How “Invisible” is Hearing Loss?
A notion that feeds denial and hinders acceptance
Those with hearing loss look just like everybody else as they stand in a crowd. Damage that leads to this communication challenge is invisible to the eye. Ever smaller and invisible hearing aids help them protect their “secret” and so nobody will ever know. Or so one might think.
The tag of it being “invisible” tempts people of any age to deny and hide their communication struggles. I found out very fast that denial was a way of deluding myself that nothing had changed and that hiding the obvious was not possible if I wanted to function in society. Hearing aids only helped so much and my futile attempts at pretending kept me from accepting reality and from moving on.
Is hearing loss easy to hide?
No, it is not. Once the person is challenged to a conversation, obstacles to effortless communication become clear. Suddenly, there are plenty of visibleclues and behaviors that betray hearing loss to outsiders.
From support group meetings and presentations, here are some comments that people shared regarding their attempts and failures to hide the “invisible” issue called hearing loss.
The general lesson is that by trying to hide and deny, they actually attracted attention to their communication struggle.
· Bluffing or faking
Some reported finding out that this is a bad way of “hiding” hearing loss. It raises eyebrows for many reasons. Pretending to hear or understand when one does not, makes people seem disengaged and maybe even confused.
At work, it can lead to errors and safety issues. In my job, I could have killed somebody. Reactions to jokes or to comments are easily out of synch, which can lead to very uncomfortable situations. Bluffing all too often backfires and only reinforces the unfortunate stereotypes that still surround hearing loss
· Avoidance Strategies: Leaving; Not talking or Talking too much
While trying to avoid being drawn into verbal exchanges, behaviors and body language often lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations by others, in social and in professional settings. Non-communication can make matters worse.
Even with hearing aids, conversations in louder places are difficult. People mentioned that they felt embarrassed, left out or confronted and left a party or a meeting. That made others wonder about their abrupt departure. Were they angry at something or someone? Was there an emergency? Did they feel ill? Questions invariably followed.
Some chose to fall silent. They avoided eye contact so that they did not encourage anybody to get them involved in heavy discussions. At work they did not ask questions when they should have. Friends asked why they came to a party in the first place. Others wondered if they were depressed, bored, standoffish or even asocial?
Another defense mechanism mentioned was to speak incessantly. No interruptions or questions, please! Here, people go from topic to topic as “conversation” turns fast into a monologue. Not cool! Bystanders question this odd behavior. It is perceived as seriously annoying or as a sign of being self-absorbed. What is going on?
The way forward: Accept. Don’t deny. Get help
And so, hearing loss is not “invisible.”The way forward is to get a professional hearing test and to have the hearing aid settings checked. Ask for professional guidance in the confusing world of hearing technology so that you get the devices that help you best.
Accepting that life has changed will make a huge difference. It did for me. I went in search of help and support. Along the way, I learned a lot about hearing loss and about myself. I got coping skills and gained some much-needed self-confidence.
Now, I am up-front about my hearing loss. Nobody is left to wonder why I may squint or look intensely at folks; why I might ask for clarification before answering a question.
There is no need to prattle, fall silent or bluff because everybody knows that I am dealing as best I know how with an inconvenient communication challenge.
Most people actually respect that and many even try to be helpful. And, under the circumstances that is good enough for me.
For industry Hearing Safety Training or presentations, please see my website:
To learn about ears and hearing, please see my book on hearing loss: What Did You Say? An Unexpected Journey into the World of Hearing Loss, in its second updated edition. Sharing my story and what I had to learn the hard way.