As we age, it’s perfectly natural that some of our senses change. Hearing loss can happen to adults as they age, and even though this is a natural part of the life cycle, these changes can be difficult for some to swallow. Sometimes the aging process in itself can make one go through the stages of grief, just like a person would when they lose someone that they love, or when someone is coming to terms with their terminal illness. So when aging individual experiences hearing loss gradually, or when a person experiences sudden hearing loss, they too can react in a similar fashion.
The five stages of emotions when one is dealing with grief was outlined in 1969 by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Through her activism, Elisabeth helped soften the stigma that was present about the mourning process and as a result, helped change how people viewed loss and death. Because of Elisabeth, one of the most accepted psychological concepts is that a person experiences grief in stages. There is a process that a person goes through as they come to terms with the source of their sorrow. While the process of grieving is not black and white, her interpretation of this process has helped many open up about their feelings and get support.
In this case, the five stages can be thought as the five stages of hearing loss. To learn more, check out the five stages of grief as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
Stage 1: Denial
(“You’re just mumbling. I can hear perfectly fine!”)
Change can be scary, and this is an aspect of life that many can agree on. While many of us know we should be proactive about our health and hearing if you don’t have the proper support, or you just feel this way, actually motivating yourself to do something about it can be painful and scary. In some cases, this life-changing diagnosis can be painful to accept. Some people become so filled with fear that they go into denial about what is happening to them. It’s not uncommon for a person to go through shock and disbelief when they get their initial diagnosis of hearing loss, or even when they suspect it themselves. This is a natural reaction many can experience when they are faced with shocking and life-altering news.
Stage 2: Anger
Once a person has admitted to themselves that they have hearing loss, some may experience rage and anger. Resentment and envy are also universal emotions often felt. In some cases, people question their faith and their beliefs, wondering how something so terrible could happen to them. With anger often comes destructive, rebellious, stubborn, and abusive behavior so it’s not uncommon for a person experiencing this stage to lash out at everyone and everything. Unfortunately, this emotion can take many down a dangerous path if they don’t get the support that they need.
Stage 3: Bargaining
(“I would do anything to get my hearing back”)
At this stage, the person acknowledges that they have a problem, but they may still feel like their hearing loss is not a permanent condition. So they try to bargain with themselves, with other people, or even to God to get their hearing back. During this stage, the person hopes that they can enter into an arrangement that will postpone the inevitable for them. Often this step is private to the individual, and may not be shared with those around them. With this process going on internally, it could make the person feel guilty, stressed, and anxious. It may even cause the person to experience anger.
Stage 4: Depression
(“Interacting with others has become difficult. I rather not go out anymore”)
When a person feels like nothing is working, or when they realize that their hearing loss is real and is not coming back on its own, it makes them depressed. Especially when the reality hits, that the things that they may have taken for granted, like the ability to dine in a busy restaurant, are now difficult or impossible to do. Depression can be felt in various degrees, but the despair, loneliness, and sadness felt are real. Depression can make a person feel numb, can cause them to lose hope and motivation, and can cause a person to hermit themselves away from the world. The scariest aspect of depression is that some people may become suicidal because they have given up hope.
Stage 5: Acceptance
(“I’m going to get hearing aids!”)
When this stage is finally achieved, it means that the individual is no longer experiencing the symptoms of the previous four stages. They are no longer in denial, they are no longer angry, there is no more bargaining, and they are no longer depressed. They either become content with the outcome, or they now decide to seek help for their hearing loss. When a person finally chooses to comply with the doctor’s suggestions and wear hearing aids, this is the acceptance stage. Maybe nothing more can be done, so the person decides to utilize coping strategies to make the best of the situation. The ways of acceptance are not set in stone. They will differ among each person.
It is important to remember that the five stages of hearing loss don’t always follow a particular pattern. Some people will move through these five stages in a different order, and each step doesn’t have a set time. Certain people may experience all five stages, while some only experience one, and some stages can even be repeated or experienced simultaneously. This whole process can make one feel like they are on a roller coaster ride, and this ride can be different for some. The most important aspect to remember is to not rush through this process. This isn’t a race. It’s a natural part of life, so try not to criticize yourself if you are going through the stages of grief and be sure to seek help. Remember, you are not alone in your journey, support and assistance are available.