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Challenging & complex behaviours: domestic violence

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Challenging & complex behaviours: domestic violence

People with a brain injury often suffer cognitive, mood and behavioural disorders which in some cases can lead to domestic violence.

The frontal lobe is can be injured, particularly in a traumatic brain injury. This area of the brain is involved in reasoning, problem-solving and controlling our more basic instincts such as anger. An individual who has sustained a brain injury has often lost these skills and therefore may have trouble controlling anger and violent outbursts. In many cases, a brain injury affects social judgement and the ability to know what is appropriate behaviour in various situations.


Examples include:

  • An adolescent spits in his mother's face when told he can't go out
  • A grandfather screams constantly at a niece he used to adore
  • A husband hits his wife whenever he doesn't get his way.


Management techniques
Do not allow a pattern of family abuse to become established in your home. The moment inappropriate behaviours emerge the family should start discussing appropriate responses to the behaviour. Contact your nearest Brain Injury Association for information. 


Unfortunately there will be cases where a lack of self-awareness means that an individual cannot relearn these skills. In these cases, it is necessary to develop a behaviour management program to minimise or prevent violent outbursts. When self-awareness is an issue, don't continually bring up reminders of past violent behaviour. This will only serve to upset them and will not be conducive to change.

There should be 'family rules' of which the person is aware prior to coming home. If anger or violence could be issues it is much better to discuss and work these out with the person before they return home.

Do not take the abuse personally - this will only interfere with your ability to implement effective behaviour management. However, it pays to look at what the triggers were in each case and see if these can be minimised.


Treat each occurrence as an isolated incident. A person with a brain injury may not remember their abusive outburst yesterday. Try to find out what the triggers were and minimise these in future where possible.


Keep in contact with your support systems - you need to have trusted people you can talk to. Have a family meeting where all members are trained to manage behavioural issues in a consistent manner.

Join a support group in your area so that you can find out how others have handled similar issues. Do not allow yourself to live in a state of fear. If problems persist, you may need to consider professional support with a program geared at behavioural management. Your local Brain Injury Association should be able to refer you to specialists in this area.


The last resort
Finally, a brain disorder such as a traumatic brain injury can never be an excuse for domestic violence. If all fails after professional support, then you may need to begin looking at other options. In some cases the person with a brain injury may continue to regularly assault their partner despite professional support and a behaviour management program. Sometimes the only option left is to leave and take out restraining orders to prevent further violence after leaving.

The Brain Injury Association in your State should be able to link you with agencies who can advise you on legalities, emergency accommodation and restraining orders, and also help to provide supports for the individual with the brain injury.


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