Managing TBI Among Friends, Family, and Significant others

Introduction: Level of Association

Witnessing a loved one suffer through TBI can be hard for any one. It is extremely difficult to witness if you are a sibling, parent, or a spouse/significant other of a TBI survivor, TBI becomes a task that you help fight along with your loved one. Associates, casual friends, or coworkers can be empathetic of the situation. But it’s nothing like the amount of work at home that family members and spouses encounter in order to support all the impairments of the TBI survivor. 

TBI survivors can struggle with physical as well as mental deficits.  Unfortunately, these deficits do not appear in a specific order or in an organized way, they are random and unpredictable, like drug tests.  As we wake up each day, we do not know what on our body will work correctly or need to be warmed up. This can be frustrating because one day I could complete a certain function and then the next day I cannot.  It was like I forgot how to do it.  This was how I felt about walking.  Some days were better than others and some days I could walk without pain, while other days I felt some kind of pain with every step! During the beginning of my recovery process, I was totally dependent! I needed help with bathing, going to the bathroom, taking medicine, along with feeding in some cases.  

It would be nice to know every morning, before getting out of bed, how well my body will adjust for the day.  Waking Up every morning is a blessing, but you know that you will have a full day knowing that living with brain injury is different and full of adjustments!

Would it be a challenge for you to  help your friend or loved one with these basic functions?

Struggles with communication

It can be challenging for family, friends, and associates to know how to communicate appropriately with a TBI survivor.  The survivor may not remember your connection and experiences together. Also, the survivor may misunderstand or misinterpret things said in conversation. In my situation, I did not initially remember everyone who came to visit me.  I might have recognized a person’s face. Yet if I was asked how we met, they might become disappointed when I did not provide details.  Being in a coma for four weeks, a lot of my memories took 6-9 months to fully come back.  A person who spoke to me before my memories came back may experience my response to them based on how I felt I was treated at that moment. If they were nice to me, I was nice back and showed appreciation.  I was going through a lot of things mentally. There were times I had a short fuse and may not have responded to people appropriately.  If you were among those who experienced these moments with me, I apologize. Everything that came out of me then was from a rough place. My frustration was deep within.  I was frustrated with my current status. I was unable to do what I used to do, and lost my sense of independence!  Even now, managing daily routines with TBI is like jumping on a trampoline. Every action, including walking, going to the bathroom, or feeding yourself, depends on each step.  If one step is done incorrectly, an adjustment must be made to account for the next. All I can say to those who  assist and attend to a survivor, please be patient with us.  We are trying to figure it out too!!  Please do not take any of our frustrations personally.  

Have you experienced some of these challenges in communicating with a TBI survivor?  

Did your conversations change from how you communicated before?  

What is sympathy, empathy, and compassion?

It’s important that friends, family, and significant others understand the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion, and when to show one or the other.  I did some research, and here is what I found:


To feel sympathy, it means you are able to understand what the person is feeling.  With sympathy, one can understand or imagine why someone is either going through a hard time or why someone might be feeling happy or sad.


Empathy is viscerally feeling what another feel.  Thanks to what researchers have deemed ‘mirror neurons,’ empathy may arise automatically when you witness someone in pain.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

It is not easy to differentiate sympathy and empathy.  The main difference between sympathy and empathy is understanding a feeling versus actually experiencing another’s feelings.


Compassion takes empathy and sympathy a step further. When you are compassionate, you feel the pain of another (i.e., empathy) or you recognize that the person is in pain (i.e., sympathy), and then you do your best to alleviate the person’s suffering from that situation. 


I believe having compassion is best. But it is hard to truly know and understand what a person with TBI is really going through.  It can even be difficult for a TBI survivor to be compassionate towards those who sacrifice and care for them. We are all like snowflakes and have different deficits and struggles, which makes it difficult to say what is the best way to respond to each situation.  

What do you think are some ways to be compassionate to a brain injured survivor?  

Schairer, Sara. “What’s the Difference Between Sympathy, Empathy, & Compassion?” Chopra, Chopra, Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.

6 thoughts on “Managing TBI Among Friends, Family, and Significant others”

  1. Another great and thought provoking article. In this day & age…..compassion seems to be in very short supply

    1. Hello Michael!

      Thanks for the feedback! Compassion becomes an issue because MOST people can’t say they’ve been in a survivor’s shoes. It is really hard to show or even understand what we might be going through. Especially, if you see me and I ‘look’ okay. You would never know what I am going through unless I talk or complain about it, and we all have our problems, so who really listens?

  2. You touched some true points worth paying attention to in ourselves and how we relate to others. Your TBI experiences speak for those who are challenged in multiple ways. We all need compassionate spirits for our fellow men and women. We need to step into their shoes. May your future be flooded with compassionate individuals. We pray for those who are not. For our Lord taught, “Blessed are the poor (humble) in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
    No one knows what our tomorrows will bring. Therefore, everyday we need to love. Thank you, for you are a soldier. Stay strong and keep sharing. God bless.

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