Why do people act differently towards a person after their TBI?

Why do people act differently towards a person after their TBI?

Why do people act differently towards a person after a TBI? Many times, it’s because they can’t handle the truth!

By Bill Herrin


TBI affects everyone in a survivor’s life.

After a traumatic brain injury, acceptance is one of the first steps toward recovery…even if recovery is a long way off. When you evaluate your own personal situation and work to be content within your life’s new parameters – that is basically acceptance. Although TBI can make a huge change in a survivor’s behavior, patience, temper, attitudes, etc. – it also can cause a huge change in the people around us – and in how they act toward us. The fact is that people may not be able to handle the truth because the truth they’re facing is that you’ve changed. You’re still the same person that they know and love, but it’s the adapting part that is awkward for them (which, in turn, makes it awkward for you, too). Brain injury not only affects the TBI survivor, but it affects everyone in their life. This is one of the parts of TBI that can bring misunderstandings, judgment, and often, isolation…the truth is hard to handle for family and friends. Why? Because they don’t want to upset you, or possibly just don’t know what to say. Often, it’s no more complicated than that.

Workarounds, ideas, and other solutions

The following excerpts are from Lash & Associates tip card titled “Coping with Survival After Brain Injury.”

You’re no less of a person after TBI.

Brain injury has an odd way of attacking your self-esteem and self-confidence. Maybe you used to consider yourself brilliant, attractive,
handsome, beautiful and just wonderful. Brain injury has a way of landing right on your self-confidence center. Your worth as a person – both before and after your brain injury – is about more than how well you can do this or that. Don’t think of yourself as less of a person since your brain injury because of all the things you can’t do. Look at the love and warmth that you can share. Others may value you for the contents of your soul.*

With that said, how you think about your situation and approach to life could improve – despite how others may act toward you? Here are a few more great bits of advice from the tip card titled “Coping with Survival After Brain Injury.” You’ll find that acceptance takes the focus off complaining, of fault-finding of others, and will make you see things in a more meaningful and positive light.*

For example, You can moan, groan, complain, be angry, and spend your time asking WHY did this happen to me? You can be angry at whoever and however, it happened. Be angry on a daily basis. Drink and do drugs to escape…OR you can acknowledge and accept that it happened. You certainly don’t have to like it or be happy about it, but acknowledge that it happened and move forward. Do the best you can with whatever you can. Work on getting to your “New Normal” which isn’t going to be the same as your “Old Normal.”*

You’re here for a reason!

If you ask yourself, whether you are religious or not, “Why did God do this to me?” – maybe instead, take the approach of asking yourself, “I was saved for some reason, what is it?”*

You may figure that you have enough of your own problems to deal with and avoid helping others – OR you could work to prevent brain injuries. Tell people your story in the hopes that they won’t have to walk down this road.*

If you let your anger and sadness spill throughout your life, and you take it out on those around you-you could (instead) be sad, but acknowledge that you aren’t the same as you used to be. Meet new people who may understand some of your challenges.*


Do you see the sharp contrast in thinking and the approach here? One approach is wallowing in self-pity, and the other changes the focus to living life to the utmost, loving people despite how they may act, and hopefully inspiring others that are also survivors. When you feel angry or sad that your “terrible family or friends” are not loyal, or may not come to visit you enough – look at the other side of the coin – maybe your partner / husband / wife / parents / kids / siblings / other friends stand by you, thank them sincerely and deeply for their loyalty, love and commitment. They didn’t ask for this any more than you did!*

*(Reference: From the Lash & Associates tip card titled “Coping with Survival After Brain Injury,” by John W. Richards, MBA, MSW, Survivor.)


Coping becomes Hoping

Even the tiniest of “wins” is still a win.

When it comes to family and friends’ emotional reactions to your TBI, there are some things to keep in mind. When an individual has a brain injury, most families go through the entire range of emotions. There is fear, anger, hope, despair, and even joy at times. These emotions are often seen as negative (fear, despair, anger) or positive (joy and hope). Each emotion affects how a family member acts and responds to others. Try to use your emotions effectively rather than allowing them to control or overwhelm you.**

You may have felt like you were on a roller coaster of emotions soon after the brain injury occurred. Every day there were unfamiliar terms, complicated medical information and difficult questions that often could not be answered. Your emotions may change over time but they continue to be powerful feelings. Every member of your family may feel a wide range of emotions. Some may be similar to yours; others may be different. All emotions need to be respected. It’s important to let everyone in your family know that it’s okay to feel angry, afraid, sad, helpless, and overwhelmed. It’s what you do with these emotions that matter.**

One of the hardest things to realize when you’ve been through huge life changes after TBI is that negative emotions, anger, sadness, and fear can be negative and destructive. But without them, you would lose valuable energy and perspective. They can help you not only survive, but thrive in the aftermath of a brain injury to you, or a member of your family. Imagine that! The takeaway from negative fear, sadness, anger, etc., is that it motivates you to improve your attitudes – and the result will be an overall improvement of your outlook on life, despite any setbacks.**


Handling Emotions When People Act Differently After a TBI

In closing, here is a small, but important checklist that could offer some “life hacks” to get on the right track, and away from feeling bad
about your situation…this is only a small list, and there could certainly be more added – but in the interest of time, these are good to start off with.

Tips for handling your emotions…

✓ Stay in the moment.

Rather than wishing for the moment to pass, ask yourself what exactly this moment is about.**

✓ Allow emotions to subside or quiet.

Instead of trying to hold onto an emotion, be aware when it lessens. Notice the emotion that replaces it. Why this emotion now? What triggered it? How can it help you?**

✓ Review and reflect.

Keep a journal of your different emotions and experiences. It is often easier to understand your feelings after some time has passed. Reading your journal days, weeks, months or even years later gives you a different outlook. This can help you understand what you were feeling and why. Review and reflection can help you use your emotions effectively or change them.**

✓ Find someone you trust.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by an emotion, share it with someone you trust. Ask for the person’s views and ideas. By sharing the emotion, you will find it more manageable and less overwhelming.**

✓ Consider the opposite emotion.

Sometimes an emotion can block you from taking action or it may prevent you from getting action from someone else. When this happens, try choosing the opposite emotion and ask yourself what you’d do if you felt that way instead. For example, if you are feeling angry but need to make a request, ask yourself, “How would I say this if I were feeling warmly towards this person?”**

**Excerpted from “Emotions – Hope after brain injury”, by Ann V. Deaton, Ph.D.


Final Thoughts

The takeaway (hopefully) is that working on acceptance of your new life, and then working through your feelings (about yourself and others’ actions toward you) will bring positive change to everyone involved. Life is precious, and sometimes people just need time to sort things out – either as a TBI survivor or as the friend or loved one of a TBI survivor. Make the most of each day. Progress comes in different forms, different levels, and sometimes it’s elusive – but hope springs eternal. Choose hope.

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