Today, while eating dinner with my parents (me with a book at the table, my mother in front of the TV, and my father in front of me at the table with his iPad), I realized something: my misophonia has, lately, been getting worse again.
And then I remembered, that a lot of people don’t even know what misophonia is – or realize they have it, themselves. So that’s what I’m going to talk about today. I have mentioned it before while talking about synesthesia, but I never really looked into misophonia itself.
Misophonia, which apparently literally translates to “hatred of sound”, is exactly that: hatred of specific sounds. This is why it’s also referred to as Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome. It can manifest in different ways and different levels of intensity. It’s got its name only very recently, sometime in the last 5 years, which is when researchers really started researching the condition.
Simply put: it’s an over-sensitivity to very specific sounds.
People who have misophonia are most commonly angered by specific sounds, such as lip-smacking, slurping, throat-clearing, nail-clipping, chewing, drinking, tooth-brushing, breathing, sniffing, talking, sneezing, yawning, walking, gum-chewing or popping, laughing, snoring, swallowing, gulping, burping, clicking dentures, typing, coughing, humming, whistling, singing, certain consonants, or repetitive sounds
If you’ve never heard of it before, that’s because it’s only recently been getting attention. And don’t worry: if you suspect you might have this, you’re not imagining things or going insane. All research into the condition is new, and so is all the knowledge we have about it, but so far I haven’t found researches dismissing misophonia as something non-existent.
What it is instead? Possible causes range from neurological disorders, desensitized sensory issues, something related to autism, to something connected to anxiety, depression and especially OCD. Quite simply put: we just don’t know.
For me, personally, I do know what it means to have misophonia. It means I can’t sit at a quiet dinner table without wanting to cry – and sometimes actually crying and/or running off. The crying is a result of disgust. Disgust at the sound of people eating.
I can’t stand the sound of smacking, of cutlery ticking against teeth, of certain people swallowing their drinks, of chewing. It’s a whole different kind of hell.
I’ve tried and tested techniques to deal with this, some more successful than others. Running away and crying aren’t very useful, chewing loudly myself to mask the others’ sounds helps at least a part of the time (and only in the right company). I’m generally okay if there’s background noise, like a TV or a busy restaurant.
I’m lucky. I can still easily eat dinner with my family (I eat with my parents every day, with varying amounts of patience). My brother and sister especially have several specific sounds that trigger me like mad, but luckily it’s easier now my sister has 3 young children that tend to make a lot of noise. Nothing disguises the sound of chewing quite as much as children fighting over a toy.
I can still go out for dinner, I love cooking and eating with friends, and I haven’t actually run off crying since I was a teenager.
(That said, I absolutely rage with anger whenever my neighbour is pruning his plants in the garden. The snip – snip – snip of his garden scissors literally makes me throw doors shut and renders me incapable of focusing on anything else. The amount of times I’ve almost shouted at him to stop it, just stop it, can no longer be counted on one hand.)
But reading up on misophonia, I learned that a lot of people have it much harder: depression, social isolation, even suicidal thoughts. Some people can’t eat together with their families or friends. Some people can’t even really listen to some people talk because of the triggers (just for the fun of it, try paying attention to the amount of unnecessary sounds people make, it’s maddening).
Misophonia can be a very serious ordeal, and if you’re in the category of people that have trouble functioning because of it, it might help to talk to a professional like a therapist. I don’t know how many therapists acknowledge (or are even aware of) the existence of misophonia, but it’s always worth a try.
Here are some articles for further reading:
Misophonia.com: symptoms & triggers
NY Times blog: “Please stop making that noise” (opens with a video with examples of sounds)
Slate: “Do chewing sounds make you crazy?“