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Bargaining After a Brain Injury

Updated on 30 January, 2019
Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Alina Fong

Bargaining After a Brain Injury

Many believe the five stages of grief last weeks or months, but according to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler,  the stages of grief are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. As a reminder, we do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may experience one, then another, and back again to the first one. Let each stage happen. Embrace it, learn from it, and then keep going.

What is bargaining? 

Bargaining is a stage in the grief process that is helpful when you feel powerless over circumstances, especially after a brain injury. Bargaining is an attempt to regain control. Bargaining is frequently done with God, or a higher power, that you feel has some control over the situation.

Bargaining is similar to negotiation. “I promise I’ll do this, or be this, if I can just go back in time—or have  five more minutes or have one more day.”

It’s interesting because you know all the bargaining in the world won’t help, but it doesn’t prevent you from trying, begging, “Please? I’ll do anything. I just want my brain back. I want me back! The way I was.” You want to go back in time—stop the accident from happening, put on protective gear, yield to that stop sign, put on your seatbelt. If only, if only, IF ONLY.

You may get lost in “What if...” and “If only...” statements. You may find yourself thinking about how wonderful life would have been or all the things you could have done if the accident hadn’t happened. Guilt often accompanies bargaining. The mind tries to understand and explain the accident by recognizing things you think you could have done differently or better. You may find yourself obsessing about what you, or others, could have done differently in order to prevent the injury. Taking responsibility for it, whether logical or not, can feel empowering.

How long does bargaining last? 

There’s no way to speed the process along. You cannot bargain more or negotiate faster to move through the stage more quickly. But, you can journal. Journaling can help you process your feelings as you work through them. Document your feelings and experience of this stage. What it is like for you.

Ultimately, you can choose to come to terms with the new you. As you choose to accept the changes you will develop a new outlook on life, goals, and dreams. All the possibilities await you.

Why is bargaining helpful? 

Recognize that bargaining helps you feel power again, which can give you access to the possibility of something better. It helps you know exactly what you want, because you are bargaining for your life to be different than it currently is. Bargaining can help you see what you want to have, even though you can’t have it right now. You’re asking important questions that give you the ability to look and see what your life could be. Then you can develop the actions necessary to move forward and have the life you want.

You will naturally stop bargaining. It will happen. You may not even recognize when it happens. Still, once you have left the bargaining stage, you may find yourself returning again. Don’t get discouraged when that happens. As mentioned earlier, the stages don’t go in any set order and can be repeated a number of times.

This may all feel foreign and crazy to you, but all this crazy is normal. You are not alone. You will get through this. And then you’ll go through other stages of grief.

Embrace bargaining, learn, and continue on. You may not recognize it, but you’re getting stronger and stronger every day.


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