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TBI Issue #2 – Aggression

Posted Mar 28 2011 12:00am

This post relates to the ongoing series Then And Now – Managing TBI Issues Over the Long Term which I’m slowly but surely building out.

I should probably call this TBI Issues #2A and 2B – Verbal and Physical Aggression, because while aggression can be a big problem post-TBI, it can take several forms. It can manifest as verbal aggression or physical aggression, but in either case it’s problematic. For everyone.

In my case, verbal aggression has often escalated into some sort of physical aggression I haven’t struck anyone in recent memory, but I have thrown things (occasionally at someone), and I’ve broken things as well.

It happened a lot when I was a kid, too. I would just get more and more wired and wound up, and then I’d just lose it. Flip out on my siblings. Or one of the neighborhood kids. I didn’t just get time-outs, either. I was considered a menace by my neighbors a real problem.

The net result? My family has always been a bit afraid of me, and they’re often on edge around me, when they sense my temper heating up.

My spouse is also afraid of me, on and off, and I’ve had to work pretty hard at not losing my cool, so they could start to feel comfortable around me again. The problem is, it only takes one or two episodes of me losing my cool, to trash all the progress I’ve made.

Back to square one all over again.

Or at least, that’s how it feels.

“On the inside,” it can be confusing and frustrating, as I often can’t tell that I’m getting edgy. All I know is, something doesn’t feel right when I’m having a conversation/discussion. It doesn’t feel “fluid” and I try harder to get my point across, the less effective I feel, and the more frustrated I become. And the edgier I get. And the more on-edge others around me get.

I don’t know if it’s a TBI thing or what, that I can’t tell when I’m getting edgy. I generally have difficulty figuring out what my emotions are, anyway. I usually feel like I’m happy, but sometimes I’m sad and I don’t realize it. Anger and fear both confuse me. For some reason, I just don’t “get” them, and I have to take others’ words for it, when they tell me I’m angry or sad. One of the confusing things is that I tend to tear-up over stupid little things. Frustration makes me look like I’m crying, which maybe I am, but it’s not the same kind of crying that comes from being sad.

It’s confusing. Which is frustrating. And anxiety-producing. And it just sets me off at times, especially when I feel like people are condescending to me or treating me wrong.

Verbal aggression is a bigger issue with me, I think, than physical primarily because I’ve learned how to hold myself back with the physical expression. I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble over the course of my life for beating on people, so lessons learned. Still and all, sometimes it does come up and I walk a very fine line between “getting in touch with my feelings” and getting carried away by them.

It’s funny – my spouse used to lecture me about not being in touch with my feelings, like that was a bad thing. But you know what? Not being in touch with my feelings and being somewhat numbed out towards them makes it a whole lot easier for me to not get sucked down into the whirlpool of emotion. I’ve had shrinks lecture me about not being in touch with my feelings, too, as though experiencing all those emotions was actually going to help me. Frankly, with the emotional volatility that comes over me, everyone is better off if I’m completely out of touch with my inner world.

I’m sure there are people who will split hairs and tell me about how being in touch with my feelings isn’t the same thing as letting them run my life, but you know what? I’m not sure that’s accurate. Frankly, I was much more functional, aggression-wise, when I wasn’t “checking in” to see what was happening in my heart and soul.

Paying a lot of attention to what goes on in my inner landscape frankly makes me nervous and agitated it changes very quickly, from time to time, which gets confusing and frustrating and pretty tiring, actually. So, I’d just as soon not do it.

What does this have to do with aggression? Well, if I can keep some distance between my head and heart and mouth, I’m far less likely to snap at people. I’m far less likely to get aggressive and go after people. If I can literally disregard what’s going on inside me, it actually helps me keep my cool. It’s when I start “getting in touch with my needs” that all hell breaks loose.

I start to feel slighted. Or overlooked. Or dismissed. Or ignored.

I start to feel sensitive. And raw. And vulnerable. Which I hate. And I start to feel like I need to defend myself from things and people who aren’t really out to get me they just seem like they are.

Of course, my shrink friends love to tell me how I just haven’t processed it all enough, but you know what? Traumatic brain injury has a way of really mucking with your emotions and your interpretation of them, so what am I supposed to do process a never-ending stream of constantly changing tsunami-like emotions? Please. No matter how much I may process them, they’ll never make sense, because they come from nowhere for no good reason, and they return to nowhere just like that. What a waste of time it is for me to process all that.

The thing for me is not so much processing my aggressive impulses, as it is recognizing and managing them up front. Once I get going, things pretty much go to hell, so it’s on me to manage the situations that give rise to aggression: fatigue, frustration, and feeling defensive. If I can just stay rested and keep my frustration levels down and take time to ask what the hell is going on before I jump to conclusions and start in on people, it goes a long way towards keeping me out of trouble.

But it’s never easy. Oh, no.

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