by Sam Black
“Help me understand . . . This aggressive behavior is completely new . . . has been increasing over the past couple of months . . . and you have been together over ten years?” That was me, years ago, when I was working in Child Protection. It was not just one incident or investigation. In fact, I can recall more than a few. I proceeded to do the usual checks . . . Alcohol? No. Drugs? No. Job Loss? No.
Why did I never ask about brain injury? Working with hundreds of families and countless other professionals how did we miss that? And I wonder now how I could have supported families differently had my awareness of brain injury been in my scope of knowledge.
Fast forward a few years later. “Why are you so angry? I didn’t do anything.” It was not a conversation with a client. It was a conversation between my husband and me. I was furious and did not have the words to express what was wrong or even how I had allowed the fire within me to become a raging inferno. I took the dog for a walk in the woods and came home feeling much better but needing a nap immediately. How had I become this angry spitfire?
The answer is simple. I have a brain injury and, with it, a host of symptoms, including what seems like a short fuse but is really an accumulation of sensitivities that I was not used to carrying around with me. The “old me,” the one “before brain injury,” was known for having patience and being steady and calm in all situations. During the first few years of recovery: not so much.
I am blessed that prior to my brain injury, I worked to help people deescalate violence and manage their reactions. I worked with people from all walks of life and had solutions for those with different abilities and learning styles. This blessing saved my family on many occasions. It saved me from taking anger to the next level and someone getting hurt. Most people who suffer a TBI do not have that luxury or skill set. They are left with an erupting volcano and no exit strategy for climbing out of it. Domestic violence is a real issue and should never be minimized. Everyone should feel safe in their lives and homes.
There are strategies that can help someone with a TBI manage emotions safely to prevent a frustrating situation from becoming a violent situation.
- Labeling feelings and naming them so when they come forward we can identify them and match them with a solution. Giving feelings a name can help us to step back from the situation and see a new perspective. (“When I feel that angry, it reminds me of . . . and the name that comes to mind is . . .”) We all have beliefs: “Anger is bad,” “Men hide emotions,” or “Big girls don’t cry.” Most of these beliefs are unconscious so addressing them, especially in a heated situation, is challenging! These beliefs will very likely expose themselves during the healing process.
- Be accountable. You are still responsible for your actions, even when you have a disability. Caregivers and survivors both need to have an outlet that will safely hold them accountable and listen objectively. Both are dealing with new stresses and power dynamics. Things to watch for in preventing domestic violence are co-dependency and avoiding truth.
- During your most rested time or clearest time (for me it was late at night), make a list of things that help to distract you from the reaction, and solutions for moving past it. (walks in nature, a funny joke, moving to a different room, eating a healthy snack, etc.)
- Check in with your senses! How is your environment — the lighting, noise level, stress level, heat or cold, the people around you? Bright lights, children running around, a loud television in the background, a pile of bills on the kitchen table, a messy home because you cannot physically clean it, lack of support, job loss due to injury, mounting guilt because you’re not able to care for your family, a new worker or nurse in your home . . . all of these can accumulate and create an atmosphere that is difficult to thrive in.
- Meditate . . . however that looks for you.
- Tell all of your care providers and professionals that you have had a brain injury! The families that I worked with saw me as someone coming to deal with a parenting issue or an incident that needed investigating. That fall in the parking lot or the hit to the head in hockey practice did not seem relevant to them or to me. As a professional . . . as a survivor . . . it is relevant and yes, you can heal and gain strategies!
There are supports for caregivers as well as the survivors of domestic violence due to TBI. Nothing can be more sensitive than disrupting a home and children. You and your family are worth the investment of asking for help.
Sam Black is an International psychic medium and master coach, with a passion for helping others find the gems inside of them so they can shine them to the world!