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Misophonia Complicates Relationships in Complex Ways

Understanding how and why can help people cope with the disorder.

Key points

  • Misophonia can negatively impact relationships.
  • There are ways to make relationships better for people with misophonia and their loved ones.
  • Empathy for the sufferer as well as family members, friends, and loved ones is essential.
Ron Lach/Pexels
Source: Ron Lach/Pexels

Misophonia is a disorder in which specific pattern-based and repetitive sounds as well as visuals cause sympathetic nervous system arousal (the fight/flight response). The nervous system reacts within milliseconds outside conscious awareness. As a result, the individual with misophonia feels overwhelmed by outside stimuli. Reactivity to sounds and visuals ranges from mild to severe and includes emotional and cognitive components.

The dynamics related to misophonia are highly complex. While there are similarities between adult and child misophonia sufferers, there are always nuances in relationships. Parent-child relationship dynamics are certainly different than spousal relationships (or co-worker relationships). With that said, at the heart of successful coping skills development is empathy for both misophonia sufferers and their loved ones.

Whether you are a clinician working with individuals with misophonia, or if you are a parent with a child with misophonia or are a sufferer yourself, it is important to consider why relational dynamics are stressed. It's not enough just to know that they are. A closer look at relationships from a different perspective can be helpful to all.

An individual with misophonia usually feels victimized by the overwhelming auditory and visual stimuli that are generated by those closest to them. A clinician, parent, or adult is most effective when conveying understanding to the individual with misophonia, and at the same time considering the feelings of family members and spouses, etc. Family members and partners often feel victimized by the misophonic individual’s sudden, unpredictable words or actions. If you have misophonia, it helps to let your loved ones know that their feelings are valid and are also of concern, while also acknowledging how difficult it is for you to live in a world where stimuli continually attack you.

In misophonia, individuals almost always associate the sounds and visuals that trigger them with specific people. You likely have said or heard statements such as, “My sister is my worst trigger,” or, “My husband triggers me the worst.” Unfortunately, science has not established why the sounds and visuals generated by some people may be worse than those generated by others. Yet, it is important to remember that while misophonia entails orientation to person-based sounds, trigger sounds and visuals are not exclusive to people sounds. Nor are they exclusive to mouth sounds. Sounds such as windshield wipers, pen clicking, beeping from electronic devices, and sometimes pets are among the various non-human sources that individuals with misophonia frequently describe as triggering.

Thus, the more you use a narrative that exemplifies people as triggers, the more you are supporting and solidifying a negative thinking pattern in yourself, your child, or your partner. Simply changing the narrative may not change subconscious associations between trigger sounds/visuals and the people from whom they emanate. However, changing the conscious associations can help to remove the negative dynamic that often results from this pairing.

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