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Unmasking Misophonia: An Invisible Challenge

Dealing with the hatred of sounds.

Key points

  • Misophonia, also known as "sound phobia," is a neurological condition characterized by a strong emotional reaction to everyday sounds.
  • Some recent research has discovered a link between misophonia and having a hypersensitive and highly activated mirror neuron system.
  • Having an invisible challenge like misophonia can be extremely isolating.
  • No one should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed because their needs differ from those around them.

Misophonia, also known as “sound phobia,” is a neurological condition characterized by a strong emotional reaction to everyday sounds like eating, typing on a keyboard, or coughing. Misophonia patients experience strong negative emotions ranging from mild annoyance to intense rage or fear and panic when they hear these sounds.

Those suffering from this condition frequently experience social isolation due to their inability to cope in environments with loud noises or conversations.

Misophonia Test: Might You Have Misophonia?

  • I avoid leaving the house because I can’t stand certain noises.
  • I’m bothered by the sounds of people chewing.
  • When I sit next to my intimate partner, the sounds they make bother me - breathing, fidgeting, coughing.
  • When people snort or clear their throats, I become fixated on it and find it difficult to relax.
  • I hate seeing people repeat their movements. When they, for example, click a pen, tap their finger, or wiggle their legs.
  • When I am working, I’m bothered by the sound of a fan or a refrigerator.
  • Even natural sounds like barking, wind, leaves, and trees irritate me.
  • Living with someone is difficult because everyday noises irritate me, such as walking or typing on a computer.
  • I require a silent clock because I cannot be in the same room with a ticking clock.
  • I have the impression that no one understands my noise sensitivity and that they think I’m being dramatic.
  • I get nervous when I know I’m going to be in a room with sounds I cannot tolerate.
  • I have difficulty working in an open office because of my sensitivity.
  • I socially isolate myself in order to find more peace of mind.
  • I feel guilty because, despite the fact that I like my friends and housemates as people, I am very bothered by the sounds they make.
  • I’m enraged just thinking about how selfish some people are because they don’t realize how much noise they’re making.
  • I feel compelled to ask people to refrain from making certain sounds (such as clicking a pen), but I lack the confidence to do so.
  • Nobody understands what I’m going through, so I feel very alone in the world.
  • I’ve tried everything from earplugs to supplements, but none have worked.
  • I’ve attempted to seek help, but traditional doctors don’t understand my issues.
  • I feel flawed as a person, and I’m concerned that my issues aren’t medically valid.

If you identify with more than six to eight items above, it is worth looking into an official misophonia test or assessment to see if you can get a diagnosis.

Hypersensitivity and Misophonia

Misophonia is a neuro-otological condition in which the brain interprets certain auditory stimuli as threats. Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, two American otolaryngologists, first described the condition. They discovered that some people experienced high levels of irritability, elevated heartbeat, muscle tension, and sweating in response to sounds such as chewing, keyboard typing, and coughing, as well as other stress responses and strong negative emotions.

Although the precise cause of misophonia is unknown, there are several theories. Some speculate that it is related to central nervous system hypersensitivity or overactivation of specific brain regions in response to auditory stimuli.

Interestingly, some recent research has discovered a link between misophonia and having a hypersensitive and highly activated mirror neuron system (Kumar et al., 2021; The motor basis for misophonia). The mirror neuron system (MNS) is a neurological system made up of neurons that are thought to allow humans and other animals to recognize, comprehend, and empathize with the actions of others. This is also the mechanism responsible for emotional empathy. It stands to reason that there could be a link between hyper-empathy as a trait and misophonia.

Many people with borderline personality disorder have a highly active mirror-neurons system (Z Sosic-Vasic, 2019), making them more vulnerable to emotional contagion and influenced by other people’s feelings, particularly negative ones. It’s not surprising, then, that people who have borderline personality disorder might be more likely to suffer from misophonia.

Other theories suggest that psychological factors such as childhood noise exposure, trauma, or even a genetic predisposition may cause misophonia.

Misophonia Treatment: From Conventional to Alternative

There is no magic formula for locating the best misophonia treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for misophonia by doctors. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches patients how to understand their reactions to different sounds and how to better manage those reactions. Medications might also be used to alleviate the anxiety symptoms associated with misophonia. Other therapies include sound therapy, music therapy, and lifestyle changes such as avoiding trigger sounds and, if necessary, using noise-canceling earplugs or headphones.

The above measures are not useful to everyone. Tinnitus retraining therapy is another treatment option (TRT). TRT combines counseling and sound therapy to retrain the brain so that the individual can cope better with their condition. The steps of this treatment are simple, but success requires consistency and commitment.

Mindfulness and meditation techniques, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, are another option for treating misophonia symptoms.

What Should You Do?

Misophonia is a difficult condition to explain and comprehend.

Having an invisible challenge like misophonia can be extremely isolating. There are no physical signs to alert those around them to what they are going through.

When you have misophonia, social interactions become difficult. The sense of exclusion from society can be exacerbated if you do not have access to support systems that understand your challenges. You may also face stigma from family members or peers who believe you exaggerate your symptoms or use them as an excuse if you have misophonia.

Acceptance of any’ condition’ can be emotionally overwhelming. However, having a name for what you’ve been suffering from your entire life and knowing you’re not alone can be liberating.

When you have misophonia, it is critical to be organized and prepared for triggers. This includes making sure you use noise-canceling headphones or limiting your time in noisy places.

Your family may not fully comprehend misophonia, but it is worthwhile to speak with them and show them official documents or sources that demonstrate what you are experiencing. Even if they are unable to help you directly, their understanding can make you feel more supported. As much as possible, inform them that this is a neurological condition, not a conscious choice. You are not attempting to be difficult on purpose!

There is no need to feel guilty or ashamed for honoring your needs. If you need a quiet place to work or time away from the noise of the world, you have the right to do so. You are not causing harm to anyone.

You might have the uneasy feeling that says, “something is wrong with me.” Self-compassion is one of the most effective ways to deal with shame. Taking time for yourself, speaking kindly to yourself, and being aware of your emotions can help you stay connected with them without becoming overwhelmed by them.

Would you pass harsh judgment on your own child or a friend because of their misophonia? Most likely not. Can you show yourself the same courtesy? Another important way to deal with shame attacks is to maintain contact and communication with those around you. Talking openly about what makes us feel ashamed can, paradoxically, reduce shame’s power over us.

Working in an environment where people with misophonia are constantly surrounded by noises that cause negative reactions can be difficult.

Having an open conversation about misophonia with your boss can benefit both of you. They will have a better understanding of your requirements and what accommodations may be required to ensure a productive workplace. You might feel more at ease discussing strategies that can help while having no negative impact on others, such as noise-canceling headphones or moving desks away from noisy areas of the office. Even if your boss doesn’t fully comprehend misophonia, that doesn’t mean they can’t make reasonable accommodations for you. You can also speak with Human Resources about your right to reasonable accommodations if necessary.

Every individual is unique. You may need to try different things to figure out what works best for you.

Most importantly, remember that having misophonia does not imply that there is something fundamentally wrong with you. No one should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed because their needs differ from those around them; instead, appreciate yourself for all of your qualities, even if some of them are inconvenient.


Cavanna, A. E., & Seri, S. (2015). Misophonia: current perspectives. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 11, 2117.

Dozier, T. H. (2015). Counterconditioning treatment for misophonia. Clinical Case Studies, 14(5), 374-387.

Kumar, S., Tansley-Hancock, O., Sedley, W., Winston, J. S., Callaghan, M. F., Allen, M., ... & Griffiths, T. D. (2017). The brain basis for misophonia. Current Biology, 27(4), 527-533.

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