The following is the story of a person developing misophonia. It is significant because it shows how the combination of stress and sounds may relate to the development of misophonia. This story supports the theory that misophonia develops through classical conditioning (at least in this case). Misophonia appears to be an aversive conditioned reflex. Understanding the origin of misophonia helps us to determine ways to provide treatment for misophonia. Misophonia does not seem to be a condition that just turns on one day. Misophonia appears to develop through the process of classical or Pavlovian conditioning. I know other stories which supports misophonia as s condition (Pavlovian) reflex, where it developed in only one evening. It does not take long to develop a conditioned reflex. Here is this person’s story.
Misophonia began for me when I was 15 years old. I developed a strong reaction to the sounds made by my various family members when we all ate dinner together. It was not random chance that caused it. If you are right that misophonia begins with children that link a sound to a very negative emotion, then I can definitely state I made a negative emotional link with my family eating because of their extremely adverse reaction to me losing weight. Let me explain, so that it all makes sense.
I was a really fat kid, always at least 50-60 pounds overweight. My parents are overweight, and my dad and grandma are people who equate food with love. Growing up, my dad always wanted us to eat as much as we possibly could, regardless of being hungry. He would praise us for it! My grandma (Dad’s mom) would always offer us a drink and a home baked dessert whenever we would arrive and was genuinely offended if we didn’t eat or drink something on arrival, even just a glass of juice or milk. When I was little, I was always happy to eat “on command”, with no regard to whether or not I was actually hungry.
I was the only one of us kids that was overweight because of this. I have two brothers and they were both skinny as could be, even though it seemed they also “ate on command.” I could never understand why they were skinny and I was fat. But I didn’t really worry about it except in gym class, when I couldn’t pass the Presidential Physical Fitness tests and all the skinny kids did. I felt really down about it then. I also felt really bad one day in the fourth grade when the school nurse took our height in centimeters for school records, and mine was at the time, 160. She accidentally wrote it in the “weight in pounds” space. She laughed when she did it and said “oh my, you’re only 5’3, you wouldn’t want to weigh 160 pounds!” Then I got on the scale and it read 172, and she was mortified–went silent, said nothing the rest of the exam. Then that summer my parents got a letter from odonate the school suggesting I be put on a program of increased physical activity and food intake monitoring to help me lose a little weight. I really wasn’t worried about it, but it impressed me with the fact–now I knew I was fat because I was eating too much and not exercising enough. Yet I didn’t know what you could do about it, I just desperately wished I was one of the in shape, physically fit children. I figured they got the “skinny” genes and I got the “fat” ones, that I was just different.
That is necessary to understand–my whole life I wanted to be thin and in shape, didn’t know how, but was not worried about it. We come to age 15, when I took a general health class in high school. One topic covered was the mathematics of weight loss–calories in vs calories out, etc. This was just the ticket for me. I learned why I was overweight. I learned all about what is in our food, how to count calories, how to lose weight, and I put everything I learned into practice. I started monitoring what I ate, how much I exercised, and pounds just melted off! But I had to reduce the amount of food I was eating, not take seconds, and so on. My new way of eating–normal portions, and only eat when I am actually hungry–greatly offended a few members in my family, and they got really upset with me. Not necessarily outright open rage, but a constant subtle theme of “you are wrong, you need to eat when we say.” It turned every single meal into a battleground of nerves…”here’s Deborah and she WON’T eat!” And there I was thinking, “but I want to be healthy, and eating too much isn’t right.” Once, my grandma made me get on her scale once and prove that I did in fact weigh 120 pounds, not 90 like they all thought–they all thought I was anorexic, but I was really only eating normal portions instead of two or three helpings at dinner, plus dessert, and so on.
I was always a kid that highly valued making my parents happy. It made me upset that I was making my family upset. I was not willing to compromise good health, but I do not handle criticism well, I never have and I didn’t then. I am sure that is why I developed my intense aversion to hearing them chew. My dad’s jaw popped when he ate, and he breathed really heavily as he ate. That drove me crazy, and I hated myself for feeling so averse to people I really love! I could only handle meals by plugging my ears and usually I’d end up crying, because I knew I was being offensive but I also knew I couldn’t do anything to stop it or ignore it. I didn’t want to be that way, I didn’t plan it. I certainly didn’t enjoy it. [end of story]
We will now relate this story to the theory that misophonia is a “conditioned aversive reflex disorder.” When Deborah was at the table, she experienced negative thoughts and emotions about eating. She repeatedly heard an eating sound and had a negative thought (which includes specific muscle tightening). The autonomic nervous system (Lizard Brain), saw the pattern, and so the misophonia initial physical reflex developed. Once the initial physical reflex develops, the person is “tazered” by their Lizard Brain when they hear the trigger, and the negative emotional response increases to become an involuntary emotional reflex. See The Hidden Truth of Misophonia for more on this.