Many survivors and family members describe changes in their relationships after the injury. They may not hear much from friends, co-workers, and extended family members. Others notice that their phone calls, emails, and letters are left unanswered. Some survivors find themselves feeling alone even when they spend much of their time with family members or friends.
Are you concerned about your relationships with other people? You may be wondering how other people feel about you and what they think about you. To help you better understand how you feel about your relationships, read the list of words below. On the list below, mark the words that describe how you feel now.
Think about the items you checked and the ones you did not. The more items that you checked off, the more unhappy you may be with your relationships.
Keep in mind that relationships are a two-way street. You may be thinking a lot about how other people treat you. Just as important is thinking about how you treat other people. The way you act toward other people affects the way they treat you.
Could you be pushing other people away without meaning to? People sometimes do things that hurt their relationships without realizing it. Review the items below to help you recognize if you are doing things that might hurt your relationships. Mark the items that describe you.
- I often talk about my brain injury and how my life has changed for the worst.
- I have a hard time listening when other people speak.
- I interrupt people more than I should.
- I often argue with other people or disagree with them.
- I have a hard time thinking about other people’s needs and feelings.
- I talk about myself a lot.
- I ask people very personal questions.
- I usually don’t listen to other people’s advice or suggestions.
- I have trouble accepting people’s offers of help.
- I touch or hug people without asking them if it’s okay.
- When talking, I stand very close to other people.
- I talk more than I should.
- I usually say the first thing that comes to my mind.
Look at the items you checked off. Talk to trusted family members, friends, and professionals about the ones you checked. Then, ask yourself these important questions: “Am I making it harder for other people to like me?” “Am I being a good friend to other people?”
Building healthy relationships is important to many people. Most people want to feel understood, liked, loved, and accepted. We’ve talked to lots of survivors and their families to learn how they cope with feelings of loneliness and how they build relationships. Here are a number of strategies that have worked for them. Look over this list with trusted family or friends and try out the strategies you think will work for you.
- Work on being a likeable person. Remember, in order to have friends, you must be a good friend, too. Be the kind of person people like to be around.
- Be a kind and considerate person. Be polite. Try to do things that will help other people feel good about you and about themselves.
- Be a good listener and other people will want to share more with you. Ask and talk to others about their lives, interests, and well-being — and listen carefully to what they say.
- Learn to communicate in positive and helpful ways. Avoid being too quick to share negative thoughts and feelings with others. Talk about things that are good in your life and the world around you.
- Be careful not to be overcome by your problems and the challenges you face. Look for the good in other people as well as in yourself. Remember that most people have a good heart and enjoy helping others.
- Before you speak, think carefully about what you want to say and how others might react. Try to say things in a way that brings a positive reaction. Avoid confrontation and try to be agreeable.
- Take care of your appearance. After injury, many people become discouraged about themselves and their lives. Feelings of helplessness and discouragement can lead some people to stop taking care of themselves. No matter how you feel, don’t let the basics go undone. Wear clean clothes, brush your teeth, and comb your hair. People will have a better view of you, and you’ll feel better about yourself.
- After brain injury, you may feel overwhelmed by changes in yourself and your life. You may have trouble not thinking about your injury and the challenges you face. Try to think about others at least as much as you think about yourself. Thinking about others is a skill. The more you practice, the better you get.
- Keep an open mind about what you can do and what you want to do. It is often easier to talk to someone and start a relationship when you have something in common. Look for new activities or hobbies. Join a support group, club, fitness center, or sports team.
- Don’t lose track of your faith. You may meet understanding and kind-hearted people with similar interests and values at your house of worship.
- Everyone does better with understanding and support from others. Offer to help and do things for others without expecting anything in return. Try to do at least one nice thing for someone else every day. You’ll feel better, and so will the people you help.
- Do volunteer work. By helping others, you are likely to meet people with a kind and giving heart.
- Show a commitment to helping yourself. People will be more supportive and respectful if you do.
- Adopt a pet. Pets are wonderful companions and can help to deal with loneliness. There are many pets out there without anyone to take care of them. You can offer them a loving home and find yourself a grateful companion in return.
- Talk to and spend time with people who care about you. Write, call, or email your family and friends even if you’re just saying “hello.”
This column was written by Jeff Kreutzer and Laura Taylor from the VCU TBI Model System Program. For more information about outpatient rehabilitation services and VCU research programs, please contact Dr. Taylor by phone at 804.828.3703, toll free at 1.866.296.6904, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like more information about building relationships and overcoming loneliness, stay tuned for a book that will soon be published entitled, “Recovering Relationships after Brain Injury: The Essential Guide for Survivors & Family Members.” The book will be available through the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury (www.neuro.pmr.vcu.edu).
This article was originally printed in the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center’s newsletter, TBI Today. It was reprinted with permission from the authors.