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Communication Practices Emotions, Psychological Stress Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Mental Health & Hearing Loss Personal advocacy

Hearing Loss and Collateral Damage

With Gloria Pelletier, LCSW, LISAC

Hearing Loss LIVE! teams up with Gloria Pelletier to take another look at the mental health side of hearing loss.

Collateral Damage Definition: Injury inflicted on something other than an intended target.

How does collateral damage apply to hearing loss? 

Hearing loss hurts us in unknown ways. It also unintentionally affects the hearing people in our lives. This is especially so when we are not upfront about our hearing loss. 

A smiling white lady with long silvery hair.
Gloria Pelletier

Gloria: “Collateral Damage” is a term I first heard in The Veterans Administration when I worked there as a social worker.  Our Veterans are trained NOT to have collateral damage. Not to kill those other than the intended target. 

How does it apply to hearing loss?

Chelle and I were talking about how often those around us do NOT modify their behavior to help us hear.  I got a real eye opener when I spoke to Chelle with my back turned to her, then later she spoke to me with her back to me.  We were laughing because here are two educated individuals on hearing loss doing EXACTLY what we tell our family NOT to do. Since neither one of us lives with another person with hearing loss we are used to speaking to hearing people, making the same mistakes they make.  

Loss of Casual Conversation

It seems so simple to ask for our family and friends to accommodate our hearing loss. It didn’t make sense to me why they did not or refused to. After my afternoon with Chelle making the same mistakes it became apparent to me that modifying one’s behavior takes thought, focus and perseverance. Too many times we think communication is easy and we don’t need help in learning to communicate. We have been speaking since infancy!  

Speaking and communicating are two vastly different concepts. In order for me to communicate with you, for us to have a two way conversation; I am going to need some modifications.  When I am not honest about those needs I essentially make sure you cannot effectively communicate with me. This is collateral damage.  

Bluffing does no one any good.

Our hearing partners have no concept of our needs so they continue on speaking to us as if they are having a casual conversation.  When I nod my head as though I understand. I have denied my communication partner true access to me. (This is collateral damage.)  I have made an unilateral decision NOT to communicate in a clear and understandable way.  

I did not ask the other person if they were OK with that, I decided my personal issue was more important than their ability to communicate with me. By being very clear and upfront with our conversation needs, we are truly communicating with someone and being respectful of their right to communicate with me. I have given them the tools to be successful. The environment may need to be modified but we BOTH agree on how that is done.

Another example of collateral damage: I watched a man dominate a group of people with his hearing loss. He complained he couldn’t hear, that he needed a one to one conversation.  He insisted the whole group accommodate his hearing loss. That in of itself is not a problem. 

What was the problem? 

He did not give the group information on how to communicate with him so he could successfully integrate into the group.  His own frustration with communication and lack of knowledge about his own needs created a strained group dynamic. (This is collateral damage.)  I watched the whole thing unfold, an unwilling participant to this dynamic.  He was angry, frustrated and demanding that others communicate with him without consideration for their ignorance on how to do that.  (More collateral damage.)   

When HOH folks are more proactive, a clear statement of accommodations alivates all the stress in the group. We then can have good communication and relationships with others on terms we can function in.  It is OUR responsibility to be proactive with our needs and to give others the information they need so communication becomes accessible. 

Hearing Loss has unintended bombs

Chelle:  When Gloria introduced this topic, she had to explain it to me. Collateral damage??? Once I understood, I could see the silent ‘bombs’ that go off beind us. Boom…Boom!!

With my first pair of hearing aids fitted and adjusted, they told me I would hear a lot better. That wasn’t the case. I don’t think they realized how noisy hair salons were. Some of the collateral damage I remember coworkers was:

  • Are your ears in?
  • Turn up your hearing aids!

I couldn’t combat these hurtful remarks. I felt ashamed because I wasn’t living up to the standard. I retreated further in my shell.

Hiding hearing loss has consequences.

Back then, I was not honest about my hearing loss, I hid it because of that shame. People would try to talk to me when I wasn’t looking and I’d walk by without acknowledging them. They didn’t know about my hearing loss so I was considered rude & a snob for several years. (Boom!)

There were also ‘friends’ who liked to have fun with my hearing loss. While out gambling in a casino (loud music, slot machine background noise) some guy was showing interest in me and I was unaware playing video poker. My hearing friends told him to ask me for something ‘unsavory’ for a little fun. I heard him talking, looked up, he asked and bluffed, nodding my head. (Boom!)  That taught me to ask for repeats no matter what.

What else changed?

After 18 years and a big hearing drop, I educated myself. Thanks to the SayWhatClub and our local HLAA chapter I learned healthier communication strategies from my fellow peers. I learned how to reply to those comments above too. My answers are:

  • Are your ears in? Yes they are. They don’t work well in noisy environments. You need to get my attention before talking for less repeats. 
  • Turn up your hearing aids! With my hearing loss, it’s not volume so much as it is clarity. Hearing aids aren’t called hearing miracles for a reason. They help but they don’t replace true hearing. Please face me while talking, that helps a lot. 
A white lady on a snow mountain side in black ski clothes. She has a pink ski hat on with goggles raised up on her head.
While skiing, collateral damage would be other people assuming I can hear them saying “To your right” or “To your left” as they ski past. That’s a fear of mine. – Chelle

Hearing Partners Experience the Loss Too

Julia: “Emotional side of hearing loss” is a catch-all phrase, and there’s a lot that goes under that umbrella. Collateral damage fits in there with grief, and other feelings.

Hearing partners experience collateral damage too. It was the day we were hurt because we knew the person bluffed. It was the day we realized we could no longer whisper sweet nothings in our partner’s ear. It was the day casual conversations in the car disappeared. It was the day we struggled communicating our message during a phone call.

During our podcast, it dawned on me that the largest piece of collateral damage that happens with hearing loss is watching our elders mishandle it. 

Anger and Impatience

Our behaviors, good and bad, are contagious…

  • As a hearing person and I am modeling anger and impatience with hearing loss, I encourage others to do the same. 
  • If I am refusing to work towards productive change, I’m encouraging the same behavior. 
  • If I show impatience waiting for you to hear/understand, because it takes you a minute to hear… 

If I do this, I show others that hearing loss is a hassle. Here is more collateral damage.

Two white ladies, one younger and the other older. The younger lady with light brown hair pulled back is smiling and focusing on the camer. The older white haired lady is smiling and more relaxed. Palm trees int he background.
Thanks to being involved with the HoH community, Julia knew how to help her gma with communication needs.

As hearing partners, we can change this pattern. Let’s start working together with communication needs to have better relationship outcomes. Let’s find healthier ways to learn from the past. Collateral damage will happen. You can’t stop it. But we can minimize the damage. We can acknowledge the harm and work together for better experiences.

Above all else, let’s continue to look under the umbrella that I call the emotional side of hearing loss. Together we can create a community. With a community, we can bring about change. With change, we can create better understanding around hearing loss.

For those with hearing loss, help us help you. Disclose your communication needs. Let your friends and family know. Let your coworkers know because a lot of collateral damage happens there too. Trust this next step in life with hearing loss so we can all do our part. 

Own Your Hearing Loss

Michele: I hate to say it, but the Hard of Hearing often create a lot of problems for themselves by not owning their hearing loss or continuing in denial.

The back of a silver haired lady sitting at a desk with two computers. It's an online meeting on one of the computers.
Michele giving a presentation on being proactive while traveling with hearing loss.

While doing research into how to get audiologists on board with empowering patients, I connected with an audiologist practicing patient-centered care who found it a hard question to answer. They went on to explain their frustrations in dealing with patients every day who are fighting the stigma of hearing loss and are hesitant to move forward with even the most discreet hearing aids. I was surprised to learn that it is pretty rare to have patients who are accepting of their hearing loss, good self advocates, and emboldened to share their struggle with their friends and family. Collateral damage cuts many ways.


When we are not proactive in dealing with our hearing loss, we set the stage for collateral damage. The best thing we can do for ourselves, our family members, friends and all others we encounter in life is to learn how to tell them exactly what they need to know about our hearing loss and our communication needs. Not everyone we tell will do their part, but when we do our part we plant the seed for all of us to do better. 

Podcasts

Watch our companion podcast on our YouTube channel with captions. You can also find us on several podcast platforms (BuzzSprout with a transcript, Spotify, iHeartRadio and more) by searching Hearing Loss Live.

Other posts/podcasts you might enjoy…

If you liked this blog post, check out our other collaboration with Gloria,  Mental Health Myths in Treating Hard of Hearing Clients. Another good one might be our Vulnerability post. Disclosing our hearing loss and communication needs can be scary but it’s how we grow.  

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