At some point during this 43 year “trip” I’ve spent living with a brain injury, I got fed up: too much of my mental energy was being spent getting frustrated and angry because of things other people said to me. That was the moment I decided that I should not allow my mental health or my well being be dependent on the words of others.
I saw that no matter how much I tried to teach and inform others about brain injury and me, I would never be able to control what they actually thought about me and what they said. The only thing to do was learn to control the one thing I could: my reactions.
In order to change my reactions I had to change how I heard things. When people made statements that I thought were misinformed or insulting, about me and how /my brain injury was/wasn’t affecting me, I stopped looking at it as an attack, and instead began to look at it as if they were just testing me. When I looked at it that way, what I had once thought were uncaring insults and degrading comments became exams; tests given to me in order to see how far I had come on my road back.
I would pass or fail the test based on my reactions.
Each time I went ballistic because someone said something I didn’t like, I was failing the test. Getting defensive and trying to “convince” others who wouldn’t listen or didn’t understand would make me emotional and cause me to lash out in anger and frustration. Not only would I fail, I was losing my power and my dignity.
On the other hand, if I ignored their words and had no reaction, I would pass the test. But ignoring wasn’t easy. I wanted badly to defend myself, and ignoring those hurtful words seemed to go against everything I stood for. What allowed me to ignore their words was learning to not take what they said personally, almost as if I didn’t care.
In order to pass each test, I developed these three statements to help:
I’m not made of glass, and I won’t break if you say something I don’t like.
I will not let the quality of my life or how I feel about myself depend on your ability to either, understand what’s going on with me, or to talk to me a certain way.
I recognize that it would make life just a tiny bit easier if others could understand and validate me, but I’m not going to expect or demand that because I have the strength to move on.
When a person said something I thought was wrong or they doubted what was going on with me, my immediate focus would be on not acting impulsively, and, instead, working to stay calm. I saw the importance of, instead of just reacting, stopping for a second to think about the three statements above to help calm me. These became my mission statements. Once I ran through the mission statements in my head, I was ready to not take their words personally.
Don’t Let Words Bother Me
Finding the strength to be solid and in-control was not easy. Certainly, in the early days when I was most vulnerable and a long way from being able to stand on my own two feet, I rode a roller coaster of emotions, made worse by my reactions to what others said to me.
When I pushed myself to take a hard look at what was really going on, I saw that my reaction to hurtful statements was caused, not just by what they actually said, but also, by how I felt about myself. When I looked deep down, I saw that the honest-to-God truth was that the reason I reacted so poorly to what people said was because of the low opinion I had of myself; if I hadn’t felt so helpless and unworthy, and, instead, had a higher opinion of myself, I wouldn’t rush to interpret those things people said as mean, stupid or insulting.
If I was stronger, those words would bounce off me as if were a superhero.
I couldn’t stop people from saying things, so I had to change the way I heard their words and learn to be that superhero by not taking what they said personally.
I knew it would be tough, but I had to find a way to be stronger and more secure in myself.
My Well Being
I don’t have to put myself at the mercy of others. I don’t have to let their thoughtless words affect me, and I have the right to live my life on my terms and in my way. The old saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me,” became my mantra as I worked to take my life back. I was all done putting my well being in the hands of other people by expecting or wanting them to be a certain way, and by giving them so much credibility.
Others can say things to us that can feel like a gut punch that sends us reeling. Words can really hurt. When others, especially those close to me, didn’t believe me or belittled me or my injury, it was incredibly upsetting, but fighting back by arguing or getting frustrated and angry was not the answer. I had to be that strong person, that superhero, and show them who I was and who I was committed to be; that would have much more value and credibility than trying to defend myself in an argument I couldn’t win.
We, TBI survivors, who can get confused about what our life has become and our position in the world, yearn to be understood and validated, but we cannot demand that or expect others to behave differently..
We win by showing who we are, and by being above the fray and not taking things personally, as difficult as that might be.
This is so wise all of it… thank you for posting, for being a guide to those further down the hill hopefully many of us (am a caregiver) will join you at the top, with grace, in time.
Bo Wass says
Very insightful and helpful Jeff!
I have learned a litmus test: If I get angry do I gain from that anger?
If (when) someone gets angry at me for something I have done: Did I do it on purpose? Was there intent? Can I fix it? Is anger a solution or gratifying for the one that berates you?
I adopt the “old hippy” attitude – Peace at any price. This attitude has changed my life.
Look forward. Roll with it.
bob smith says
Well said Jeff! However I think you might also include ABI survivors in your comments, we are all on a different roll a coaster but it’s just as scary a ride.
Your posts are very insightful and appreciated, keep up the great work.
Diane Besemer says
So true. Thank you.
Richelle Miller says
I just wanted to take a minute and thank you Jeff. I read your newsletters every month and it really helps me see things in a different way. Thanks again and keep on (if it makes you happy 😉 sharing your insights with us.
Great again! I learned this, but as you said… it’s much harder coming from those close to us AND we thought they understood. I had to get “harden” to those I didn’t want to close out… but mentally… it was sink or swim. Now I’m better and slowly opening the door… cautiously letting some in. It will always be my fault, and I’m not sure why I’m to blame… but whatever!God knows.
Grace Griepsma says
So VERY TRUE ! My sister ” thinks” and tries to analyze me.. She thinks what works for her should work for me and everybody else in the world . She didn’t have the fall. I did. Going on in my third year. Yes, she has had a tough life. She has a lot of wisdom to share, but the wisdom she should be using? She doesn’t know how to use. Dealing with her can be a challenge. She doesn’t offer questions but statements.. She suggested I see a Counselor to rewire my brain how I should think. Neuro fatigue is just in my head she figures. Well yes, it is in my head more than she realizes. Because I respect her, it makes me question myself. I’ve had to learn to place some boundaries, even before my fall. My other siblings don’t really care either way and have no opinions on the subject. Yesterday I seen my doctor and asked him for a name of a professional that I could talk to about how I can better help myself. Your reply and This article was most helpful. Blessings!
Are we living in the same body! lol. You know what? I found out I do so many things during the day – I am amazed at all I do …. it’s kind of creepy when I AM TOLD WHAT I DO… and yet, these are people who don’t ASK me, COME see me very much, DON’T educated themselves…but THEY are the EXPERTS of ME! WOW.
I hope you’re not wet with all the sarcasm dripping! 🙂 ha. The only people that have a right to tell us anything are our doctors (and they can be wrong) and those that live with use (and they can be wrong). The best person to ask is the expert, and if I’m thinking correctly today… wouldn’t that be US ? We, the people who live with TBI, are we so “OUT THERE” that we are clueless and have not an intelligent thought? YES, that’s us… no intelligent thought! (that’s not my opinion)
NO is the real answer. We are very intelligent and if we were listened too, healing would come much quicker! We are conditioned to believe we don’t know what is best for us, we don’t know what is going on, we are in la-la land, etc… While this might be true for a portion of a day, we aren’t as “stupid” as some think we are! And this is where I get weary. So I don’t try anymore. If I’m stupid, then I’m stupid. But I know what I know! And my docs know what I know. And I and my docs know that what others know is not what is correct.
What a waste of precious time… to label people and act on those labels instead of getting to know them again in their “new life”. We are on shaky ground at times… I”ve never had TBI.. or any of my conditions…so I’m learning. I’m educating myself. BUT, I am NOT sitting around having pity party.
CORRECTION” If I have a pity party, then I there is a time limit. Crying, sobbing is healing and letting out those emotions can help healing.
I wonder what our close loved ones would say if they knew that their actions or lack there of, are one of the MOST UNHEALING things we experience?
I love research and I do “studies” with some in our groups. What I discovered, which isn’t ground breaking… Doctors and Staff cause 48ish amount of trauma in a patients life. Family and Friends cause about the same in a patients life. SO… 2 – 4 people in our realm do not cause us trauma and it isn’t the 4 listed above! This says it all.
I will back up and say…. the post Jeff wrote about “I did that”? is very true. This is different that what I’m talking about. And I’ve ask that I’m told so I can be appropriate before it becomes a habit. I’m speaking of “all you do is sit around a think” “you need to do something in stead of sitting around and feeling sorry for your-self” “you need to do something”, you need to… blah blah…. Did anyone ask me? I’m told that being an advocate is creating a “victimizing atmosphere”. I’ve had some victories that are celebrated by myself an dog! I’m happy with the accomplishments I’ve had because I was swimming up stream. But I’m not asked. This is what gets me… My family would be shocked at what all I’ve accomplished (though not near what I could have if no TBI)… but HEY… I did something~!
I wanted to clarify what I meant!