In my last blog post I wrote about the gates of strengthening and softening – the necessary gates you walk through in order to heal your emotional relationship with food.
Over the next two blog posts I’m going to write more about how to use these gates to move yourself out of the states of collapse and despair with food – that constricted, painful feeling of, “It will never get any better.”
What is collapse?
Collapse is a form of powerlessnes and despair. It’s a state of hopelessness and one sidedness. When we collapse into despair, we may get stuck in feelings of, “It won’t get any better,” “This will never change,” or “I will always be this way.”
Imagine a bridge that has fallen in on itself. Or a deflated balloon, an energy of despair. Or think of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. I have a deep fondness for Eeyore, and I certainly have my own internal Eeyore!
This past of ourselves can drive us bananas… and it is such a tender part of our humanity.
Collapse can arise as a collapse of imagination, humor, or possibility. It can be a collapse of empathy and compassion – where we shut down our hearts to our own or another’s experience, feelings, or humanity.
Collapse is a form of disconnection
I find it helpful to embrace, rather than pathologize collapse.
As I see it, collapse is a symptom of disconnection. Because we’re human, we all move in and out of states of connection and disconnection – and this includes collapse.
We typically move into this disconnected state when we’re tired, overwhelmed, frightened, or when we’ve faced too much separation.
How you feel when you’re disconnected
When we feel disconnected, several responses ensue. Here are some examples of how disconnection and collapse can appear in your life:
- Your heart may feel closed or shut down
- You may get stuck in ruminating thoughts about what a mess you are
- You may lack energy and feel, “Why bother?”
- You may feel brittle, frustrated, angry, hard hearted, or critical
- You may feel small, alone, little or powerless
- You may give up on your values and dreams and feel like a failure
- You may feel shy or hesitant. When I’m in collapse I often feel like a turtle, wanting to duck my head inside my shell. You have to be very gentle with me to coax me out!
- Your defenses may arise – for example, you may turn away from love and loved ones
- You may feel resentful or jealous of others’ competence or success
- You may seek out food, sugar, shopping, or prestige for comfort, love, and worthiness
The tension of opposites
The opposite of collapse is integration – to hold a tension of opposites.
One of our developmental tasks is to move from black and white thinking to both/and or integrative thinking. Young children don’t have this integrative capacity – these seeds begin to sprout in children at around age 5-7; in sensitive children, it’s closer to ages 7-9.
Both/and thinking entails seeing the bigger picture – looking at something from a variety of perspectives. When you hold many different perspectives at the same time – many of which can seemingly contradict each other – you’re holding a tension of opposites.
This includes ‘holding’ opposing or conflicting feelings (such as feelings of fear and feelings of desire), thoughts (like the mix of, “I don’t think I can do this,” and “I’m going to give it a try”), and impulses (such as the impulse to binge and the impulse not to binge.)
The collapse of integrated thinking
When we’re feeling disconnected, our integrative capacity and our integrative thinking collapses: we lose sight of the bigger picture, the both/and view of life, and we lose our mixed feelings, where we feel more than one feeling at a time.
Our circumstances or ourselves may start to look very black and white.
This black and white, collapsed space can appear as thoughts or pronouncements about ourselves with words like, always, should, or never: “I never follow through on my plans,” or “I always give in to the food,” or “I’ll always be fat.”
What lies underneath collapse and disconnection
What’s often underneath collapse is brokenheartedness.
We may be afraid to hope or dream or imagine a different possibility. Our hearts may be weighted down by fatigue, loneliness, a lack of support, or grief. Exhaustion plays a huge part!
Collapse can also arise from feelings or experiences of powerlessness. We may have experienced overwhelming experiences that left our sense of self or safety shattered, including unresolved trauma or relationship ruptures that have not been repaired.
Underneath collapse, there is often a lot of frustration and fear, a feeling of “I’ll never have what I need. Why bother.”
And underneath this fear, this is often grief, some way that we feel bereft – abandoned by love, alone, neglected, or on the outside looking in.
The shame of collapse
Because collapse moves us into a small state of being, a vulnerable and child space, it can easily bring up feelings of blame, shame, shyness, or disgust. This can lead to feelings of harshness towards our human vulnerability, and a desire to power over and eliminate this vulnerable state.
This can feel like a hollow feeling in the belly and gut, a feeling of wanting to vomit, a roaring anger or rage, or an agitated state of alarm and fear.
Collapse is an invitation to come close
What helps soften our fear of collapse is moving from a head to a heart space. In the heart, we can soften this harshness towards our human vulnerability and open a bit.
We can feel the tender emotions that are underneath the collapsed space.
I find it helpful to think of collapse as an invitation, love knocking on your door: “Come closer!” it says. “I see you, I see that you’re struggling and I want to help you! You don’t have to work so hard.”
Imagine Pooh and Piglet coming alongside Eeyore: “We’re here! We want to give you a hand! You don’t have to do it on your own!” A.A. Milne put it this way: “‘I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,’ said Pooh. ‘There, there,’ said Piglet. ‘I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.’”
Love is seeking you
What a different and empowering way of looking at collapse! When you feel caught in powerlessness and despair, it may simply be a sign that you’re feeling separate, exhausted, overwhelmed, or disconnected.
Rather than something shameful or something you should control, collapse is an invitation to connect – to soften overdoing and befriend your human vulnerability and neediness. Perhaps collapse is a sign that love is seeking you, that love is wanting to care for you, rather than you seeking it.
From this perspective, collapse is not something that you have to work to fix, or something you ‘should get yourself out of.’ It is not a character flaw. It is here to help, not to harm. It is an invitation to reconnect, to receive love, to be cared for, and to be brought to rest.