Understanding Emotional Outcomes
*People need understanding, empathy, and support
*Emotional outcomes can be complex and difficult to separate and address
*Feelings are displayed through behaviour, mood and language
*There can be a mingling of emotions
Following a brain injury, emotions can have either a conscious or an unconscious cause. Sometimes we are aware that the detail in our thinking patterns is creating a negative response on our feelings, and yet it seems impossible to break the patterns down.
People need very gentle handling following a brain injury. They need understanding, empathy, and support. We can usually sense and ‘see’ how people feel through their reactions. Behavioural responses, mood, and language all send subliminal or unconscious messages to us. A brain injury may mean we need to make adjustments to our habits and understanding.
Our emotions are a method that the brain uses to communicate with the thinking mind. This method acts as a safety mechanism because really the only other way that the brain can demonstrate that there are gaps in our data, or let us know that data is incomplete, is to pause or interrupt our thinking mind, which could be a nuisance or danger if it happened too much, and occurred at inappropriate times.
Negative emotions can create a myriad of symptoms, outcomes, and behavioural changes, and it can be challenging to know what is causing what. People can feel as though they are swimming against an out-going tide, and can get to a point where they can no longer put a brave face on things.
Getting help at the earlier stages can help to prevent mental health issues, and it is vital to seek medical advice rather than thinking that things will pass or clear up on their own.
It is imperative not to jump to the conclusion that change events cause all emotional changes. Difficulties in understanding can also arise from both the physical, neurological changes and the bio-chemical cascade that follows an injury. It is important to address these causes and not to overlook them.
Apathy – Apathy can often be misconstrued as laziness, or as someone having an attitude problem. Very often, these signs have a deeper cause. Apathy is the result of damage to frontal lobe structures and mainly affect motivation and the ability to forward plan.
Apathy is not only the result of possible emotional changes – but executive skills impairment can also produce apathetic responses.
Structure and routine can make a massive difference to people who are struggling with apathy. It is essential to recognise that people may no longer understand what is necessary or be able to process information. For example, they may be able to see a pile of washing up in the sink, but this information may not be processed further than recognising the picture they see.
Apathy can be mistaken for depression and vice versa. It can be essential to notice the difference, as left untreated, depression can become a severe long-term problem. It is best to nip this in the bud and structure can help you notice the difference.
Use to-do lists, planners and whiteboards. However, you need to take into account that someone may have difficulty understanding why or how to do a task. Even those chores which we generally consider to be simple and straightforward can be confusing for people living with brain injury outcomes and symptoms.
Mood swings – Mood swings are often termed ’emotional lability’ and cover a range of emotional states that are more extreme than usual. Minor events can trigger a variety of emotional responses, such as laughing, crying, or anger.
The pendulum swings beyond the normal ranges and yet, responses may feel as though they were appropriate. Constantly correcting someone can make them feel inappropriately criticised, as internally, their responses ‘feel’ as natural as they always have. Some people are more aware than others, and it is vital to give people room to work things out for themselves if you can.
So, instead of telling someone that their reaction was inappropriate, start by asking them if it felt appropriate to them. People may need a lot of support, especially if their awareness allows them to feel embarrassment or shame.
These responses, when recognised, can add further emotional distress. Everyone must remember that these effects result from brain injury and are not a reflection of someone’s personality.
While challenging to live with, it is essential to be patient and to remain calm. These symptoms do usually correct themselves in time as people relearn appropriate behaviours and social skills. This relearning starts by using reflective techniques that encourage personal feedback and understanding.
Things that help
Feedback is vital, but it is best not to give this until behavioural changes are better understood. Enlist the help of a neuropsychologist. Ask your doctor for a referral.
Managing behavioural changes starts with awareness. Identifying triggers can help you to steer clear of situations that produce heightened responses. It is important to remember that the brain is reacting – not the person – so it isn’t as easy as being aware of when you may need to be more controlled or learning to pause before responding.
Often the ‘control’ mechanisms have ‘gone’ so it is rather like trying to drive in a nail without a hammer. Often relearning has to start from scratch. Keep faith that this learning process is always happening even if the changes appear to be slow in coming.