ABI and violence

I've had a bit of a violent incident with my wife tonight and I thought I'd start a new thread to ask you your opinions.

This morning whilst she was taking the kids to school I slipped on her coat on the landing and slipped down the stairs, hurting myself. I brought this up over the dinner, asking the girls if they'd left it there - no. So I asked my wife, who immediately stood and shouted something like "I didn't leave the f**king coat there!" and more, and stormed off to the bedroom.

I avoid her when she's like this. It feels totally unreasonable, totally unfair. She's so sensitive to criticism it's impossible communicating. Do you think it was wrong of me to bring up this issue?

My avoidance extends to bed, and tonight I slept on the futon in my room at the top of the house. She burst in about an hour ago, really agitated, asking why I wasn't sleeping with her, punching my body as I lay. It was frightening. What scares me is that one day she'll attack me with a knife, which she has threatened before. I'm not hurt btw.

She came back up again after storming out, shouting that it's all over, that she's leaving tomorrow and that I can take care of the girls, and that I can go to the couples therapy tomorrow on my own.

Have I just gone about this completely wrongly? Is avoiding her the wrong thing to do? How would you feel if you were my wife in this scenario? What would you do if you were me? I really don't know, but I know how I feel, and my capacity for dealing with this kind of thing is just about exhausted.

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13 Replies

  • Hello Ulysses,

    After I had my TBI I became something I'd cross the road to avoid. I was an absolute disaster of a nasty ba***rd; I didn't understand the effects nor why my friends deserted me [and with some immediacy] and I was left at home with my now late mum who did her best for me.

    There was friction and I took things very personally; even the simplest of remark with no venom in it would have me raging. On one occasion things became so terse that had I not walked out of the room I would probably have thumped mum.

    There was also the sexual side of things, for my girlfriends who never lasted very long as girlfriends I was too demanding - there was no regulation and when I didn't just see them for a few hours I was surly, punchy and basically well put out.

    All this occurred 46 years ago and now I'm not too bad. At the time there was no assistance available and certainly no Headway. Mum sought the advice of my GP and he told her that persons who are brain injured invariably hurt the ones closest to them. Sadly, I can't remember what was done, if anything, to alleviate this confrontation but it was just before I dumped the mind bending medication that I was on - the lot. I'm not suggesting you do the same but my GP was sympathetic to what I had done - if not a little worried about my life without medication, but I've mostly done alright.

    You did the right thing by staying away from your wife when she was not herself; I suspect that Headway can advise you better than I ever can. Regarding self defence around the house two items: If she rages at you and enters the kitchen do not follow, it's full of weapons. Whenever your wife looks as though she will be physically violent towards you open the gap between you and her to at least one and a half arms length and try to stand at right angles to her. All in all; when she's verbal just agree - that causes thought and may well defuse, in part, the situation.

    Hope this helps .... Good Luck.

  • Thanks B. It's helpful to hear that this is not unusual. I'm reading James Cracknell's book at the moment and he also lost control from time to time.

  • I wouldn't know what to suggest, other than seek professional help on this one. If I were you, I would contact the Headway advice team. As for the coat - annoyingly, I've had to accept that I have to constantly pick up and put away. Your anticipatory skills will become sharper. Keep in touch with us all on here. x

  • Hi Ulysses,

    Thank you for your post.

    It sounds like despite the couples therapy, the situation at home is really 'on edge', with fairly minor incidents triggering a major outburst of anger from your wife. This is obviously extremely difficult to deal with, and does need professional help as others have said.

    Apologies if you've discussed this before, but has she ever been assessed by a neuropsychologist? Behavioural issues after brain injury are very complex and can need specialist brain injury rehabilitation to overcome. Of course your wife would need to agree to this, but the fact that she agreed to the couples therapy indicates that in between outbursts she understands there is a problem and is open to therapy?

    I would suggest that you seek a referral through her GP, and given the potential dangers you highlight the GP could possibly try and fast-track this. Our 'Management of acquired brain injury' factsheet for GPs could help you here: headway.org.uk/management-o...

    We also have our 'Psychological effects of a brain injury', 'Managing anger after brain injury' and 'Caring for someone with a brain injury' booklets that could be helpful as practical guides. If you would like me to post these to you, please send us a private message with your full name and address (click our username then 'Send a message' on the right hand side of the page).

    You might also both benefit from the support of a local Headway group - I know you said there isn't anything close to you, but did you get chance to look into any of the London services? If you send your address through a private message, I'd be happy to help you find something suitable.

    Best wishes,


  • Hi Headway.

    I *think* my wife has been assessed by a neuropsychologist ...but there were so many assessments that I couldn't be certain. After she was discharged (2.5 years ago) we had what I think was called a psychometric assessment. The results that I remember are that she rated poorly on initiation but that her attending was good - does that sound like what you're thinking of?

    We've been referred for counselling through the GP previously, although this was in relation to her depression rather than Neuro rehab. I arranged for private psychotherapy when it was clear that the NHS referral was going to take so long, so when the NHS referral finally came through we used that as the couples therapy, which is now about to come to an end.

    On reflection I really don't think she's been ready for any of the counselling, although she's been happy to go along ...but she's happy to go along with more or less anything.

    I've PMd you re the other things you asked for. Thanks for your help :-)

  • Hi,

    I've replied to your PM with details of your local Headway, who should be able to offer some further support.

    It does sound like she saw a neuropsychologist after her discharge yes, they usually conduct a series of psychometric tests to see what effect the brain injury is having on a person's cognitive functions.

    All I'd say is that since the assessment 2.5 years ago her situation has changed, and in an ideal world another look at how the brain injury is affecting home life would be helpful. It might be worth speaking to her GP about this - another referral may not be possible, but as a more targeted 'brain injury' therapy, a neuropsychologist could be appropriate again.

    You may be right that the couples therapy was too early, and perhaps some further rehabilitation would be useful at this point, leading on to further psychotherapy. I hope our booklets will help you to work out the best course of action with the GP.

    Do let us know how this goes, and I hope the local group details are useful to you.

    Best wishes,


  • ive never had tests of anything i was sent back 2 wales from walton then no help at all, ive been cutting my arm with knifes my anger is bad good job im alone but people who phone get it i end up broken phones 2 i fling them over room in temper what sort help can i ask anyone for

  • Hi,

    The first 4 years after my brain haemorrhage my recovery process was very difficult.

    When me and my husband were on the verge of going our separate ways, we decided help was needed and quickly. We found Headway and took all there advice. The best being I see a Neuro psychologist (weekly at home) and the difference it has made is awesome. (See my blog Leslie Dilks and check out the pic of me and my man)

    We live daily with brain injury and it's not easy. I can honestly say for four years the bad out weighed the good......these days the good far out weigh the bad :)

    If possible, please take Headways advice :) All the best and take care

  • A bit of a stab in the dark (but having had it myself) has your wife ever been tested for an hormonal imbalance? I remember a few years back my personality seemed to change (and yes thank god i never had access to 'a gun cupboard'!!) and my behaviour was out of character - I would have been scared of me! It turned out that i had an hormonal imbalance, that is treatable! But then again if anyone had dared to have suggested that to me at the time they may have come off the worse for wear. Tread lightly and good luck x p

  • Hi everyone. Sorry for not replying sooner. I thought I'd let you know the current status.

    We're actually getting on much better at the moment and I think I understand why. I've thought for a while that a lot of my wife's negative behaviour was underpinned by vulnerability: she's felt exposed and totally unable to deal with criticism, and needed to protect herself so she put up her emotional shields: she presented herself to me as not caring. The aggression and occasional bit of violence (and it really is rare and mild) are just the extremes of this state, I think, anyway.

    What caused her to soften this time was that I managed to persuade her that I do not want to leave. From her point of view if she thought I wanted to leave her best course of action would be to protect herself in advance: persuade herself now that it wouldn't be a loss and wouldn't hurt to insulate herself against the loss and hurt.

    It's understandable really, although she didn't appreciate how this would alienate me now, and therefore increase the likelihood that I would leave - exactly that which she didn't want.

    She accepted that I didn't want to leave because I simply said I would have done so already if that's what I wanted. She's given me plenty of excuses after all. I feel lucky that I managed to find a simple argument to convince her of this. She softened immediately, for the first time in months.

    I'm coming to understand that she has an absolutist way of thinking: she isn't capable of seeing the shades of grey between us getting along well and us separating. All couples are somewhere along this continuum, but if we move a bit away for from 'getting on well' then we're separating.

    I've been reading a bit about CBT and how this can help with this absolutistism, and increasingly think it would be a good idea for her. We have our last couples therapy session tomorrow and I'll bring it up then.

  • Hi Ulysses, glad you're managing to work through things, I likened my new situation to being like a toddler after all I was having to learn all the basics of walking, eating, reading etc, so I allowed myself the odd tantrum and think how a child would feel at times, I think it has helped the acceptance because I should learn, like a child does, with practice and understanding from myself as well as others. I try to laugh when I find I'm being childlike, it does help. I first noticed how my brain copes with new things when doing jigsaws, at first the simpler children's ones weren't easy (and I railed against doing them) but now I do 1,000 piece ones with no picture, the wasgijs, not earth shattering but when I finish them I get a great sense of achievement. So, let's hope it continues to improve for you both, good luck Love Janet xxxxx

  • Hi Janet.

    I completely agree with you about being childlike. I don't even think of it as a metaphor - I think that the reasons children behave the way they do is that they lack the same executive functions that are often damaged in brain injury. It's literally the same processes that need building up again.

    It's terrific that reframing it this way helps you. It's great that you can see the humour in the situation. The big risk in my case is patronising my wife. She's super-sensitive to this. She hates the idea that she's not being treated like an adult. I think that there's still a gap between her self perception and reality.

    Thanks for commenting

  • I am so so sorry to hear this. I sort of know how you feel as I have the same with my husband. He takes everything personally & as a criticism of him when I broach things. It's so very difficult as I have spent the last year walking on eggshells not knowing what to say & when... What couples therapy do you have? My husband is currently at OZC for 18 weeks of treatment for this type of emotional/behavioural problem. It's so very hard for you & I really do know your pain. I would say try not to avoid your wife i.e going to bed separately.. But of course you want to do this to protect yourself. When was your wife's BI? My husband's was 2 years ago... Early days apparently. Do you get any help from Headway or anything. You need support too.. Look after yourself x

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