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Cognitive Corner-Developing Relationships After Brain Injury - May 21, 2013

By: Dave Anders

Therapy Manager at On With Life


During the February support group meeting, discussion centered on survivors’ struggles retaining, building, and maintaining friendships since injury. A wide variety of emotions were voiced including frustration, sadness, and anger. Are you a survivor who shares some of these emotions? Do you find yourself wondering where your “old friends” are now? Have you experienced relationship struggles with loved ones since your injury? I would like to spend the next several cognitive corner articles targeting relationship struggles after brain injury. This month’s focus will be to help you develop an understanding of the communication habits that drive others away.

While your brain injury may have caused physical difficulties, it has also likely affected the way you think, communicate, and interact with others. The first step in developing relationships is understanding how your brain injury has affected the way you feel and act when you interact with others. Once you have developed this understanding, you can then apply what you know to improve old relationships, develop new relationships, and improve your quality of life in general.


In the past, support group members have developed a short list of instructions to improve their relationships. The first step has consistently been “If you want a friend, you have to be a friend.”

So, what are some of the “bad habits” commonly displayed by survivors of brain injury that often get in the way of being a friend? Check this list to see if you do any of the following:

  • Do you say things that hurt other people’s feelings?
  • During conversations, do you talk only about yourself?
  • Do you often focus on what’s wrong with your life and the world?
  • Do you stand too close to people (get in their personal space), or touch them without asking?
  • Do you have difficulty asking about other people’s needs or feelings?
  • Do you find it hard to listen when others speak?
  • Do you frequently interrupt or dominate the conversation?
  • Do you argue or disagree often?
  • Do you often ask people personal questions?
  • Do you frequently refuse people’s offers of help or reject their suggestions?
  • Do you often forget to take care of your physical appearance?

Remember that relationships are a process of give and take. If you find that the habits above commonly describe your interactions, you may very well be unintentionally driving people away because you are taking more from the relationship than you are giving.


If you are not sure whether these habits describe you, find someone whom you trust (family member, friend, medical professional) and go through the list with them. In addition to identifying the areas in which you need work, ask them to give you some specific situations in which they saw you use the bad habit…and also some examples of times in which your interactions were more positive. This will help you better identify just which of the above you need to work on. Pick one or two and make a conscious effort to get better in these areas. If you can do this, you’ve taken the first step toward improving your relationships!