We each tend to be our own harshest critic. There is nothing that someone can say that would be meaner or nastier than what we say to ourselves. This is a natural part of being human; everyone does this. When our lives are going well, a little self-criticism does not impact our mood greatly. However, after a brain injury, when life is much more stressful, brain injury survivors may engage in more and harsher self-criticism than before. This can lead to low mood, anxiety, anger, depression, and in severe cases, thoughts of self-harm. Self-criticism can also lower motivation and overall success in brain injury rehabilitation

Self-criticism tends to be more frequent after a brain injury as survivors are often struggling with everyday tasks that used to be easy. Tasks such as remembering a grocery list, putting on a pair of socks, or walking down a hallway may be difficult. As neurons in the brain take more time to heal than skin or bone, the rehabilitation process is often longer than the healing processes that survivors are accustomed to. It is not uncommon for survivors to make statements such as “I should be better already! I am failing in my recovery!”

Moreover, survivors often blame themselves for their injuries.  In some cases, it is accurate that the survivors are the causes of their injuries (e.g., a drunk driving accident caused by the survivor) but excessive time spent on blaming themselves is often counter-productive.  

There are a few actions that can be taken to manage self-criticism:

  1. Be aware of what you are saying to yourself. Listen to your own words and thoughts. The first step to improving this situation is being aware of what you are saying. Friends and loved ones may help by pointing out inappropriate self-criticism.
  2. Talk to your doctors and therapists about the expected course of recovery from your brain injury. Often, survivors have unrealistic timelines and expectations of recovery so the self-criticism may be based on false beliefs regarding recovery. Remember, every brain injury is different, so it is also important not to compare your recovery to others.
  3. If you notice yourself engaging in self-criticism, ask yourself if you would say the same thing to someone else in a similar situation. Does your criticism consist of the same words and phrasing you would say to a friend or a fellow survivor in rehabilitation or different? We are often nicer, kinder, and more realistic to others than ourselves. If you notice you are saying something to yourself that you would not say to someone else, you are likely being too harsh to yourself. Try giving yourself the same encouragement and support that you would give to others.
  4. Sometimes, survivors mislabel self-criticism as motivational self-talk. Motivational self-talk usually focuses on goals and positive motivation. Negative talk like self-criticism is not generally motivational in brain injury rehabilitation.
  5. If it is true that you caused your brain injury, such as by drunk driving, self-criticism is still not particularly helpful. What is important is to recognize the error that led to the injury and have a concrete plan of action to avoid the behavior that caused the injury in the future. Making statements such as “I am an idiot to have gotten myself in this situation” does not help with future behavior. Supportive self-talk for plans of action is more useful.
  6. Make sure that you are saying positive self-statements that reflect your progress on a regular basis. Use these positive self-statements to replace your self-criticism. Some survivors benefit from identifying motivation quotes, such as song lyrics or Biblical quotes, to use as positive self-statements. 

Remember, be kind to yourself in your rehabilitation. 


Similar Articles

What is a Non-Traumatic Brain Injury?

A non-traumatic brain injury (nTBI) refers to brain damage caused by factors other than external trauma. These causes can include exposure to certain toxins, complications of an infection, or a symptom of a medical condition. A stroke is usually the...

How Many Concussions Are Too Many?

When you hit your head, fall or get tackled to the ground, your brain can bounce and move against the skull’s bony structure. This results in a concussion or a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and brings symptoms of varying...

Is a Stroke a Traumatic Brain Injury? 

Experiencing a brain injury is a harrowing experience that can profoundly impact a person's life. Depending on the severity and location of the damage, individuals may experience symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Long-term challenges are expected, and patients may...
© 2023 Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute
Back to Top