Deaf Phobias

fearAs a kid just turning 13 you are very self conscious. If you have lost your hearing only in the last few years even more so. Throw in the need to wear hearing aids that make you stand out like a sore thumb and you have a recipe for a very mixed up adolescence. Call it  paranoia or phobia but as a 13 year old I had a very real fear that everyone was talking about me. Not being able to hear them I just assumed that they must be talking about me. I would board the school bus and head straight to the back of the bus. In this way I could see everybody and at least gauge if I was the centre of their interest. If by some reason I was made to stand in the middle of the bus because all seats were taken I would break into a cold sweat. I would fidget and look anxiously over my shoulder every few seconds. I would turn around constantly just to make sure no one was talking about me. Come my stop and I was off the bus in a shot and woe betide anyone in my way. This fear would be the same in any crowd. Even today I prefer small gatherings.

Is it any wonder that deafness is said to have a high incidence of mental health issues. An edition of the American Annals of the Deaf noted that a Dutch study found that 41% of deaf children had significant emotionaland  behavioral issues. This is 2.5 times the rate of the general populace. (Volume 148, Number 5, Spring 2004) There are a multitude off studies that suggest that anxiety and depression are higher among people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Luey, Glass, and Elliot (1995) found that 33% of women and 42% of men showed significant mental health issues .   ( It is a serious issue. It is not surprising that much of the anxiety is caused from not being able to hear or know what is happening.

Stella (not her real name) spoke to me of her fear of police situations. She has a real fear that one day she will be walking down the street and the police will be calling her from behind. She fears that she will not hear them and will consequently be shot. Stella lost her hearing in her twenties and to her this anxiety is very real. In fact Stella’s fear is not unfounded. I encourage readers to google Deaf man shot by mistake – just enter that into google search and see how many recorded incidence there are. It is frightening.

Paul, (not his real name), told me of his fear of the dark. As a kid, because once the lights went off he couldn’t hear what was going on, he was petrified of the dark. He hated not being able to communicate and not knowing what was happening around him and the dark would trigger a real attack of anxiety in him. He has since grown out of his fear but as a young boy it caused him a great deal of anguish.  Paul is not alone,  Bonnie Tucker in her book, The Feel of Silence, describes this fear brilliantly: ” There must be a special hell for deaf people. A totally dark hell. No burning fires that would allow us to lipread in their dark glow. the most severe form of punishment for a deaf person is to be plunged into eerie darkness. I hate the darkness. I fear the darkness. At dusk I give an involuntary shudder …. “

Adam, one of The Rebuttals esteemed editors, has numerous fears. Phobias or paranoia, Adam had this to say. “Apart from the common held fear of not being able to respond appropriately in an emergency situation due to not being able to hear warnings issued by emergency services, I also have an intense fear of failure due to feeling inadequate as a result of my Deafness. This often results in me being a pedantic perfectionist and over-achiever.  I also have a bit of a social phobia in terms of meeting people for the first time and being anxious that I will not be able to communicate with them sufficiently. I’m also paranoid about losing my mobile phone and not having access to text messages.”

Many of these fears have similar themes – the fear of not being able to communicate or a fear of not knowing. Not knowing what is happening behind or around an individual will give cause to great anxiety.  Adam’s fear of missing alerts was a reality for many deaf Victorians during the recent devastating bush-fires. The not knowing is a catalyst for many fears.  The dark is one thing many deaf people hate. The dark cuts them off from the world. They can not hear who is approaching, they can not lip-read. The dark can totally isolate. Humans are social animals, cut them off in anyway from communication and anxiety will naturally rise. We as deaf people are all too aware of this.

Robert Louis Stevenson advised,  “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others” well he was wrong because courage often comes with sharing one’s fears. Many deaf people suffer from phobias that are related to their deafness. Many fear sharing these phobias for fear of ridicule. They know it might be irrational but the fears cause a great deal of distress. Perhaps through this forum we can share these phobias and our feelings of paranoia. In doing so we can, perhaps, help others overcome fears that often seem silly but in reality have a great deal of foundation.

“Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them.”
— Orison Swett Marden.


3 thoughts on “Deaf Phobias

  1. Hence the reason to educate people, even parents, to accept their children’s being Deaf. Parents impose their fear for their safety upon the children because they do not hear sounds. Deaf children could detect such emotions from their parents and become afraid themselves. I had overcome the fear of being out bike riding on roads. I forced myself to dig deeper into my instincts and hang onto them, as they are my lifelines. I have learned to accept that people do talk about me when I am around, but hey, people do talk about other people either whether they are Deaf or hearing. Once the fear have been overcome and self-acceptance have emerged, I feel much more at peace. Take a look at the Deaf guy who is competing in the Amazing Race. He broke down crying when he found out that he among with his mom was the first team to arrive at the pitstop. He commented that his success proved that Deaf people are capable to do anything as opposed to what hearing people think. Obviously, he was so afraid to fail although hearing people do face failure like coming in last in the Race. Imagine, not coming in first and being Deaf would feel like a 100 percent failure for him. Maybe even more?? So sad! It is such a mental stigma…..

  2. As a virtually deaf 13 yr old at the time, how I coped with it, was by playing the fool. When I started work at 15 they insisted I wear a hearing aid, so I did, it was the old fashioned aid with wires and a box, workmates used to whistle and then cut the wires so I couldn’t hear anything. I threw it away for 5 years how I got through those years as a young man I don’t know, at age 21 I had severe depression as it bult up, I managed to ride it out.

    I refused medications feeling that was no way to address the issue, and I didn’t want to rattle when I walked…years ago wearing a hearing aid was asking for abuse, and you got it too.

    Today I do not believe there is anything like what we had to put up with. The classic phobia is feeling you are stupid because that is what they say to you, I responded with humour (And the occasional punch too !). Deaf have to work with this, not all hearing are the same, I think a lot don’t really try as hard, as I had to, mainly because there was no deaf community for me to go to, so you swam, or you sank without trace.

    I still fight against silence, mercifully my brain provides the constant hearing input, my ears don’t, it’s complicated to explain, even mild Tinnitus is welcome ! Except mine is often not so mild. I type, I think, therefore I am still standing… I’ll plug away while I can.

  3. Growing up I never spoke in large groups if I could help it or made sure I was the first person to speak. I was so scared of saying something and then finding out I was way off the mark. That would have been utter humiliatiion for me. Even with interpreters today, imy heart beats a bit faster when I prepare to contribute to a hearing discussion. Never with deaf discussions…only hearing. That’s my phobia!

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