This qualitative study sought to construct a model of empowerment for clinical implementation, based on the first-hand experience of a sample of individuals with chronic tinnitus.
The study was conducted in accordance with the inductive approach to data in classic grounded theory (GT). GT aims to build a model of behavior that accounts for the main concern of individuals and how they strive to resolve it. Twenty-one participants with chronic tinnitus (10 females, 11 males, age 31–85, mean: 57.6 years, mean duration of tinnitus: 12 years) were recruited through the patient association France Acouphènes and ENT consultations. Open-ended, tape-recorded interviews addressed the variation in the intrusiveness of tinnitus in daily life. A constant comparison analysis was undertaken to identify a core category and to distinguish stages in behavioral changes toward the tolerance of tinnitus.
Participants’ main concern was to limit the intrusiveness of tinnitus day in, day out. They continuously had to handle tinnitus-induced frustration, which was found to be the core category of the analysis accounting for how all the participants tried to deal with the condition. The more they managed to handle their frustration, the better they coped with the condition. Three behavior patterns were identified as facilitating the ongoing management of tinnitus-induced frustration: (1) searching for perspective upon tinnitus; (2) maintaining order in perception despite its interference; and (3) alleviating conflict arising from social interactions. A model of empowerment is presented that is based on four stages toward tolerance of tinnitus. They are dominated by lack of perspective upon tinnitus (circuit 1), preservation of energy through attempts to control its intrusiveness (circuit 2), attempts to detach oneself from the interference of tinnitus through constant activities (circuit 3), and self-induced relief through the fulfillment of meaningful goals (circuit 4).
Tolerance of tinnitus requires finding balance between limiting one’s social participation and spontaneity in carrying out meaningful activities. Tolerance can be enhanced by the preservation of one’s energy and the mediating role of enjoyment through the fulfillment of gratifying goals. In patient counseling, it is essential to address the individual’s desire for direct relief from tinnitus through its elimination. Individuals should be made aware that such a desire will likely be thwarted, resulting in the worsening of intrusiveness. Improvement in tolerance is accompanied by the attenuation of niggling self-awareness, a change that is typical of full commitment with valued goals and that helps in alleviating the interference of tinnitus. By understanding the role of frustration, individuals may develop a sense of responsibility in dealing with disabling tinnitus.