Serious Injury
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Self-identity after acquired brain injury

paul spence
4 min read time

In this “Self-identity after acquired brain injury blog” I will cover:

  • What is self-identity
  • My experiences of self-identity pre/post brain injury
  • My advice to others.

Self-identity is a combination of personality traits, abilities, physical attributes, values, interests, social roles etc. that you have specifically selected to identify yourself. Overall, it is how you define yourself and how you like to be perceived by others.

Pre brain injury, I didn’t use the term ‘self-identity’, but I had spent my lifetime learning, developing, adjusting and then maintaining characteristics I liked about myself. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, I was creating my self-identity and the many different experiences I had encountered all played a part. My self-talk had also helped to structure my brain in a unique way. Understanding who I was enabled me to live a confident, meaningful and successful life. That was until I suffered a traumatic brain injury.

After frontal lobe damage, I spent my days lost, confused and vulnerable. My brain worked differently: it was slow and tired. I no longer processed information the same way, my memory was poor and I wasn’t capable of doing things I had once taken for granted. Cognitive skills and abilities were lost. My thoughts, feelings and behaviour changed, which had a huge effect on my personality, function and outlook.

My self-identity had changed in an instant. A lifetime of work was gone – forever!

I didn’t understand who I was and I no longer felt comfortable in my own skin.

I was at the centre of a ripple which affected everything and everyone around me in such a negative way. This had a massive impact on home, social and work life. I often found myself thinking, “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?”. My loved ones had to grieve for someone whom was still there physically but whom was different.

I longed for my ‘old self’ and tried to act like the ‘old me’. This caused me to have unrealistic expectations and be far too hard on myself. It was daily torture that was both tiring and frustrating. I thought that being different would be a bad thing, like I would be less of a person. This didn’t help my confidence, mood or general recovery.

Time, patience, support from loved ones, neuropsychological rehabilitation and sessions with a psychotherapist all helped me to adjust and accept that I was different. Over time I came to realise that although I was different there were some elements of my old self-identity that I still had within me – values and mannerisms etc. I used these as a foundation to build from; I was no less and felt motivated to use my second chance at life to create a new self-identity and reach a new potential.

As well as appreciating the support I had from loved ones, I focused on the things within my control, such as coping strategies, healthy lifestyle choices, mindset, self-care and communicating effectively. All of this helped me to transform into someone the old Paul would have been proud of – my new self-identity.

The first thing I would say to anyone who is struggling with self-identity after brain injury is that you are not alone. The majority of people we see at P.A.U.L For Brain Recovery report feeling this way. Although there is no quick fix, looking after your health and well-being can help lay a strong foundation to work from. I recommend reaching out for support and accessing professional services like P.A.U.L For Brain Recovery to help you come to terms with the injury and help to build a new self-identity – someone you’re proud of being.

I know it’s tough, but it can be done. Please don’t suffer alone. There are services that can help.

For more information about self-identity after brain injury, or any of the services on offer at P.A.U.L For Brain Recovery then please contact [email protected]

Read Paul’s blog on ‘Self Care after Brain Injury’.

Read Paul’s blog on ‘Returning to Work after Brain Injury’.

Read Paul’s blog on ‘Coping and Compensatory Strategies after Acquired Brain Injury’.

Read Paul’s blog on ‘Mindset after Brain Injury’

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Self-identity after acquired brain injury

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