Personality changes after head injury are by far the hardest TBI side effects to cope with, for both the patient and their loved ones.
To help you better understand this complicated issue, we’ll first discuss the causes of personality changes after head injury and then look at a few practical ways to minimize the effect these changes have in your life.
What Causes Personality Changes After Head Injury?
Personality changes after a head injury have two primary causes:
- Changes in the brain structures responsible for regulating emotions and self-control.
- Emotional reactions to their sudden loss of abilities
Damage to the frontal lobe can also lead to executive dysfunction after brain injury. This makes it harder for people to realize how their words and actions appear to others.
Brain damage can even make it difficult to empathize with others, which can cause the person to be oblivious to another person’s needs and feelings.
These effects end up swirling together to create the perfect storm that leads to the most common personality changes after head injury.
For example, a naturally thoughtful person might seem suddenly selfish after their injury. They might even say cruel things to people trying to help them.
Dealing with Personality Changes After Head Injury
Drastic personality changes often cause distress for family and loved ones.
For many, it sometimes feels as though the person they once knew no longer exists.
This can bring up complicated feelings of grief and guilt; grief because the person they love is not the same anymore, and guilt because that person is still alive.
Psychologists call this emotion ambiguous loss, and it frequently accompanies brain injury.
It’s important not to deny these feelings though and let them fester. Otherwise, that will end up only making things worse.
Instead, brain injury patients and their families should try to stay open with each other and work together to cope with their new normal.
There are five steps you need to follow if you want to accomplish this:
1. Acknowledge your loss
Traumatic brain injuries change people. They change both the person with the brain damage and the people closest to them.
Neither you nor your loved ones will ever be the same people you were before the injury. And that’s okay.
All you can do is decide your response to your injury by taking the necessary steps to begin your recovery.
And the first step is to acknowledge what you lost.
Be careful not to overlook this step. Until you come to terms with your new way of life, it will be impossible to find healthy ways to manage your emotional difficulties.
2. Identify Your Triggers
Most personality changes after injury revolve around frustration.
This is because the injured brain has lost the ability to problem solve effectively. As a result, they get easily frustrated and act out.
That’s why you need to discover the root cause of a person’s behavior. Once you do that, you can work on removing the triggers entirely or learn more acceptable ways to express disappointment.
For example, say your loved one frequently gets angry when they are trying to find something in the house. This most likely means they have memory issues and are forgetting where everything is.
In this case, putting labels on drawers might help them navigate their home easier and reduce frustration.
3. Learn Behavioral Strategies
If it’s not possible to remove the trigger, the next best thing is to retrain your brain to use strategies that will help you cope.
Just as your brain can rewire itself to relearn a physical action, it can relearn mental habits, even after brain injury!
However, it will take lots of practice.
For example, if you feel yourself losing control, come up with a safe word to use with your family to let them know you need space.
Meditation and breathing practices are other helpful methods for avoiding outbursts.
Sometimes you might need extra help finding good coping mechanisms. That’s where behavioral therapists come in. They can give you objective feedback and offer creative solutions to your problems.
4. Relearn Social Skills
Not all personality changes are caused by emotional reactions.
As we said above, a disruption in the brain’s chemistry will make it difficult to empathize with others and understand the impact of your actions.
But luckily, even though it won’t come as easily as it did before, you can still relearn empathy and regain the ability to recognize other people’s emotions.
A behavioral therapist will teach you ways to do this, as well as help you learn critical nonverbal cues such as tone of voice and body language.
They can also help you understand what actions and conversations are appropriate for particular scenarios.
Relearning social skills will help you handle the most severe aspects of personality changes after head injury. But there’s still one last step.
5. Go Easy on Yourself
By this, we don’t mean you shouldn’t try to change any unhealthy emotions or habits you might have.
It just means you shouldn’t let yourself get depressed if you can’t always control your actions.
Remember that you are more than your feelings. Even if you have several bad days in a row, you are not a bad person.
Over time, if you continue working on your behavior, you will notice improvements.
Advice for Loved Ones
Personality changes are sometimes even harder on family members than on the person with a brain injury. Here are a few suggestions to help you cope:
- Remember they are not totally in control. If your loved one says something cruel, keep in mind that they are not in complete control of their actions. The person you love still exists. They just have more emotions than they are used to, so they might say things they don’t truly mean.
- Take their actions seriously. Your safety is also a priority. Don’t engage or argue with the person during a violent episode and stand far enough away so you don’t get hurt.
- Set boundaries. If they do something rude or inappropriate, gently but firmly let them know. Try your best not to embarrass them, but make sure they understand they can’t do that anymore.
- Work together. Your loved one will need your help to make positive changes, so make sure you are actively encouraging them and brainstorming different coping methods to find one that works.
Finally, don’t let your relationship wither. Set time apart to do activities you both enjoy, even if you must do them differently.
Personality Changes After Head Injury: Conclusion
Personality changes after a head injury are distressing. But while you may never be the same person you were before your injury, this shouldn’t cause you to lose hope.
Thanks to the brain’s remarkable ability to heal and rewire itself, you always can learn effective ways to control unruly emotions and connect with others again.
You may even find, after learning new coping methods, that you are stronger and more resilient than you ever thought possible.