Anger and Traumatic Brain Injury
Coping with Anger as a Caregiver of a TBI survivor
I have talked to many individuals who have suffered a TBI. I do it so that maybe I can better understand my husband and gain more knowledge on what it is that TBI survivors go through. As a caregiver, this helps me greatly. But over the past few months I have started talking to more caregivers about what struggles and situations that they find themselves in and how they cope with taking care of a loved one with a TBI. Concentrating mostly on Anger in TBI. It saddened me as well as brought hope when I discovered that I am not alone when it comes to caring for a survivor of TBI and issues with Anger.
I have felt over the past few years that I have had to walk on eggshells around my husband. Since his injury the anger and irritability have increased and sometimes I fear that it will never reduce, let alone go away. There have been many times I have contemplated on leaving because I feel that I do him no good. That I cannot bring him happiness or enjoyment, or that maybe perhaps I am the one causing all of his misery because it has become increasingly easier for me to upset him. Of course, when I think of these things, I am in a state of despair and eventually it fades because above all else, I took a vow and I love my husband more than anything. I am a strong woman, but I will admit that I have more than a fair share of weak moments.
The terrible, but somewhat relieving news was that I was and am not alone. Many caregivers feel that they have to walk on eggshells around their loved ones. I have heard more about anger and irritability more times when I discuss TBI with someone than most other topics. After countless hours of studying the literature, polls, and research studies I have come to find that anger is a very common problem (if not the biggest) after a TBI occurs. Anger affects nearly 1/3 to over 1/2 of TBI survivors and the rates only continue to raise as time goes on and the more people come out with their anger issues. Some people have had problems with anger before a TBI in some cases, but the effects of the TBI often times only enhance it. For many people struggling with a TBI, especially in the beginning stages, anger is a problem that can threaten jobs, relationships, and self-worth. The question I commonly ask myself is what can possibly be done about it? There’s got to be something that helps TBI survivors learn to cope and adjust to this problem and there must be a way for caregivers to better understand and help to implement them.
Anger occurs often when the frontal lobes have been injured. Making it more difficult to apply the brakes on emotion or to stop and think of the best ways to approach a problem before acting. Irritations and anger arise also because of the frustrations felt by not being able to do things that were once simple before suffering the injury such as: multitasking, being in a crowd, loud or unexpected noises, or keep up and follow along with conversations. As caregivers, we need to be empathetic and understand that these things cannot be controlled and that it is not their fault. As frustrating and overwhelming it is to us at times, we need to always keep in mind that it is even more so for the person experiencing it. Because of new medications, loss of independence, pain, and so many other different things going on, it’s extremely difficult to dissect everything and figure out the problem as to WHY the anger is there. Instead, caregivers and survivors should focus more on what should be done to help regain that emotional self-control once again.
Another important little (but very big) fact that everyone involved in dealing with a TBI is a natural, normal, and essential reaction to threat and it would be unhealthy (as well as impossible) to get rid of. Instead, remember to focus on managing it in healthier ways. That’s the main goal. Again, coming from personal experience and countless hours of studying, I have found that there are steps that can be taken to gain the most control over emotional challenges.
The first step is to recognize the situations and triggers that cause anger. It helps the survivor as well as family members prevent or find ways to work around them, giving an environment that is less threatening will reduce the chances of anger and irritability. None of us can completely avoid all threats, triggers, or angry feelings. They are a part of one’s everyday life, but minimizing them and having the survivor learn how to handle them seriously reduces anger.
Minimize how often you use the words don’t and can’t. Survivors already have enough self-esteem issues rising and it doesn’t need to be confirmed by hearing what they can’t do or shouldn’t do. Keep reminders simple. Remember to establish a way to cool down. The counting to 10 strategy is a very old cliché but it works. Taking a few moments to stop and think gives the angry person a chance to breathe and allow the heat to simmer a bit. As a caregiver, you need to constantly remind yourself that most of the outburst coming from a survivor is not personal, but rather an action or words spoken because of the reduced ability to stop and think before acting. It is not an excuse to be hurt or dismissed, but try to remember that more often than not, overtime the anger will go away.
Try not to snap back at the survivor. It only breeds more anger and frustration. If need, take a few moments for yourself, collect your thoughts, and then return back to the situation.
Being a caregiver is an extremely challenging and difficult job. Especially when dealing with a TBI situation. Remember to breathe and stay strong. The recovery process is not like a broken arm. It can take a lifetime to learning and adjusting to the new ways of life. But your survivor needs you. Probably now more than ever before. Do not give up on yourself. Keep yourself and those around you informed and aware. There will be many instances of trial and error, but with enough work and effort, resolution will eventually come your way.