In science, a small or minute cause having rippling large effects is known as the butterfly effect. In theory, it means that the movement of a butterfly’s wings can cause a disturbance in the air sufficient to ultimately change a weather pattern or event. This part of the chaos theory can still be debated in scientific communities, but the butterfly effect can absolutely be true in certain circumstances. An example is with hearing loss. While untreated hearing loss may only affect one person in a family or a group, its effects ripple far beyond that single person.
Family and loved ones
One person might have hearing loss but the impact is felt by everyone around them. Hearing loss is a physical and genuine impairment but it can feel like so much more. It can feel like your partner is not paying attention to you, or even worse, like they are ignoring you. You might get frustrated if your loved one often has to ask you to repeat yourself. Conversely, you might feel like your partner or loved one is angry if they raise their voice or appear to yell at you, when hearing loss can cause one to misjudge their modulation. Studies show that relationships can truly suffer when one partner has recent hearing loss, as communication lessens.
Another effect of your partner’s hearing loss can be that you become their “ears.” If they cannot hear in certain situations or places, they might start to rely on you to hear and report the events to them. While this is supporting your partner, it can start to feel overwhelming, and like you are carrying them at different times. You might also find yourself getting frustrated with the responsibility, especially if your partner might possibly hear better with hearing aids.
Hearing loss can also affect relationships and performance in the workplace. If you work closely with someone with hearing loss, you might feel very similar reactions to what family members feel. You might feel like you are not being heard, or you are being ignored. You might think your coworker is angry with you if they raise their voice without warning. You might also feel frustrated if you constantly have to repeat things or explain what they have missed in a conference or meeting.
Besides being detrimental to work relationships, untreated hearing loss can have negative effects at work. People with hearing loss may be overlooked for tasks that a manager might think they cannot handle. Raises and promotions might come more slowly than they should. While hearing loss is a disability that is protected by the ADA (American Disabilities Act), people with untreated hearing loss still earn substantially less than their peers, and have higher rates of unemployment.
Even friendships can suffer when one person has untreated hearing loss. You might feel like a friend is ignoring you. You might wonder why they want to do fewer things with you, and take it as rejection, when they might truly be dreading an event that will be frustrating with hearing loss. You might even stop inviting your friend with hearing loss to do fun things with you, if you get tired of rejection.
When children have a parent with untreated hearing loss, unique challenges can arise. Children might miss learning some of the subtleties and nuances of speech, although recent studies show that they are on par with peers in basic speech acquisition. If you are a child of a parent with untreated hearing loss, you might feel frustrated and lonely. You might also have some anxiety around social events if your parent gets stressed by them. Being their “ears” can also feel hard and overwhelming.
If you are the parent of a child with untreated hearing loss, you might have an entirely different set of challenges. You have probably spent many nights worrying about whether or not your kiddo is acquiring language correctly and developing appropriate speech. You may have concerns that they have positive social experiences and are not bullied by other children. You may balance between wanting them to have a “normal” childhood but also wanting to advocate for any special needs or services. And you might be tired from all of the worrying and from being their “ears” in everyday experiences.
This all sounds pretty dire, doesn’t it? If you stopped reading here, it might even feel very depressing. However, there are some silver linings in the cloud of hearing loss. If you are the one who has the hearing loss, you will probably become very good at reading nonverbal communication and body language. Reading lips will probably become second nature to you, so that you scarcely realize that you are doing it. You may also find that you have more empathy as a result of your hearing loss- realizing the difficulties and stresses of a physical challenge can make you look at the world through different eyes.
If you are the loved one of someone with hearing loss, you might find similar unexpected benefits. You are probably more patient than your peers, and may also have more empathy with others facing similar challenges. You may be excellent at enunciating your words and speaking clearly, because mumbling would be really difficult in your household. People may feel that you are an excellent communicator because you have probably also learned to make eye contact and use nonverbal communication.
Now, imagine a world where your untreated hearing loss is treated with hearing aids. Once you have them properly adjusted, your world might open up in amazing and life-changing ways. Communication with your friends and loved ones will become much easier, with no more ignored conversations or constant requests to repeat something. They might feel immediate relief when they no longer have to be your “ears” at events but instead can simply enjoy them with you.
The first time you hear your loved one speak as they are walking away from you with their back turned might be an emotional moment- no lip reading or eye contact needed! Hearing soft whispers, doors creaking, speakers at a crowded event, and a friend’s laugh in a noisy restaurant– these are all moments that you can experience with hearing aids. Many types of hearing loss are correctable with a variety of hearing aids. Correcting your hearing loss will not only open you up to a world of forgotten sounds, but it may also improve many of your relationships. Again, the butterfly effect of using hearing aids will not affect just you, but many of the people you interact with and care about!