Overcoming obstacles with Optimism

When I was twenty-seven, I acquired prosopagnosia.  Prosopagnosia is the inability to recognize faces of familiar people.  This condition is also known as face blindness.  While growing up, I was always able to identify familiar people walking towards me.  Unfortunately, at twenty-seven, I lost the ability to be able to identify my family, my friends and even my own reflection.

I lost my ability to know someone when I looked at them, but I became better at picking up cues from emotions people display on their faces.  Though I maintained my ability to communicate, I began to depend more on recognizing clues I observed while I was speaking with individuals.  With these clues, I am aided in recognizing familiar strangers without needing to depend solely on recognizing their faces.

Communication is a word we all use.   Everyone knows its meaning, but we often forget about the simplicity behind the definition.  Communication is when a message is sent by someone or something and received by at least one person.  Upwards of 97% of what we communicate is done not through spoken words but how these words are received.

Think of this sentence: “Yeah that was interesting”.  Four simple words which are often said.  Take the time though, I dare you to even look at yourself in the mirror, and try this.  First, say those words while thinking of something disgusting like eating repulsive foods on a national television show.  Now say only those words while having admiration for the young genius that can recite pi far beyond the thousandth digit.  Again say only those four words while thinking of your boss saying half of the employees are getting a substantial pay raise next week and you are among that half.  Now say these words as if you just walked past a group of kids cussing profusely.  In every scenario, your tone has changed greatly.  The expression in your eyes will be altered.  The four words never changed.  However, the tone that was used and the response in your eyes offered a very telling clue to what was being said beyond the words.  Same as when people communicate with you, a lot can be heard beyond specific words that are spoken.  Once this is understood, you can learn to tell so much about the message a person is conveying to you.

With prosopagnosia, I may not be able to recognize a face, but the emotional characteristics held in that face are recognizable.  I still can read the tears and frown as sadness.  I still can be aware if there is deep rage within someone’s eyes and know that they feel anger.  Recognition skills are still available for emotions.  Auditory skills erase any doubt I have of possibly mistaking the visual clues of emotions being felt.  The sudden gasp of air along with the mouth shaped as a tight, round circle indicates surprise.  The fast chatter, raised pitch of a voice, and eyes moving quickly along with the eyebrows slightly raised will tell me that someone is anxious or excited.  Even though I may not have the recognition of who the face belongs to, there is still a message being conveyed to me that is demonstrated by the face I see.


Comments on: "Defining Communications – As Altered By Prosopagnosia" (10)

  1. Great post! 🙂

    I have a mild case of prosopagnosa and I totally understand where you are coming from and I like the way you say it. It is difficult to describe. I have become proficent in detecting voices and emotions and walks and mannerisms but it is still challenging.

    • One thing people do not realize is even when you become proficient at these recognition skills, they still do not help much when you see someone completely out of the expected context.

      Thanks for stopping by. It is great to hear from you.


  2. I wonder if you may be even more skilled at reading expressions and emotions BECAUSE of the prosopagnosia — I often feel that, though I have no recognition problem, I’m not well tuned in to the “body language” that is speaking behind the face.

    • What perfect timing for your thought! I sent a message to Dr. Paul Ekman’s company this afternoon asking if he has done any research on this very topic. I can’t find any. If anyone would have a good answer, it would be him. I will let you know when I hear back.


  3. Wow… I I thought I had it bad… I know I couldn’t recognise my family even my motherinlaw when I came out of the mild comma I was in (after head injury), but mine got better.. I’d like to here your has too.. but good use on clues and being able to see ‘out side the box’, (nice article on ‘A Frightened Stranger In the Mirror’ too!

    I’d like to put a link to your site on my blog if you don’t mind, I won’t until you give permission… its just my site is about head injury and does discuss mine. But think links to each others can help others out there!


    • I am glad your condition eventually improved. My face blindness has not improved. Due to the location of the brain injury, it is never expected to. I keep learning from it though. As long as I am learning and can help educate others, I find a purpose in what I have gone through.

      I am honored if you link to my blog. Thank you Stephen. I wish you continued improvement in health and evermore success in helping educate others!

      • Many thanks for the reply and I will sort out a link to your blog – I’d be greatful if you linked my page to yours too – I think there is too much stigma with head injury and any help out there shouldn’t be hindered! Good luck with your journey and stay in touch!

  4. […] https://findingstrengthtostandagain.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/defining-communications-as-altered-by-pr… Rate this: Share this:PrintTwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness – calling!!! […]

  5. […] week I wrote about the new ways I define communication since acquiring porospagnosia.  Thursday I will continue the conversation with how valuable eye […]

  6. […] Last week, I wrote about facial expressions being as readable since acquiring prosopagnosia as they were when I could still identify faces.  Other nonverbal clues, I now readily observe, required developing more attention to specific details.  By looking at eyes of people passing by, I can learn a significant amount.  Some people will flat out ignore me.  Others will intentionally avoid eye contact.  This is most often noted when people are looking in my general direction.  Once they are close enough to make out my frame, they look away and keep their eyes diverted while we pass each other.  These people, I often think, are either shy or maybe nervous or have another reason they would want to avoid any potential conversation.  Most people will at least glance at a passing person.  When someone does not know me, they look my way and generally nod their head, saying a quick hello, and then find another object to look at as we pass.  Their walking pace neither slows down nor hesitates.  It remains consistent.  If someone does know me, I find they usually raise their chin a few millimeters, slow down their pace and engage with eye contact for an extended time.  At this point, I realize a connection has been made.  We exchange a hello.  If nothing more is said on their part, I begin seeking verbal clues. […]

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