Real Talk: Dealing with Tough Times After a Brain Injury or Stroke

Toxic positivity is when people want to make you feel happy and positive when you're going through a hard time. This may be coming from the heart, but to the person, it could feel like their feelings are being ignored. While being positive can be helpful, it may be hurtful, especially for those dealing with brain injuries. When people face hard times, like health issues, they may feel like they have to stay positive because of what they are hearing from their friends and family. Hard times look different for people after a stroke or brain injury; for some, dealing with emotions and thoughts can be tough. For others, feelings like frustration, sadness, and confusion may be overwhelming. 

Toxic positivity can make it hard for people after a stroke or brain injury to express their feelings, get support and feel understood. Some impacts of toxic positivity include: ignoring emotions, which can make someone feel like they need to change their feelings of sadness, shock, or anger, to something more positive. There is a pressure to be happy even when life is overwhelming and hard. This may lead to the person saying things like, “I am good”, even when they are not. Toxic positivity can also make people scared to get help because they no longer feel that their friends and family aren’t hearing them or understand what they are going through.

Supporting people after a stroke or brain injury is important, and you, the caregivers, play a big role. Here is how: 

  1. Listen Carefully:

It is important to be good a listener when your loved one is sharing their feelings. It is important to give them space and the time to share their feelings and concerns. It is important to truly listen and be open. Your loved one is coming to you for help and it is important to allow them to express their feelings after such a big life change. For example: Imagine going through a tough time, but everyone keeps telling you to be happy. Being told to stay positive, can feel like no one cares about your feelings. Instead, show empathy– this means being able to understand and share the feelings of another person. This shows that you are listening to the person and showing them that you care. Phrases like, “It is okay to say things are tough right now” or, "I understand this is hard for you" can make a big difference.

  1. Encourage Questions:

As caregivers it is important to maintain trust with your loved one after a stroke or brain injust so that they feel safe to ask questions and share information with you. During tough times, such as after a stroke/brain injury, people may have lots of questions and concerns. This is the perfect time to create a safe space to encourage those questions. They may be curious to know about how their lives are going to change and how to handle these changes. Or, they may just need a space to express how they are feeling with everything. Ask questions to further explore their concerns together without judgment.

  1. Offer Support:

Everyone needs help when things are hard. Sometimes people who have had a stroke or brain injury may not feel totally understood by their loved ones you may not be able to relate. Connecting your loved one with others who understand their experience can be helpful in feeling understood and seen by other people going through similar hard times. Support groups can also be a place for people to share tips and advice on how to feel or get through different hard experiences. Groups can help people feel like they belong and that they do not need to change how they are feeling.

In conclusion, while it is awesome to have a positive outlook on life, it is also important to understand the harm of toxic positivity, especially for people who have had a stroke or brain injury. Life isn't always a sunny day, and when times are tough, it is natural to feel sad, angry, or scared. Balancing positivity with a validating statement like, “things are hard right now and that is okay”, can create a trusting and supportive environment while someone is adjusting to life after a stroke or a brain injury. As the person caring for someone after a brain injury/stroke, it is important to be patient, to respond to and respect emotions, and to create a safe space for our loved ones going through hard times.

Blogger: Rachel Delman, OTD, OTR

#strokerecovery #strokeawareness #tbi #braininjurywarrior #occupationaltherapy #strokecaregiver #tbicaregiver #toxicpositivity