Rebuilding Relationships After Brain Injury
“It’s a new you,” [Terry Curtis, brain injury victim], said, “and they just can’t cope with that.”
The consequences of an accident can run deeper than the physical scars. Injuries to the brain can have devastating consequences, changing the victim into an entirely new person — one their loved ones might struggle to connect to.
When Injuries to the Brain Tear at Hearts is an NY Times article that tries to shed some light on this reality. Many of the families and loved ones of brain injury victims feel lost and helpless — as if the injury has taken the person they love, and replaced them with a stranger. It can feel disorienting, and lonely, since not many people will understand that these are struggles that will continue far long after the broken bones have mended.
Brain injury can be isolating, psychologists say, as the mental symptoms may last well beyond the obvious injuries. Strangers and friends often do not understand the root of a survivor’s socially inappropriate behavior.
Reconnecting with a loved one who has suffered a brain injury can feel like an enormous task. But it is definitely not impossible. And psychologists are slowly learning more about what helps — and what doesn’t — for couples and families trying to rebuild relationships after an injury.
Better communication is important. Understanding and getting to know the victim “all over again” might be a part of the process, as well as helping the victim come to terms with the changes in their life, and in the way the relate to others. It is also important to realize that, while building a relationship with the injury victim is possible, it just might never be the same relationship from before. Learning to let go of the past, and learning to love the victim for who they are now, is a key ingredient. For these families, it should be all about looking forward.
“You’re asking people to just look forward, to not look back at all,” [Emilie Godwin, V.C.U. psychologist], said. “To try to recreate a relationship.”
Also, another important aspect for rebuilding a relationship after an injury, is coming to terms with the fear of another accident. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common diagnosis in people with an injured loved one. The wife who hides her husband’s keys to prevent him from driving again, or the mother who is afraid to let her child play outside unsupervised again — these are all very real fears that these families experience. But it is important for everyone involved, victims and loved ones alike, to understand that overcoming these fears is part of recovery.
Despite progress toward stable relationships, many couples stay trapped in a pattern in which the uninjured spouse does everything for the survivor, even when it’s no longer necessary, researchers have found.
The struggles of a family dealing with the aftermath of an injury can, and sometimes do, wreak havoc on relationships. But love, compassion, patience — and a true desire to get to know and love the victim all over again — can help families piece their lives back together, and, eventually, become whole again.