“Quit being such a capitulator!”

by Ashley Solomon

Capitulate. Capitulation, Capitulating. Any way you dice it, it’s pretty much my favorite word as of late. It has this sound to it, this harshness. This sense of roughness. But this isn’t a vocabulary blog (Does one of those exist? If not, I have my next idea!), and thus I’ll move on to explain just why I love this word. And no, it’s not just the way it feels on my tongue to say it.

First, I must give credit. The idea behind capitulation comes to us, or at least to me, by way of Debra Safer, PhD, one of the developers and researchers of Dialectical Behavior Therapy for the treatment of eating disorders. Safer describes capitulating as giving up on your goals or acting as if there is no other option other than to do what you usually do (e.g. binge and purge).

We might think of capitulating as surrendering, as that is the word’s usual definition. To capitulate is to surrender to your habits or to your disorder or to your history. It is to cut off all option of making a different choice in this moment than you did yesterday. It is to give up on reinventing yourself and do more of the same (And we all know the definition of insanity, correct?).

Unfortunately, capitulation is a stubborn, sneaky little bugger. It shows up in the most imperceptible ways, wiggling in when we least expect it. For example, capitulation is what’s happening when we decide that, “I’m this far into the binge, I’m going to have to throw up anyway. I’ll just keep going.” Or, “I haven’t worked out in five days. Really, what’s one more?” Or, “This yoga teacher is nuts. It’s too hard to try to keep my mind focused on my breath… I wonder what I should do about Rachel being such a jerk.” Or, “I’m never going to get that job. Why bother wasting my time on the cover letter?”

The problem with capitulating is that it not only giving up on abstinence or health or employment opportunity, it’s giving up on yourself. And to give up on yourself is quite a dangerous endeavor. Capitulating leaves us feeling we are subject to the whims of others and our circumstances and thus robs us of our sense of agency. And that, my friend, leads to more… capitulating.

Change is no walk in the park. I particularly like the phrase…

“I never said it would be easy. I just said it would be worth it,”

…often cited by religious denominations (but even the non-religious can appreciate this message). And capitulating is a part of change. The first step is simply to recognize the ways in which you are surrendering, giving up on an idea of who you might or could be. Then you sigh, cognizant of your desire to let go, and you resume the reigns. Unless you’re my husband, in which case you should capitulate to my every desire… <insert evil laugh>

Your homework, dear readers, is to consider just how you capitulate, and (if you’re brave or maybe bored) why. And, even if it’s just once over the course of the week, choose to take the road less traveled.


4 Comments to ““Quit being such a capitulator!””

  1. Very insightful and thought provoking. I think we can all learn something from these words. I know I could stand to capitulate a little less in life and take more control over the direction life seems to “take” me in.

  2. I think I may be queen capitulator! I honestly believe that I may capitulate several times a day, if not several times an hour. Again, you have given me something to think about.

  3. Ash,

    Well thought, and on target. Although I wonder, can you really “quit” being a capitulator? Rather, don’t we have to start being something else instead?

    Several years ago I read a book by Dr. Tom Amberry about the art of free throw shooting in basketball. Dr. Amberry is, to my knowlege, still the record holder for most free throws made consecutively at about 2,800. He accomplished this after retiring in his mid 60’s or early 70’s. Anyway, one thing I recall from the book was the concept that the brain doesn’t really understand negative commands. For example, telling yourself “Don’t miss this shot” is the same as saying “miss this shot.” His argument is that you have to think something else, and in fact be something else.

    So if you’re currently a capitulator, I wonder, what should you strive to become?


    • Joe – you make a great point. I’m not aware of the research on the brain not understanding negative commands, but it certainly makes intuitive sense – and we do know about the power of positive thinking. So maybe, instead of “not being” a capitulator, you could strive to be a “victor” or “commander of my own destiny” or something to that effect. Including positive affirmations (“I am strong and can overcome this temporary desire to XXXX”) can be really effective.

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