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Hearing Loss as an Identity Crisis

When we think of hearing loss we don’t automatically think that we enter into an identity crisis.  For some, “The situation is very different for late-deafened adults. These individuals have developed a personality that does not incorporate hearing loss. They have jobs, families, and personalities and relate to those aspects of their lives as fixed. When hearing loss occurs, it is a very disorienting experience. Rapid losses are more disorienting than gradual losses. Late-deafened adults often report that their hearing loss robs them of an understanding of their identity and often initiates an identity crisis. They may manifest a “reactive” depression and/or anxiety in response to a typically external situation.”  The Psychology of Hearing Loss | The ASHA Leader

Black background. 
White text: Who am I now that I have hearing loss?
Picture: Bright green outline of person with short hair. Little bubble above and behind the person.
Green hearing loss live logo in the lower left corner. 
Green flames at the bottom, reaching higher on the right.
Written by Gloria Pelletier: M.S.W., L.C.S.W., L.I.S.A.C

When I had a large drop in my hearing, I no longer had receptive language. I was aware that something critical happened, I just didn’t know what. For many years, I stumbled around conversations without success. After each failure, I would retreat more into silence. Silence was my friend, my comfort.  It was also my enemy.  

The more I retreated, the more I lost parts of me until I no longer was actively involved in any social event. I had become lost to myself to the point that I would no longer communicate outside of my grandchildren. Conversations were so hurtful I did not engage anymore. 

For a social worker that is a tragedy. 

My whole life was communication. I spent years learning to communicate effectively with people and then lost my receptive language. Did this mean I could no longer be a therapist, a social worker, Mother, Grandmother, friend, advocate? My hearing loss held me hostage. Life as I knew it disappeared and it would never go back to the way it was. There were no programs to help me, there were no agencies to help me with rehabilitation, there was nothing. I felt lost inside myself with no way out.

What Happened?

Now I know that people with mild hearing loss lose the ability to hear certain sounds i.e. F, S, TH, birds chirping. (High frequency hearing loss-most common hearing Loss in America.) When I could no longer hear certain sounds they did not exist for me, except the consequences of not hearing them. 

Visual for a High Frequency Hearing Loss
3 separate boxes with text. Each box represents a different level of high frequency hearing loss.
The top box is severe and has several missing letters in each word.
The moderate high frequency hearing loss in the middle box shows  some missing letters in each word. The third box shows what a mild high frequency hearing loss looks like, missing the letters F, S and TH.
Underneath the boxes it says no hearing loss: When the pandemic started, it threw the hard of hearing off. It was upheaval. People with hearing loss had an extremely difficult time because of masks as it took the ability to lipread away.

(To see all sensorineural hearing loss visuals, go HERE.)

I didn’t know there were holes in words with a high frequency hearing loss. (This chart demonstrates how a person with high frequency hearing loss experiences sound.) Simply, I no longer experienced sound the same way that a hearing person does. If unaware of this dynamic, we compensate for the lost sounds unconsciously. The brain is trying to make sense of the sounds that it hears and fills in gaps of what it doesn’t hear.

Receptive language is:

“A foundational component of communication that refers to the ability to understand and process spoken or written language. It encompasses a variety of skills such as interpreting words, sentences, and non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions.” The Power of Understanding: A Guide to Receptive Language in Early Childhood Education (readabilitytutor.com)

I was aware that something was wrong in the conversation because I was  not responding correctly to the cues or topic.The person talking to me was confused (we all pick up on body language), but they didn’t know what was wrong either. Now the hearing person wondered, “What happened?” The person with hearing loss may think: “I know I am not demented. I am competent. What is wrong with me? What am I missing in this conversation?”  

Mis-Communication

When this type of mis-communication happens several times a day, the person with hearing loss, who lost some receptive language, can no longer receive intended messages. Loss of identity is a normal result of these types of experiences. With a lack of understanding, hearing loss creates confusion. I experienced complete verbal failure.

How do I now exist with whatever is happening? Am I me anymore? If you happen to be older, the family may grab the most simplest answer – dementia; which my family did.  My children thought I had dementia because I did not remember conversations or events. 

If the hearing loss person does not seek the appropriate services this might be substantiated, because the real problem is hidden. I did not seek help, I didn’t even realize I needed help. Finally, I found Vocational Rehabilitation services when I couldn’t hear during a court case. When we have these experiences occur over and over, we become depressed trying to find stability in our lives. 

We no longer know who we are – identity crisis.

This ends part 1 of Hearing Loss as an Identity Crisis. Look for part 2 next week, The New Norm. Be sure to join us for our April 2, 2024 Let’s Talk Tuesday workshop at 6:00 PM Mountain time (adjust for your time zone). Have you already registered for a Let’s Talk Tuesday? You will get an email soon with the link. If you’re on our newsletter, you automatically receive the link. Not on either? Find the registration link for both on our home page HERE.

Learn more with Gloria Pelletier and Hearing Loss LIVE!

Use our Contact Us page if you would like to get in touch with Gloria.

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