Everything in our life is connected and I truly believe hearing loss can have a greater impact than people realize as there are many layers involved. I have recognized poor communication habits (defense mechanisms) I picked up due to my hearing loss and have been actively working to make an effort to break these habits.
When people speak in conversation, each person speaking assumes the other person can understand what they are saying. A hard of hearing person often can catch a lot of what is being said, but may not catch everything. This can cause misunderstanding.
The more varied the social interactions are, the more challenging it can be to fill in the blanks. Over the years, I have moved around a lot and chatted with many different people. I’ve encountered individuals with accents and have worked in many jobs that required socialization, some with individuals who had challenges with speech. As a hard of hearing person, I tried to follow along the best I could, but was still not always catching everything.
Being tired of people telling me I’m not paying attention when I was trying to, not understanding what is being spoken and not wanting to expose my hearing loss are what led me to start to use defense mechanisms. Using these mechanisms gave me a sense of control as I was feeling misunderstood.
Some of the defense mechanisms I used include:
People would often blabber about topics. Sometimes I struggled to follow. So I also started to pick up on that habit at times. Listening wasn’t always clear or easy. I became very good at talking in these situations. The most important part of the conversation is listening. This is something that I was terrified to do because it was challenging to follow so many conversations.
If I didn’t understand what somebody said, I tried to answer the best I could. This consisted of filling in the blanks from what I thought was heard. Sometimes I would unintentionally change the subject this way.
People called me spacey. I had a nickname: “Dory,” because I was slow and had issues remembering things; but I also was covering up my hearing loss this way as a lot of times I never heard whatever that thing was, to begin with. I would sit through meetings, movies, and other various events not really knowing what happened. After these events were over, people would bond by discussing what happened; but I really didn’t have as much to say because I wasn’t catching everything.
I would go great lengths to avoid conversations with people I didn’t know. Walking down the street, I would go different directions to avoid walking past someone that could “possibly” try to make conversation with me. I gave very basic answers to people at the store when buying things. I would avoid quiet speakers altogether.
When a person stays busy, they can avoid people while still being around people. I engaged in everything from traveling, hiking, playing music, taking photos, to playing sports to keep myself occupied. These things can make me appear social without really socializing.
Alcohol also made me appear social. I continued to drink and kept myself distracted at parties, with activities like drinking games, taking photos and jamming to the music, while others sat around and socialized.
Many hard of hearing people like to laugh when they heard something wrong. For me, it made the experience seem funny rather than painful, even if I wasn’t actually laughing inside.
I always felt like something was missing, but I never quite “got it.” For years, I felt like something was wrong with me. In the back of my head, I knew I was hard of hearing; but because I could still hear sounds and make out a decent amount of conversation, I never quite connected the pieces.
For years, I felt like something was wrong with me.
My current partner has been teaching me many things I failed to see in my own conversational skills. Learning ASL has forced me to try to engage, truly engage, in conversation for the first time in my life. Engaging in conversation is literally the key to language learning. And with a new language, I felt like I could start my childhood all over again, rather than appear ignorant in the language I grew up with—that I still feel somewhat behind in.
I have learned that the bad habits that are picked up over the years won’t just go away. Many times, we don’t even recognize them until they are brought to our attention. It’s important to understand what is going on so we can learn how to break these bad habits. Confront your feelings and frustrations instead of trying to run away from them. This is a slow process of unlearning and relearning how to respond in various communication settings.
Be open about your challenges. Tell others when you cannot hear. Hearing loss is a hidden disability, so others are unable to see when you can or cannot hear. Because of this, it is critical that you ask for the resources you need. This can include asking people to speak up, accommodations, captioning devices, remote microphones, requesting a seat in the front, etc.
When we are around people that are naturally good socializers, it can benefit us to learn from them. Being in good social surroundings with people that understand your situation can help you thrive. I have learned the importance of our surroundings because we tend to pick up habits from them.