Shuffled Neurons & Other Speed Bumps…The Search For Self-Awareness
By Bill Herrin
Experiences in life make us who we are – they can intrinsically change who we are for better or worse, sometimes in a temporary way, and sometimes for the rest of our lives. There are things that happen that we’ll cherish, things we look back on and laugh about, things that we’d rather not think about…and then there are things that we won’t even recall. TBI can be like a thief in the night…slipping away with treasured memories and leaving us with little to work with. But take heart, because as the old saying “time heals all wounds” actually rings true, especially in the realm of brain injury. When a brain is injured, the severity really depends on where the injury occurred, the level of the impact, and to some degree – whether the trauma was over the line of being able to overcome or not…not to mention that every person’s brain is as different as their TBI.
Every TBI is Personal
The different levels of self-awareness that arise from having a TBI can spark debate because everyone’s TBI is personal to them, but their self-awareness will never be exactly like someone else’s…although there will be common similarities. That’s where we should focus – on the broad similarities that we can all relate to, and support each other in. For survivors and their friends, families and beyond, there can be friction – often caused by the survivor saying “I don’t need help, I’ll be fine” to someone telling a survivor “you don’t look injured, you’ll be fine.” That’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when the survivor has isolated themselves or if their family has withdrawn from trying to encourage or help them because of previous resistance.
Self-Awareness Doesn’t Come Easy
Awareness of how you’ve changed after a TBI may be harder to do than many realize. I’ll be referencing some points regarding self-awareness from a Lash & Associates “tip card” (an 8-page brochure that they sell) that is packed with great advice for survivors, therapists, clinicians, families, and caregivers. These excerpts will be highlighted in italics.
“Why is Self Awareness Important?
Self-awareness is the ability to view ourselves somewhat objectively. It is also the ability to see ourselves
from the perspective of other people. It allows us to use feedback from others as we develop our personal identity. We rely on self-awareness when we…
- interact socially with others
- decide what situations or information to share
- make judgments about ourselves, and
- act in ways that ensure our personal safety.
Brain injury can impair the critical capacity for self-awareness.”
The previous sentence says so much because impairments in self-awareness come from different causes, and can show up at any time – and every person with a TBI will have different impairments or limitations of varying degrees. Hence, their own ability to assess their self-awareness is negligible in many cases. Damage in different parts of the brain can impair self-awareness in ways other than judgment – such as awareness of paralysis of certain parts of the body, awareness of loss of memory, problem-solving skills, reasoning, or being unable to anticipate consequences of decisions (based, in part, by lack of recall of it happening at a prior point in time, etc.)
“What Helps Unawareness?
Working on awareness can help people make better decisions. Efforts to increase a person’s understanding of abilities/disabilities must be done in a manner that preserves self-esteem. A healthy sense of self is critical for recovery. The two primary methods to address impaired self-awareness are education and structured feedback.
Both require an interpersonal bond between the person delivering information or feedback and the individual with impaired self-awareness. It is also important to have an environment that helps the person learn about strengths and weaknesses while still maintaining hope.”
The deficits of self-awareness can be obvious to family, friends, caregivers, and clinicians, and many times be quite frustrating. Helping a survivor to have a clear vision of their actual cognitive and physical abilities should be addressed with patience, positivity, and prudence.
“The goal of feedback is to orient individuals to the aspects of their performance that they do not accurately perceive. It is very important to balance feedback for problem areas with feedback for strengths.
Regardless of the approach used to help someone increase self-awareness, the person in the role of therapist, coach or caregiver needs to have a positive bond or connection with the individual. In order for a person to accept feedback, the person needs to feel that there is a partnership. The clinical term for this partnership is therapeutic alliance.”
In closing, it’s important to realize that everyone has the potential for unrealistic self-awareness – it’s what the long-running TV show “American Idol” was built upon…people whose self-awareness about their vocal abilities may have been bolstered by false praise, or just delusions of grandeur…many times, the people that go on the show with a humble approach are the ones that blow the judges away!!
Help your friend, colleague, partner, family member achieve a realistic understanding of where they are, but help foster a vision for them that will lead them to further improvements through encouragement, suggestions, positivity, strong communication, realistic goals, and love. Dealing with a huge change in self-awareness is complex and there is no “set route” to get to the next level. Understanding this helps both the caregiver and the survivor to make progress on the best terms possible.
The tip card “Changes in Self Awareness” is written by written by McKay Moore Sohlberg, Ph.D. and is available for just $1.00 at www.lapublishing.com/brain-injury-self-awareness-survivor/ – it’s a great resource for families or clinicians.