Brittle (brit·tle) – Hard, but liable to break or shatter easily. Having hardness and rigidity, but little tensile strength. Easily damaged or destroyed. synonyms: breakable, splintery, shatterable, fragile, frail, delicate, rigid.
There’s a procedure for hardening metal. Just the right amount of heat. Quench. Applying too much heat to steel or heating it for too long at a high temperature causes the metal to become brittle.
Interestingly, it works the same way with people. We can take the heat, but then we need that quench. The relief. The time of rest and recovery. Applying too much heat (trauma) or exposing us to that trauma over a long period of time causes brittleness.
Over time, after seemingly unending trauma, bad luck, hardship and heartbreak, after experiencing repeated rejection and injustice, suffering loss after loss after loss, it doesn’t take much to cause an irreparable break. The little things that would not normally be a problem are suddenly insurmountable. The small amount of stability you appeared to possess evaporates and is lost as your carefully constructed world crumbles…over nothing.
You don’t crack in the heat. But afterwards, when you have a small window in which to breathe, all strength zapped, the tiniest bit of difficulty causes catastrophic collapse.
“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” –Nietzsche
Interestingly, increased pressure or heat, when short term and controlled, will actually boost the brittle strength of a material. Even glass can be toughened effectively in this manner. But if the pressure is too great or it is applied for an extended period of time, it fractures the material instead of producing additional strength. If the heat is too high and prolonged, it weakens and deteriorates the material instead of fortifying it.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…unless it pushes you too far. Unless it’s too much over too long a period of time.
If it’s utterly overwhelming or if the trauma lasts interminably, it weakens you, causing you to shatter more easily than ever before. Instead of building your endurance, it destroys you, draining what little resilience you had, causing fragility, insecurity and brittleness.
I know this is true. Because I used to be very, very strong. I could take it. I would always find a way to survive. Maybe I had such strength because I believed the heat would end before it consumed me. The pressure would be alleviated before it crushed me. I carried the weight and walked on, believing I would find relief before I splintered beyond repair.
Brittleness (brit·tle·ness) ) – The tendency to break without being significantly distorted or exposed to a high level of stress. Easily disrupted, overthrown or damaged.
Now, I walk carefully and fearfully through life, praying nothing hits me too hard. I know it will not take a crisis to shatter me. I feel it deep in my bones. Even “normal” stressors often become overwhelming and feel impossible to resolve or survive. When the earth-shattering catastrophe does occur, I crumble inside, implode, fragmenting again and again until I am but a shell filled with dust that somehow continues to walk on without an intact soul.
Even the little things, the day-to-day trials, feel immense and destructive. Icy roads become an insurmountable barrier. A threat I can’t defeat. A challenge I can’t conquer. The season of winter is wrought with stress and danger, presenting unsurvivable challenges and life-threatening trials. Other people don’t lay awake at night wondering how they are going to successfully summon the strength to drive on hazardous pavement so as to fulfill work obligations and requirements. Nor do they feel consumed with guilt if they decide to stay home for the day if they feel they are not up to the task. They don’t judge themselves harshly for caring for themselves. Nor do they label themselves as failures. To them, it is a small thing. Nothing to fret about. They venture out…or they don’t. It doesn’t crush them. It doesn’t annihilate them. It is not more than they can bear to face.
But I am undone. Brittle, I fracture. Outwardly, it may not be that obvious, if anyone notices at all. But internally, I am destroyed. Internally, I crumble and fall.
In a real crisis, I become numb; my soul frost-bitten. I can no longer feel my extremities. I can’t so much as raise my arms to protect myself from the blows. Punch after punch, I am torn apart and laid to waste.
When I crumble, I have to withdraw, pull back, hide away so I can try to piece myself back together. I have grown weary of piecing myself back together. I have lost the ability to glue the shards and debris back into a whole person. More than ever, my restorative efforts have left me deeply scarred, bearing a strong resemblance to a Picasso painting. Or worse.
There is much guilt and shame associated with my lack of resiliency. My brittleness of heart and soul. The fragmentation of my psyche. My inability to cope with the storms of life or the weather of the season.
Before the years of childhood abuse, the incest, the repeated blows of hand and word; before the rejection of a husband I loved, but who never loved me; before the injustices of the workplace where promotions are given to the popular and the masculine, the political players and manipulators; before my fear imprisoned me within walls high and mighty; before my mask fastened and melded to my face until I forgot who I am, I was pliable, hopeful, sensitive, loving and strong. Before the furnace, the pressure, the unending stress, I was capable and undefeatable. Before losing house and husband, friends and job, dreams and hope, I was tough, tenacious and undefeated. I had not yet overcome, but I had not yet been overwhelmed. I endured. I fought. I pushed through. Damn the torpedoes…full speed ahead.
Brittle – From an unrecorded Old English adjective *brytel , related to brytan “to crush, pound, to break to pieces.”
I am now haunted by my former enthusiasm and tenacity. By the choices that brought me to this point of desolation.
I have been crushed. I have been pounded. I have splintered and exploded into a million pieces. I am horrified and thoroughly ashamed of the mess I have become. Ashamed of my inability to bear the heat and pressure. Cracked. Weak. Brittle. Liable to break or shatter easily. Splintery. And useless. Beyond repair.