Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs because of sudden damage to the brain. The American Association of Neurological Surgery explains that TBI “is a disruption in the normal functioning of the brain that can be caused by a blow, bump or jolt to the head, the head suddenly and violently hitting an object or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue.” An individual that sustains a TBI could develop an array of adverse physiological symptoms. Depending on the area of the brain that was injured, a TBI could affect an individual’s cognitive abilities, such as learning and thinking skills. Symptoms such as anger have been noted as a common clinical problem after TBI. The American Psychological Association (APA) explains, “Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.” As many as one-third of survivors of TBI experience symptoms, ranging from irritability to aggressive outbursts, that are identified as new or worse since the injury.
Many TBI survivors develop impulsive anger as a direct effect of the damage sustained to the brain. In other words, the parts of the brain that normally inhibit angry feelings and behaviors have been damaged and do not function optimally. In turn, a person’s anger threshold is lowered, and he or she becomes angry more easily and more intensely. Indications that an individual’s impulsive anger can be directly connected to one’s brain injury could be exhibited when:
- One’s anger begins with the brain injury or is made much worse by it
- Angry feelings come and go relatively suddenly
- Anger episodes are precipitated by minor events
- Angry episodes result in subsequent feelings of shame, embarrassment and/ or cause the individual to experience distress
- The anger is worsened by physiological stress such as fatigue, pain, low blood sugar, etc.
A brain injury can change the way people feel or express emotions. For example, what makes an individual angry after a TBI may be different than his or her anger triggers prior to sustaining a TBI. When someone with a brain injury has a problem with anger, it is typically attributed to a combination of causes acting simultaneously.
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