Be Proud of Yourself

Coping with Injury

Car accidents, work-related accidents, slips and falls, and other types of accidents can have a major effect on our lives. The impact does not necessary correlate with the extent of our physical injuries. Some people who suffer severe physical injuries experience little long-term emotional effects, while others who suffer only minor physical injuries experience serious emotional effects. Why does this occur?

The way we experience any event depends on a complex interaction of our unique psychological and physical state at that particular point in time. Our experience of events and reaction to them depend on our previous experiences, our mood, our beliefs about ourselves and the world, our personality characteristics, our emotional and physical resources, the reactions of other people, and a myriad of other psychological and physical factors. For these reasons, it is difficult to predict a person’s experience of a car accident if we look only at the damage to the vehicle. Many times, people walk away from totalled cars with little long-term anxiety and pain while others may experience long-term post-traumatic anxiety and chronic pain after an apparently minor accident.

Whatever emotions we experience following any type of personal injury or accident, we have a right to feel them. They are always real. They are not a reflection of personal weakness, but rather a reflection of the unique psychological and physical state at the time that combined to produce our emotions and physical symptoms. Our goal at such times is to use our inner resources to cope better and to help our bodies and minds heal.

Pain Problems

(see also Pain article)

Some people who are involved in accidents experience acute pain that becomes chronic. When the person has healed outwardly and appears to be physically normal, family, friends, and coworkers may relate to the person as if there is no pain problem. They may find it hard to believe that the person is experiencing pain because there are no visible signs of pain. This creates enormous additional stress for the person with pain and can lead to self-doubt, self-denigration, and depression as well as frustration with family and friends.

All painful sensations are real, whether or not we understand the underlying physical and psychological factors giving rise to them. The only way we can understand someone else’s pain is to ask directly about the experience. Just as we cannot know the reaction of a person who was involved in a car accident just by looking at the amount of damage to the car, we cannot know the experience a person is having just by looking at the body. Using a simple 10 point pain scale helps us communicate about pain and other sensations more accurately. 0 means no pain whereas 10 is the worst possible pain you can imagine. If your friend tells you that his pain is an 8, this gives you a more accurate indication of intensity than if he simply tells you, “It hurts bad.” Whatever number people give to rate their pain, their experience needs to be believed.

Psychological strategies for pain management are effective in helping people experiencing pain and other sensations, including itching, nausea, and stiffness. Since the brain is involved in every experience, when we alter our thoughts, reactions, interpretations, and emotions, we can change our experience of uncomfortable physical sensations, making it easier for us to cope with them.

Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms

Post-traumatic stress symptoms reflect anxiety that follows an experience that the person perceived as life-threatening or very frightening. This could be an event that the person experienced directly or one that was witnessed. Physical injury may or may not have occurred. Not all people who experience life-threatening or very frightening events experience post-traumatic stress symptoms. Our reactions to any event depend on our unique psychological and physical state at the time.

When a person develops post-traumatic stress symptoms, they should not be viewed as a sign of personal weakness but rather a reflection of the interplay of psychological and physical factors that occurred at that point in time for that person. The main goal is to help the person cope better. There are numerous studies that support the effectiveness of psychological treatments for post-traumatic stress symptoms.

The following lists contain common symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Not everyone with post-traumatic stress experiences all of these symptoms:

(A) Disturbing memories and intense reactions to reminders of the event

  • Frequent memories of the event on a day-to-day basis
  • Frequent dreams about the event
  • Flashbacks to the event as if it is occurring in the present moment
  • Intense emotional distress and physical symptoms with any reminder of the event

(B) Avoiding thoughts about the event and emotional numbing

  • Trying to avoid thinking and talking about the event
  • Trying to avoid going places and doing things that trigger memories of the event
  • An inability to recall important aspects of the event
  • Feeling much less interested in normal activities
  • Feeling emotionally distant from others
  • Experiencing difficulty feeling a wide range of emotions
  • Experiencing a sense that death is close or that one will not live for a long time

(C) Hyperarousal

  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep
  • Experiencing angry outbursts and feeling much more irritable than normal
  • Experiencing difficulty concentrating
  • Being excessively watchful and guarded for fear of injury to oneself or others
  • Startling easily when there is a loud noise or sudden event

We are biologically programmed to experience anxiety after a perceived life-threatening or very frightening event because this is a protective mechanism. Post-traumatic stress symptoms have a purpose – to reduce our distress about the event and to increase the probability that we will be safe.However, the symptoms can interfere with day-to-day life and get out of hand. If that happens, psychological treatment should be considered.

Brain Damage

Some people who are involved in accidents and personal injuries experience an injury to the head which results in brain damage. This can occur with or without a direct blow to the head. For example, many people who experience whiplash injuries in car accidents also experience brain damage because of the brain colliding with the skull upon impact. Even though the head may not have hit any object, brain damage can still occur.

It is not possible to determine the degree of brain damage or whether it has occurred by looking at the forces that were acting on the head in an accident. Some people with whiplash injuries experience no brain damage whereas others do.

People who have experienced mild to moderate brain damage after an injury often find it extremely difficult to cope. Since they appear to be normal to themselves and others, they often try to carry on as if nothing has changed. When they fail to complete tasks as they did before, they often become anxious, depressed, and frustrated. Brain damage that is severe cannot be denied. However, mild to moderate brain damage can be difficult to accept because the signs are often subtle.

One of the hallmark signs of brain damage is cognitive inefficiency. It takes the person longer to think things through, to remember, to organize, to complete tasks, and to learn new information. The brain needs longer to make the connections. This problem can seriously disrupt conversations with others, as well as day-to-day life at home and at work. It can lead to misunderstandings. Others may think of the person as lazy or unmotivated. The person with mild to moderate brain damage may experience self-doubt and self-criticism.

We now know that the brain can grow new connections if a person with brain damage works toward healing. However, the person must first accept that the damage has occurred. This is no small achievement. For most of us, accepting that we have a problem with a leg or an arm comes much more easily than accepting that something is wrong with our brain. The brain is, for most of us, the centre of who we are. To accept that something is wrong up there is especially frightening.

Psychological treatment can help people move toward accepting the problem and help them cope better. Treatment can also help them improve their brain function. Once a person is working toward coping better, psychological interventions can help the person emotionally. Techniques to help the person improve brain functioning can be tailored-made, often involving day-to-day activities at home and at work.

Anger-Management Techniques

Many people who experience long lasting symptoms after an accident or personal injury understandably feel angry about the impact the symptoms are having in their lives. They may become more irritable and experience frequent angry verbal or physical outbursts. Sometimes this problem occurs in day-to-day life at home and at work. Other times it becomes more evident as road rage.

Regardless of the way in which angry feelings are experienced, a person with anger-management issues can learn to cope better. Psychological treatment aims to help each person with an anger-management problem find the best strategies to constructively express their angry feelings without harming themselves, others, or objects. One of the most important steps is teaching the person to monitor levels of anger and to take action to deal with the emotion more adaptively and constructively before it peaks. Learning to deal with outbursts when they do occur is also an important part of treatment.

Some people participate in anger-management group therapy programs, while others benefit more from individual treatment. People know the approach and techniques that fit best for them.

Legal Involvement

Sometimes people who have experienced an accident or personal injury decide to take legal action. Psychologists not only help people directly by providing them with treatment but can also help by completing assessments and reports for legal purposes.

For further information


Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms

Brain Damage

Anger Management

More Posts


The information provided on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not professional advice or treatment and does not imply the establishment of a psychologist-patient relationship.

This blog does not replace your consultation with your physician or other medical specialists. It is recommended that you seek the opinion of your physician for any health problem that you experience. You should not delay in seeking medical help or disregard medical advice because of something you have read on this blog.

Although I have aimed to provide correct and current information, I cannot guarantee that the content is entirely accurate, complete, or current. This blog contains links to third-party websites for educational purposes only. I do not necessarily agree with or endorse the content of these links. Any information that you send to or receive from the blog is not secure due to the fact that the confidentiality of information sent via the internet cannot be guaranteed. If you are experiencing a mental health or other health-related emergency, you should call 911 or go to the emergency department of your nearest hospital.