When You’re Chronically Ill: “Giving Up” Versus “Giving In”

Giving in to chronic pain and illness brings a measure of peace to your life.

Posted Apr 25, 2016

Source: Pixabay

Giving up can make you feel like a failure. You may begin to look upon yourself as mentally weak and undisciplined. This gives rise to the misery of self-blame. It’s disheartening. 

By contrast, giving in is a type of surrender. I think of it as sweet surrender. It’s the act of accepting what you cannot change and then looking for how best to live a fulfilling life within your limitations. 

Here are some examples of the difference between giving up and giving in.

Giving Up: “Chronic illness has ruined my life.”

Giving In: “As much as I’d like to, I don’t control the state of my health. Yes, I’m frustrated and sad at times that I’m not in good health, but instead of letting those emotions take over my life, I’m going to use them to arouse compassion for myself.” 

Comment: There’s no reason to jump to the conclusion that chronic illness (which includes chronic pain) has ruined your life. A good life can take many forms. Try giving in—gently and with kindness—to what you cannot control. A dose of self-compassion can change your perspective in an instant.


Giving Up: “I can’t do the things I loved doing before my health took this downward turn. There’s nothing left for me to enjoy in life. I’m useless.”

Giving In: “I wish I could engage in the activities I used to love, but I can’t anymore. Let me think outside the box and try some new things that won’t exacerbate my symptoms.

Comment: In this particular type of giving up, the inner critic has slipped into your thoughts, making you think you’re useless just because you can’t do what you used to do. But you don’t have to take the inner critic’s bait. You can silence that critical voice in your head by focusing on new things you might be able to do rather than ruminating about what you can no longer do. (For more on the inner critic, see “A Sure-Fire Way to Silence Your Inner Critic.”)


Giving Up: “Since I couldn’t participate fully today, it’s wasn’t worth getting involved at all.”

Giving In: “It was fun while I could join in, but now I have to rest.”

Comment: I’ve been this giving up person many times since becoming chronically ill. One incident that comes to mind is when I was able to go to the marriage ceremony of two close friends, but wasn’t well enough to stay for the reception.

I’ve learned that it makes me feel bad to focus on what I wasn’t able to do. It’s hard enough not to be able to fully participate. Don’t make things worse by turning the entire experience into a disaster. If you focus instead on what you were able to do, you’ll feel good about yourself and your memories of the event will be happy ones.


Giving Up: “I give up. I’ll always feel lonely; that’s a fact.”

Giving In: “Being alone so much of the time can definitely be hard, but I’m going to keep my heart and mind open to finding a measure of peace with it. After all, some people treasure solitude.”

Comment: The giving up person treats feelings as permanent. If you think loneliness is a permanent fact of life for you, of course you’ll be miserable. But if you think of loneliness as nothing more than what you happen to be feeling at the moment, you can hold it lightly in your mind. No feeling is set in stone. Even feelings that initially are unpleasant may contain the seed of something positive to come in your life, such as learning to enjoy solitude.


Giving Up: “I give up on my friends. They don’t understand how badly I feel and they’re not attentive enough.”

Giving In: “It’s hard when people don’t come through for me, but some friends don’t know how to respond to chronic illness; others have problems of their own they have to attend to. I’m going to give in to the changes in my relationships—even the disappointing changes—and accept them as part of the impermanent nature of the human condition.”

Comment: It can help to remind yourself that even had you not become chronically ill, some friendships would have changed—even faded away. It’s part of the ups and downs of life.


Giving Up: “I absolutely hate feeling sick. I absolutely hate being in pain. I give up.”

Giving In: “It’s not helping my symptoms to treat them as the enemy. I give in to how I feel, sickness and pain included, and vow to become my own unconditional ally and to be as kind to myself as I’d be to a baby who was in need of my care.”


Giving up drains your energy. It can also exacerbate symptoms because there’s an element of anger in it, and anger can lead to painful tightening of muscles, digestive disturbances, and sleep disruption.

By contrast, giving in brings relief from the exhausting (and ultimately losing) battle against the turn your life has taken. It makes you feel better, both mentally and physically, to never side against yourself. You could turn that into a vow: “I will never side against myself.”


I still have days when that giving up person shows up. When this happens, I try to be extra kind to myself and to remember that no emotional state is permanent. Then I make a conscious effort to turn giving up into giving in. In my experience, giving in brings with it blessed relief from mental suffering and allows me to find a measure of peace with my life as it is.

© 2016 Toni Bernhard. Thank you for reading my work. I’m the author of three books:

How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers (Second Edition) 2018

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide (2015)

How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow (2013)

All of my books are available in audio format from Amazon, audible.com, and iTunes.

Visit www.tonibernhard.com for more information.

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