Walking the fine line between coping and dependency

Sometimes we can be too adaptive for our own good.

One of the things that defines us as human beings is our amazing ability to cope with loss. We can adapt — physically, mentally and emotionally — to amazing hardships, and hearing loss is no exception.

As a caregiver, you’re probably aware of the common mechanisms that people use to cope with it: moving closer to a speaker to get more of a conversation; asking a speaker to repeat; pretending to hear; and avoiding conversation completely.


The downside of coping

Is coping good or bad? In cases where there’s no opportunity for help, coping can be the only strategy available. But that doesn’t make it a good idea. And with hearing loss, where help is readily available through hearing evaluation and hearing instruments, coping is just a way of kicking the can down the road. It may get someone through the day’s awkward situations, but it also makes it easier to deny the problem and resist taking action. As years go by, growing isolation and depression make seeking the help of hearing instruments more and more challenging.

Your loved one’s goal, and yours too, is to get help — the sooner the better. Coping is not going to get you there.

When caring becomes enabling

You are coaching your loved one through a transformation from a world of isolation to a world of new possibilities. Your relationship plays a key role in the success of this journey. You need to be intimately involved, encouraging, creative and emotionally supporting to your loved one through the struggle. But your close involvement and your passion for helping can put you in danger of crossing over the line from providing support to enabling coping behavior that will defeat you both.

A common and dangerous coping strategy that crosses this line, one that’s so natural that it’s almost unconscious, is reaching out and manipulating caregivers into taking over the problem and doing all the work. How do you know when you’ve crossed this line? When, prompted by your desire to help and to make things feel normal, you find yourself overprotecting and overcompensating on your loved one’s behalf. You proactively avoid social situations that might challenge your loved one’s hearing. You pick up their end of a conversation. You find yourself maneuvered into interpreting, taking phone messages and otherwise functioning as a human hearing aid.

In other words, your helpful nature has, almost without your knowing it, made you a co-conspirator in the denial and coping that present constant obstacles to getting help. It’s not always easy to recognize this situation when you’re in it. Everything seems to run smoothly. And you’re feeling good, in a codependent way, because you are helping. In actuality, you’ve crossed the line, and you’re not helping your loved one make progress.


Walking the line

Recognizing codependency is an important part of a caregiving relationship that goes beyond the dead-end strategy of coping. Yes, you have to be involved, you have to help and support. But you also have to stay on the right side of the line. Which means you can’t make yourself solely responsible for your loved one’s progress. Instead, you can help them understand that they have to take an active part in it as well.

That’s the first step. The next step is honest progress towards better living.

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