What about the rages after a traumatic brain injury? What does a family do when the husband/father comes back from the war with this anger that is similar to “The Hulk”? How do they stay together? How do the children know it's not okay to “do what dad does” when they are feeling mad?
Anger is the fear in our home. The rages that last all day, the moods that make me out to be the one that has ruined anything and everything in life. What do you do?
My husband was such a wonderful, caring man. I fell for him because of the sweet and caring things he did for me. We were best friends for years before we got together, but now, I have no idea who he is. I miss him terribly, and just want him back ....
I am so in love with him, yet am so very afraid.
Quick and rapid changes in emotion — often referred to by psychologists as “emotional lability” — are common after a person has experienced a traumatic brain injury. Changes in brain functioning can result in difficulty with controlling the frequency or intensity of negative emotions such as anger or rage. Often, this consequence of brain injury is equally disturbing for the TBI survivor and their family members.
Many parts of emotional healing after TBI involve making changes toward acceptance of new ways of life for the whole family. While managing intense emotions may continue to be a long-term challenge for your husband, there are behavioral strategies he can use to put a tighter reign on his outbursts. Likewise, there are strategies that you and your children can use when your husband’s new post-brain injury temper flares up. Because every family, survivor, and brain injury is different, the best way to learn which strategies will work for you and your family is for the whole family to begin participation in family counseling.
The most important part of selecting a counselor or counseling program is finding someone who is familiar with traumatic brain injury specifically. Some of the approaches suggested in typical “anger management” programs may not work after brain injury and, in fact, may have the potential to make things worse. Through counseling, a therapist will help your family to:
- identify what everyone is doing now that may be contributing to the problem behaviors;
- learn new strategies that can be used when your husband experiences volatile emotions; and,
- practice those strategies over and over again until they become a part of your family’s daily life.
Also, a family therapist may either work with your children separately or suggest a child therapist to work with them. Your children can work in counseling to learn how to handle anger appropriately, despite what “dad does.” They can also learn from a therapist that it is brain injury and not their behavior that causes their father’s mood swings.
Finally, your family needs to have a safety plan in place. Your husband handles anger in a very different way now than he did before his injury. Relying on his love for you and your children or on his good sense and judgment when it comes to managing his anger outbursts is no longer a sufficient plan. A safety plan will give everyone an option if his behaviors were to get ‘out of control.’ Identify a place where you and your children could go temporarily if your husband’s behavior became dangerous. Additionally, during a non-crisis time and at a non-accessible location (library computer, friend’s home, etc.), look up information on how to construct a comprehensive plan for the safety of your family. Finally, you must be willing and able to call 911 for help if your husband’s anger becomes dangerously explosive. Hopefully, you will never need to use these safety resources. However, it is much better to have the information and not need it than to need the information and not know what to do!
Emilie Godwin, PhD, LPC, MFT is a faculty member and licensed clinician at Virginia Commonwealth University, with a specialty focus on couples and family counseling after brain injury. Currently, she serves as the Family Support Program Coordinator for the VCU TBI Model System projects.