Wendy Aron

Sounds Awful

The Cause of My Misophonia Revealed in Kid's Picture Books

The cause of a rare brain disorder discovered in children's picture books.

Posted Apr 23, 2014

After reading a few of the recently published academic studies examining the possible causes of misophonia, a debate has broken out in my head about whether to attribute my case primarily to psychological or physiological factors, and since I have no training in the sciences I have had to come to a conclusion on this issue based primarily on my examination of children’s picture books.

One book, which I read in preparation for possibly teaching a therapeutic writing class for youngsters, is called My Mouth is a Volcano by Julia Cook. It was written to help impatient elementary school children, like I once was, stop interrupting inferior peers and teachers with their brilliant observations. I remembered getting very irritated when I was taught it wasn’t nice to interrupt obvious fools with my brilliant observations.

After coming to this realization, I also had the epiphany that I was also like the protagonist in The Princess and the Pea, which meant that essentially everything irritated me. So, basically, I was what the psychologist Elaine Aron (no relation to me) refers to as a Highly Sensitive Child, who later developed into the Highly Sensitive Dysfunctional (more on that, here).

Now, when I was a young child, there was one thing about my home life that irritated me more than anything else. It revolved around my mother and an older brother who had a terrible physical illness, for which he was frequently hospitalized. It seemed to me that my brother’s medical woes consumed my mother to the point where she completely ignored The Center of the Universe which, I felt, clearly ought to have been me. Often, I would be in the kitchen, while my mother, looking like a balloon that was being squeezed so tight it might burst, would be on the phone, speaking urgently to someone about my brother’s condition. When she spoke, she pronounced the letter “s” with a hissing sound, and she twirled her curly hair into even tighter ringlets.

When I attempted, once again, to interrupt a public conversation with one of my brilliant observations, my mother would issue a dismissive wave of her hand to me. Then, once again, I became irritated. But as my mother continued to talk, this irritation morphed into a cold fury, which inevitably led to an emotional outburst, followed by a flight upstairs to my bedroom, and a retreat behind a door slammed shut (for added emphasis), into my private world—reading, writing and listening to music.

Since female sibilation and hair twirling remain triggers to this day, I came to the conclusion that there must be some psychological connection between my misophonia and these early childhood emotional volcanic eruptions.

Then, however, I considered that classic children’s tale about poor Rapunzel, locked up in that isolated tower all by herself. I have to think Aage Moller has read this book, too. Dr. Moller, a highly respected professor and sensory systems researcher now at the University of Texas at Dallas, has suggested in the classic medical tome, Textbook of Tinnitus, that misophonia has a physiological source--aural under-stimulation of the nervous system. This explanation also makes sense to me, because when I was growing up, the sounds of silence permeated my life. My two brothers, including the one who had been ill, were much older than I and were essentially out of the house by the time I was a teenager. So, I did not engage in a whole lot of noisy children’s play with them.

Further, when I dined with my parents every night, there was little in the way of vibrant conversation. After supper, my parents went to separate rooms to watch their respective favorite television programs, and I departed for my room with my imagination, where none of my mother’s horrible hissing and hair twirling-related phone conversations could get to me. Further, outside of the house, I did not socialize in large groups of peers, where I could have been exposed to blaring stereos or loud alcohol-induced vomiting. So, yes, I realized, I had spent much of my childhood in my own sound-aurally deprived, Rapunzel-like tower.

While I was engaged in all this children’s book introspection, I simultaneously arrived at a concept known as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the latest buzzword in neuroscience. It is the prevailing scientific notion that the thousands of connections between the billions of neurons in our brains are constantly forming and then changing as the result new sensory experiences.

So, my theory is that through neuroplasticity, my brain somehow picked up the very bad habit of becoming enraged at the sound of hissing and the sight of hair twirling, even if it now emanates from women I have never met before, particularly if they remind me in any way of the sight and sound of my mother, as I remember her from my youth.

I might also add that as I have aged, a few new triggers have been added to my misophonia soup and the old ones have often intensified, almost always through close physical contact with people I have an emotional connection to and whom I perceive to be ignoring me.

So, the conclusion I have come to through evaluating My Mouth is a Volcano, The Princess and the Pea and Rapunzel, is that my misophonia is equal parts psychological and physiological in origin.

And that is the best I can do with regard to relating the case history of a personality which, under normal circumstances, goes from “Zero to screw you!!” in three seconds, and under misophonic circumstances, goes instantly to “Screw you!!” Hopefully, this description will give all those research-oriented psychologists, neuroscientists, neurologists, neuropsychiatrists and witch doctors trying to understand misophonia a clearer clinical picture to ponder.

Next post, I will discuss how I discovered a cure for my misophonia at a Greek diner. Until then, I would appreciate it if you would sponsor me for my “Five- Foot Walk to my Refrigerator for a Cure for Misophonia” fundraising event.