I hear too much. Or perhaps, I’m unable to filter out some of what I hear but have no need to comprehend. Rattling, tapping, scraping, squeaking, ticking and/or crackling noises, even very low ones, are maddening to me. It turns out, this isn’t something that merely annoys me for no good reason or is just a quirk of my personality. This is an actual disorder and it has a name: misophonia. AKA hatred of sound, AKA sound rage and/or Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome, 4s, or ssss. It has a lot of names.
Misophonia causes one to have a negative emotional reaction to a particular sound, one that elicits an automatic physiological flight response. If you are nearby and chew food with your mouth open I may run (screaming in my head) from the room. Current observations note that the disorder “disrupts daily living and can have a significant impact on social interactions.” For me, this is true.
I can get angry, indeed very much so, by common everyday sounds such as other people eating, breathing, sniffling, talking, sneezing, yawning, snoring or coughing. The sounds people make seem to be worse for me to bear than other environmental sounds that are not caused by people. Although the sound of a crackling water bottle in a car’s cup holder will always get far too much of my attention and get a quick correction from me.
How do I feel about all of this? I feel awful. When an offending noise is made by another person, especially when they’re doing something completely normal and possibly essential for life (like breathing), I cannot tell them that I’m going bonkers inside. I wish I could. They might not like to hear it or understand why the hell I’d even take notice that they sneezed three times in a row, but unfortunately this is something I can’t control. Again, this isn’t something I can learn to get used to or should have grown out of by now. This is real.
Many people are repelled by the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard or the sound of a knife scraping across a ceramic plate. Those sounds can be very annoying and the reaction people have to those sounds gives some small indication of the exaggerated reaction I have to a much wider array of what is usually thought to be normal noise.
However, no one is really put-off by a request to stop running their fingers down a chalkboard. In fact, they may laugh at your reaction knowing that the sound they’re making bothers most people. So asking someone to stop scraping their fingernails across a chalkboard is most likely what the person wants you to do, it lets them know they got to you (hopefully in a playful way). So you don’t really run much of a risk of them being annoyed or angry with you. But if you tell someone (abruptly and not so very subtly) to stop chewing with their mouth open or making some other harmless and unimportant sound, they may just decide you’re a jerk.
It’s not just people that can make problematic noises.
I recently moved to a new house. When I first visited the property and after I started living there, I was very aware of the noises in the environment. I made note of a few things like the sound of a dog barking in the distance, the sound of someone running a lawn mower or other machine, and the sound of some heavy equipment being used a few houses away.
The comments I got back from other people suggested that they thought I was being too sensitive to what they considered to be normal noise levels and normal neighborhood sounds. It also felt as though they might have been annoyed with me for even noticing the sounds of the environment. There may have been some degree of “you can’t always get what you want” being put forth. And that would be true; you really can’t always get what you want. But sensitivity to the sounds of the neighborhood does not illicit the intense negative reactions I have to my own finely tuned sound rage triggers.
For me, the worst noises in a car are: water bottles crinkling/creaking back and forth in the cup holder in the car, the sound of keys clanking against the steering column, coins madly clinking together in the center console, unidentifiable (and therefor beyond correction) tapping or creaking from within the dashboard or any other internal part of the car’s interior, and sitting waiting for a turn with the turn signal beep/clinking over and over and over again.
As for noises around the house: kitchen cabinets slamming, running water from the faucet, baseboard radiators clinking from heat expansion, repetitive sounds of someone trying to close a door or drawer of anything that makes the same noise more than two or three times. Well, actually it’s pretty much a problem after the second time.
Restaurants: hearing people talking, kitchen noise, loud waitresses or other diners, clink, clink, clink of eating utensils everywhere, the incomprehensible practice of playing music in an already loud environment always freaks me out, air conditioner noise or ceiling fans that tap, tap, tap and open windows that allow car traffic noise to add to the already insane cacophony.
My computer: when my computer makes a hard drive whirling or chattering noise for a reason I can’t identify, it’s maddening. If I DO know why the sound is happening, it’s only slightly less annoying.
Stores: loud store-wide speaker announcements, echoes of machinery in very large warehouse-type stores like BJ’s or Costco, whirling wind noise from overhead ceiling fans or massive heating/cooling ducts and the awful beep-beep-beep of those big forklifts that beep-beep-beep whenever they are going in reverse (holds true for trucks that do the same).
Miscellaneous: plastic wrappers making crinkling/rustling noise, sounds coming from florescent lights.
I’ve saved the best for last. Or should I say the worst for last?
People: sniffling once, repetitively or just intermittently. Sneezing once is bad, more than once is torture. Chewing with an open mouth is the worst trigger I have. I cannot eat food while I hear food slammering around in someone else’s mouth. I’ll say it again, It makes me want to run screaming from the room. I mean this quite literally. Coughing, hiccups, yawning, exaggerated sighing, ice clinking about and against teeth, crunching on potato chips or any crispy crackling food noise is a serious problem, throat clearing, gum chewing, yawning, slurping, etc.
I’ve had sound sensitivities for many years; I’d say about 30. Unfortunately, I have amassed more triggers as the years have gone by and the effect problem sounds have on me has also increased. I don’t know why it has been difficult for me to try and reduce my exposure to trigger sounds, but I have been reticent to do so. Recently, I’ve begun to tell the people that are close to me if something they’re doing is making a problem sound for me. Its slow going both for me and for the others but making an effort to eliminate trigger sounds has been a move in the right direction.
I consulted with a behavioral scientist recently that has a theory that enduring triggers is both stress-inducing and ill advised. His opinion is that enduring the negative effects caused by trigger events sets one up to have stronger negative associations with that specific trigger (reinforcing the reaction). In addition, it is possible that enduring trigger events may result in the development of new triggers. He believes that when a person is in the reflexive reaction fight or flight mode and is exposed to environmental sounds, those sounds can become associated with the original trigger. Or they may become associated with some simultaneously occurring event resulting in a completely new trigger. He cites the fact that people tend to develop more triggers as time goes by as a possible result of this process.
Recently, I took over the misophonia.com website, the associated Support Forum and Face Book page. I’m enjoying the process of updating and improving the website as well as daily check-ins with the Face Book page to approve group membership requests and respond to posts.
I have learned that there are a great number of people who are struggling with different aspects of this disorder. There have been comments left on the site from people age 14 up top 63. Most of them are amazed and very relieved to know that they are not the only ones that have the difficulties brought on by the condition of misophonia. A lot of these people have made comments that they’re glad they’re not “crazy” and that they no longer have to feel that they are alone.
Too many of them describe situations in which their families and friends do not understand what they‘re going through and suggest that they “grow out of it,” or “stop being so difficult.” (Generally speaking, I don’t think anyone suggests that a person with a Bipolar Disorder should simply “grow out of it.”) It is very sad every time a 14 or 15 year old teenager leaves a comment on the website explaining how they can’t eat with their families or feel that they are put into impossible positions in school where their misophonia makes it extremely difficult for them to concentrate or even stay in a classroom or cafeteria. Some of these young people get no support at all despite their serious problems with sound sensitivities.
There is a Misophonia Assessment Scale (sort of a self-test) on the website that ranks a person’s degree of sensitivity to trigger sounds. The least problematic score is Level 1 and the extreme opposite is a Level 10. A level one person has sound sensitivity but is able to deal with it sufficiently well and does not have any physical reaction to triggers.
On the other hand, a Level 8 or 9 person with misophonia experiences a full panic/rage reaction and has to make a conscious decision not to use violence on trigger person. They will remove themselves from the vicinity of the noise and may use physical violence on an inanimate object. Their demeanor shows panic, anger and/or severe irritation. And at the furthest extreme is the Level 10 person who uses actual physical violence on a person or animal and may even inflict violence on themselves. This is why some people refer to misophonia as Sound Rage. I relate most to the attributes between Level 6 and 7.
I have been dealing with the consequences of having misophonia for a very long time. I can personally attest to the difficulty and the seriousness of this disorder. Today, it can be heard that “everything is diagnosable.” I think, in part, this is why people with misophonia don’t always get the support they need from their families, friends, schools and in their workplaces. When misophonia is added to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, perhaps it will then be universally recognized as a real disorder.
Currently there is very little research being done and even less available treatment options available to those with misophonia. Until things change, the best one can do to deal with this unusual and serious matter is to engage in contact with fellow sufferers through support forums and other online resources. There are, as far as I know, no actual support groups one can attend.
I have taken on the role as administrator of the Misophoina Website, Face Book page and Support Forum to both find personal support and try to provide it for others. I think I am accomplishing both of those goals. I hope that the future brings viable treatment options and increased awareness of this disorder and its associated consequences.