My Misophonia Doesn't Mean I Hate Sound

As a rare disorder, I’ve found misophonia has garnered press and attention that may not be reflective of its true nature. I’ve seen those with misophonia often painted as hating sound, being angry, or even being overly depressed and withdrawn. The truth of these statements depends on the individual. We cannot paint each individual under the same brush — and even if we can, the meaning is often far deeper than these sweeping statements.

Some of us who live with misophonia can struggle with much more than sounds; we are constantly berated by the stimuli around us. Sights, sounds, smells, textures — it all can contribute to an overactive amygdala and a body and brain that just aren’t connecting. Research is greatly preliminary, but that does not mean we are completely lost. So far, there has been a lot of focus on the sounds, but another realm — sensory over-responsivity — has also been researched for years.

I, and many others, do not hate sound. I hate the feeling of being triggered. I hate sitting for dinner and suddenly feeling assaulted — like the jolt of a bullet when my partner crunches down on crisp toast. I hate that I am isolated from events when my triggers get too overwhelming. I hate that I cannot go to traditional school because a classmate may constantly be jiggling their legs. I avoid the bus because of passengers chewing gum. I feel trapped in shopping malls with bright lights and strong smells. How about church? Perfume can ruin that, too.

My senses are taxed beyond all sensibility. I cannot sit there and “get used to” the noises, the visuals, the scents. My brain cannot handle it. My filtering system is broken. When a person without misophonia (or auditory over-responsivity) is faced with a sound they do not like — say, construction and drilling — they may first feel a “jolt.” They may be startled by the noise. Where is it coming from? Who is doing that? What is it? Is it safe? Their fight/flight response may be aroused briefly, but oftentimes they eventually consider the sound a part of their “new normal” after identifying the source. For a person with misophonia, this generally does not happen. Each time the sound (or visual) happens, it can be like a gun is going off. Even if we rationally know this sound will not hurt us, our sensibility cannot save us from our amygdala’s fear response. Our brains are simply unable to compromise. We may know it is safe, but on a deep physiological level, we cannot change our reaction.

There is no hatred in the amygdala. It is a response deep in the brain. We may develop emotions because of this reaction, but it is not the entire story. Those of us with misophonia can experience what may compare to a computer malfunction. When doctors and therapists suggest methods such as CBT (cognitive behavior therapy), I feel they are gravely misunderstanding the problem. I believe this sort of therapy would be so ineffective that it is comparable to reinstalling your operating system to fix a cracked monitor. Worse though, it may have a negative effect. I’ve observed that sensory disorders (with the little research we have) are likely worsened by exposure. The accumulation of triggers can make us worse for the wear.

Many with this disorder can face consequences if they “suck it up” and just go along with the triggers. One particularly terrible consequence is migraines. Personally, if I am exposed to stimuli too often, it is like a threat meter going up and up. If it reaches its maximum potential, I become ill. I feel nauseated, lethargic and sore. If I let it go past there, even if I get out of the situation at this point, I am likely to get a migraine. The longest I have had one because of this disorder is four days. There is evidence that migraines, when frequent, can cause permanent damage.

We are not just people who cannot handle the world around us. We are people who are struggling. We can struggle even more when mistruths are spread. We are struggling because doctors, therapists and family members need to identify this disorder as real. We need to be recognized, and we need to foster a world where education comes before media spectacle. We are not “sound rage.”

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