Hearing loss & emotions
Noticing that you’re losing your hearing can be a shock to the system. You realise that you won’t necessarily be able to communicate in the ways you’ve always done before. You might start to find things difficult that up until now, you’ve taken for granted.
People react in different ways to noticing hearing loss. Some are keen to research information online while others may feel vulnerable, worried or angry. Some people have symptoms like tiredness, headaches, or stress, or become withdrawn. You’ll probably have a lot of questions – like what you can do to improve things, and what the future will hold. Some people wonder what’s causing their hearing loss and whether they’ll have to wear hearing aids. Not to mention how it will affect their family, work and social life.
The good news is that there are lots of practical steps you can take to get a better understanding of what you’re going through, and keep doing things that are important to you.
A few observations on our feelings and emotions
It is not strange to grieve for our lost hearing – it is natural and healthy.
Whether our hearing loss has come upon us gradually or has happened overnight, it is still a loss of something that we once valued very highly. When a dear friend or close relative dies, no-one thinks it strange if we grieve.
From communication being something easy and natural, it becomes a stressful activity which causes us fatigue and embarrassment.
At an obvious level, we have lost the ability to communicate easily and naturally. The things we once took for granted – listening to music, hearing the birds in the garden, the pleasant everyday chat that is so much a part of family life, the companionable feeling we get when taking part in a discussion with friends, the gossiping on the telephone – much of this may have gone. Hearing loss leads to a major change in our method of communication.
Most of our friends and relatives will realise this, at least in part, but what they find hard to understand is the way that deafness affects every area of our lives.
Hearing loss can affect our work, our financial security and with it our status in society. It can have similar effects to other major losses in life such as divorce, death or a major change in health.
In the workplace our loss of hearing may affect our chances of further training or of promotion. We may decide to take early retirement or to change careers.
There are more subtle changes too. Sometimes those of us with a hearing loss avoid situations where we have to communicate with others, withdrawing ourselves from family life, from work colleagues and from social situations.
Our personalities begin to change perhaps: from being outgoing and relaxed to being shy and anxious; from being easy going to being a little irritable at times.
Don’t suffer in silence
If you think you could have a problem with your hearing, it’s a good idea to sit down and have an honest conversation with your family and friends. Let them know how you’re finding things and ask whether they’ve noticed any changes.
Support from trusted people can really help you as you start to think about what’s happening to your hearing and how it might affect you. If the people you chat to have hearing loss themselves, they can share their own experiences. And if they don’t, then it can still be helpful to talk about what actions might be best for you. Lots of people find it helpful to take a ‘buddy’ with them to consultations and follow-up appointments. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that help the most.
How does bereavement affect human beings in general?
In her book entitled On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kübler Ross suggests five stages in the grieving process:
How do these five points apply to hearing loss?
- Denial. Refusal to believe we have a hearing loss. ‘The problem ‘really’ is that everyone else mutters.’
- Anger towards anyone related to loss e.g. ENT doctor, audiologist. ‘What I need is a cure not a hearing aid.’
- Bargaining. ‘If my hearing comes back I’ll be nicer to people.’
- Depression. ‘I might as well give up going out with my friends if I can’t hear a word they say.’
- Acceptance. ‘We had a wonderful holiday after all. There is life after deafness.’
Howard E ‘Rocky’ Stone (the founder of American organisation Self Help for Hard of Hearing People/Hearing Loss Association of America (SHHH/HLAA) recognised that the pain of loss can turn inwards and lead to self pity and bitter feelings.
He also found that since hard of hearing and deaf people are the real experts in the pain of hearing loss we can use that experience as something positive and help ourselves first before we learn to move on and to use what we have learned to help others. ‘Become healers … and heal ourselves.’
Tips for relaxing
Take time out if we feel our concentration lapsing or we begin to feel stressed
- Remember we also have a valuable contribution to make to conversation: so be assertive
- Tell people what it is we need them to do to help us communicate better
- Remind ourselves that we are important – we have a right to ask people to co-operate
Try to keep a sense of humour
- Relaxation, healthy eating habits, regular exercise and enough sleep all help
- Enjoy hobbies and a social life
- Work at changing our attitudes by thinking positive thoughts
Take practical steps to put those positive thoughts into action
- Learn to let go of resentment, fear and negative thinking
- Meditation, faith and prayer are helpful to some
- Accept our limitations
- Recognise all the good qualities that are in us and in those round about us
Realise that silence can be healing and may help us to develop a rich and fulfilling inner life
- Enjoy things which do not need hearing – such as the beauties of nature, literature and art
- Discover that other gifts can be developed instead of hearing such as an appreciation of colour
- Give ourselves permission to grieve over our loss of hearing