Stages of Emotional Recovery After a Serious Injury

If your loved one has suffered a serious injury, such as a traumatic brain injury or a spinal cord injury, it may take them some time to come to terms with what has happened to them. They may experience all kinds of negative emotions in the weeks or months following their accident. Of course, it can be difficult to watch your loved one go through this difficult experience, both on an emotional and a physical level. At this time, it is important not to overlook their emotional needs. On this page, I will discuss some common stages of recovery. Understanding these stages of recovery can make sure that you can help your loved one at this time.

Dealing with Grief

Your loved one may experience grief after a life altering accident. This is natural – they need to mourn the loss of their previous abilities and get accustomed to their new limitations. Depression can be common at this time. While depression can be serious, it is also a normal emotion to experience at this time. Other emotions that your loved one may experience are:

  • Stress
  • Rage
  • Shock
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Guilt
  • Fear

Your loved one may experience some or all of these emotions. They also might have certain triggers for negative emotions related to their injury.

Stages of Recovery

Your loved one will likely undergo physical recovery from their injury, which may include surgery, physical therapy, medication, and more. But, they will also have to recover from their grief. This experience is commonly expressed in five stages of grief. They are:

  1. Denial. Your loved one may try to ignore their condition or forget that they’ve been seriously injured. They may try to act like everything is ok because they have not yet fully accepted what has happened.
  2. Anger. As your loved one begins to realize that their injury is permanent, they may become frustrated and angered by their inability to perform certain tasks. In the case of traumatic brain injury in particular, your loved one may have issues controlling their emotions and lash out at others.
  3. Bargaining. Another stage of recovery is bargaining, or the desire to make sacrifices in order to recover things that have been lost. Your loved one may say that they’d give anything to get better, or bargain specific things in this stage.
  4. Depression. Depression can hit your loved one as they recover from an injury. Your loved one may feel helpless and lose sight of meaning in their life while they deal with this big change. This may make them feel sad, hopeless, and depressed.
  5. Acceptance. Eventually, most patients come to accept their accident and subsequent injuries. It is important to help your loved one get to acceptance. Once they accept their limitations, their self esteem will improve and they will be able to think about their future in a positive way.

Helping Your Loved One

Helping your loved one through the emotional stages of recovery can be difficult. Remember that it is normal for your loved one to be upset. But, the sooner they move towards acceptance, the happier they will be. You can help your loved one by being supportive, listening, and helping them make a plan for their future. Another good option is having your loved one attend therapy sessions. A trained professional may be able to help them come to terms with what has happened and establish healthy coping mechanisms.

For additional resources as you help your loved one recover from an injury, contact my office.

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