When a Loved One Resists Help for Their Hearing Loss — Detail
Richard Carmen, AuD - Auricle Ink Publishers
There are two core features of resistant hard-of-hearing people that can also be seen in diehard alcoholics: they fail to recognize the problem (denial) and therefore do not take responsibility for it (resist treatment).
Resistant hard-of-hearing people want to be accepted for who they are without having to change. It may not be any different with you wanting to be accepted as you are. Your loved one may perceive that you are already accepted for who you are, but few accept who he is (hard-of-hearing). Why can't the world accept who he is without demanding he change? This alone can be a profound basis for resistance. "Let me be who I already am!" But the truth is that we are all "a work" in progress. Humans are not as unchanging as we sometimes like to think of ourselves. The field of psychology has long recognized that even personalities change over time. Therefore, we can accept a loved one not only for who he is, but we can also accept him for what he is becoming (in the most positive sense-growth and self-awareness).
Exploring Your Issues
The following questionnaire may help you gain clarity on your own feelings. Answer Yes or No:
Do you feel angry that your loved one is not getting help?
Do you think you contribute to the problem by your upset?
Does it upset you when you have to repeat yourself?
Do you "fill in the gaps" your loved one doesn't hear?
Do you resent filling in these gaps?
Do you sometimes comply with your loved one's request to avoid certain social situations because of the hearing loss and as a result do you resent this?
Do you feel your loved one is vain?
Do you believe your loved one's self-image (vanity) is more important than his need to hear?
Do you resent this?
Do you think your loved one feels it is more important to maintain the illusion of hearing normally rather than taking positive action to do something about it?
Do you find yourself arguing with your loved one over issues of not hearing?
Do you get frustrated socially when your loved one engages in conversations that result in obvious hearing problems?
YES to any one of the above questions indicates that you certainly have something to resolve. The more YES answers, the more work you have ahead of you. Answering YES to most or all of the questions is enough to raise a red flag.
One of the more common emotions you may have noted in this questionnaire was resentment. It is closely tied to anger and together is the most common emotion a person will experience with a hard-of-hearing loved one who does nothing about the hearing loss. First you resent the action you must take on behalf of your loved one. Then you get mad at yourself for taking that action (like continually repeating yourself). Then you express this anger directly at your loved one! In the meantime, your loved one has no idea from where this tornado came. All these incidents can silently gather within you and can eventually culminate in your own rage and anger. It's so important for you to realize that resentment puts out the flames of passion.
10 Steps to Your Loved One's Independent Hearing
Now it's time to address your loved one's independence. There are 10 steps to help your loved one achieve independent hearing. While the following can apply to both of you, you cannot snag him into this issue as long as he remains resistant to hearing help. Therefore, these points apply only to you for the time being:
Stop supporting a system of communication that does not work.
Set new boundaries by changing your priority in communication from needing to help him hear to only managing your own communication needs.
Accept the probability that he will fail in communication and that's okay because it's part of a process toward treatment.
If you do not remain his ears, he may find someone else to lean on. That's okay. Just don't make him wrong for it.
Trust yourself, maintaining your own high self-esteem without having to fall back into a cycle of hearing for him just because he expects it.
Control your fear-you cannot use your own fear of conflict with him as an excuse to avoid making changes that will benefit you both (because you already have conflict!)
Be truthful with yourself AND start being truthful with him on how his hearing problem impacts you, speaking from your heart, not from anger.
Give him choices, options and helpful alternatives, but do not give him demands, threats and consequences.
Be sensitive with your loved one in the way you broach the topic of seeking treatment.
Accept no excuses, but realize that no matter what you do he may not change and it's not your fault.
Practical Suggestions for Breaking Through Resistance
When we think of helping a loved one with hearing loss who declines use of hearing aids, we often think of how important it is to repeat ourselves, speak clearly, speak louder or interpret what others say if they cannot hear the message. But when we do these good deeds for loved ones with a hearing loss, what we don't realize is that we're assisting in their failure to seek help. Such well-intended efforts are counterproductive to the ultimate goal of them receiving hearing aids. Here's why.
If a loved one with a hearing loss has come to rely on your good hearing, what is the great need for them to wear hearing aids? Your co-dependent efforts must stop in order for them to grasp the magnitude of their problem. Many people with a hearing loss never realize how much communication they actually fail to understand or miss completely because you have become their ears. However, it takes only a short time for them to realize that without your help, they're in trouble. It is through this realization that one becomes inspired to take positive action to solve their problem. Therefore, as a loving spouse or family member you must create the need for your loved one to seek treatment by no longer repeating messages and being their ears. Your ultimate goal is for them to hear independent of you. Here are some practical tips for you:
Stop repeating yourself! Explain that you are on a "Hearing Help Quest"-one that involves your loved one by allowing him or her the opportunity to realize the significance of their hearing loss. Do not stop helping though. All you do is preface what you repeat by saying each time, "Hearing Help!" or some other identifier. In a short amount of time, your loved ones will realize how often you say this. In turn, they will come to realize how often they depend on you. (This suggestion is only for a loved one who resists the idea of getting any help).
Stop raising your voice (then complaining you're hoarse). That results in stressing your throat and vocal chords.
Stop being the messenger by carrying the communication load for the family. Do not tell your loved one "He said" and "She said" when he or she needs to be responsible for getting this information directly from the source.
Do not engage in conversation from another room as tempting as this is and as convenient as it appears. This sets up your communication process for failure.
Create a telephone need. This means for you to stop being the interpreter on the telephone. Allow your loved one to struggle in order to recognize how much help he or she needs. We're looking for motivation (to hear) from your loved one-not you.
Three Steps to Achieving Success
There are three steps you can take to achieve the success you are looking for. You must decide how they apply in your specific situation.
1. Recognize Life Patterns in You Both
We are all creatures of habit. Not only does your loved one have fairly predictable habits, but you do too. You both typically get up at a certain time, eat at a certain time, watch specific television shows on favorite nights, make long distance phone calls to the kids on certain days and so forth. You may not do these together, but the timeline is often predictable. Similarly, the way in which your loved one manages his health and associated problems is predictable. He may be fanatical or ambivalent. He may be someone who enjoys talking about it but doing nothing, or someone who can't even discuss his hearing problem. These patterns are established early in life by our personalities-the kind of person we are. Recognizing his patterns of behavior and attitude will give you the information you need to know how to work with him in order to surmount them.
If your loved one is hesitant to discuss his own hearing problem, then you must discuss with him the effects of his condition on you, the kids, loved ones and friends. In this quest, you cannot use angry words to describe his failure to address the problem. You must merely enlighten him to how much more difficult life is for you and others because of his lack of treatment.
Sixty-eight year old Mary does this effectively: "Honey, I need to tell you, this is very hard for me. Having to repeat things constantly is exhausting by the end of the day. I cannot raise my voice anymore to have you hear like you need to. I love you very much but you need to understand my own limitations."
Mary underwent by-pass surgery years earlier and lost much of the power in her voice. She is unable to project her voice like she had prior to surgery, but this doesn't mean her husband has stopped expecting her to talk louder. Many men and women over age seventy have reduced capability to project their voices.
You will need to explore your own role in maintaining or supporting your loved one's life pattern of resisting hearing help. Have you been assisting him for so long that he now expects it? If so, you are part of his pattern. This is one of the co-dependency issues discussed earlier. It is now time for you to change your pattern and in doing so it will necessitate change in him. You need to lovingly tell him you will no longer repeat yourself and then make a conscious effort not to interpret for him.
2. Identify the Challenges
If you recognize the patterns of your loved one, then you also know the challenges that face you. He tells you ambivalently, "I know I don't hear like I used to, but I'm not going to wear one of those things in my ear!"
Make him clear about your challenge. Here's what one loving spouse had to offer: "I know you don't want to wear hearing aids. However, I'm no longer willing to interpret for you when we're out with our friends. Many of them have voiced their concern to me about you. Just last week, Ruth asked me if you might have had a stroke because you weren't able to correctly write down the directions.."
Another option for your resistant hard-of-hearing loved one is to videotape him in a situation where he struggles. A family celebration may be a perfect opportunity to do this in a non-threatening way. Engage him in conversation even though you know it will be challenging, so you can document the experience. Engage others at the same time, assuming that they can hear you.
Later in private, replay the video for your loved one. It should be readily apparent to him that everyone else was capable of conversing and he wasn't. This can be a very enlightening moment. You may not need to do anything other than just play the video. Sometimes, like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. He may mull this over in his mind for some time without you having to say a thing.
If eventually this does not bring you the results you're after, you can repeat it in another environment (ideally even at home in the living room if he has difficulty there).
3. Commit to the Changes
Commit to no longer being an enabler by not repeating and interpreting. Once you make your mind up that you will not settle for anything less than what is best for your loved one, you can make it happen. You cannot force it, but you can create it. No one likes being pushed, but when gentle, helpful guidance in the form of love and compassion comes, miracles can happen.
Here's an example of daughter Bonnie who committed to changing her enabling behavior with her father, who was continually asking the family to repeat a part of their storytelling. Bonnie looked at him and calmly said: "Dad, we would really like you to be part of the conversation, but in order to do that, you will have to deal with your hearing loss because none of us are willing to continue with the frustrations of repeating ourselves."
Don't be afraid to be tough, but loving. Your tone of voice is as important as what you have to say.
The Secret to Success
The great secret in helping your loved one break out of denial and seek treatment is to assist him or her in recognizing the presence of a hearing loss. The most effective technique in helping your loved one is to stop being their "Hearing Helper"!