Misophonia is a complex and nuanced disorder.
It can be extremely difficult to live with, not just for the person with misophonia but for everyone involved. Parents, siblings, partners and best friends.
And it can sometimes feel like whatever you say or do, no matter how positive your intentions, is the wrong thing and makes things worse. If you’re a parent reading this you might feel like the perpetual baddy.
You might be barked at and glared at and for no good reason other than you’re enjoying your lunch, absentmindedly tapping your feet or clearing your throat.
Why such an intense reaction? It’s not as if you’ve killed anybody. Yet the ferocity of upset and anger on your loved one’s face can be such you might think that you had.
The reason you are here, reading this article, is because you know all this and bear the battle scars. Amazing person that you are you want to help because this someone you love and care for.
If you want to know what you can do to help your loved one with misophonia, this article is dedicated to you. It’s also for anyone with misophonia who wants to work on the challenges they face.
Before we get started, please know that this is not a list of demands or must dos and it’s not written in stone. It’s simply a list of ideas and suggestions you could try.
What may work well for some may not work as well for others and we’re learning new things all the time. Take these suggestions for a test drive, keep the ones that work, drop the ones that don’t and feel free to tweak away as you see fit.
A couple of quick things first…
If you’re looking for information about where to get professional help, I’ve put a separate link to that here: Where to get help or treatment for misophonia.
If you think you have misophonia and you’re unsure whether you tell your family or friends about it then take a look at this article first.
The techniques described below have come from a number of different sources, including the Allergic to Sound hive mind, online forum discussions and personal experience.
For the sake of ease from now on I’ll refer to ‘child/partner/sibling/friend with misophonia’ as ‘miso loved one’ in this article, so please take that as a catch all term. Hopefully it’ll save us some verbal gymnastics further down the line.
Ok, before you collapse from exhaustion from all the disclaimers and housekeeping notices, let’s get started. Here are our top suggestions.
1) Read up on misophonia
Reading up on misophonia is THE single best thing you can do to help. Once you start to understand the nature of the disorder and know what you’re dealing with you’ll start to feel more comfortable around your miso loved one, and they around you.
You’ll understand why the sound sensitivity is about the sounds, rather than the person making them, even though it might not always feel that way!
You’ll also discover why the immediate physiological reaction to certain sounds is pre-conscious and involuntary. All of this can help go some way to erode misunderstandings, pull the heat out of difficult situations and stop things from escalating.
The latest research shows us that misophonia isn’t a mysterious, mythical disorder it’s just different brain wiring. Not bad, just different. Some people are dyslexic and face some challenges with reading… others are short sighted and face challenges seeing without glasses. Your loved one with misophonia has a hypersensitivity to certain sounds.
When you think about it in this way, dispassionately, and just as mundane facts, none of these things are particularly dramatic or ‘weird’ in the grand scheme of things. There are more than 7 billion bodies on the planet, there are going to be a few variations.
Where can you read up on misophonia?
– I’ve listed all of the misophonia research papers I’ve come across to date (including links to the papers themselves) here: view misophonia research here
– If you read just ONE misophonia paper, read this one. It’s a systematic study which pulls together all the findings to date in a sensitive, thorough and comprehensive way. It’s authored by the leading lights (neuroscientists, psychologists, researchers) in the field of misophonia.
– Why parents, partners and siblings are our biggest misophonia triggers: read this article here
– Why misophonia is a sensory processing disorder and not an anger disorder: read this article here
– Why exposure therapy doesn’t work for misophonia: read this article here
– Misophonia and the beauty and brilliance of differently wired brains: read this article here
– Misophonia Education: view here (a very helpful resource which includes lots of free content and also runs paid workshops from time to time)
2) Know that it’s not your fault or your loved one’s fault
Misophonia is a neurological disorder.
Knowing this simple fact (and knowing that deep down it has nothing to do with you) can do wonders for your confidence, patience and understanding.
But it’s not easy…
If someone’s constantly telling you off for making normal, everyday noises it can be hard to know what to think or how to react…
Does this person have an anger disorder? (spoiler: no)
Is it me, have I done something wrong? (almost certainly not)
So what is going on here?
Again, the short answer is that we are talking about a neurological or a neurophysiological disorder. I know this has already been said a thousand times but it’s relevant, so bear with me.
Someone with misophonia has a hypersensitivity to certain noises, above and beyond anything a ‘neurotypical’ will experience. This is the way they are wired. They cannot help but have a neurophysiological reaction to certain noises at certain frequencies.
There are two very important things here. It means is that:
1) You are not at fault for making everyday noises
2) They are not at fault for having this sound sensitivity
The situation just is as it is.
We accept that a blind person is not blind by choice (and that they are not merely pretending they cannot see). And we know that if we behave in exactly the same way around them as we would around a sighted person it could cause problems. For example if we left physical objects in their path that they might have a nasty fall.
The same applies to misophonia. It doesn’t necessarily require seismic shifts in behaviour on either side to create a harmonious environment, just a basic level of understanding and the knowledge that neither party is to blame.
3) Be mindful of where you both are on this journey
Some misophones don’t know they have misophonia or want to admit it. Some know they have misophonia but don’t yet realise that their discomfort is primarily as a result of this neurological hypersensitivity (rather than, for example, other people ‘doing it to them’).
Others are zen masters and understand all of the above but even they are probably still working on their coping mechanisms ‘in the moment’.
On the other side there will be some parents, siblings and friends don’t yet fully understand the nature of misophonia (i.e. that the initial neurophysiological reaction that their loved one has is pre-conscious). Others may accept that it’s disorder but assumes that their loved one possesses a great level of control over it than they do.
As cliched as it may sound, we are all on a journey here. There will be high points, low points and plenty of slip ups along the way.
The guiding light here is more reading, more research, more understanding. If we treated misophonia the same way we now treat dyslexia, matter of factedly and with solution based approaches, we would be all the better for it.
4) Is your miso loved one is under the age of 25? Bear this in mind
It can be hard bear that extreme and seemingly irrational response to sound triggers…
By now you understand that misophonia is a neurological disorder…
And you know that they experience extreme discomfort when exposed to certain trigger sounds…
You even understand the majority of what takes place is pre-conscious and as such beyond their control…
But surely they can regulate their reaction a little more, right? You may feel like slapping someone in the face for queue jumping but you don’t actually do it, you exercise restraint. How is it that some misophones seem to be able stay quiet or remove themselves from difficult situations, whereas others turn into that head swirling, potty mouthed child from the Exorcist?
If your miso loved one is under the age of 25 there may be a good reason for this.
Their frontal cortex isn’t fully developed yet.
If you’ve followed Allergic to Sound for some time you’ll know we’ve talked a lot about the amygdala, or the ‘lizard brain’ as it’s sometimes called. It’s the ancient part of the brain that short circuits the decision making process and gets us to act instinctively in what it perceives to be life threatening “freeze-fight-flight” scenarios.
The frontal cortex, on the other hand, is the most recently evolved part of the brain. It’s responsible for complex functions like delayed gratification and emotion regulation.
The neuroscientist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky defines it as the part of the brain that: “helps us to do the harder thing”.
Wondered why teenagers can be so impulsive and hard to reason with? This is why.
Now imagine you’re a teenager with misophonia. You already have a code red levels of hormones swirling around your body thanks to puberty AND your frontal cortex isn’t fully developed making it more difficult to do the harder thing. Add to that you now feel completely overwhelmed by sensation and emotion when exposed to certain sounds and it’s fireworks waiting to happen.
In time a fully developed frontal cortex may help your miso loved one to respond to situations (at least outwardly) in what seems like a more measured way, while a younger misophone may struggle to do the same.
5) Try not to look for a reaction
If you make a trigger sound (a cough, sniffing, cutlery squeak or whatever it might be) try not to make a big deal out of it. Usually the best thing you can do is to just let it be.
If you keep looking over to your miso loved one for a reaction there’s a good chance it will escalate things.
They will already be trying to deal with this sound – as well a host of other micro sounds (and visuals for many of us) – that they cannot filter out. If they also feel like they have to deal with someone judging their reaction and internal struggle – however positive the intention – it’ll only make things worse.
Remember, your miso loved one does not want to react or lash out and will usually do their very best deal with the situation internally.
However, they may also be on a hair trigger (think of the kid who’s just been poked in the ribs for the 10th time and can’t take it anymore). In that moment they’re experiencing a rush of cortisol (the stress hormone), a quickened heart rate, a confusing triggering of the freeze-fight-flight response and a flood of emotions. As such they’ll feel extremely on edge and so anything, however minor, could set them off.
Ever tried to pet a dog when it has a bone in its mouth? It’s a bit like that, try not to add fuel to the fire. If they sense you’re looking over at them and expecting a reaction you’re likely to get one.
This is a complex issue because usually in these situations it’s the person with misophonia who doles out the deathly glares and snide comments, not the other way around. As such it may seem unfair that there’s one rule for us and another for neurotypicals here.
Yes, it is unfair but try to bear the following in mind.
They are simply not able to filter out certain sounds, it’s not a choice and they have no agency in this. With practice and life experience (and once their frontal cortex has fully developed) they may get better at developing coping mechanisms and be less likely to glare and lash out but try to give them some leeway. They may have many other wonderful qualities as a result of their heightened sensitivity.
6) Have some flexibility around eating arrangements
If your miso loved one struggles at meal times think about whether you could make a few minor adjustments for their sake and the sanity of the whole family.
A more formal etiquette may not always practical for someone with misophonia. As situations that involve eating are typically the worst times for misophonia, giving them some leeway and making just a few subtle adjustments here can improve things.
Remember, misophonia is a neurological disorder and not something that they can help. It’s not a phase or an act of teenage rebellion.
The next 4 points are about eating arrangements. This is such a traumatic event for most misophones, they each have their own section!
i) Try to eat meals at the same time
One of the most difficult situations for any misophone is to be trapped in a room where other people are eating, but they are not…
In situations like this, where eating sounds are the ONLY sounds they can hear, the effect is magnified many times over. It’s hard to stress just how difficult this can be for someone with misophonia.
But if they are also eating at the same time it’s a slightly different story. A lot goes on when we eat. It’s a very immersive activity and the different sights, sounds, smells and can help dampen the sounds others are making.
So there are two simple things we can do here:
1) Try to eat meals at the same time and avoid eating meals on front of them outside this. This might sound like a small thing but it can make a big difference. In a similar vein, if a younger sibling is going to be stuck at the table for another a hour until they finish their broccoli… or if the adults are going to embark on a mammoth cheese and crackers session, consider giving your miso loved one the option to leave the table if they’ve finished their meal and are experiencing discomfort.
2) If someone in your household is about to eat a noisy snack (a bag of crisps, a raw carrot, an apple) don’t be too concerned if your miso loved one wants to leave the room temporarily to do something else. You could even also encourage snack eating to take place in non-communal areas, if practical.
ii) Background noise during mealtimes can sometimes help
Their core struggle centres around sensory gating and filtering out sounds. It’s helpful to remember that. The way that your miso loved one’s brain is wired means that they are unable to filter out certain sounds in the same way ’neurotypicals’ can. These sounds will feel amplified and painfully insistent, as if they are invading their whole being and set off a kind of internal fire alarm.
For some misophones if a trigger sound is just one of a number of other non-triggering sounds, the effect can be lessened significantly. Think of it as a form of confusing and dampening of the sounds. Dampening trigger sounds by playing other sounds can make them less insistent as the brain tasks itself with processing other non triggering sounds, simultaneously. Combine this with the fact that they’re already focused and engaged on eating their own meal at this time and the effect can be less severe.
You may need to do some experimenting with this one because everyone is different. We all have unique living environments and/or restrictions at home. You could try putting some music on it the background to see if that helps (ideally something that everyone can get behind, whether that’s classical music, yoga chants or death metal).
If it’s not a special meal, eating with the radio on or sitting in front of the TV can help. This sounds antisocial and like an advert for zombification, but it can be effective. Television is particularly immersive which can make it effective at dampening out trigger sounds and helps track their vision away from someone’s mouth chewing. Remember there’s no right or wrong here, just see what works for you.
iii)) Try not to be too ‘self aware’ when eating
If you live with someone who has misophonia, it can feel like you’re unfairly judged for doing normal, everyday things (like making sounds no-one else would notice or bat an eyelid over)… as if they’re waiting for your every swallow, crunch or chew. This might make you want to start acting more self-consciously, with one eye on your miso loved one to pre-empt glares or comments.
I thought long and hard about including this tip – because it’s a strange one and perhaps beyond anyone’s control – but if you can, try to avoid acting too self consciously around them. Misophones are incredibly sensitive to little shifts and disruptions in rhythm and mood. If you start making exaggerated or unusual movements with your hands or mouth this may set off their sensory klaxons. They already feel on edge and self conscious about their disorder. If you start acting differently around them it can make things worse.
All this might sound ludicrously contradictory…
Misophones want people to eat quietly… but not self consciously, to act normal… but try not to make normal sounds.
Really, like with so many things in life, it’s just about avoiding extremes. No one’s expecting you to be able to mind read or know how to act all the time but if you can just be yourself and try not to act in extremes (whether that’s exaggerated, loud eating to prove a point, or nervous on-edge eating to anticipate a reaction, it could really help).
7) Know that misophonia is not a phase or a cry for help
Seeing a loved one have such a strong reaction to certain everyday sounds can be confusing and alienating.
If you’re a parent with more than one child you might find that your other children don’t have any issue at all with sound. How can this be? Are they putting it on to get attention? Why are they making an unnecessary fuss?
Once again, it’s really important to understand that misophonia is not a phase or a learned behaviour. While it’s common for some members of the same family to have misophonia, in other families it may only affect one person. There is some evidence to suggest misophonia could be a genetic trait (you can see more on this here).
It’s not any reflection on you in the slightest.
You can’t fix a neurological disorders with a finger click or a pill. What you can do is try to understand them, accept them and if possible make some accommodations around them.
We live in a world that has become dangerously obsessed with defining what’s ‘normal’ and then trying to ‘fix’ anything which doesn’t fit into a neat little box. It’s understandable given how we’re constantly, relentlessly told over mainstream media – and now social media – how to look, think and feel.
Algorithms feed us with carefully curated tidbits of information and news to maximise our dopamine fixes. Because ‘normal’ is boring and doesn’t hold human attention for long we’re exposed to extreme examples of everything. Part of that is this idea that anything outside of a certain way of looking, seeing, experiencing and thinking is wrong or bad and needs correcting.
I’m in danger of wandering off onto a delirious, frothy-mouthed tangent so I’ll close up this point by saying the following. Sometimes acceptance is the most powerful tool we possess.
We may do better to consider how strange and constricted our image-obsessed modern world has become… rather than assume that difference is always wrong or bad.
8) Communicate. If appropriate, let your miso loved one know if a trigger noise is coming
Simple communication can save a lot of distress and misunderstanding.
While it would be unhealthy (and frankly unworkable) to alert your miso loved one every single time you think there could be a potential trigger, try letting them know if a major, prolonged trigger is coming. By that I mean something outside of their normal routine or mealtimes that is in your control.
For example, if you’re about to have a noisy snack or engage in an activity which you know may really trigger your miso loved one, give them a quick heads up.
“Hey, I’m just about to go eat an apple in the kitchen”… or “I need to use the vacuum cleaner for a while in here”.
This isn’t pandering or treading on eggshells it’s just being mindful of the fact your miso loved has a disorder which makes certain arbitrary sounds (from anyone, not just you) distressing.
It’s a simple thing but it lets everyone know where they are. Your miso loved one then has a choice to either leave the room or put some headphones (if they feel they need to) and it can avert any tricky confrontations or escalations.
Exposure to trigger sounds can literally feel like an assault to the senses but if we know it’s coming and have time to prepare it makes life a lot easier.
9) Pick the right time to talk about misophonia
When your miso loved one is upset or in the middle of a misophonia episode it’s not the best time to talk about misophonia.
There’s a good chance they’ll say something they don’t really mean if an argument ensues.
As misophones we should always try our best to do some self policing and avoid getting into these situations where possible.
However, children may not always understand what they’re feeling or why. They may find it hard to articulate even if they do. The rush of hormones, increased heart rate and barrage of thoughts and emotions can be overwhelming.
If as a parent or older sibling you can see this happening try to give them some space.
Conversations about misophonia are best had when stress levels are down and everyone is feeling comfortable and not on the defensive.
10) Try to think of misophonia in the wider context (it’s not that strange)
The very notion of misophonia can sound absurd, especially to anyone who doesn’t have it.
But there are many different disorders all of which may sound strange at first, like:
– Synesthesia – A neurological disorder where information from one sense can stimulate other senses (for example where music is simultaneously represented as colour)
– Prosopagnosia – A neurological disorder where patients are unable to recognise faces (sometimes known as face blindness)
I highly recommend reading Oliver Sacks book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat for some context. It’s a witty, wonderful, highly informative book by one of the world’s most well-regarded neurologists.
This was a life changing book for me. It’s written without any judgement and is a meticulous account of a range of human, neurological differences. Sacks doesn’t discuss misophonia (misophonia wasn’t widely known about or understood at the time this book was written) but nonetheless his writing often offer a lightbulb, revelatory moment for many people.
What might start off as incredibility ends up as fascination and a desire to understand and help and work with.
11) We are all different. What might work for one misophone might not work for another
You might find a couple of things here work and others don’t. Just mix and match and experiment and see what works for you.
What works for one person or family in a particular setting might not work for you in yours and that’s ok.
Some misophones may be battling with a comorbidity which can pose additional challenges. A comorbidity is when you have more than one illness or disorder at the same time though the two don’t have to be related.
So for example someone you have misophonia and bipolar disorder, or anorexia and depression, or ADHD and OCD.
It can be tempting to try and blame to one specific thing. “He is behaving that way because of misophonia”… “She is being grumpy because of depression”… and so on and so forth. Labelling can be useful but it’s not always constructive.
12) Laughter can be a powerful tool
Everyone’s different on this one (so tread carefully here!)
If you and your miso loved one can laugh about the situation from time to time (not at the person!) it can be an amazing tonic.
This is something my partner and I are sometimes able to do, not just about my misophonia but also about her maladies, and it can be wonderfully cathartic.
Trigger sounds for a misophone are often fleeting (typically a coughing fit is over in a few seconds) but the residual hormone rush and flood of emotions can linger for longer and require a bit of a reset.
Here’s where laughter comes in because it can be an incredible antidote.
During an episode misophonia dramatically increases heart rate, releases cortisol (the stress hormone), increases muscular tension and causes panic and anxious thoughts.
Here’s what we know about laughter…
Laughter stimulates muscles relaxation, can help reduce blood pressure, reduce levels of cortisol and epinephrine and alleviate stress and anxiety. It also releases dopamine, the ‘feel-good neurotransmitter’
The trouble is for all its superpowers laughter can be taken the wrong way – particularly if someone is feeling self conscious or vulnerable so once again you
13) Realise that you can’t fix it (and be ok with that)
This is not your fault.
This is particularly important for concerned parents who might feel like they are helpless or should be doing more.
You are doing all you can. There’s no instant fix or magic button. The key is acceptance and the best thing you can do is be there and listen and try to understand the nature of the disorder and what your loved one might be going through.
The fact you are learning about misophonia shows that you are absolutely on the right path so please don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are somehow to blame or beat yourself up.
14) Encourage them to connect with others with misophonia
Misophonia can feel scary and alien.
When you find out misophonia has a name it can be tempting to shout it from the rooftops and let everyone know, family, friends, partners, the barista at your local coffee shop.
Finally being able to put a label on something can be extremely liberating but it’s not always helpful in every situation. Sometimes sharing this information with someone who has no knowledge of misophonia, or isn’t old enough to fully comprehend what it means, can create other problems.
The obvious example is school. A close, empathetic childhood friend knowing about misophonia could be an amazing support… whereas a playground bully who finds out about it could make life very difficult.
In adult life misophones will face dilemmas when it comes to telling (or not telling) housemates, work colleagues… friends. “Will this person treat me differently if they know?”… “Will I feel more anxious around them knowing that they know?” and so on.
Humans are social animals and we do need to be able to talk and emote and unravel our feelings without fear of judgment. Bottling things up can lead to a host a new and unwelcome maladies. Talking therapy can be wonderful in this regard because it’s a place where they can connect with someone who does not feature in their day to day life i.e. in their family network or friend circle. As such they can talk freely and know that what they say will not be repeated or judged.
Misophonia groups can also be a helpful resource and in fact that’s one of the reasons I created this website. Other misophones will know exactly what they are going through. There’s no need for a lengthy preamble explaining the nature of the disorder, no need for disclaimers.
If it feels appropriate and the right time to do so, encourage your loved one to learn more about misophonia and to connect with others. They will start to realise that they are not alone.
Bear in mind that not all support groups are created equal and there are some groups, on Facebook in particular, that sadly (despite best intentions) revert to name calling and blaming. Groups that focus entirely on triggers and people making them, in my opinion, not constructive in the long run or good for mental health. They can create cliquey and insular bubbles of outrage and negativity that exacerbate problems.
Have a look around for thoughtfully moderated groups that focus on empathy and understanding and forward thinking approaches. I’ve included a few resources where you can start your search here.
Right that’s it.
This is one of those articles I hope to add to and see evolve over time.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, whether you have misophonia yourself or you are a parent, sibling, partner or friend of someone who does.