberation. We do this with every aspect of our being and of our senses (which I believe, thought is one), and most importantly, owning it. When we successfully do so, we get full satisfaction and fulfillment out of it.

Liberation starts with surrender first, and in a BDSM context, submission.

Surrender and submission seem to be the same thing, but in essence, are not. They are often misunderstood concepts.

When people say surrender, they often mean to submit while at other times when people say submit, they often mean surrender. 

What is the difference between submission and surrendering? Let’s explore the key differences.

The Differences Between Submission And Surrender

1. Submission requires a negotiated and consensual power differential.

This power differential may be created consensually, as when a submissive/bottom chooses to give control to a dominant/top in kink based connections, or it may be non-consensual, as when a partner uses physical or emotional violence to intimidate their partner into complying with their wishes. 

The power differential may also be situational, as when an employer tells an employee – ‘If you don’t like it, you can leave’.

Irrespective of the flavour attached to the power, one party has power over the other, and the submitting party is complying with their wishes because they are exercising that power. 

While we would use the word surrender to describe what an army does when faced with a losing situation, in intimate relationships, we would not call it surrender, we would call it submission, because there is a clear power polarity. This polarity is the heart and soul of the experience.

‘Surrender’ is an energetic action which can only take place in the exchange between two equal beings who both want this exchange.

2. Submission is a change of state, from independent to dependent.

While we always have a choice in life, understandably, sometimes the consequences of defying someone are more horrible than we are willing to endure, so we do submit. When we do something because another person has power over us, there are biological, psychological and emotional changes which occur.

Both internally and externally, we cease to exist as a fully independent human being, and start to be energetically and emotionally entwined with the person who holds the power. The part of the psyche that defends our boundaries is suppressed when we give up our autonomy.

Submissives in consensual relationships enjoy these changes, and trust their dominant to make decisions with the best and ethical interests of the submissive in mind. People in abusive relationships though, can suffer and struggle to regain a healthy sense of self after they have left such a relationship, often leaving them ashamed that they changed so much while they were at the whims of their abuser.

‘Surrender’ increases autonomy and self-awareness.

3. Submission is an energetic focus of attention on the person with power.

In consensual relationships, submissives enjoy the narrowing of their faculties to a single focus on the what will please their dominant. There is a sense of security similar to the comfort infants feel when they are held by a loving parent.

In abusive relationships, this narrowing of the attention is a survival mechanism and is accompanied by intense fear.

‘Surrender’’ leads to an expansion in which we can focus more on exploring, discovering and expressing our true self.

In many ways, to enjoy sex and BDSM,  and for many to achieve orgasm, we have to be able to let go and surrender in the present moment. To surrender to whatever may come next. To surrender to another human being.

For many,  sexual surrender is not a means of experimentation or exploration, but a tried and true way to finally actually let go. With bills, kids and career all intruding on serenity,  sexual submission may be the only way they readily have of surrendering to the moment and just letting go. Sexual expression is one of the few areas that we can practice, experiment with and test our psychological limits. For many, it is a means of establishing mental equilibrium and maintain mental health through the mindful exploration of consensual surrender.

I understand that the above is easier said than done, but with repetition, it becomes easier. This is due to what happens in the psyche when we build up more and more reference experiences of moving through life with a healthy framework.

‘Letting go’ in a sexual and BDSM context has the same notions underpinning the idea and actions. It can bring up a lot of anxiety, but that’s something that needs to get worked through in therapy, or, if the anxiety is not too intense and derived from trauma, through role-play. 


Role-play can be the mindful exploration of psychological elements through sexual exploration. For example, to liven things up, some couples may incorporate blindfolds or light bondage to play around with these areas which touch upon issues of trust and vulnerability. When blindfolded or tied, we consensually place ourselves in a position of dependency from which we can explore the feelings that arise. 

Letting Go And How You Can Learn To Do That Through BDSM

I’m sure you have been told or have even said to someone ‘You need to let go’. In our modern world, the need to succeed, to compete for social status, the need to save money while also paying bills, raise kids etc etc never ends. It’s becoming harder to let go when we have so much that we have to do and think of. The downside though leads to anxiety, stress and tension.

The basis of this anxiety and tension, at its core, is the fundamental notion of ‘holding on’. When I’ve worked with anxious people outside of my kink work, they state that their anxiety feels like a very close friend and without it, they would just crumble into pieces. For these people, learning to ‘let go’ and surrender is a key aspect of improving their mental health. Even though anxiety may feel like a natural cause and effect, I feel with conscious awareness, we can see it, honour it, and ‘let go’ of it.

What’s that look like? Let’s explore it with this thought experiment. Let’s say you have the issue that in 1 month your current job will be ending and you have a mortgage. For many, this will cause a lot of stress and anxiety. Now, when you acknowledge that the issue will still be there irrespective if you orientate to it from a basis of anxiety and stress, then you can choose to ‘let go’ of the reactions and move forward with what you need to do i.e. start looking for more work. In short, you are choosing not to be plagued with anxiety while doing what it’s telling you that you need to do – get your ass moving because when you do, good things come from it.

How does it make one feel to depend on one’s partner? Does it feel thrilling? Terrifying? Are we able to let go in the moment?

The exploration through role-play and the answer to these questions will reveal a lot about yourself and/or your partner. 

It’s important to share that kind of information with a partner so they will be able to grasp the degree of trust you are placing in them. To do this, you must feel safe to express yourself. As someone’s connecting partner, be it a lover, buddy Top, bottom, Dominant, submissive, or whatever role you choose, you complete the connection by being totally there for them. Make them feel safe and supported by your presence, and free to reveal themselves to you. You have a responsibility to really be there, to really hear what they are saying or asking for, and to respond as best you can. Pro tip: Try to resist asking a question starting with the word ‘Why’ but instead, for e.g. ask “What’s behind the desire to XYZ” or “What does XYZ look/feel like to you?”. When you get your answer, don’t be afraid to ask ‘Tell me more” to really get it all out on the table.

Making It A Reality

How can you help make this a reality? How can you effect his willing suspension of disbelief so that he will fully experience this, and do so in a way that is safe and sane?

Try scripting the scene, so that:

1. You boil it down to its basic elements with a focus of consciously surrendering and how this surrender will be supported, encouraged and brought from a ‘concept’ into reality for you both and

2. You can bring it through the process of opening, development, peak, and afterglow.

In the course of deliberately constructing the scene, you will discover ways to heighten and enhance surrendering and submission.

Seek out information on building your skills, including not only physical techniques but also non-verbal communication skills. Some people say you either have this or you don’t, but the process of getting to know your partner is one in which each learns to read the thoughts, feelings, and sensations of the other. That is how the most potent, persuasive scenes succeed.

Take The Plunge

Express your fears, then let go of them and go on and do whatever it is you’ve been holding yourself back from. Do it safely and responsibly. Be. Here. Now. Enjoy, and have it all. 

‘We are all servants. The only question is whom we will serve.
R.C. Spoul