Impulsiveness after brain injury

Prior to my brain injury I would say I had a considered approach to life. Even when shopping for a new outfit, I might find something I was immediately drawn to. But instead of just buying it, it would resist such impulsiveness.  I would still visit all the other shops, as I hated the chance that there could be a better option out there.  After traipsing around for a couple of hours  I might not have seen anything better. So I would return to purchase the original one that caught my eye. Some people would see this as a waste of time and effort. Say that you should just follow your gut. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I was following my brain.

Impulsiveness may not be the answer.

After my brain injury I hated visiting the shops, I would give in to impulsiveness.

The world of online shopping has encouraged impulsiveness. You are able to browse items that have been difficult to access in the physical world. Online shopping meant I couldn’t try items on before buying them.  Maybe they would look better on and so I could be missing a gem if I didn’t give it a go. I was following my impulsiveness in hope to feel as good as people thought I should be. Coupled with my unreliable memory, I bought more than I should have done. But even when some things clearly didn’t fit or just weren’t as good as I’d hoped for, I didn’t bother sending them back. The impulsiveness was over, or ready to move on to the next aim.

I could be obsessed about completing an exercise without being able to think through the consequences of my actions.

One day, in the height of the hottest summer Britain had experienced in decades, I decided to remove the weeds from our drive. Wearing shorts and t-shirt, I sat on the drive which had been neglected since my accident 8 months before, and started pulling out the weeds. I didn’t put on any gloves, which was stupid, as any gardener will tell you. But worse than that, I didn’t put on any sunscreen. I was, at that time, still finding that the temperatures my body registered were considerably colder than reality.  

As I wasn’t quick at anything then, it took me hours. But I didn’t notice I was hot, apart from there was sweat dripping down my face. My neighbour saw me and stopped for a chat. She remarked on the extreme heat, and she I looked hot, and advised I should give myself a break. There was concern etched into her friendly face, so I decided I should go get some water.  As I passed a mirror on my way to the kitchen, I realised I had sunburn. I’d been so focused on the idea of completing the task I’d set myself, I hadn’t stop to consider how to plan and execute my mission whilst looking after myself.

Impulsive after brain injury


Even though James would try to tell me not to do silly things on a whim, I just saw it as him telling me I needed permission first. The Irish woman in me rebelled.

Once James had gone to work I would be doing stupid things because a compulsion had come over me. And because I thought I could do it, and would show him! Despite the fact that I had a pronounced limp, and was still pretty weak, I would be trying to move heavy things, just to prove I could do it. But even if I did achieve what I’d set out to do, I would be left exhausted and in pain. Which is probably what he was trying to warn me of. Why wouldn’t I listen? I’m sure I frustrated him, but also worried him half to death. Even before my accident I had fallen down the stairs many times, so he was constantly worried in my clumsy state, how me would find me.

After a brain injury your ideas can be unshakeable, and compulsions urgent. But plans might not be well thought through or adhered to. I know that can make us a bit of a risk, and make you feel like you might have a heart attack. But at the time we just can’t see that. And telling us no can make us grind our heels in even more. My suggestion is to tell us how another, simpler, less risky idea we had before is brilliant. Don’t say that’s why you are backing it, but draw on it’s other good points. Then we might see your positive attitude towards us as encouraging, which is better than always telling us what we can’t do.

Other related articles:

How has impulsiveness affected? Is there good tips for carers on how to deal with these situations?

Please share ideas and then post this on your social media so others can learn from your experiences and suggestions.

My brain injury caused me to have moments of impulsiveness. This often would lead to bad decisions if left on my own. But how could someone help me?


2 Replies to “Impulsiveness after brain injury”

  1. I am a licensed clinical social worker in NJ and am currently working with a young woman who was in a carnival ride accident about 2 years ago and subsequently incurred a TBI. I did not know her before her accident, but since she has told me numerous stories about her poor decision capabilities. She seems to lack the ability to discern between showing good judgment and poor judgment in her decisions. Purchases of big ticket items, trusting the wrong people, loaning money to folks she barely knows, and she is currently dating a man twice her age. We have been talking about how to put off making decisions and to ask the question, “Is this something that will help me or could it potentially wind up hurting me?” After reviewing a number of situations where she made poor decisions, she realized, after the fact, that her decisions wound up hurting her. I am not an expert in the area of TBI, but this article prompted me put down in words what I have experienced in the therapy sessions.

    1. Thanks Robert for sharing your experience, and I hope you and your client continue to move forward with her therapy.

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