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Relationships after TBI and how to improve them! by William C. Jarvis, Ed.D.

A new life after brain injury

Relationships matter

Adjusting to your new life and interacting with people is a common problem following a brain injury. There are reasons why relationships after TBI are so difficult. The first obvious outcome always results in the Survivor not being the same after the injury. Friends and family expect the same person in personality, temperament, and general reaction to events of everyday living.

Everyone has everyday problems to deal with – whether injured or not. Examples include daily shopping, a cold, house problems, car repairs, general personal illness, cleaning the house, and general personal interactions; etc. They are compounded by other difficulties for the Survivor like motor movement, communication, extreme fatigue, and other daily specific symptoms unrelated to normal living. The injured person is different in thinking abilities and physical abilities. The Survivor therefore lacks the same coping skills in life as before he/she was injured.

Normal is deceiving

People forget the Survivor is disabled because he/she may appear so normal. This is often the case. That is why the injury is often called invisible. Of course many times walking or hand/arm ability is evident, but there may not be clear evidence of cognitive clarity. Also, there may be definite psychological compromises to acceptable personal interactions that are not evident until a response from the Survivor.

People don’t really understand these problems because they haven’t experienced it!  A Survivor may appear to be handling life well, but people do not see the extraordinary effort it takes to make it look that way. A Survivor may be performing routine requirements of life; however, the many daily routine tasks are more challenging than anyone can imagine.

Focus on improvement not failure

Finally, because interaction is more difficult, people interact with a Survivor less and this separation makes continued relationships strained. All this gives a justification to the

Togetherness is possible

difficulties of relationships after TBI. There is a strategy for improvement in this challenge. Like many strategies, it is not perfect, but offers promise and hope for the Survivor.

The best approach to this common challenge is so obvious it is often overlooked and thought not relevant. No matter how difficult, never give up and always move forward.  Engage with life more than people at first; then, slowly include more people into your activities and interactions as you heal. Realize that relationships can be extremely challenging and discouraging. Keep working at them as you learn to cope with your own limitations.

Always have a plan for improving. Think about each bad encounter and how you could have made it better. Without a plan and desire to improve, you will remain the same no matter where you are in your recovery. Realize that recovery is a process and will take many failures. Learn from the things that go wrong and always do better the next interaction you have. Write down your successes and the dates.  A person will find successes become more frequent when concentrated on as a daily goal. Never give up!