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Am I not deaf enough? Finding my hearing loss identity

Am I not deaf enough or not hearing enough? How I found my deaf identity
Being hard of hearing my entire life, I’ve always struggled with a sense of belonging. Mainly because I’m not profoundly Deaf, but also not completely hearing.

For the longest time, I couldn’t find the words to describe or articulate this feeling but it was still there. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the book “Not Deaf Enough: Raising a Child Who is Hard of Hearing with Hugs, Humor, and Imagination.” by Patricia Ann Morgan Candlish, that the words then fell right into my lap. I wasn’t “Deaf enough” to fit into the deaf world but I wasn’t “hearing enough” to fit into the hearing world either; at least that’s how it felt. Although I am not a parent, the book puts a lot into perspective to shed light on this idea.

Growing up with this feeling to now being a psychology major with a focus on the deaf and hard of hearing population, I’ve developed a burning question for the hard of hearing community. The question is, “Have you ever felt as though you were/are not deaf enough or not hearing enough as if you are caught between the two worlds since you are not profoundly Deaf but not fully hearing?”

I conducted interviews in which I raised this question and I was intrigued by how many people reported feeling this way. For the first time in my 21 years of living with hearing loss, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere on this broad spectrum of hearing loss.

If you feel not deaf enough or not hearing enough, you’re not alone

Nine out of nine of the hard of hearing individuals I interviewed reported feeling this way. All nine of them also mentioned feeling as if they were the only ones who did feel this way.  Fellow HearingLikeMe writers, Sofia Sans, and Lola C. described their own experiences and how those experiences have led them to feel this way.

“I totally feel “in-between” and it’s so reassuring to know others feel the same so I know I’m not alone!” Lola C. explains. “I am fully deaf in my left ear, but I can hear around 80-90 percent with my right ear. I wear hearing aids, but as an immigrant, I have to speak languages different than my mother (spoken Spanish) which adds to the whole “but you aren’t really deaf, right?” which people happen to say all the time.”

“I wear hearing aids, but as an immigrant, I have to speak languages different than my mother (spoken Spanish) which adds to the whole ‘but you aren’t really deaf, right?’ which people happen to say all the time.”

Further, Sans talks about similar experiences from the hearing world but also the deaf community as well.

“It’s comforting to know others feel this way,” Sans says. “I have felt like this my whole life – I grew up deaf in one ear but it was not diagnosed until I was about 11. The people around me didn’t really understand it, and they expected me to perform exactly as a fully hearing child would, which meant that I didn’t accept I had a disability until I was an adult and had lost so much hearing it was undeniable. Strangely, this was a huge relief! Up until then, I felt so much pressure to be in the hearing world it was exhausting. However, now as I am still learning sign and didn’t grow up in the deaf community, I am finding it tough to integrate into the deaf community as well.”

These real-life examples are only a few of the many that hard of hearing individuals experience on a daily basis.

While this may be a relatively new concept for some, it’s one that has actually been around for quite a while. Ahmed Khalifa discusses similar experiences in the Hear Me Out podcast.  Hearing Like Me managing editor, Kirsten Brackett also discusses this topic in her 2018 article on Celebrating the Diversity of Deafness. 

Read more: Two young women share how their views on hearing loss have changed

Research about deaf identity

In addition to real-world experience, countless studies on the development of deaf identity and sense of belonging in deaf and hard of hearing individuals have existed for decades that align well with the experiences explained above.

Neil Stephen Glickman of the University of Massachusetts Amherst developed the Deaf Identity Development Scale (DIDS) in 1993 that consists of four stages of cultural development identity that pertain to both, the deaf community and the hearing community. His aim was to demonstrate that deafness and hearing loss are not only a medical pathology but also a cultural difference. The four stages are as follows:

  • Culturally Hearing: Individuals who predominantly see hearing loss/deafness from a cultural perspective.
  • Culturally Marginal: Individuals who hold beliefs that may shift back and forth between the hearing world and deaf world.
  • Immersion Identity: Individuals who hold a full Deaf Identity.
  • Bicultural Identity: Individuals who are aware of the differences between the two worlds and successfully navigate between the two.

Specifically, the culturally marginal and bicultural identity stages reflect the “stuck in-between” or “shifting in-between” the two worlds.

Find what works for you

Until I started researching these topics and other topics pertaining to the Deaf and hard of hearing community, I never realized just how prevalent this feeling is among the hard of hearing community. I also didn’t realize how much research there has already been on the topic. I’ve gained such new and profound insight about finding a sense of belonging within the incredibly broad hearing loss spectrum and the “middle ground” between the two worlds. I finally feel better able to not only explain this concept and feeling myself. But also use this new insight and information as I move forward in life with a better understanding of where and how I belong.

If you are struggling with this “in-between” feeling, I hear you. WE, fellow hard of hearing individuals hear you and you’re not alone. The constant shifting and being in that middle position can be confusing, overwhelming, and even sometimes isolating to say the least. However, it doesn’t always have to be. In her TED Talk, Heather Artinian who is Profoundly Deaf talks about feeling stuck between the worlds and talks about how it led her to create her own world, “The Heather World” as a way to navigate between the two worlds as someone who in fact Profoundly Deaf but also part of the hard of hearing/hearing world as she wears a Cochlear Implant to help her.

“If you are struggling with this ‘in-between’ feeling, I hear you. WE, fellow hard of hearing individuals hear you and you’re not alone.”

Her talk was inspiring to me as it shows that there is no set way of life or living, that we don’t necessarily have to choose a world and commit to but rather, we can create our own world; the world that works for us, that we feel we belong to. We may encounter roadblocks, frustrations, communication barriers, and other challenges unique to hearing loss or deafness along the way. Nonetheless, you can still be yourself and thrive in whichever world that works for you. Whether it’s the hearing world, the Deaf world, the hard of hearing world, a combination, or, just your own world.

Danielle Guth
Author Details
Hi, my name is Danielle! I’m an undergraduate psychology student at Penn State University with an immense passion for writing and helping and inspiring others in any way I can. I am an anti-bullying and mental health advocate, blogger, and public speaker through my personal blog and social media campaign, “Compassionately Inspired”. I was born with a severe conductive hearing loss and hope to inspire others both in the hard of hearing and deaf community as well as the hearing community. “Everybody has a story”; that’s my motto and I hope my stories inspire you in one way or another.
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Danielle Guth
Hi, my name is Danielle! I’m an undergraduate psychology student at Penn State University with an immense passion for writing and helping and inspiring others in any way I can. I am an anti-bullying and mental health advocate, blogger, and public speaker through my personal blog and social media campaign, “Compassionately Inspired”. I was born with a severe conductive hearing loss and hope to inspire others both in the hard of hearing and deaf community as well as the hearing community. “Everybody has a story”; that’s my motto and I hope my stories inspire you in one way or another.