“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Remember this saying we used when kids at school were taunting or belittling us? Well, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I am sorry to be the one to tell you… it’s a big lie! Here is my take on it, “Sticks and stones may break my bones AND your hurtful words will forever scar me.”
Families endure incredible stress when a family member sustains a brain injury. There is so much to deal with on a day-to-day basis including appointments and developing new routines. Each person, including children, has to shift their role and responsibilities within the family. This may be temporary, but sometimes, it is permanent. The survivor has to work hard every day to accomplish what may seem like a small step to others. Their rehabilitation requires focus and energy. Overcoming fatigue and maintaining a level of concentration is often insurmountable for them. It’s exhausting for everyone.
The exhaustion leads to short-tempers and sometimes the responses to each other are not so nice. The injured person may lash out because they are frustrated, or in pain, or feeling overwhelmed. Family members also experience feelings of helplessness and frustration and they too, lash out.
When a survivor of brain injury has an outburst, they may not be able to diffuse the situation themselves. Or they may no longer have the filters to make them aware they are being inappropriate. Some individuals that I have worked with have no memory of the outburst once it is over. They either forget about it, or let it go and then falsely assume that their partner or children (or parent) should be able to as well. On the flipside, a family member may say something unkind and inappropriate to the person like, “What do you know – you have a brain injury?” They may apologize and move forward thinking they have done their part to smooth over the other person’s hurt feelings.
It is important for people to apologize for inappropriate accusations or statements. Generally, people can put this behind them and move forward together. However, when the outbursts (from both sides) become the ‘norm’ and occur on a regular basis, the scars left behind become deep and are not so easy to heal. Eventually the relationship becomes too strained and breaks down.
It isn’t easy (or pleasant) to look in the mirror and admit that you are responsible for being unkind because of being tired, in pain, or overwhelmed. You can be all of those things and you have the right to implement strategies so you can cope, but it is never okay to take it out on your family. The same goes for family members – you may feel overburdened, exhausted and sad that life has changed so much. You need support to cope with these changes; however, being unkind and hurtful to the other person isn’t an option.
All of this makes sense, right? After all, we know the Golden Rule: Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them do Unto You. No matter what is happening in your world, take responsibility for your words and actions. If what is coming out of your mouth is not respectful, kind, or loving, ask yourself this… Would you like to have the same thing said to you if the situation were reversed?
It is difficult in the moment, but when things are getting out of hand, try to take a step back and think before you speak. Remember your thoughts (positive or negative) become actions (positive or negative) and bring guaranteed results (positive or negative). Which would you prefer?
This doesn’t mean that families can’t argue or disagree. Those are normal occurrences in a relationship; however, demeaning, hurtful exchanges are not acceptable for any reason. Here is a little trick I learned many years ago in a course: If you stand facing one another and hold hands during the conversation you are less likely to say something that you will regret.
Be aware of how you speak and what your body language may say to others. If there is a need for improvement then make changes and do things differently. Each day is brand new and we get to make different choices. So choose wisely!