This is a new term in my life and one I have come to really love. I say love, because it resonates so deeply when reflecting on my own “collapses” or “near-collapses” over the course of my life. It is not a new concept by any means, but the terminology is new to me.
The term ‘Restraint Collapse’ as I understand it essentially refers to our inability to hold our lives, our emotions, our behaviors and ourselves together when our “regular” demand structure is lifted. For example, a work schedule is a demand structure, we go along with it every day. If suddenly we do not have that schedule to demand our time, we may find ourselves unable to “utilize” our newfound freedom the way we might have wanted to. Instead of “taking advantage” of our freedom, we collapse literally, and figuratively, and don’t know which end is up.
The more demanding our structures the more likely we are to flail around and free fall when the restraints are removed. And what makes this so interesting is unlike just “having a bad day,” restraint collapse is the direct result of control loss following the removal of structure, (Please refer to your own research if you seek a deeper understanding.)
One way to understand this is to think about parenting. If you have been a parent or been around any, you may observe that when their child comes home from school they have an apparent tantrum, or act out in some other way. You understood your child to have had a good day, there is no “bad report” in the communication notebook from school, and you can’t figure out why your kid falls apart when he arrives home.
Another example of ‘Restraint Collapse’ is something I have experienced myself countless times. There were not a lot of vacations or trips over the last 22 years, mainly because Zach’s care and needs were so intense that trying to hand them over to it didn’t seem the juice was worth the squeeze. But when I was awarded the chance to take a trip it was awkwardly uncomfortable.
I didn’t go out of town to relax and meditate and rest, like I thought I would. It was more like:
“GO, GO, GO! Have fun! Hurry up! Rack up the funny stories and memories (some of the them blurry) as fast as you can because you only have a limited time! Don’t miss anything! See everything! Eat and drink everything! Do everything! Buy everything! GO, GO, GO!”
Before I knew it instead of soaking up the free time with activity, I would find myself under the covers at any given Marriott, ordering room service and watching crap TV in the room. Why, when grand adventures awaited, did I melt down into a pile of human sludge unable to enjoy most of what was available to me for recreation and entertainment? Why did I sometimes find it hard to engage or even leave the hotel room?
The answer has something to do with this concept of ‘Restraint Collapse.’ It wasn’t that I didn’t want to avail myself of luxury or ”fun” while taking a trip or even a vacation. The challenge was that without the endless restraints in my regular life I was literally like a fish out of water. Going from zero freedom to total freedom was always a shock, and I have yet to truly navigate how to process this dynamic in a positive way so that I can actually participate in life even when the demands are not as stringent as I am accustomed to.
Next time you have the chance to throw caution to the wind, or enjoy a quiet day with no structure, do not be surprised if you feel out of sorts. Additionally, you may end up reaching for vices you didn’t think you’d need if you had no pressure, no structure and no restraint. That can turn into an exercise in self criticism and judgment. (Something like, “What’s wrong with me? I never get to take a break and the minute I do I go bat shit crazy, or alternatively, can’t leave the hotel room. How lame am I !?!”)
Try to remind yourself that ‘restraint collapse’ is a ‘thing’ and plan accordingly. Perhaps anchoring vacation days with a meditation, work out or morning beach walk will layer in a little structure. Or at least plan a few parts of the trip that are structured. I have found that the contrast between my actual life and the one I lead outside of the daily demands placed on me leaves me feeling untethered and lost, instead of allowing me to rest and take in the Joy of being out of that “restrained” flow for a while.
As always please share any of your own experiences in the comments section. I have a feeling this is something we can all relate to even if we didn’t know there was actually a term for the dynamic.