People are often aware of how brain injury causes medical and physical problems. For many people having a brain injury also changes the way we think, feel and act towards others. It can also become more difficult for us to be aware of how we are affecting others.

Relationships and Communication

Communication can also be affected in many ways. As communication is a two way process it can be important to involve loved ones in talking about these changes.

It may be that family, whanau, friends, or bosses are important to us. Whoever it is, we want to support you to continue to enjoy these relationships.

Some typical difficulties for people after brain injury include:

  • Becoming more angry / irritable / short-tempered
  • Becoming withdrawn and less sociable
  • Finding it harder to read people’s feelings
  • Becoming more self-centered, talking too much about ourselves and not listening to others
  • Becoming more impulsive. This means we might say or do things without thinking and hurt other people
  • Having an increased or decreased sex drive
  • Having less contact, or enjoyable time with friends or family
  • Not being able to drive, which can affect the ease with which people socialize
  • Being more fatigued, or tired

Understanding how brain injury has affected the way we feel and act is an important first step. With better understanding we can improve old relationships, develop new relationships, and feel better about life.

Research shows us that around 40% of people with a severe brain injury find it hard to read people’s emotions and intentions using their facial expressions. In turn, they may also use less facial expression themselves, which can also make it harder for their loved ones to interpret what they are feeling.

Can you tell who is:

  • Happy?
  • Sad?
  • Angry, or annoyed?
  • Scared, or fearful?
  • Shocked, or surprised?
  • Revolted, or disgusted?

Frequently asked questions about relationships

How could brain injury have affected your family and friends?

  • The people close to you are also going through a time of stress and change, from the time that you first had your injury, through your time in hospital (possibly while in a coma) and throughout your rehabilitation. This can be scary for them!
  • They may notice changes in your personality which can be confusing and difficult to understand
  • They may be coming to terms with the change in dynamics and/or roles in the relationship
  • Some may feel very protective (or over-protective) – this is common after someone has come close to losing a loved one

It is very important to talk to your loved ones, and make sure that you know how each other feel.

You may be thinking a lot about how others treat you. You may have noticed that friends, family members, and co-workers are treating you differently. Just as important is thinking about how you treat other people. The way you act toward other people affects how they treat you. Think about how you’ve been acting.

Why is it harder to communicate my thoughts and feelings or understand what others are going through now?

Because brain injury can affect the way we communicate, changes may make conversations and discussions with friends and family harder. Possible changes include:

  • Difficulty understanding what is being said
  • Talking too much about one topic
  • Not being able to think of things to talk about
  • Not being able to find the right words to use, which can be frustrating
  • Having difficulty following conversations in groups of people, or busy places
  • There may have been changes to your hearing
  • Not being able to pick up on subtleties, such as changes to tone of voice, body language, or facial expressions
  • Not being able to manage or retain as much information, or lengthy conversations

What can I do to help?

Think ahead about what would help in an argument, and discuss this with your loved ones in a calm moment. Decide together about whether you will give each other time out, or how you want to convey these messages.

Everything is harder when you are tired. If you know you have a social engagement coming up, or you want to enjoy someone’s company at a certain time of day, make sure you have rest before hand or plan your day around when you know you will feel at your best.

You may not be able to return to all of the shared activities you previously had, so take some time to think of new hobbies, places to visit, or ways in which you can share experiences and enjoy each other’s company.

Friends and family may notice that you are having difficulties before you do, so they are an important source for feedback in your recovery. It is very important to discuss how you want this feedback: perhaps a gesture would make you feel less self conscious, or there may be certain words that might irritate you.

For example: letting people know that you need them to speak up as you can’t hear them; telling people to slow down or repeat themselves if you feel overwhelmed; encouraging family and friends to join in on a speech and language therapy session so that they can learn how to support your communication.