Building meaningful relationships after brain injury

Human connections are important to each and every one of us. We love, laugh, and live with each other, creating cherished memories that comfort us through our tougher days.

But what happens when we can’t remember, or we can’t be, the person we once were?

When someone suffers a brain injury, their world changes significantly and that includes their relationships with other people. Whether it’s relationships with spouses, children, friends or within the community, dynamics shift, and relationship roles change for both the brain injury survivor and their loved ones.

What are meaningful relationships?

Meaningful relationships are those that offer a sense of commitment. Built on common ground, they have a positive influence on those at the centre of them. They emphasise the importance of listening and building mutual respect.

When we think about relationships, we consider partners, spouses, family, and friends. Yet relationships can be found in all pockets of our daily life. They can also include work colleagues and passive relationships in the community – such as with our hairdressers or the local shop assistants we see most days.

Each person involved in a relationship brings their own emotions and expectations with them – and they’re as unique as our fingerprints. Key to this is the ability to recognise and control our own emotions. When navigating a relationship with a brain injury survivor, it’s important to take the time to understand and respond sensitively to their emotions.

Self-identity after brain injury

As well as our relationships with others, our relationships with ourselves can be complicated and a brain injury can intensify that. If the injury has resulted in physical needs, this can result in the survivor feeling self-conscious and anxious about how they are perceived by their loved ones and the world around them.

But it’s not just on a physical level. Brain injuries alter the sense of ‘self’ in a deeper way. As well as altered brain activity, people with brain injuries may experience heightened feelings of self-doubt and might struggle to accept their condition. Activities that once brought them joy may be left in the past. Physical and cognitive changes may affect confidence, resulting in the survivor disengaging from previous hobbies and interests.

A brain injury can completely transform the functioning of many senses. Some survivors will experience a change in how they chew and “feel” food in the mouth, as well as how it tastes. Preferences towards food can change based on how it tastes, as well as how it feels in the mouth, and the emotional impact of relearning to chew and swallow.

Navigating new people

Many brain injury survivors feel like different people after their injury. There are many reasons for these changes, and they present in different ways. From experiencing emotional differences due to altered hormone activity, to lowered self-esteem and confidence, each has a big impact on the individual.

These changes can be difficult for their loved ones to accept. Often, they experience a grieving process as they lose the person they once knew. They find themselves trying to rebuild a meaningful relationship and adapt to a new personality. On top of this, they might also see their relationship role change, especially if the survivor loses mental capacity or needs physical support.

Partners often adopt the role of caring for a loved one after their brain injury. They may also take on additional duties their spouse did before their injury – such as cleaning, cooking, and taking care of household bills.

This change in role can be a challenging process and might take time to accept and adapt to. Anxiety, frustration, fear, and sadness are common emotions amongst spouses and partners of people with brain injuries as they navigate their redirected role in the relationship.

Through their eyes

With these role changes, a person with a brain injury might also experience feelings of frustration, anxiety, and fear. Lack of physical ability or reduced mental capacity often means they can’t do things that once formed part of daily life, or they took pride in.

This can impact their self-esteem and confidence, adding to their feelings of anxiety and frustration. They may also feel guilty that their spouse or family are now caring for them and taking on extra responsibilities, further intensifying their frustrations.

Often, feelings of frustration often can’t be clearly communicated. Even though speaking is natural to most of us, after a brain injury, this can be severely impacted.

Value of communication

Intimate connections with other people, a pet, passion, or ourselves, form the foundations of our lives. Communication is key to forging these foundations and establishing meaningful relationships that have a positive impact on us.

Brain injuries often impact the way a survivor communicates and their capacity to understand information can alter significantly. Being unable to communicate freely can lead to a lack of understanding, creating stress and tension, which can lead to breakdown in the relationship.

Overcoming communication challenges

Understandably, many people feel overwhelmed when adapting to new ways of communicating with someone with a brain injury. And once one method has been established, it may change as their loved ones develop their skills and cognitions.

When discovering new ways of communicating, it’s important to also explore our expectations. A brain injury survivor has endured a life changing event and will need patience and empathy as they determine new methods of communicating. They may speak more or less, depending on how their condition effects them, and they might not always clearly communicate.

As part of our specialist brain injury support, we employ a range of verbal and non-verbal techniques to support individual communication needs. We also work with Speech and Language Therapists to help individuals rediscover the tools needed to verbally communicate. Non-verbal communication techniques are also central to supporting those with additional communication needs and individuals who have lost their speech.

We also deliver information in an accessible way and maintain a strong ethos of openness and honesty with the people we support, empowering them to express themselves in a way that is comfortable for them and helps them to rebuild connections with those they love.

Rebuilding futures

From time to time, we all experience communication challenges. After a brain injury, these challenges are more complicated. We understand how daunting it can be to adapt to new ways of communicating and supporting someone along their rehabilitation journey.

With the right support, guidance, time and patience, relationships can be rebuilt and made meaningful. Whilst they might not be the same as they were before the brain injury, they can find a new dynamic and bring a deeper sense of connection to the people involved.

Our rehabilitation approach looks at supporting individuals in all areas of their life and we integrate family and support networks every step of the way. While we’re supporting people to rediscover themselves, their loved ones are reassured and supported to establish new relationships and build a bright future.

Find out more

If you’d like to learn more about our specialist brain injury support and how we can help you or a loved one, fill out our quick and easy form and a member of the team will be in touch.

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