How Family Members Can Shoulder the Emotional Burden after an Accident


Seeing a loved one in pain after an accident that wasn’t their fault can leave you feeling helpless. Physical injuries often heal or improve, but many overlook the emotional impact of an accident, and it can be just as severe — if not more so.

Providing emotional support is one of the most valuable roles family members can play in their loved one’s recovery. In this article, Dr. Louis Patino, a personal injury attorney in McAllen, Texas, explains the benefit of shouldering the emotional burden and provides tips on supporting loved ones with specific injuries without neglecting your needs.

The Right Way to Open the Conversation

It’s easy to underestimate the emotional impact of an injury, but it can be challenging to overcome. An injury victim can still be dealing with the emotional fallout long after their physical injuries have healed. Fortunately, providing emotional support needn’t be a grand gesture. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for a loved one is to listen.

An accident can conjure complex emotions, such as guilt, fear, sadness, and anger. It’s not healthy for any person to keep such feelings bottled up, let alone anyone with painful physical injuries, so telling your loved one you are there for them if they want to talk can provide massive relief. Everyone processes trauma uniquely, so it’s crucial not to pressure your loved one to share their feelings — you don’t want to put them on the spot or make them feel forced to talk.

Instead, focus on maintaining a safe space, whether that’s sitting down with a cup of coffee and the TV on in the background and asking them how they are coping or letting them make the first move. Sometimes, providing the right environment can be as easy as offering a hug or giving them space and silence to process their emotions instead of hovering around them.

If your loved one becomes overwhelmed or isn’t ready to share, don’t force it. Likewise, if they want to talk, it doesn’t turn into a therapy session — that’s what professional support is for — but an organic conversation can still have therapeutic benefits.

Standing in Their Corner

Family members can also provide emotional support by being a cheerleader. Rehabilitation can be emotionally exhausting, and recovery is rarely linear. Your loved one will likely have bad days when they might feel they’re going backward and are no better than in the days after their accident. Reminding them of their progress and reassuring them you believe in their strength and resilience can help lift their spirits, steer them toward the positives, and keep them focused on the future.

The Emotional Impact of Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can have a significant physical, cognitive, and emotional impact. Some of the common symptoms of a TBI include mood swings, memory problems, depression, and difficulty sleeping. Sometimes, a TBI can lead to other conditions, such as dysarthria. Dysarthria impacts the facial muscles, making it hard for individuals to communicate verbally and often causing slurred speech.

These symptoms often feed into and exacerbate each other. When a person cannot sleep, they might be more easily agitated, just as they might get frustrated and lash out if they cannot remember certain information or others cannot understand them.

If your loved one has sustained a brain injury, patience and understanding are crucial. Try not to take mood swings and outbursts personally — they likely cannot help it and certainly will not mean it. If they struggle to communicate, resist the urge to talk over or for them. When they try to speak, give them time, ask them to use gestures or visuals, and provide an alternative method of communication for them to fall back on, such as writing or drawing. Ask clarifying questions if you need to, but avoid correcting them.

The Emotional Impact of Visible Injuries

Severe visible injuries such as burns and facial trauma can massively affect an injury victim’s well-being. A burn injury can cause a person to lose self-esteem. They might become withdrawn and avoid socializing or leaving the home for fear of judgment or unwanted attention.

They might intentionally push loved ones away, causing relationships and friendships to break down. Supporting a loved one who would prefer to be alone can be challenging: there is a delicate line between insistence (at the risk of being overbearing) and respecting their wishes.

It can be worthwhile seeking outside support if you’re in this position. You do not want to insist your loved one see a therapist or counselor, but you can provide resources and encourage them to start a conversation. A professional can provide coping mechanisms and, most importantly, monitor their mental health if your loved one has depression.

Taking Care of Yourself

Your well-being may seem like the last priority when your loved one has been in an accident, but the caregiver role can be physically and emotionally exhausting. There is truth in the adage that you cannot care for others if you do not care for yourself. Schedule time for self-care, even if that means asking another family member or friend to run an errand or look after your loved one.

Spending an afternoon enjoying a hobby or having some me-time can feel selfish, but it can leave you feeling rested and recharged and help you avoid burnout. A support network can be a great source of strength and comfort, whether friends and family or a support group for carers or families of loved ones with injuries and disabilities.

Here, you can seek advice and a listening ear and benefit from the emotional support you need. Seeing a loved one in pain is heartbreaking, but providing support as they recover or adapt to life with a permanent injury or disability can make a massive difference.