Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Can Hearing Loss Be Mistaken for Unfriendliness?

Talking about our hearing loss breeds empathy, understanding, and acceptance.

Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock
Source: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

A few years ago, I attended a four-week Yoga Teacher Training in Fiji. It was an exhilarating experience, filled with several amazing firsts and a handful of challenges. I developed many new skills, a deeper appreciation of my yoga practice, increased confidence in my ability to learn and assimilate new information, and of course, some new insights into how to manage my hearing loss journey.

Demanding Schedule Adds to the Fatigue

The first week was a whirlwind of activity—adjusting to the 16-hour time difference, learning the rigorous schedule, and experimenting with the best places to sit in the teaching space for optimal hearing. At the outset, I let the group know about my hearing issues, and luckily everyone was understanding—switching seats when I asked and repeating homework assignments if I missed them, but group social interactions were difficult, especially later in the day, as listening fatigue cascaded upon me.

The schedule was demanding. We started at 6:30 a.m. with meditation, followed by breakfast. Morning class ran from 8:15 a.m. until about noon. Lectures resumed at 3:30 p.m. and ran until dinner. Our afternoon break could be used for walking into town, relaxing, or cooling off in the pool or ocean, but often work was assigned in preparation for the afternoon session. Dinner was followed by study time, with lights out suggested for 10:00 p.m. I don’t think I even made it until 10:00pm the first few nights.

All classes took place in a beautiful yoga space on a hill overlooking the ocean. The sunsets were amazing, and the bugs plentiful. There were no tables and chairs, so we sat in a circle on yoga mats or cushions to go through our lessons. I am lucky that there were only 10 of us in the class, so the circle was fairly small, making it possible for me to hear the vast majority of the time. Every day I became more familiar with the new voices, so understanding them got easier, but it took a lot of concentration.

Noisy Meals Make Conversation Difficult

Meals were taken together at a communal table, which built camaraderie, but were also quite loud. Breakfast was usually lovely, as I was fresh off a rejuvenating meditation and many hours of silence. I could hear well and enjoy the conversation with those sitting near me. Lunch was often the same way, but dinner was a different story. After a full day of listening, and in the dimmer evening light, it was hard to participate. I often chose a seat near the end of the table to take the pressure off, but I was also isolating myself.

During the afternoon breaks and after dinner, I would often retreat to my room or to the porch of the beautiful beach house I shared with some of the students. Most others congregated around the pool or studied together in communal spaces. I needed this downtime to regain my energy and regroup for another round of listening later, but I worried this made me appear standoffish.

My Hearing Loss Made Me Seem Aloof

I could see the rest of the group drawing closer together with me on the outside. I knew it was going to be a tough four weeks if I did not nip this trend in the bud. The perfect opportunity arose at the end of the first week. The teachers led a reflection circle where we each shared how we were feeling about the training thus far.

“My primary feeling so far is one of relief,” I told the group. “Coming here, I didn’t know if I would be able to hear the teachers at all, let alone absorb the information that was being presented. So far, it is far from perfect, but much better than I had hoped.” I thanked everyone for their contribution to this result.

Alone Time is Self-Care, Not Rejection

Then I addressed the issue of my alone time. “You may have noticed that I spend many of the breaks on my own,” I continued. “I don’t want you to think that I am standoffish or that I don’t like you, because I do, but the constant listening in class can be so exhausting for me that I need this downtime to simply rest and recuperate for the next round.”

I felt the difference right away. Rather than it being awkward when I would retreat, it was more accepted because everyone understood why. Being open about my struggles helped them to see my behavior as self-care rather than rejection.

This is an important lesson. Sharing our experiences with others breeds empathy, understanding, and acceptance. From here, we can build better communication patterns and deeper personal relationships with others.

Copyright: Living With Hearing Loss/Shari Eberts.

More from Shari Eberts
More from Psychology Today