Coping with someone who’s coping with hearing loss

Making the journey to better hearing might take some tough love

Coping is a survival skill. It’s a natural response to any kind of loss. But it can also get in the way of getting real help. As a caregiver for someone with hearing loss, your job is to coach your loved one along the path to better hearing and a better connection with life. And that can mean having to deal with the roadblocks they put up.

This isn’t an easy task. As they get older, people resist change, even change for the better, for many reasons, including denial, vanity, depression or identity crisis. For them, coping is an easy way of kicking the can down the road. This is a dangerous strategy, as hearing loss is associated with anxiety, depression and dementia as it advances untreated.


The human hearing aid

All too often, people who have trouble hearing cope with the problem by enlisting their caregivers to be their ears. You may see this happening to you, as you get maneuvered more and more into managing conversations, interpreting, helping handle (or avoid) social events, taking phone messages and otherwise acting like a human hearing aid. These are signs that your desire to help and make things normal again has been hijacked and put to use in a futile coping strategy.

Recognizing that your relationship has crossed over from support to codependence is the first step in getting your loved one back on track. When you can see the patterns, you can see the opportunities to help them the right way. As with most codependency situations, though, help won’t come in the form of suggestion, cajoling, nagging or other forms of persuasion. It’s going to come in the form of a little bit of tough love.

Here are some steps you can take


Just say no

You’ve heard the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Coping is that thing. As long as you support coping behavior that leads away from recovery, the outcome will never change. 

With this understanding, you can approach coping situations differently. If you’re resolved to make a change, you can take the tough step of backing away from helping and enabling, and change the boundaries of the relationship to just managing your own communication needs. “I’m not doing that for you anymore, you’ll have to solve it another way” may become part of the conversation you have with your loved one. Some families even choose to have a complete intervention.


Suspend judgment

You’ve disengaged from a codependent relationship and you are encouraging your loved one to take responsibility for their improvement. They might make some bad decisions. It’s not easy to watch this happen without becoming frustrated and expressing judgment, but it’s important to try. Positive coaching means offering options and educating about consequences, but demands and ultimatums won’t work.


Failure actually is an option

Realistically, when you withdraw your enabling support, your loved one is going to fail in some, perhaps many, communications situations. It won’t be fun to be around, but it is part of the growth that has to happen before your loved one is ready to accept the fact that treatment, not coping, is the way to independence. Deal with it. It won’t last forever.


Be brave

Tough love is rarely embraced with open arms. Quite the opposite, usually. There will be conflict and upset. If you’re a compassionate caregiver, your nature is probably one of conflict avoidance, but unfortunately that’s not the trait that will get you through this. More likely you will use it as an excuse to slip back into codependency and avoid making the changes you need to make. You may need to stretch yourself and develop some new skills. Part of this is speaking truthfully, from your heart and without anger, about the impact of your loved one’s hearing loss on yourself and the lives of others.


Accept no excuses. And then accept what comes.

People resist tough love. They work around it. They do what they have to do to avoid confronting the reality of treatment. The only way it can work is if you, the caregiver, stay the course, accepting no excuses and not giving up. You must also accept the fact that your loved one may never change, tough love or not. And that’s not your fault.


Breaking through

Breaking the cycle of coping and dependence is a process that may turn your idea of care-giving on its head. You’re caring by not caring, or so it seems. What you’re really doing is helping your loved one see that hearing loss is not hopeless. Reconnection with a busy, vibrant life is a goal that can be attained through hearing evaluation and treatment.

Once you, as a team, understand this process, the process has already begun.

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