When this happens, feelings of strength, optimism, or “I can do this!” deflate into feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and “Why bother! Nothing ever changes anyway!”
Collapse is meant to move
Collapse can certainly be frustrating and even alarming. And as the research on learned helplessness demonstrates, we can get stuck in it.
When we get stuck in collapse, we often become identified with it. It may solidify into our self image – how we view and define our eating, our health, or our very lives. This is so painful, and so frustrating!
It helps to recognize that collapse is something we all move in and out of, as we all move in and out of states of connection and disconnection. It’s a temporary state, something that can shift, change form, and flow.
The key is to relate to it rather than define ourselves by it – and to get the energy of collapse moving. Once this happens, we often move to the other side – where we can make room for our disappointment, sadness, or frustration and hold onto our courage, optimism, and self belief.
Why trying to control collapse doesn’t work
It’s also helpful to soften our inner controller – all the ways we think we need to be in control or be in charge of our inner states, including collapse.
For example, for years, I thought I had to work really, really hard on myself to change my relationship with food. I read self help book after self help book, always trying to make myself better, more improved, or different.
When I would move into collapse, I would panic! I would feel alarmed that all my hard work was for naught. I thought I had to be ‘up and positive’ all the time and was exerting tremendous effort in an attempt to control my inner state.
I felt such pressure to perform with food, and such pressure to ‘get it right.’ Collapse terrified and exhausted me.
An easier way to rebound
When I studied with my mentor in developmental psychology, I recognized that collapse is not a problem to fear. I also learned that there’s an easier way to move out of collapse that’s more fun, more effective, and much less stressful – to tap into the power of play and connection.
I use the word play intentionally, for approaching ourselves with a light touch and with a spirit of levity is a safe, simple way to get the energy of rebound moving. For it takes courage to open and stretch ourselves when we’re feeling overwhelmed or discouraged.
This is why connection is so important! When we’re feeling connected to ourselves, to life, and to each other, we feel more capable, strong and secure. We can open to these vulnerable places and stretch.
Four ways to rebound with food
So let’s put all the pieces together! I’ve created a handy guide for you below, some steps you can take to playfully rebound with food.
First, here’s what collapse with food can look like:
- Frustration, jealousy, envy, or a feeling of “I can’t do this and others can”
- Despair, hopelessness – “It’ll never work”
- Giving into overeating because “why bother”
- Cynicism, sarcasm, and sniping, feeling hard and brittle
- Self attack, shame spirals, wanting to hide, “There’s something wrong with me” – these are often the ‘stickiest’ forms of collapse
- Feeling small, weak, incompetent, impotent
- Discouragement, lots of self talk about how “Nothing ever changes.”
- Collapse is often very black and white – look for thoughts filled with words like never and always
Does this sounds like you? Pause. Gently tell yourself, “It’s okay. This is just collapse.” This helps you relate to it rather than identify with it.
Then quietly check in with your inner experience to see what you’re needing:
Do I need connection?
Collapse is a symptom of disconnection – some part of us feels separate, alone, disconnected or overwhelmed, like we have to do it all.
Connection is the ultimate answer to restore feelings of capability.
- Give yourself emotional or physical support. Call a friend, ask for help, visit with someone you love, ask for a hug or to be held by a loved one, let someone hold you while you cry.
- Let someone be with you while you do something difficult. Often, just the energy of having someone with you begins to shift the energy of collapse. This is why we find it easier to do things with others, in groups. The group energy helps carry us.
- Connect with yourself and the greater world around you. Drop in to your own inner experience to see how you’re feeling or what you’re needing. If you’re spiritually minded, connect with Source in a way that speaks to you. This is where regular spiritual practice can be very helpful, for these practices are rooted in connection.
Do I need to strengthen?
Collapse is related to flexibility, resilience, will and your power center. To rebound out of collapse, you need to have a working relationship with the two kinds of power:
- the power to effect change
- and the power of limits – of recognizing that something isn’t working. This power moves you to pause, to come to rest, and to stop trying to effect change when it’s futile.
When you strengthen you’re playing with strength, the first kind of power. This helps bring in the opposite feeling of hopelessness, where you realize, “Yes, I can effect change in my life.” Here are some ideas:
- Play with power – do something challlenging, set a goal, or try something new or even difficult.
- Practice doing what you do well. Do one thing you’re good at, where you can soften the feeling of, “Nothing ever changes.” This might be making soup, taking a pet on a walk, or writing a letter to a loved one.
- Do what you love. Do something that brings you great joy and fills you with delight – make art, play, romp outside, float in the water, put on music and dance.
- Turn your play into rituals and structure. Once you’ve found things that help you move out of collapse, ritualize them. For example, if swimming laps or a pottery class are ways you move into feelings of power, make them rituals – swim every Tuesday, or take a pottery class every week.
Do I need to soften?
Support and rest may be what you’re needing, and it can come in many forms – loving limits, self care, structure, training, and emotional support.
- Soften your expectations. Perhaps you’re asking the impossible of yourself and are feeling overwhelmed by too much pressure. This is when it’s helpful to give yourself loving limits. This is playing with the 2nd kind of power – the power of no, boundaries, and limits.
- Rest. Sometimes the answer is quite simple – a hearty meal, a good night’s sleep, a night out of fun, or some time away from chores, work or caretaking. Most importantly, the deepest rest we need is psychological – rest from hyper vigilance and working on ourselves.
- Get help, training or skills. The answer to collapse may be simple – you may need help! What kind of training or education can help you feel more competent in this area of your life?
- Give yourself structures and scaffolds. Make a plan for those times when you struggle rather than ‘trying harder.’ For example, if you struggle in the evenings, bring in rituals that make that time easier. Structures can be something simple like eating on a special plate, eating with a friend, having an after dinner walk, or planning a meal in advance. Let the structures carry you.
- Set a limit with food. Sometimes we need to soften and feel the vulnerable feelings of letting go, of stopping something that doesn’t work. For example, we need to feel the futility that overeating doesn’t really give us the nourishment we’re wanting. Facing this limit puts us through a grieving process that brings us around to the other side, where we adapt to the loss of overeating for comfort and find our way.
Do I need to move energy?
Lastly, there’s often a lot of emotional energy underneath collapse that is wanting to move. Some times moving this energy is all that’s needed! Here are some things that can help:
- Drain the frustration. Often underneath collapse you’ll find frustration and anger. Drain this with something powerful – box, practice martial arts, chop wood, haul or push something heavy, dance with passion.
- Drain the sadness. Underneath the frustration, we often find loss and grief. There’s a particular form of tears – crying to come to terms with what we can’t change – that drains this sadness and restores resilience. This is one reason why we can feel so much better after a good cry.
- Go outside. When all feels helpless, go for a walk or go outside.
- Watch a movie or listen to music that empowers you. I have a playlist on my Spotify called, “Rise” that I use for just this purpose.
- Play, play and play some more. Dance, play with your children, partner or friends, make art, romp outside, take yourself on a date, do something physical. Sometimes play alone moves the energy.
What you may feel on the other side of collapse
Once the energy of collapse starts to move, the momentum tends to carry you forward. You often feel better – you move out of the deflated state and feel more resilient, capable, and empowered. You may notice that you feel more relaxed, less alarmed, and less frustrated.
Your thoughts may change and feel more integrated, where you can see the bigger picture. Your courage is restored, and you may have more clarity on the next steps – how to support yourself and care for your needs.
This is often when new ideas arise – you can hear the still, small voice of your internal guidance system and sense the nudge of intuition.
There’s a lightness to what felt so sticky and impossible.
If you continue to feel stuck in collapse
If you continue to feel stuck in collapse, usually there’s some deeper, stuck emotions at work. This is often where we find undigested and unmourned grief or the residue of trauma.
You may need the healing balm of deeper emotional release or more support to unhitch these stuck places. This is where you may want to seek out more support by working with a therapist with trauma training or a support group.