Dear Lisnen. Over the long weekend, I spent time with my immediate and extended family for thanksgiving. I dread the family holidays because it always feels like no one cares about me, and I am alone and lonely in what is supposed to be a joyous event. It’s so difficult to hear everyone. I find everybody in my family to be opinionated. They accused me of faking my hearing loss when I am trying my best under the circumstances. After dinner, I decided to leave to another room to be myself in quiet. My in-laws told me that I am not social enough. I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t. All I just want is for everyone to understand me and help me out a bit more. Is that too much to ask? AnnoyedByFamily
No, it is not too much to ask. The holidays are about being together with our families. Many of us are too busy with our lives that it takes a holiday to get us to stop and reconnect with people that are important to us, like our family and friends. But holidays can also mean a sense of dread for some people, including those who don’t have a good relationship or mutual respect happening within their family. It appears that your family did not rise to the moment where you could have all bonded during the holiday.
It is no secret that having a hearing loss can change the dynamic between our family and ourselves. When you are born into a hearing family with many years of multigenerational hearing people, and you are the only deaf and hard of hearing person, you get subconsciously labeled as the outcast of our family because you don’t reflect the identity or behavior of the group. I can relate. I have grown up with a hearing loss, and still, to this day, family members treat me like I have the perfect hearing. I still have to repeat and continue to request for my needs despite the situation. At times, it may look like my hearing aids are just a fashion accessory that I just happen to be wearing every day.
It’s one of the annoying things about being the only hearing loss person in the family.
It makes no sense that your family thinks that other people enjoy pretending to have a difficult time and can’t understand what they say. No one goes through the effort of pretending to ignore when they make an effort to ask for help. Sure, I am sure that some of us played that I-can’t-hear-you, as a way to avoid annoying people or give them the cold shoulder. Let’s be honest. We’re guilty of pulling that trick sometimes. But this is not what you meant. However, in their eyes, they think that you don’t care about them. They saw this as a reflection of them how they are not measuring up. At the same time, this is exactly what you were feeling the same too. The stories you have told about each other are a vicious cycle that keeps happening where you are all thinking the same thing about each other.
The thing about hearing loss is that you never quite understand the day-to-day experience until you have it. Know hearing people will know what sound sounds like with our artificially sounding hearing aids or cochlear implant. No hearing person will know what it feels like when words appear as mumble-jumble, and not concrete words are coming from the speaker’s mouth no matter how hard you try to listen. No hearing person will understand the difficulty it takes our brain to make sense promptly after someone says something. It takes a while to process what we heard. Your family can’t understand.
They only can respond to perception and what they think you are experiencing. Your family’s perception of their experience with you is not meeting your reality. You want to let them know your truth instead of them telling you what the truth is. That means you need to speak up. Don’t allow for how things are, be the reason you are hurting and sad.
I know many people who think that just because you have a hearing aid or cochlear implant, you have 100% hearing. There is clear evidence that your family has not realized or understood your hearing loss. It is up to you to help educate them on what you are experiencing, typically during family gatherings.
Let them know what you are hearing and ask for everyone to try a new approach. Give your family a heads up on how you’ll respond if things don’t change. Like how it’s easier to sit in quiet rather than pretending to hear and engage. Set new rules for engagement for how you want to be able to listen to others. Is it only one person talking at the table? Your best solution now is to advocate for yourself and your needs. Reassure your family that you are making an effort to engage with them and interact with them all the time you are together, but they have to meet halfway through.
Also, find your champion. It could be a spouse, sibling, or cousin who gets it and is on your side. Confined in them about your situation and ask for their help. Allow them to participate in the discussion or set as an example of what you like moving forward.
We often forget that families, like all of us, are not perfect. They are humans, and for whatever reasons for their behavior, we take it so personally that we forget that we all make mistakes. We all behave in ways that are not what we want to see. It has nothing to do with a lack of love and respect for you.
If you have any questions to help navigate life with hearing loss, and you would like my advice and as a friend, let me help. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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