Anger is a common and particularly difficult problem after brain injury, often leading to unpredictable, destructive and aggressive behaviour. It can be very hard to be on the receiving end of someone's anger, which is often directed at those who are closest to us.
What can help?
- You may feel you already know what ‘triggers’ their anger. However, rather than tell them what to do or what to avoid, help them discover it for themselves.
- Design some experiments (or do some tests) with them, and ask them to rate their anger on a scale of 1 - 10 when they are close to possible triggers, e.g. loud noise.
- When you both discover a trigger, help them find another way to look at the situation. Suggest to them that rather than saying:
“Why have you got that TV on so loud, you are so selfish”,
it’s better to try:
“Please could you turn it down a bit, the noise bothers me.”
- Agree on a prompt or sign that you can use when you believe that they are getting angry. For example, you could blow over your shoulder, indicating “blow away your anger”, to prompt them that they need to calm down.
- Busy places can be difficult for someone with a brain injury, as it can be difficult to process all the information. If you see them getting angry in such a situation, encourage them to move away to somewhere quieter.
- If the person is getting angry try to direct their attention away from the cause.
- You may not always know what is making them angry. You will need patience to work out what triggers the anger. Even simple things like watching people chatting freely can bring up feelings of sadness and injustice.
- Recommend that your friend or relative looks through the Headway factsheet Managing anger after brain injury – tips for brain injury survivors (PDF). You could work through the factsheet with them and help them to use the suggested strategies.
- Think about strategies to help yourself. If they have had a bad day, and they dump their anger on to you, you can think of your own coping statements such as:
“That felt very hurtful, but I know you didn’t mean it that way”.
“What’s this about? You must be feeling in a bad state to be that rude to me”.
Dr Gemma Elliot, Clinical Neuropsychologist and Trustee of Headway Lincolnshire
"Anger is one of the many emotions which can be expressed differently, or be less controlled following a brain injury. Many factors may underlie the changes including (but not limited to) damage to the frontal lobes and limbic system, and overstimulation. It is also important to consider the impact of factors such as social circumstances, previous personality, and the balance between current demands and resources.
"Developing an understanding of what is going on for each individual is essential in order to direct the type of support and intervention required. Whilst hints and tips can certainly be useful, there is no one strategy which will work for everyone. Neuropsychologists may be in a position to assess and advise.
"As well as being distressing and confusing for the person themselves, altered emotions can have a significant impact on those close to them. Support should therefore be directed towards both the individual and their family. Sometimes developing the understanding of others (and altering their responding) can be the key to moving forwards."
Find out more
It is always important to seek professional advice and support where the effects of a brain injury, including anger, are causing a problem. Firstly, speak to your doctor who may refer you an appropriate specialist such as a neuropsychologist.
Many Headway groups and branches offer support to help people cope with the effects of a brain injury, and their carer support groups can be a great way to talk to others who are in a similar situation. You can also contact our national helpline on 0808 800 2244 or firstname.lastname@example.org for support and information.
Our booklet Managing anger after brain injury (PDF) gives more detailed information and guidance.
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