For as long as I can remember, I have been utterly appalled at certain noises. The sound of someone chewing literally makes me want to be sick (and knock them upside the head), and I have to stop myself from getting up and leaving the room at the sound of people sniffling, coughing, or clearing their throats. I never thought much of it, always figuring it was just some pet peeve of mine that makes me really agitated.
But then I was watching Live! with Kelly a couple weeks ago, and she was talking about how she has the same problem. She mentioned how ever since she was a child, the sound of chewing has driven her nuts, and she has to leave the room if her husband eats a juicy peach. The diagnosis, she says, is that she has misophonia, which literally means “hatred of sounds.”
According to this article, in patients with misophonia “there is an abnormally strong reaction of the limbic (emotional system) and autonomic nervous system (body control system) which are closely connected with the auditory (hearing) system. Hearing the hated sound activates a “fight or flight” response – either you become angry and potentially violent or you get anxious and run away.”
According to this article, the “trigger” sounds which tend to be most difficult for patients with misophonia to deal with are often connected to eating and breathing. The article goes on to say that the closer the sufferer is emotionally to the trigger person, the more offensive the sound tends to be, which I can certainly relate to.
And Kelly certainly isn’t alone. ABC News did another story on a college student, Emma Riehl, who says attending her classes is like a form of torture for her. The sounds of the classroom, like sniffling and chewing, make her anxious, distressed, and even violent. The article goes on to say, “[u]nlike people who find these noises merely irritating, people with misophonia have an extreme reaction that often leads to lives of isolation.” This is certainly the case with Riehl, who lives alone and constantly wears headphones, unable to participate in the typical college social scene. (Check out the full story and watch her video diary here.)
The Today Show did another story on a woman named Adah Siganoff who experiences something similar. For her, the fear is that she won’t be able to control the rage she feels after hearing certain noises, making it clear that the extreme of misophonia can be a very dangerous one. She eats alone, apart from her husband, just so she does not fly off into a fit of anger. Those with severe cases don’t just get annoyed at these sounds, but truly and deeply enraged. Their whole body reacts, and it’s difficult to stop it. (Check out her very interesting story here.)
For me, the worst of all noises is probably snoring. Billy snores, and whenever I hear it, I can’t even deal with it for a second. I’ll immediately wake him up or make him roll over to get it to stop. If that doesn’t work, you’ll find me on the couch in the morning. I feel so much anxiety and even anger when I hear it. I know it’s not his fault, but just thinking about it makes me cringe. Chewing runs a close second, but it’s a noise that is a lot easier to escape.
I found this particular graphic interesting because for me, it is so true to life. If someone near me during a test is making any kind of sound – chewing on or tapping their pencil, sniffling repeatedly, coughing – it’s all over for me. My concentration goes out the window and I have to work so hard to ignore them. If it was cool to get up and leave during a test, I probably would just to avoid hearing it.
But there are also non-bodily sounds that get to me: At night, I have to sleep with a fan on, but if it is rattling, making any unusual noise, or causing something around it to make any noise whatsoever, even the slightest bit, I’ll lie awake all night until I get up to fix it. Window fans that hum against the frame? Forget it. Sometimes I also have to turn the radio or TV up, down, or off if the volume is not jiving with my mood at the time. (Billy always thinks I’m crazy over that one, but it truly makes me want to scream.)
If there’s an upside, it’s that I’ve never really experienced the “fight” side of misophonia. Although I have wanted to choke people on countless occasions because of the sounds coming out of their mouths when they’re chewing, I’ve never actually done so. Usually, I’ll just ask them to stop (and they look at me like I’m crazy), or I’ll just get up and leave the room.
I also don’t mean to trivialize the severity of this disorder, since it clearly can be life-altering for those who suffer from it. I’m just lucky that it only leads me to feel anxiety, to lose a little sleep, or to have to leave the room at mealtimes. For others, it can lead to social isolation and a life of constant fear and worry. There is no cure at this time, as doctors are just beginning to study the condition, but I sure do find it interesting, and I truly hope that in the future the medical world will find a way to help those suffering from it.
Do you or anyone you know suffer from misophonia?
What sounds irritate you and how do you react when you hear them?