Disinhibition and Meeting People after Brain Injury

Disinhibition and Meeting People after Brain Injury

by Cheryl Green


In my 20s I got introverted. At 35, I had a TBI that unlocked a lot of my guarded nature. In medical terms, it’s “disinhibition.” In my terms, it’s carefree and comfortable with everyone. My lack of ability to feel nervous with people gets me lots of great connections.

It’s also gotten me a lot of pain.


Imagine being an adult suddenly being told by police, “Don’t give strangers your home address.” I learned that in pre-school, and here I had let an older man I hardly knew drive me home. He started emailing to ask if he could care for me and to criticize me for doing things without telling him first. (I’d just met him. I hadn’t even given him my email address.) I had friends and counselors intervene to get me to stop hanging out with people who sucked my life out of me. They guilt tripped me into hanging out and then overpowered me with manipulative stories and comments. I thought I was not being taken advantage of because I hadn’t been before. I was wrong.

Lack of awareness

I now realize how vulnerable I am as a disabled woman. Some people think folks with cognitive impairments make “bad” choices. Rather than look at my choices as bad, I learned the problem is with awareness: I wasn’t very aware of how I felt or of the consequences of my behavior. I poured boiling cooking water into a drinking glass instead of the sink, and the glass shattered all over me. I swung from my barstool armrests until my boyfriend pointed out I was about to fall. Even though I felt the stools rocking, I didn’t realize that meant I could fall. So it’s not that I try to get attention by making friends with everyone. I have trouble understanding the world; not that you would know that by looking at me. A lot of people with brain injuries make friends with too many people, reveal too much personal information, and get taken advantage of.

Make safer choices

If you think that might be happening, you can work with a mental health provider, not because you’re mentally ill; they are trained in helping us learn how to recognize warning signs and respond appropriately. In the moment, you can call the Police Non-Emergency number for your city or town. They help you decide whether you need an officer to come or if you need more support in making safer choices in the future. Be sure to tell them you have a brain injury!

You can get a medical ID bracelet. They help responders to a situation understand where you’re coming from and how to work with you. I like mine because looking at it reminds me to make safe choices. It says “TBI” on the front with my name and number. I wear the badge with the info on the inside of my wrist so it doesn’t show to everyone.


Now, I sometimes recognize when I feel bad. Someone at a bus stop begged me to take a drink from his can in a paper bag. I got up and walked to the next stop instead of hanging out any longer. I felt proud!

No matter how well I’m doing now, I have to make sure I don’t just justify unsafe choices by saying things like, “It’s OK just once” or “That guy seems nicer than the other guy so I’ll let him drive me home” because I did that a few weeks ago. When my boyfriend got home, and I told him about this nice man who gave me a ride, he looked sad. I heard my own voice justifying it. Then, I got sad when I realized what I had done.


It’s not all sad. There can be positives to being disinhibited, and we do well to have others around us brave enough to confront us with reality. I’ve found that in my boyfriend and my amazing brain injury support group. My friend Joan will call me at home to tell me I’m out of control and give some advice. And she can do that because she was there once too.


9 responses to “Disinhibition and Meeting People after Brain Injury”

  1. jonny says:

    I am new here. But after my most recent TBI event. An accident with major whiplash that broke my leg I took stock of my TBI HISTORY. Now approaching 60 I can identify that my “personality” is not so much that as it is weakly controlled inappropriate behaviors. Additionally my defensive nature and Razor sharp wit, Again are nothing more than frontal lobe impact damage decision making. I have had a productive life but three major concussions in High School definitely changed my brain. Finally I am able to name it.
    Ten years ago I found PEMF therapy to be helpful for me. TBI is a difficult condition to discuss as for me I am not so much brain damaged as brain altered. The beauty of the human form is one of adaptation, making do with what we are. That doesn’t make it easy for those that love us. Or try to.
    One thing I instinctively did was to take on self help tools. Goals. List making. Note taking. These skills empowered me and propelled me to find and keep work.
    I am commiting to better understanding the issue and to expanding the dialogue.

  2. Cheryl Green says:

    Hi Jade,

    Thank you for sharing the info about meeting this man and how he responded. I’m not any kind of professional, so I can only respond as a peer. But this sounds highly negative. I understand that some people cannot control their impulses. Even if this person has literally no control over his sexual expressions, you do not have to stick around to experience it. Whether someone intends to be inappropriate or not, it’s YOUR experience that matters. Your sense of safety matters first and foremost. Your concern does not need to be about helping him rebuilding his self-esteem after losing his job and income and maybe losing his romantic relationships. It is not your responsibility, and a TBI or cognitive impairment does not get someone off the hook. I hope that you’re able to maintain your boundaries and safety in your friendship with him or to consider ending the friendship if need be. There are also crisis lines you can call if you want advice from a professional even if you don’t think this is a crisis. You can get resource for someone who has more insight into communication and relationships than I do! Best to you.

  3. Jade says:

    I met a man and after several talks one-on-one in a mutually enjoyed “safe” place I agreed to be picked up by him…and driven to his home. Over twenty yrs. ago he suffered a T.B.I. and is no longer a photo-journalist with great job, monies, power, and prestige and he also shared that he is “worthless” post TBI and that he believes he is also “useless”…he was very sexually inappropriate first slyly talking about his illiapsosis muscle…then putting his hand on his groin area…and again being very sexually inappropriate…this was our first time together alone without other people around us. Could you give me any feedback, please. Jade.

  4. Jim L Kirby says:

    I can relate to all of your responses about how deal with the reality of our situations. I also agree 100% that awareness is the answer! Along with a distant distant have Bashan I feel I have impulse issues now and that does contribute to the dilemma . But I found my brain injury is made me 100% better human being and for that I’m truly grateful for

  5. Cheryl,

    Thanks for this very informative article. It certainly provides insight into the thought process of someone who lives with disinhibition and I am sure it will be very helpful to those who are affected by it.

    Donna O’Donnell Figurski

  6. Kathy Turner says:

    I am also disinhibited and do not have a support group. I had two major strokes after a brain surgery went bad. My husband just left me and I am so discouraged and sad.
    Kathy Turner

  7. Wow Cheryl, I came across this blog post when writing about “disinhibition”. This is such a wonderful, personal, positive and helpful post. I hope many people supporting people with brain injury read this, as well as people who are living with brain injury. Thankyou.
    PS I have put a link to your post in my blog hope this is OK.

  8. Cheryl says:

    Hey, Leona! Isn’t it amazing how much we folks can have in common. And we understand that about each other in a way other people don’t understand! Thanks for your response.

  9. leona says:

    wow I would have thought you was reading my mind of stuff ive done or thought of in ways and not in other ways… a mild tbi of 15 years

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