Let’s face it, misophonia is a strange disorder…
Life would be a lot easier if it was as easy to explain as, say, an intolerance to gluten or a hay fever allergy.
Perhaps the biggest misconception is that misophonia is a hatred of sound in general.
The reality is that misophonia trigger sounds are actually very specific.
Most sufferers are fine with background noise, music, people talking and so on. The problem is with certain noises: typically a range of human and repetitive sounds.
It’s the clack clack clacking of someone walking around in heels… or someone quietly (or loudly) sniffing… or someone coughing… eating… chewing.
These are just some of the more typical sounds that can trigger a misophonia episode.
But hang on a second…
Doesn’t everyone hate these ‘irritating’ sounds?
No-one really likes the sound of people slurping or coughing, it’s true.
So when you try to explain misophonia to a non-sufferer they’ll usually say (understandably!) “yeah I find that annoying too, I know what you mean”.
But this is different.
While a non-sufferer might find these trigger sounds annoying or distracting, someone with misophonia will have a reaction that’s extreme and often debilitating.
It can affect every aspect of someone’s work, family and social life.
Many misophones actively seek out solitary professions where they can work in trigger-free surroundings, while others work on coping mechanisms to get through the day. Whether that’s wearing earphones at times or finding a quiet room to work in.
Imagine trying to get on with a mundane task and having someone getting in your face and physically poking you over and over non stop. The feeling during an misophonia episode is that intense and overwhelming.
Are people with misophonia raging psychopaths?
When people talk about misophonia they often talk about rage or anger.
This is perhaps the most ‘shocking’ sounding element of this disorder and it’s easy to see why it causes such distress and confusion.
During an episode they might visualise causing physical violence to the person making the sound. The brain role plays scenarios where they are slapping the food out of their hand… or putting them in a headlock… or even punching them in the face.
The first thing to clarify right away is that it’s extremely rare for someone with misophonia to ever resort to physical violence.
For the vast majority this disorder is a tortured, internal battle. In almost all other ways misophones are rational, intelligent people. They don’t actually want to harm anyone and outside of an episode, when reflecting, they know that the problem lies with the disorder.
If this concept is distressing for non-sufferers to get their heads round, imagine how it feels for someone living with the disorder every single day.
While the media often like to sensationalise the ‘anger’ element it’s actually only a small part of a somewhat complex puzzle. What misophones experience is primarily panic. It’s also fear, confusion, adrenalin and yes, often anger too.
This is because certain sounds trigger the freeze-fight-flight response for misophones. This is the mode our brain subconsciously puts us in when it believes we are in imminent danger.
That means, stress levels increase… the heart races… the body is primed and ready for danger.
While all this is happening the conscious mind tries to catch up is able to rationalise and say: “this person crunching an apple” is not a real threat to me.
That’s why misophones don’t run around punching people or head-butting walls. However the subconscious arousal of the amygdala and freeze-fight-flight still triggers these fear based emotions.
Can’t misophonia just be fixed with exposure therapy or even anxiety medication?
No credible research to date (research and studies performed and monitored in controlled conditions) suggests that exposure therapy has any positive impact, in fact it may put the sufferer in unnecessary distress and exacerbate the problem.
Misophonia is a neurological disorder and as such, while medication may numb the patient temporarily, it’s not an effective treatment.
I hope that clears up some of the confusion around misophonia.
If you’re reading this as a sufferer, don’t worry – you’re NOT crazy.
If you’re reading this as a friend or family member of someone who suffers from misophonia then if there’s one thing you take away from this website, I hope it’s the realisation that misophonia is real and that it affects people deeply. It’s not an ‘overreaction’, it’s a condition that benefits hugely from support and understanding.