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February 28, 2013 / Mark Kerrigan

Learning to Be Less Self-Centered

The Problem:

People with TBIs tend to be more self-centered than other people. That was recently brought to my attention by my wonderful wife. For the first few years of having a brain injury, I was all I thought about. I didn’t have to think about anyone besides myself–so I was able to focus on what was really important–my recovery. However, one thing I didn’t learn, and from what I’ve seen of other BI survivors, is to be concerned with others–more than “How are you today?”

The Solution:

What I (and possibly all survivors) need to do is learn to put others’ needs first–at least some of the time. Learning to put the needs of others before my own is something I really don’t know much about. I mean, I’ve lived with a BI for almost 24 years, so honestly, I don’t have a clue to how I should go about shifting my paradigm. Volunteering? Really, I want some insights if people would like to provide them through comments here.



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  1. Janet / Feb 28 2013 7:36 pm

    What a really great post. I have always been frustrated when people with brain injuries are described as self centered. It was your job to be self centered. Your family and professionals evolved around your recovery. What’s really cool is that even recognizing the issue and reaching out is an act of helping others. You’ve articulated something I’ve never seen acknowledged. Since I have not experienced a brain injury I am not the best person to answer your specific question. I will, however, tell you that in my observations a lot of people, one really helpful way I have seen people do this is to make themselves available to others with similar experiences. Sharing stories and acknowledging similar experiences can really be helpful. It’s often a win/win because it’s still a little bit about you, and others get to benefit from your vast experience. Best to you on this journey.

    • onthemarkwriting / Feb 28 2013 8:33 pm

      Thank you, Janet, for your comment. I was not expecting to receive anything like this, but I really appreciate your words. (Wish you could see me now, I’m blushing.) I will take your advice and continue to post more experiences in which I was affected by my brain injury. Thank you again, Mark

    • spcole11 / Feb 28 2013 8:50 pm

      This is an excellent thread.

      Yes, yes, yes…it is indeed “our job” to be self-centered. In doing our best with a debilitating condition, we are simplifying and streamlining our interactivity (and *focusing* the time and attention of others), which is most assuredly an act of selflessness.
      Our injured brains make us ‘the center’ of activity: the outcome for some folks is obsessiveness. Being limited/limiting and “closed-minded” is a way to effectively manage “the soup” of things that pull our attention this-way-and-that. And we struggle to retain our focus on what is important to “the situation,” whatever the situation may be.
      And that itself takes a tremendous amount of cognitive energy — a form of self-sacrifice, putting the needs of others before out own — just to maintain the appropriate focus of our attention.

      Personally, in my case pre-injury I was a Special Ed teacher and a professional Personnelist for the National Security Agency. Now I have found that even volunteering ends up resembling the conditions of “a job” too much, and I can not volunteer for any meaningful amount of time. The energy it requires is just too great.
      I am not now, nor have I ever been *selfish.* I just do what I can do, and try to shed light where I can. Illuminate.


  2. Shelby Severance Bedard / Mar 3 2013 1:34 pm

    Hi Mark, I survived a ruptured brain aneurysm 2 yrs ago, and I now have an aquired brain injury, and your post totally hit home with me, I have always hated self centered people, and at the beggining of this journey, I kept making excuses for people treating me the terrible way that they did. I would just tell myself that they dont understand, they didn’t sign on for this, I tried to explain over and over again, but then they would just keep hurting me with their ignorance. then one day, I realized that I was losing sleep, and stressing, and worrying over them and using the excuse that they didn’t know for over a year, and that day, I stood up, and became self centered, and now a year later, I am strong, I am surviving, and they have lost me. Hugs to you, You need to be self centered until you are ready.

    • onthemarkwriting / Mar 3 2013 2:00 pm

      Thanks for your comment Shelby. Much of what you described happened to me too. But now, almost 24 years after my TBi, I’m having a hard time NOT being self-centered–I mean, I’m no longer an island unto myself, if you understand my meaning. I have a wife of 14 years and a son, so I think the focus really needs to shift from me to them–or at leas 50/50.

      Thanks for your comment, and may you continue in you recovery.


  3. Julie Hance / Sep 12 2013 11:45 am

    It has been 15 years next ANZAC day (25th April) since I had a car accident and received an Acquired Brain Injury. I still struggle today with it. This ABI has RUINED my life. Sorry it’s not a lovey feel good story. I had depression before my accident, and now depression and anxiety RULE my life. I wouldn’t wish a head injury on my worst enemy. Never felt so alone in my life. I’m self obsessed, but it is always in a negative nature.


    • onthemarkwriting / Sep 12 2013 12:07 pm

      Julie–I’m so sorry that you feel alone. You are not. I never had depression before my wreck, but now I just don’t seem to be able to get out of it. I always get out of bed and go about my daily activities, but I just feel kinda blah. Like you, my BI “changed” my life. I’m reluctant to say “ruined” because I feel that I have a Purpose in this life, even if I cannot see it at times. Yes, I’m self-centered, but I’m trying to work on that.

      I feel that God is using me and my disability to reach people and show them love and compassion. Who knows, maybe if I hadn’t had a TBI I would have gotten into drugs as some of my friends did after my wreck. I don’t think I would have met my wife (the best thing that’s ever happened to me) and therefore would not have been father to the most amazing boy in the world!

      I’m not one to view the world through rise-colored glasses; I know at times things suck and are downright shitty. But I realize how bad things COULD HAVE BEEN and therefore I’m usually able to focus on how truly blessed I am. Now don’t get me wrong, there are days I want to say fuckit, but I find when that occur, if I just shift my focus outward, that I don’t wallow in my own shit.

      Hope that helps,

      • Julie / Feb 3 2014 6:18 pm

        Thanks for the response Mark. Well it’s Jan 2014 and last year was definitely the worst year that i’ve lived so far. New attitude for me this year. I figure shit, I may as well be happy while i’m here. Struggling on mate!

      • onthemarkwriting / Feb 3 2014 9:18 pm

        Julie–sorry to hear that 2013 was shit for you. I certainly hope 2014 proves to be better. The key to happiness is to do something that matters! Help with a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Volunteer at your local animal shelter. (Careful, though, you can’t take em all home. At least that was what happened to me when I volunteered there.)

        For the past five months, I’ve been working as a caregiver, spending time with usually folks with a disability, fixing them lunch, helping them bathe, etc. you know what? I’m the happiest I’ve been in YEARS!

        Good luck. And hang in there. We’re pulling for you!


      • Julie / Feb 4 2014 5:48 am

        Hey Mark

        LOL funny you should say about disabilities, I’ve worked a longtime in that field and the shit wage you get paid in this country is a JOKE. I need the job not just for happiness, but so i’m not struggling from week to week.
        It’s been 14 years since I was in that type of work.

  4. Jim lowndes / Nov 17 2013 3:20 am

    I have been dealing with TBI for nine or ten years (I think).. Anyway, I have realized that the simple fact of losing useful circuits has more or less forced me to use all my energy to deal with and try to compensate as best I am able during the limited times my brain seems somewhat cooperative. Once my limits are reached it all just shuts down for me.
    I have a friend that just returned from his base attacked where he was blown out of his room. Back in the states they spent about ten minutes and told him he has ptsd . When I spent a few days with him, I told him to seek help for TBI because he was me as I was those early days after the injury.
    I find it is extremely difficult to not be self-centered in my situation, but like I told my friends wife; sometimes TBI is as hard or harder for the spouse as it is on the injured.
    I am trying to invest more effort and time with my spouse in communication not just about what it is like for me, but what is it like for her and can I do anything that will make it easier for her. Not sure any practical headway has been made, but the attempt at communication has made it much better for both of us and I feel more support from her.
    This week we dug into HOW she relates with me. What came out is that she is trying so hard to help me with my focus that she is exhausted. I realized that her well meaning attempts were actually making it MORE difficult for me to focus. Conclusion was stop treating me like I am a child and let me bounce back and forth between things randomly (which to her appears as total chaos) because my brain can only work at something until it tires, then I either move on to something else or everything shuts down. Now she feels a lighter burden as do I.

  5. Sean Chapple / Feb 3 2014 5:30 pm

    hello from South Africa
    2004 I had an MVA and suffer from TBI(depression is my king)the city I live in has no support basis,is there anyone out there who while chat with me?
    Sean Chapple

  6. cynthia / Oct 11 2014 3:47 pm

    I dont understand your post. I am with a tbi person that expectseveryone to hear his story wherever we go…the grocery store, walking down the street, its ALWAYS about him. If i injure myself he immediatley tries to out do my pain by comparing it to something he might have – no compassion or empathy just total focus on himself. What connects two people is love, compassion, mutual understanding, sacrifice…… can a r’ship make it if he is always defending himself with his tbi. And is unwilling to self reflect on his own behaviour b/c no one has it as bad as he does “because NOONE understands!!!!” Is what i get 24/7. This is 3 1/2 years after tbi. Im ready to call it quits. There is nothi ng in it for the partner/sig-other/wife etc. There is no, “oh honey, it musr be frustrating…can i do anything to help YOU feel better?” It isthe TBI persons show, the universe revolves around them and who feels bad for their partner? We get NOTHING! If we remove ourselves we are cold, not caring. But how much can we take? Does it get better? Help.

    • Frustrated Also / Sep 11 2015 11:27 am

      Thank you for posting that! There is a HUGE difference between concentrated self-care and being self centered. I am also a caregiver and I am TIRED. If everything is about you and nothing seems to change because all you care about is YOUR needs, then that’s a problem. If you are constantly defensive and always thinking that people who care about you and support you are underestimating and against you, that is a problem. That is NOT TBI. THat is an underlying issue of low self esteem and insecurity that unfortunately is magnified by TBI but that is not an excuse. We as caregivers are told to listen, be patient and not judge. But I think that there should be SOME accountabilty. I’m always hearing how the person I am caring for is so fed up with people using TBI against them but when push comes to shove, they are also creating and perpetuating their own negative cycle. And I am learning that yes, it IS always about them but I will also not allow myself to be manipulated just so they get what they want. I think these issues have to be separated from actual TBI in order for all involved to gain understanding and insight into how to help someone suffering from

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