By Bill Herrin
Communication is the lifeline of any relationship!
When a TBI happens, the survivor is the primary person left with the biggest life changes of all. However, family and friends are also impacted in a huge way. For survivors of a TBI, finding ways to communicate about worries, frustrations, physical issues and emotions – as well as conveying all of these things to loved ones is not only tiring – sometimes it just doesn’t come out in a way that’s easy to understand. That’s miscommunication. Your grasp of your life after TBI is going to depend on several key factors: acceptance, progression, facing denial, and finding the inner strength to move on with your “new normal.”
That’s an easy thing to tell someone, but living it out is a challenge that every person will handle differently – as varied as each brain injury (and its effects) can be. Your mental and emotional connections to others are going to be different. Responses to how you communicate can be different as well…all leading to miscommunication on both ends of any conversation. That can lead to frustration, anger, hurt feelings, and a host of other things. We’re going to take a look at how to soften the blow of harsh words, misunderstandings, missed points, and overall miscommunications.
Saying how you feel
One of the key things to consider as a survivor of TBI is this: No matter how you feel, try to consider how the people all around you are feeling as well. They may be feeling bad for you, or they may be feeling time constraints from caregiving, or possibly just feeling overwhelmed or concerned that you’ve changed since your TBI. Communication of thoughts between the two of you (or between you and all of them) is critical to your successful recuperation, to your emotions, and your relationships. This also goes for your family and friends – they should strive to understand that you are affected by their attitude and communication with you. It’s always a two-way street, and it even was before TBI came into the picture – but, now it’s even more critically important. Miscommunication can create even more stress.
They’ve noticed change
Friends come and go, many last a lifetime, but family is forever. Keep in mind, family members can be your best advocate – or your worst critic. The point is this: it’s best to surround yourself (to the best of your ability) with people who understand how you’ve changed and they embrace the change. Empathy is one of the strongest healers – having an understanding of what someone else is experiencing, and “putting yourself in their shoes” can make the worst situation more bearable for everyone involved. This goes for the survivor, family, friends, and co-workers, etc. Seeing how everyone deals with the your TBI can bring a team together, instead of having miscommunication and strife. Strife is going to happen, because nobody is perfect, but remember that we need each other!
Trying to read people
When we talk with each other, half of our expression comes from….well…our expressions. Our facial expressions and body language say a lot, and can be subtle or direct. Survivors of TBI may lose their ability to take expressions or body language into account, or even misread what it being intended. This is also miscommunication. For family and friends, a natural rapport and emotional (as well as physical) healing will usually improve with time. Remembering that is key to maintaining a friendship with the TBI survivor in your life. They’re working toward their new normal, and their frustrations are going to be running high as well. Work toward better communication together!
Expression and tone of voice
Voice, diction, and clarity of speech can often be affected after a TBI. As a survivor of TBI, strive to work on your speech patterns – with a clinician if possible, or with a caregiver or friend…and even on your own if possible. Enunciation is only going to improve with practice – kind of like playing a musical instrument. Practice, practice, practice! You’ll never get further without having the will to improve. It’s that simple – nobody can make you want to improve, but they can encourage you to do it. One of the bigger parts of miscommunication, beside changed behaviors and expressions is the simple fact that clarity of speech makes a huge difference. Some may never be able to achieve their previous language skills, but communicating what you feel, need, think, want, etc., as clearly as possible is going to be the reward for all your hard work.
Changes in relationships
Whether a TBI survivor is married, single, a child or teen, man, woman, or anything else – relationships are the fuel that keep most people pushing ahead. Since relationships require effort from all parties involved, be aware that brain injury is going to “throw a wrench” into the mix. Many people want to solve problems – they’re “fixers,” full of suggestions and comments, and sometimes criticism. This can bring a lot of tension into a relationship. If you can work to remember one thing about relationships, it’s this: True friends love you for who you are, and they’ll meet you wherever you’re at. Despite being different after TBI doesn’t mean you’re a completely different person, but it does mean that parts of your personality, likes, dislikes, and other things have changed. If someone points out to you that you’re not the same person any longer, consider telling them this: “Think of me as a house. I’ve made some new additions, I’ve changed some things around, I’ve gotten rid of some things, and maybe I don’t seem quite the same. But I’m still the same house…just a remodeled one, now.” Maybe that simple analogy will explain that you’re always going to be you, but changes do happen!
The bottom line
This particular blog is purposely not referencing clinical books, studies, findings, or scientific facts. The goal here is to help families and TBI survivors see themselves in a different light, as a team – as co-conspirators in a battle against TBI, that they both are fighting together. A TBI survivor needs you. You need and love them. Don’t let miscommunications become a wedge between you, because they’ve changed. Overlooking an outburst of frustration of a TBI survivor could make the rest of their day much better. For a survivor of TBI, letting go of a snide comment about them by a loved one who is frustrated or tired, could mean the difference in their day. Communicate with each other as clearly as you can, and always work toward better communication. It’s the key to progress. I hope that you can find contentment in life if you’ve experienced a TBI. I also hope that you will find it as a caregiver, family member, or friend of a TBI survivor. The words of a very well-known college basketball coach come to mind – Coach Jim Valvano, from North Carolina State University was battling terminal cancer, and in one of his last speeches to his adoring public he said “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Those are words to live by.
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• Learning and Cognitive Communication Challenges: Developing Educational Programs for Students with Brain Injuries – PDF eBook LINK
• Stress and Anxiety after brain injury Tip Card LINK
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• Learning to Live with Yourself after Brain Injury LINK
• Coping with Survival after Brain Injury LINK
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• Cognition and Behavior Tool Kit LINK
• Cognition and Behavior Tool Kit Tip Card LINK
• Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Workbook LINK
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This Brain Injury Journey Bulletin is intended to offer encouragement and support for TBI Survivors and Caregivers, Clinicians, Friends and Family, and more! We hope that you find it informative and helpful.
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