Those of us who have experienced a chronic injury or who have a chronic illness are used to being treated poorly by others.
You would think people would be more understanding, but apparently, that’s not the way it works.
We all have war stories. We can all testify to the number of times we have been insulted, demeaned, overlooked, made fun of, criticized or not believed; all because of the way we look, act or function. What makes it so confusing and frustrating is that even though we know we don’t deserve to be treated this way, we’re not sure how to correct this situation.
Typically, when an incident happens we react by getting confused, angry or defensive. We react emotionally; and that is understandable because being treated this way makes our blood boil. That helpless and frustrated feeling causes us to lose control and react impulsively, compounding the problem.
I knew that, in my case, controlling myself in these situations would be really hard but essential, and I knew I had to find a way. I saw that how I responded in the moment, in my frustration or anger, was probably not going to educate anyone or make me feel better about myself.
Something else important I saw was that, although what was said was directed at me, it really wasn’t about me. Maybe what was said was about some idea this person had in his or her head about people like me, or was said because something bad was going on in his or her life and it was making them frustrated or mean. Maybe their words had nothing to do with me.
So, what do we do?
There is no quick comeback or witty response we can make that will make us feel better or magically change another person’s attitude. Probably, nothing we do in the moment will help them see us for who we really are. So, instead of getting defensive or yelling or arguing, we should try to look for an answer that is within us; something we have control over.
We can start by calling these incidents what they really are: abuse. Abuse is never about the person being abused.
Dictionary.com defines abuse as: “bad or improper treatment; maltreatment.”
Bad or improper treatment can come from many sources and appear in many ways. Bad or improper treatment is uncalled for, emotionally damaging, and it stops us from living our lives. This abusive treatment hits us at our core; minimizing what we have struggled through and what we continue to struggle with.
If we all start by understanding that this kind of treatment is abusive and wrong and that it isn’t really about us, maybe we can find a way to deal with it. Maybe, accepting it for what it is, and giving it a name, will enable us to find our strength and deal with it better so that all of us survivors feel in control of our lives.
While verbal or emotional abuse is never justified and is not acceptable, we need to understand that we cannot change the abusive behavior of others by reacting to what is said. Instead, we have to take care of ourselves by learning how to deal with the situation internally and not responding to the words.
This is tough.
We want to respond. I know I did. I wanted to defend myself and fight back, but every time I did that I lost some of my strength and my dignity.
By dignity, I am referring to how you carry yourself in the world. In order to maintain my own dignity I tried to stay above the battle, and not get sucked into a war of words or an argument I couldn’t win. When I reacted impulsively and defended myself, I put myself in a no-win situation, where I could not teach anyone or make them understand , and I didn’t make things any better. I saw that even though I was supposedly defending myself, I really was giving up my dignity and my strength
So, I did my best not to react, and I tried my hardest not to take those words personally. I decided to maintain my strength and dignity by treating the other person better than they were treating me, even though it might hurt. By trying to be magnanimous and not falling into their abusive trap, I could maintain my strength and power, and I could walk away with my head high.
Even though you may be hurting inside, you can be proud of the person you are, and you will be hurting less than if you had engaged in some kind of verbal battle which you can’t win. By doing this your power and strength can grow, as well as the ability to feel good about yourself, and you can be proud of the person you are; regardless of what anyone else says.
deborah Marie says
this is Just what is happening and it got out of control i am at brain rehabilitation from the Gamma knife surgery i had. I realize i gave been verbally abused. I was in a fog from all the pain but now i have alarge amount of thinking components You always get the point across What a great Blob
hope you are well, my friend! Deb
Suzanne Fergusson says
Thank you, thank you, thank you for ths message about abuse and brain injury. I too have suffered both of the above and have been trying to write my way through this for the last 5 years post A.B.I 26 years ago. There’s so much to all this to both the Abuse and living with A.B.I/T.B.I .I have to write about this to share with others to help the best way I can. I am Grateful to have skills and capacity to write, so I am sharing this with you, fellow survivors. Good on us.!!! It’s dealing with people who do not uderstand that has made me stronger. I have grown as a person living this unexpected life. I have had to become more orgsnised so I know where tjings are due to my rotten memory. This is a skill that I didn’t have before A.B.I . I have become more compassionate to rights and well being of people lwith disability and those in minority groups. I this has given me greater appreciation and value for life. Life is to be lived!! Not just my own, but it hope hor all human beings to experience a rich (I I don’t mean $) and fullfilling life. I am happy to say that having almost died, I appreciate the value of life!!
The abuse bit is awful. Trying to get away from it. I will get there not much longer, it’s been 25years. HERE I AM!!
Thanks Jeff. Very insightful.
New Zealander/PCS Warrior!
What is a spouse to do when it is the TBI survivor being emotionally abusive? Then when confronted, they use the TBI as an excuse for their behavior. Does that make it okay? Is the spouse just supposed to take it because the TBI survivor simply can’t help their behavior??
*brain injury occurred 31 years ago.
I don’t want to be uncaring. But at what point is this just not okay?
Jeff Sebell says
That is a really tough question. Abuse of any kind is not ok, but it gets difficult when there are circumstances which influence the situation. We are dealing with human beings here, people trying to live their lives, and you can only judge the situation for yourself.I have no answers, only questions which may lead you to a place where you can find peace.
Have you spoken to a professional, someone who can be objective so that you can better see the situation, in order to understand what is being caused by the brain injury? Have you thought about creating clear limits and boundaries for yourself? Have you thought about what you are willing to put up with and what you are not?
I don’t know if you consider yourself a caregiver or not, but simply living with a brain injury survivor can, at times, be challenging. You don’t deserve abuse of any kind. I would start with that idea and then explore ways to help you live with this situation. Hopefully you can find some.
As I said, I really don’t have an answer. You will have to do some exploring and then find the answer in yourself.