Misophonia means literally ‘hatred of sound’ – or rather certain very specific (often repetitive) sounds.
Only it’s a bit more complex than that.
One of the problems when describing misophonia to non-sufferers is that the concept is so simple it’s often misunderstood.
Because non-sufferers can often identify with the idea of certain sounds being annoying – such as the sound of a biro clicking or someone eating with their mouth open, they think they ‘get it’. Usually (despite the best of intentions) they don’t. Misophonia is not about getting annoyed, or even extremely annoyed, with certain sounds. It’s having a physiological response to them.
The best way to describe this, is that these triggers will elicit a ‘fight or flight’ response.
So when a misophonia sufferer hears someone eating loudly and lip smacking they can often feel:
- Panicked and/or enraged
- Their heart will start racing
- Everything else feels ‘blocked out’
- They can imagine violent scenarios in their head
The sound most often used as an example when people try to describe misophonia is lip smacking, simply because it’s an extremely strong trigger for most of us.
However, because most people find noisy eating unattractive, irritating even, they feel like that understand it.
They think: “everyone finds those sounds annoying, you’ve just taken it up a notch and have a more extreme reaction”.
That’s not the case and this misconception can hinder people’s understanding of the condition and what a sufferer really goes through.
As a misophonia sufferer you don’t get to pick and choose your triggers, or the intensity of the reaction. When an episode takes place it overrides every single thought. Life, at that moment, is unbearable.
The sufferer has to either remove themselves from the situation or speak to the person making the sound and ask them to stop. I normally do the former because, after 2 decades living with this, I’ve realised it’s not the other person’s fault.
When the noise stops and/or you move away from the noise, the heart rate will normally start to return to normal and you can start going back to what you were doing. In my case I normally have a few minutes stewing over the episode where I try and rationalise things in my head.
The problem is when you’re actually in the moment, your head is screaming: “OH MY GOD, WHY IS THAT AWFUL PERSON MAKING THAT SOUND! HOW DARE THEY! DON’T THEY KNOW HOW UNBELIEVABLY THOUGHTLESS/EVIL/UNBEARABLE THAT IS? HATE, HATE, HATE”.
You might role play in your mind a scenario where you go up to the person making the sound and literally throttle them until they stop… or throw their cutlery across the room… or scream blue murder.
Now obviously these would be completely outrageous and unacceptable reactions if we played them out. Apparently a very small percentage of extreme sufferers have done this, but these are very exceptional cases.
More often than not the person will suffer in silence and try to remove themselves from the situation or block it out (for instance with headphones). Misophonia sufferers are rational people and know that the disorder is responsible for the pain, not the person making the sound.
One quirk of misophonia is that episodes can be more intense if the person making the sound is someone they love or are close to – such as a partner, a family member or a friend.
Obviously this can make life hellish (think family dinners, or interactions at work). I personally find this aspect of the disorder has a silver lining. Because your rational mind knows you love and value this person, it can help you to add a parallel narrative during, or immediately after, an episode.
So you can chant to yourself (in your head of course) “this person doesn’t mean to cause me harm… they have no idea what they are doing is driving me insane… this is someone I truly care about… the issue is the misophonia, not them.”
It doesn’t stop the pain but it can go some way to helping you rationalise it and deal with it in a less destructive way.