PTSD/TBI Factor #3 – Extent of brutality

Brutality comes in all shapes and sizes

This is a continuation of the discussion about PTSD from TBI – Exploring some possibilities.

Ah, here’s an interesting one… that is particularly strongly colored by TBI — Extent of Brutality — as in, how personal was it? Was it brutal? Was it intentional? Belleruth Naparstek tells us

“Atrocities and interpersonal violence have a more devastating effect on the human spirit and psyche than, say, a natural disaster, even though both can be equally terrifying, life threatening, and consequential in terms of actual injury or material damage suffered. When people are subjected to malevolence and brutality at the hands of their fellow human beings, the ravaging symptoms of PTSD go wider and deeper.” (from Invisible Heroes, p. 50)

And this is where TBI is especially troublesome. Because the pain inflicted by others can be real, or it can be imagined, but either way it hits hard and it strikes deep. In fact, it hits harder and strikes deeper than anyone would reasonably expect it to. With emotional lability, the volatile hair-trigger stuff going on, and a ton of other amped-up nervous system reactions, everything can take on a sense of personal attack. When you’re addled by TBI and your sympathetic fight-flight system is in overdrive, it’s easy to perceive every less-than-perfect interaction as some kind of attack or a personal slight or injury. ‘Cause your rewired brain has got its wires crossed and it tends to take things the wrong way.

On top of that, “regular” people are generally not very kind to people with TBI. There’s something about us that seems to prompt their laughter, even scorn… and who in the TBI ranks hasn’t been on the receiving end of ridicule or accusation because someone thought we were either lazy or faking or not trying hard enough… or just plain stupid?

It’s a nasty little mix, that — the real difficulties along with the perceived danger along with the hyper-activated fight-flight impulse that has all those stress hormones marinating your body, mind and soul, day and night… which in turn impedes your ability to think straight about much of anything important.

People don’t even need to BE brutal towards us, for us to sense a certain brutality to the interactions. Having a botched conversation with someone and having your system go haywire with all sorts of doomsday messages and klaxon alarms has a way of giving even the most harmless of misunderstandings a sharp, jagged edge that tears the living crap out of our sense of who we are and what we’re capable of in life. The brutality seems to be at the hands of others, but it’s really at the hands of our rearranged nervous systems and our rewired brains… which is about the most intimate kind of insult you can live through, day after day.

Indeed, if we are our best friends or our worst enemies, with TBI, things tend to get skewed to the latter. And god help you if you try to fight back. There’s no fighting a battered brain — because it beats back, even harder than before.

So there it is. Brutality can come in all shapes and sizes. And when it comes from within, man is it a bitch.

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Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

5 thoughts on “PTSD/TBI Factor #3 – Extent of brutality”

  1. Way true.

    You know, I never would have guessed that a lot of things I do and say were “stupid” if other people weren’t so intent on reminding me that they think so. Unfortunately, people don’t always have a lot of imagination. And they tend to err on the side of aggressive ignorance. Oh well. I just have to keep reminding myself that their judgments are more about them than about me. That does help some.

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  2. I am so grateful for your presence, your thoughts, your wisdom. Like you, I’ve survived many brain injuries since…well, birth. An mTBI five years ago — a fall in a pool, face smashed into the concrete bottom — tipped the scales and now … Now I’m permanently altered. I’m also nearly 60 years old (that in itself is a shock!), and aging, menopause, and the accelerated aging (evidence: MRI x2 — too much white matter across the entire brain surface) of injury have all contributed to a wonky presentation of self.

    Brutality? How about the psychiatrist with whom I consulted, once (insurance-mandated), who asked, ten minutes into the interview while flicking through the pages in my file, “Was your brain injury … self-diagnosed?”

    The compounding of TBI with trauma that is deliberately inflicted (as in, a person who batters you about the head/face) is horrific.

    It takes deliberate, constant tenderness with oneself to soften the emotional effects (and often, the pain) … very challenging to do, when the ability to emote “softly” (gently) and thinking with mercy towards the self is all but obliterated. On the other hand, one of my aunts had two strokes. Before stroke #1, her character/personality was rife with frazzled nerves and panic. After the stroke — the injury itself being terrible, and this one effect being a gift — she became *content*. She became quiet, giggly, delighted with being alive and with everything/everyone she encountered. Our family was astounded. The damage had also somehow softened the internal stress that probably contributed to the stroke in the first place. (I’m reminded here of Jill Bolte Taylor, whose stroke opened her brain/mind into infinite directions and a deep sense of love and coherence. So many mysteries…)

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  3. Thank you for writing and for your kind words. Our stories really are amazing, and it’s always surprising (not surprising) when we compare notes on medical treatment. How does it happen, that there are so many uncompassionate doctors who just say whatever they please to us? It’s a mystery. But then, brain injury education isn’t very advanced, from what I understand — especially afterwards. There’s just not enough medically recognized information out there. And then it takes years and years to get into the curriculum. So, there we are.

    Yes, personalities can totally change after stroke. And sometimes they work in our favor. As rough as brain injury can be, it sometimes brings welcome changes. I’m only recently settling down into my job, after job-hopping for 10+ years. I realize I can’t keep pushing myself from one job to the next. My brain won’t let me.

    So, that’s fine. It’s actually good for me.

    Best of luck on your journey. Hang in there…

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