How Does Ambiguous Loss Impact a Person with a Brain Injury?

Question: 

We hear a lot about caregiver ambiguous loss, but what how does ambiguous loss impact the person that sustained the brain injury?

Answer: 

Ambiguous loss relates to the fact that a person looks the same but feels like a different person. I just had a patient talk about this today who said, "I look in the mirror, I look the same to everybody, but I’m a completely different person." Ambiguous loss confuses everybody. It confuses the person with the injury; the person looks in the mirror and says, "I should be just as capable of doing my job as an attorney, as a receptionist, as an artist. When I look in the mirror, I see the same person who was there before, but when I go to work, I just can’t do the job the same way."

And it’s confusing for people; it’s upsetting for people. I have people who go to church, and the worst thing is that after the church service people come up to them and say, "You look so good, when are you going back to work?" And I’ve had survivors, and patients tell me that they broke down in tears when people paid them what seemed to be a compliment.

It’s just so confusing that people look one way, but inside their capabilities, their emotions, and their personality are all so different.  And until everyone — the person with the injury, the family, the people that see you in the community — can truly recognize those differences, which are hard to see and recognize even if they are a little easier to talk about, it’s really difficult for people with a brain injury to adjust to those changes.

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Posted on BrainLine August 8, 2018.

Jeffrey Kreutzer

Jeffrey Kreutzer, PhD a Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry at VCU. He serves as Director of Virginia's TBI Model System, a position he has held since 1987. He also coordinates VCU Health System outpatient services for families and persons with brain injury.