Everyone loses their patience from time to time – even the kindest, most loving souls among us. Most of us can rebound fairly quickly with a five-minute time out, a glass of wine or a couple deep breaths of fresh air.
Yet for some people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury, things are different. These people cannot avoid losing their patience. They have trouble controlling their tendency toward insensitivity and they act self-centered.
How does this happen? It’s simple: The wiring in the brain that connects to our ability to empathize, feel and relate on a sensitive and emotional level is crossed when a traumatic brain injury occurs. As a result, those with traumatic brain injuries lack the ability to demonstrate the empathy of which they were once capable. This can become a problem for those around them.
Mood swings and angry outbursts are difficult to cope with under the best of circumstances. Add to the situation the stress of dealing with a loved one’s injury, and getting through this with ease may be easier said than done. The first thing you must know is that you are not alone.
A recent study revealed evidence that there is, in fact, a key relationship between physiological responses to anger and the reduction of emotional empathy. Prominent researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia rallied together to uncover and explore whether physiological responses to emotions coincide with a person’s ability to show emotional empathy. After using a simple questionnaire to learn the emotional empathy abilities of the participants, researchers used facial electromyography to measure their facial expressions.
What the researchers uncovered was rather interesting. They found that the control group (those without any traumatic brain injuries) responded and reacted with a high level of emotional empathy. On the contrary, those that had suffered a traumatic brain injury demonstrated much lower levels of emotional empathy and were less responsive to facial expressions of emotions, particularly to that of anger. The code was cracked: The reduction in emotional empathy was related to the reduced physiological responses to angry faces.
The study revealed that as the brain injury occurred, not only was a person’s brain injured – but their ability to sympathize and empathize with those around them was injured, too.
If your loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury, know that you are not alone. Understand this phenomenon. Remember who your loved one was prior to the injury. Do your best to be supportive of them and their situation, and try to avoid being judgmental. Watch your own communication style, and attempt to offer a positive and empathetic example to them.