More than just irritability.
Even if you have never seen or heard the word before, the definition is likely to be at least somewhat familiar. According to a study by Sukhbinder Kumal et al., misophonia is defined as “an affective sound-processing disorder characterized by the experience of strong negative emotions (anger and anxiety) in response to everyday sounds, such as those generated by other people eating, drinking, chewing, and breathing” (2017). Maybe you’ve caught yourself feeling irrationally irked by a quiet pause in a movie theatre, during which you’re suddenly accosted by a chorus of popcorn-munching and bag rustling. Maybe the subtle smacking of a student chewing gum in an otherwise ‘quiet zone’ makes your skin crawl with rage. Maybe none of this makes any sense to you, and if that’s the case, that’s normal too. One of the most difficult aspects of living with misophonia is that many of the sounds that trigger such adverse reactions in sufferers are easily ignored by others.
Misophonia is often dismissed in popular culture merely as a quirky personality type rather than a disorder. A wikiHow article entitled “How to Chew With Your Mouth Closed” outlines said practice in five passive-aggressive steps, including a tip that reads: “If you are having trouble believing that you look awful chewing with your mouth open, set up a video camera or mirror and check yourself out.” Memes abound in which loud-chewing individuals are condemned for their seemingly oblivious behaviours. One such meme shows a young girl mischievously looking into the camera as a house burns in the background with a caption that reads: “Next time they won’t chew so loud.” While material like this succeeds at bringing attention to the overwhelming anger that is often inspired by such trigger sounds, it also trivializes an otherwise serious disorder.
“Just to be safe, always chew with your mouth closed.”
For many sufferers, living with misophonia is extremely difficult. In serious cases, the disorder can have a negative effect on the individual’s social life, causing them to avoid certain situations in order to avoid trigger sounds. Imagine being invited to a dinner party, but having to consider whether seeing your friends is worth the hours spent listening to the sipping of wine, the scraping of forks and knives on plates, and the crunching of vegetables. The disorder can also wreak havoc on intimate relationships. According to Misophonia.com, “The people closest to the person with misophonia often elicit the worst triggers.” And since the mean age of the onset of symptoms is around twelve years old, it is easy to see how this disorder could have a powerful impact on one’s early development (Kumal et al., 2017).
So if you are an individual living with misophonia, what can you do? Depending on the severity of the case, treatments will differ. For minor cases of misophonia, wearing headphones or adding white noise to an environment may help you ignore or dull the volume of trigger sounds. However, for more severe cases, it is strongly advised that you talk to a doctor or counsellor in order to discuss specific treatments best suited to you. And if you don’t suffer from misophonia yourself, but know or live with someone who does, be understanding. Realize that dismissing their symptoms only adds frustration to an already enraging disorder. Nobody wants to suffer from misophonia—life would be much easier without it. Work together to find a solution to the problem and face the disorder as a team. And, just to be safe, always chew with your mouth closed.