Her words were laced with bewilderment and pain. She wasn’t a misophonic, but someone who had grown up with one—a sister who had shared a bedroom with her and was constantly enraged by the sound of her breathing. Now an adult, this commenter on one of my blog posts still yearned to make sense of it.
As anyone who lives with a misophonic can tell you, it ain’t easy.
“Because misophonia is a new diagnosis and not well understood, misunderstandings between the person with misophonia and the people they live with can lead to a range of hurt feelings and reactions,” says Dr. Jennifer Gans, a San Francisco, Calif.-based psychologist who has worked with misophonics and their families. “Feelings of anger, sadness, confusion, guilt, and shame are commonly felt by people living with misophonics.”
To deal with these emotions, Dr. Gans urges family members of misophonics to first and foremost become as educated as they can about the disorder. “People living with misophonics need to recognize the disorder as a serious condition that is not a behavioral choice but an issue of brain wiring,” she says. “This can help build empathy for the misophonic’s struggle to manage their hatred of certain sounds.”
If you are the parent of a misophonic child, Dr. Gans says it’s important to use age appropriate language to help the child understand that what he/she is experiencing is very real and has to do with brain functioning and how he/she processes certain sounds. “Misophonic children need to know that it is no one’s “fault,” but rather something unique about them that has to be managed, so that they can learn and live life with positive social experiences.”
According to Dr. Jaelline Jaffe, a psychologist and marriage and family counselor based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., a parent can comfort a younger child by saying something like: “No two people are exactly alike. Everyone has some things that work really well with their bodies and some things that are different and sometimes difficult to handle. It seems that for you, there are some things going on that make you more sensitive to certain sounds than for other people.” Going on to tell your child that this sensitivity has a name—misophonia—that it is not a choice and does not make him/her“weird” or “too sensitive,” can also ease his/her worries, she says.
When dealing with teenage misophonics, Dr. Jaffe says it’s important to not take anything hostile they might say or do in response to a trigger sound personally. “They are not saying they hate you. Actually, they are saying they trust you to be able to handle their rage, and they know they cannot trust very many others with this. You, the parent, are pretty much expected to love them anyway, in spite of their awful behavior. You are the safe container for their uncontrollable emotions. And you, as the adult in the situation, must learn how to do that, to be bigger than the problem, so that at least one of you is not coming unglued.”
It’s critical, says Dr. Jaffe, to help teen misophonics understand that although the source of the problem is most likely neurological, it is so entwined with their emotional reactions that it can be hard to separate them. “They will have to learn to put a space between the body's instant physical reaction to an irritating sound, and the emotional overlay of anger toward the source of the sound,” she says.
Once these issues have been addressed, it’s time for families to work proactively on ways to manage a member’s misophonia before relationships begin to erode. Specifically, Dr. Gans advises that families sit down together and discuss ways of minimizing the misophonic’s exposure to trigger sounds. “That may mean that family dinners can’t take place, but perhaps family time can be spent through other activities,” she says.
Above all, both Dr. Jaffe and Dr. Gans say, it’s important to know that families affected by misophonia do not have to be emotionally broken.
“Many compromises will need to be made to minimize exposure to stressful sounds but with knowledge, communication, respect, and creativity, healthy relationships can be built,” says Dr. Gans.
Hopefully, that provides some comfort to those of you who have had to share a bedroom with someone who is infuriated by the sound of your breathing.