Sometimes a dam floods.
It breaks. It fails.
Every engineer knows that there are absolutely volumes of flood water that can burst a dam.
No dam is immune to being flooded.
When a dam does flood, though, we don’t criticize the dam.
We don’t waste our time blaming the dam for adhering to the laws of physics.
We acknowledge: that particular dam met its match in terms of how much volume it could handle.
That’s not good or bad; it just is. Dams flood.
The same thing happens to us when we experience trauma.
Just like there are certain volumes of water that dams are not designed to handle, there are certain experiences the human nervous system is not designed to handle.
Just like dams fail when they’re overwhelmed by flood water, our nervous systems fail when flooded by trauma.
The difference, though, is that while nobody blames a dam for capitulating to the laws of physics when it floods, we OFTEN blame ourselves when WE are overwhelmed by trauma.
It doesn’t matter that the human organism just isn’t designed to withstand
certain experiences and continue functioning well.
We often heap blame and shame upon ourselves for “failing” when we’ve been flooded by trauma…even though, under the circumstances, it makes COMPLETE sense that we would “fail.”
And here’s the thing about that: even though we don’t function well when we’re flooded by trauma, very often we STILL don’t completely “fail.”
Once a damn is flooded, it’s flooded. It’s done. By definition a dam that floods is no longer a functioning dam.
But many of us CONTINUE to function even after we’ve endured trauma.
We may not function optimally, or even well…but we still “function.”
LOTS of people know what it’s like to go through the motions of “functioning,” despite the fact that we’ve been flooded by trauma— and we can’t seem to un-flood ourselves.
Sometimes that’s the worst part— the half assed, haunted “functioning” that we continue on with after we’ve been flattened and flooded by trauma.
When a dam floods, what do its engineers do?
They don’t give up on the dam.
They figure out what happened.
They figure out what they’ll need to do to rebuild the dam.
They use the data from the flood to build a new dam that is less vulnerable.
The truth is, dams are always vulnerable to flooding— and people are always vulnerable to trauma.
No matter how “resilient” we are. No mater how well we “function,” even under duress.
But: we don’t have to blame and shame ourselves for succumbing to flood waters.
Floods come— and floods go.
We build better dams. Stronger dams. Dams with design modifications that make them less vulnerable.
We do the same thing with ourselves in trauma recovery.
Floods happen. Trauma responses happen. No blame. No shame.
We redesign and rebuild— as many times as we need to.