By: Brooke Altstatt
Narcissistic, self-centered and insensitive are just a few words that are often names called to people with a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), which is a bump, blow, or penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Depending on the person and the severity of the TBI, symptoms can vary from temporary to lasting throughout a lifetime.
A loss of emotional empathy, meaning they have a lower ability to empathize with others, can be one social characteristic of TBI’s. In a 2010 National Institute of Health study, 64.4% of TBI patients had low emotional empathy scores and 60.9% had a higher frequency of alexithymia. These numbers suggest an inverse relationship between alexithymia and emotional empathy with TBI patients.
To put it simply, empathy and alexithymia are different sides of the same coin. Empathy is the ability to share feelings and emotions, whereas alexithymia is the inability to express and describe one’s feelings.
A person’s inability to understand and share their emotions can be damaging to themselves, but also to their friends and families. The ability to empathize feelings is part of what defines our interpersonal relationships and shapes our personalities.
Expressing feelings and understanding the emotions of people can be difficult for some patients with TBI. This can lead to miscommunication and feeling misunderstood and alone. These emotional and personality changes can cause them to be insensitive and less responsive towards others.
According to the University of Washington, these emotions and personality changes can bring on new challenges to a person; including, restlessness, mood swings, irritability, aggression, lack of motivation and lack of self-awareness.
The change in the person with a TBI is difficult for the person affected, as well as their surrounding family and friends. Learning how to understand their emotional isolation can be frustrating.
Remember, those who deal with TBI’s are not just dealing with the pain of the injury, they are also dealing with the emotional change the injury caused them.
If you are suffering from a TBI or know someone who suffers from a TBI, please speak with your provider to figure out the best method to move forward.