For as long as I can remember I have hated the sound of clipping nails. So much so I want to throat punch the person doing it. Birdie, my daughter, hates the sound of chewing. So much so she sometimes has to leave the room when people are eating. While Birdie’s condition is more severe than mine, we both have Misophonia.
According to Misophonia.com, “The literal definition of misophonia is hatred of sound, but a person with misophonia does not simply hate all sound. People with misophonia have specific symptoms and triggers and are sensitive to only certain sounds and occasionally to visual triggers. Any sound can become a problem to a person with misophonia, but many are some kind of background noise. People call the collection of sounds that they’re sensitive to their trigger set. It is possible to add to one’s trigger set over time. Exposure to a trigger sound elicits an immediate negative emotional response from a person with sound sensitivities.”
People with Misophonia, have a selective sound sensitivity they can’t control. Usually, it’s something like — the sound of breathing, chewing, slurping, sniffling, cracking knuckles or squeaking styrofoam. The sound of her dog licking itself sends Birdie into immediate distress. Certain sounds provoke a fight-or-flight response that triggers an emotional response like a panic attack, anger, anxiousness, agitation, disgust, skin crawling or the need to escape. In severe cases, it might cause fear, rage, severe emotional distress, suicidal thoughts and even the desire to kill whoever is making the sound. This is more than just your average annoyance at someone’s lousy table etiquette. Misophonia can provoke a violent emotional response. (Click that pen one more time, and I am going to stab you in the eye with it.)
Misophonia can affect your social life. In our case, my 20-year-old daughter often tries to avoid dining situations as the sound of chewing agitates her. She misses out on social engagements with her friends that center around food. I am careful not to eat corn nuts around her since those are the worst. Having a date over a meal is out of the question. Also, she will often avoid the movie theater because she doesn’t want to hear the sound of crunching popcorn. She will never be a gum chewer (and would appreciate it if you wouldn’t chew it either). Chomping or smacking your gum will elicit her face melting death glare. We have a running joke when Birdie has had a particularly severe trigger activated, she will say to me, “There is murder in my heart.” She is joking of course, but it signals the severity of the situation, and we try to steer away from the trigger.
When I started researching more about Misophonia, I came across an article from the Misophonia Association regarding the science of it. “The team’s important finding was in a part of the brain that plays a role both in anger and in integrating outside inputs (such as sounds) with inputs from organs such as the heart and lungs: the anterior insular cortex (AIC). Using MRI scans to measure brain activity, the researchers found that the AIC caused much more activity in other parts of the brain during the trigger sounds for those with misophonia than for the control group. Specifically, the parts of the brain responsible for long-term memories, fear, and other emotions were activated. This makes sense since people with misophonia have strong emotional reactions to common sounds; more importantly, it demonstrates that these parts of the brain are the ones responsible for the experience of misophonia.
The researchers also used whole-brain MRI scans to map participants’ brains and found that people with misophonia have higher amounts of myelination. Myelin is a fatty substance that wraps around nerve cells in the brain to provide electrical insulation, like the insulation on a wire. It’s not known if the extra myelin is a cause or an effect of misophonia and its triggering of other brain areas.”
Misophonia usually starts to show up around the ages of 12 to 14, and it is thought to be genetic, which makes sense to me. My mother has always been sensitive to sound. She is happiest when things are quiet, no tv, radio, ringing phones or other technologically induced sounds. Like Birdie, my brother J is not a fan of chewing either. He and Birdie will exchange knowing looks if there is a particular offender at the table (usually my dad). When our younger brother Mykal was little, he used to shout at J to “STOP BREATHING!” The sound of it irritated Mykal. All of us get our knickers in a knot over a nose whistle. We are going to offer you a tissue. Sometimes it’s difficult to maintain our composure when an impulse is triggered. Misophonia can be common among individuals with OCD, something my brothers and I have in common.
The treatment for Misophonia is lacking. It is suggested that people with Misophonia avoid noise, exercise, and maintain healthy sleep habits. (Uh, okay, thanks for that.) You can also join a support group (I find that equally unhelpful). There is cognitive behavioral therapy which focuses on modifying negative thoughts, behaviors, and emotional responses associated with psychological distress. (The jury is still out on that suggestion.) You can also see a psychiatrist and treat Misophonia with medication. (Yay for more meds!) Actually, medication might be helpful in severe cases.
If you know someone with Misophonia and they suddenly have a reaction to a trigger sound, don’t be offended. Although it may seem personal, it’s not. It’s not you, it’s the dreadful noise you are making. 🙂
Is there a particular sound that sets you off? Comment below!
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