Coping Strategies

People who grow up with Face Blindness are likely to have found a number of different ways of coping with social situations.

Jo Livingston (Editor of ‘What It’s Like to be Face Blind’) has put together some useful suggestions:

Insurance – when I meet anyone who I think I’m likely to come across again, I always try to throw in just a one-liner – ‘By the way, if we meet again I probably won’t recognise you – the bit of my brain that recognises faces doesn’t work’. Most people look politely disbelieving but at least if you’ve told them they can’t complain later. And sometimes they want to know more and ask you about it.

Friends and strangers – not sure if this is typical but I find it much easier to explain to strangers or acquaintances than to people I’ve known a long time. Family and old friends have a much more fixed idea of you as a person (social incompetence and all!) and don’t like having their ideas upset. I think I’d have found it difficult to explain to my parents (they were both dead by the time I found out about it) because their generation would find the concept quite bizarre and also it could have led to an element of guilt (quite unreasonably) over not having known of it when I was growing up.

Getting help – try to get the people you’re closest to on your side – ask for their help in identifying others. Some friends are very helpful and identify themselves each time you meet. Even if they’re not someone you have difficulty with it’s good to have the support. (In Ancient Rome there was a post called a nomenklator – a slave whose duty was to remind his master of the names of those who greeted him – I’d love one of those).

Group awareness – once you start telling people, the word will spread within the larger group that talk to each other. I’d rather be known as ‘that woman who’s got something wrong with her brain – can’t remember what it’s called’ instead of ‘oh, she’s the snooty one’. Make a joke of it – if you’re asked who someone is in a group just say ‘Don’t ask me!’ and they’ll realise and laugh.

Denial – if people who matter to you, like close family, refuse to believe what you’ve discovered, get copies of articles for them to read or search You Tube – there are lots of bits of film there that may convince them that it’s a real condition and you’re not making it up.

Name tags etc – at work or in a formal situation, always encourage the use of name tags and identifications at the beginning of a meeting. Learn to scribble discreetly while that’s going on – make a note of hair, style of dress, tone of voice etc. A plan of where people sit can be useful later, especially if it’s a regular meeting – people often sit in the same place next time. In a large meeting, people can be asked to identify themselves when they speak.

Always arrive first – if you’ve arranged to meet somewhere like a cafe and let the other person find you. You can be lost in a book or the view while they do the difficult bit.

Asking the name – this works well in a slightly formal or crowded situation or with children or teenagers. You ask their name, they tell you, in a slightly huffy way, that ‘it’s Sharon, innit’ and you say ‘Yes, of course I know that but it’s your surname I can’t remember’. I found this invaluable when I was teaching but of course it won’t help if it turns out to be your sister!

Using other people’s names – you probably don’t do this if you can avoid it – I always felt very uncomfortable saying people’s names, with no idea why. Now I know it’s just too risky – you can bluff all you like but once you’ve got their name wrong there’s no going back.

Record keeping – make notes (written down if it helps) about all the things you use to recognise an individual – hair, both style and colour, beards, glasses, ear-rings, body shape, piercings, tattoos, birthmarks. These tactics aren’t infallible – hairstyles may change, beards get shaved off – but they often work, especially once you learn to do it as a deliberate exercise and it becomes automatic. (If necessary, keep your notes in code – it depends how personal it gets!).

Use pairings – it’s often easier to recognise people who are always together when you meet them – a married couple, the children of a family. The information seems to square itself, not just double. Animals help too – I often recognise a dog and can deduce the owner from that.