What NOT to say to someone with a brain injury... and how to respond.

I have heard nearly every single one of these in the last 7 years since my TBI, and each one of them does the same thing: on the surface, the remark seems harmless, and sometimes even like a compliment! But underneath the surface it is very painful for the person experiencing a very difficult journey of brain injury, and actually discredits the brain injury experience. (Funny enough, I actually talked all about this in my most recent video blog called “You Look Fine! The Real-Life Struggle of an Invisible Injury”!)

Here are some examples of what NOT to say to a person with brain injury:

  • “you’re a lot better off than a lot of others who have a brain injury”

  • “you will feel better if you stop thinking about it all the time”

  • “where did our smiling happy person go?”

  • “you’re just foggy because of all the medications you are on”

  • “you were always like that”

  • “yeah I have memory issues too….part of getting old”

  • “just snap out of it!”

  • “….you’re lucky to be alive”

  • “well you look fine to me”

  • “just think positively and you will be fine”

  • “you don’t seem like you have a brain injury”

  • “maybe you’re not trying hard enough”

Source: poster by Wendy MacTavish Proctor (pictured below)

To my fellow survivors and caregivers:

When someone says one of these things to you or about your loved one, a way to respond is to say, “Actually, there is a lot that is going on beneath the surface that you do not see. I would love to share more with you sometime if you’d like to learn more about brain injury!” and then give the person an opportunity to ask questions. You may be surprised, that often the person is saying these things more out of simply not knowing about brain injury… they are not trying to be offensive!! They are just trying to relate to you! You might be able to open up a whole new friendship!

To those who know someone with a TBI:

Seek to learn as much about brain injury as you can!! Even though the person may look totally fine and you actually are trying to relate to the person, you need to understand that there are some things that you will not and can not understand about the person’s experience. A way to love the person is not to try and compare their experience to your “normal” experience, but to learn about their different experience with brain injury, and accept that they are not “fine”… even though you want them to be.

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