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Self-Confidence and Brain Injury - Fact Sheet

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Mental Health

Self-Confidence and Brain Injury - Fact Sheet

How we feel about ourselves can plummet after a brain injury due to many different causes.


A brain injury can directly lead to depression and fatigue which have a major impact on self-esteem. A group of brain injury survivors once met to discuss and find strategies for issues such as self-confidence. They felt that one felt confident when having a purpose to life, feeling loved, doing well in your chosen role, having hope for the future and being content with who you were. Brain disorders such as traumatic brain injury were seen as impacting on every issue discussed, with the result that self-confidence was always a problem following a brain injury.



The group found that the degree of understanding shown by people close to them and the reaction of the general public made a big difference to how they felt about themselves. Families who understood the effects of the brain injury and were supportive instead of critical played a major part in the brain injury survivor feeling more confident. This issue was a difficult one when there were no outward visible signs of a brain injury, such as a wheelchair or facial scarring. In these cases families were more likely to be critical of the survivor's cognitive problems.


Those who constantly compared their current situation and Acquired Brain Injurylities with their situation before the acquired brain injury had more trouble with self-confidence, as did those who could not cope with negative comments from others.


Assertion was seen as critical in becoming more confident. Many felt that they tended either to being resentful and sullen, or became abusive and aggressive in conflict situations.


The passive approach was seen as letting others "stand on" them and push them around. It also involves agreeing with others despite personal feelings. This often led to resentment and levels of distress building up over time.


The aggressive approach was viewed as people "getting their own way" by arguing, making demands, threatening and generally stepping on others. Although people who use this approach may get their own way a lot of the time, others often did not want to be around them.

They discussed how the ideal is two-way communication where problems are solved and the message is put across in a way that allows people to feel good about themselves. Survivors knew that they needed to work on communication skills so that they could see the other person's viewpoint and know how to approach topics appropriately.

The group agreed that body language was an important part of being assertive, including: maintaining eye contact, straight body posture and calm speech.

Sometimes it helped to practise what they had to say to someone else.



Survivors often feel that they needed to relearn social skills lost after their brain injury. As this often leads to losing friends and having trouble making new ones, this can be a major key to building up confidence again.


Being prepared to listen to the other person

If someone is tired or in a particularly upset mood, it is better if they calmly tell the other person that they are unable to listen, rather than trying to listen when unable to concentrate. The other person may appreciate the suggestion of another time that will be more suitable.


Listening and clarifying

It was considered important that people give their full attention when listening and ask for more information when needed, e.g. 'I don't follow, can you explain more clearly?'.


Acknowledging the other person and listening effectively

This was considered an important part of letting the other person know they have been heard and understood. The best way to do this is by acknowledging their ideas and feelings, e.g. nodding or saying 'I realise that you must be really frustrated about this too', or, 'I can see where you are coming from'.



People who have survived a traumatic brain injury or similar brain disorder have suggested the following personal strategies for feeling better about themselves:

  • Choose to spend time with positive people, not negative people
  • Become more self-aware and get rid of negative, unhealthy, unproductive thoughts
  • Take up hobbies you will enjoy
  • Set realistic goals and recognise small gains and achievements
  • Learn problem-solving skills to handle the bad times
  • Help someone else
  • Practise relaxation
  • Write a poem or verse that has personal meaning for you
  • Work on meeting new people and improving existing relationships
  • Make a plan for keeping in contact with others, and do something social every week
  • Be assertive and communicate your needs to others - not aggressive or passive
  • Persist despite setbacks
  • Join a support group for survivors
  • Look after your health by eating well, exercising and getting sufficient sleep
  • Use humour and see the funny side of things
  • Accept personal limitations while aiming towards self-improvement
  • Get into positive books and movies (e.g. Power of One, Shawshank Redemption)
  • Grasp opportunities, experience life and make the most of it!



Some survivors have found mantras useful. These are personal statements or affirmations that can help you get through a tough time. Some examples are:

  • If I change my thoughts I can change my world
  • If it is to be, it's up to me
  • Always stop and think before you act
  • Learning is an active process and I will learn by doing
  • Actions speak louder than words.


Many take comfort in the centuries-old prayer:

"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."



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