For people with a condition that is referred to as misophonia, certain sounds can be torture. Misophonia, also called Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome, or 4S, is a form of decreased sound tolerance, and for those who have this condition, the sounds of other people chewing, slurping, breathing, blowing their nose, or cracking their knuckles can send them into extreme anger or anxiety.
I should know. I’ve lived with this condition since I was a teenager. For years, I wondered what was wrong with me – why it was that I just couldn’t deal with certain sounds without feeling like I either wanted to punch the person or run out of the room. I never discussed this with my doctor, and my family just thought I was being moody. It wasn’t until last year, when I saw a segment on the Today Show, that I realized what I was experiencing actually had a name.
Misophonics have certain sound triggers, usually focused around eating, breathing, or other bodily noises. My triggers tend to be anything that sounds like cracking, such as chewing nuts, knuckle cracking, and snapping gum. Many people with 4S feel like they’re going crazy and often lead lives of isolation, not by choice, but in order to preserve their sanity.
According to a New York Times article on the topic, some experts think that there may be a genetic component. Other neuroscientists think that the condition is a physiological abnormality that resides in a certain part of the brain. According to the article, the condition almost always begins in late childhood or early adolescence and tends to worsen over time.
Presently, there is no cure for misophonia. When people can’t avoid their trigger sounds, they often try earplugs or other sound-reducing devices to quiet the noise. Avoidance is another technique that is used, but who wants to miss out on fun trips and outings because sound is an issue? It is important to note that a misophonic’s reaction is not voluntary. As soon as a trigger sound is encountered, the body is flooded with intense emotion.
Here are some ways you can help someone who has misophonia:
** Know their triggers. Have a conversation with your loved one or co-worker about what their triggers are and use your best efforts to avoid those triggers.
** Lend a sympathetic ear. This is not a fun condition, and the intense emotions it produces often leave people frustrated, emotional, and worn out.
** Mind your manners. In general, it’s just disgusting to have to listen to people blow their noses, clear their nasal passages, crack their knuckles or chomp their gum. If you have to attend to these bodily functions, please do so in a bathroom or another private area. Not only will misophonics feel a little relief, but the general public will thank you.
** Reassure them that word about this condition is getting out. While there aren’t many, there are a few websites you can refer people to:
www.misophonia-provider.com. This is Dr. Marsha Johnson’s website, which is 3000 people and growing.
The New York Times article referenced above can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/06/health/06annoy.html.
The Today Show segment I reference above, along with a 20/20 special on misophonia, can be found on You Tube.
As more people learn about this condition and come forward with their stories, hopefully the conversation about misophonia will continue to grow.
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is an internationally-known writer and stress and resilience expert. Paula is available for keynote presentations, media commentary, and private life coaching. You can contact Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.marieelizabethcompany.com for more information.
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