When Hearing Loss Embarrasses You

Are you embarrassed by your hearing loss?

I am – but not by the fact of it. I’m not ashamed of my hearing loss and I don’t try to hide it.

But it’s those embarrassing moments – when you mis-hear something, or didn’t hear in the first place – that get me. Those lovely little social faux pas – perhaps when you laughed at a friend’s back pain because of her weird little smile and you thought she was telling a joke.

I’m still haunted by a long-ago humiliating moment. During school, every single day of every year, I sat at the front of the class in order to understand the teacher. Except for just one day in high school. Just for once, I wanted to sit at the back with my friends. The teacher called on me to answer something, but I hadn’t heard what he said, probably because my friend was whispering at me. Deciding to be honest, I stood up and said, “Sorry, sir, I wasn’t listening.” The class went dead silent. The teacher said, “Well, thanks for telling me that, Gael, but I called on Dale, not you.” My face burned for the rest of the day. For the rest of my life, actually.

After six decades of hearing loss, you’d think I’d be cool with it – roll with the punches and all that. Squealing hearing aids were always good for a small blush and even now, when I “talk over” someone, it’s embarrassing. Talking-over is more than just two people starting to speak at the same time. It’s more like:

Someone Else: “My husband I have decided that…”

Me (jumping in): “So! What’s everyone doing for Christmas?”

Another Person: “Uh, Gael, So-and-So was talking…”

Me: “Oh, sorry.”  (Then I don’t talk again until someone returns to my question about Christmas, or until I’m sure there’s a significant gap in the conversation which, in my group of female friends, is usually never.)

Then there are the spectacular moments. One night we were running very late for my teenage son’s hockey game. The air was blue with family nagging. I stood at the bottom of the stairs, carrying on mostly one-sided shouting match upstairs to Joel because he needed to pack his damn hockey bag now! All of a sudden, he tapped me on the shoulder, from behind, in hysterics at me bellowing and gesturing up the stairs to an empty bedroom. He had been answering me – from the basement, where he had been packing his damn hockey bag.

I laughed too, but not too much. I hate being caught out like that.

Hearing loss causes painful moments, but it’s mostly embarrassing for us, not other people, especially those who know about our hearing loss. Strangers, however, might think we’re odd when we answer inappropriately.

Server: “Would you like more coffee?”

Me: “No thanks, but would you mind filling up my coffee?”

In that case, the server might pause for a moment before complying. But if you were to answer “yes, please” to the question ‘would you prefer chicken or steak”, it takes a bit more work to straighten things out. I’m no longer embarrassed by these minor mis-hears. It goes with the territory, an occupational hazard. Learning to laugh off these moments puts hearing loss into perspective and other people at ease.

Yes, hearing loss can cause red faces, painful blushes and the urge to crawl under a rock. But hey, it could be worse. You could stub your toe, hard, in the dark.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a sought-after speaker for her humorous and insightful performances about hearing loss. Unheard Voices and EarRage! are ground-breaking solo shows that illuminate the profound impact of hearing loss on a person’s life and relationships, and which Gael has presented to appreciative audiences around Canada, the United States and New Zealand. A DVD/video version of Unheard Voices is now available. She has received awards for her work, including the Consumer Advocacy Award from the Canadian Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists. Gael lives with her husband and son in Toronto.

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Ann Bell

I enjoyed the article and can remember many embarrassing moments. The one thing I do often is talk over others. It’s good to hear it’s not only me.

Vernice Meade

I have had some embarrassing moments too and when you work in law enforcement with a bunch of men, they don’t have a problem humiliating you on your faux pas, in fact, you may never live it down so I became inured to a lot of it when I started working. Oh a sweet memory though… I volunteered at one time at a local children’s hospital in the cancer ward. I fell in love with one little girl because she was so filled with sunshine. One evening she was sitting on my lap coloring with some felt tipped pens and… Read more »


Oh, this is a good one, Gael! I remember those days of wishing I didn’t have to always sit in the front row! My parents named me Kathi, which I discovered in school rhymes with Patty, Nancy, Sally, etc. So I changed my name to Kate.