Talking About Misophonia

Those who don’t have misophonia don’t understand.  They just don’t “get it.”  One reason for this is the way we describe misophonia.  A child says, “I don’t like that sound,” and the parent says, “You need to get used to it.”  The parent doesn’t understand.

Included in this video:More videos about Misophonia, small, brown

1. What words should we use to describe a trigger so that others will understand (and not blow us off).

2. How to describe misophonia as a neurological / physiological condition.

3. What Tom typically includes in a Letter of Accommodation for an employer or school.

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The following is Chapter 13 of Understanding and Overcoming Misophonia by Thomas Dozier.

13. Talking about Misophonia

This chapter is about the language and the words we use to describe misophonia. One of the problems is that we typically describe triggers, how we feel, and how we react to those sounds in common language. The problem with this approach is that it miscommunicates horribly. We say things like, “I don’t like that sound,” “That sound really bothers me,” “Those sounds upset me,” “They annoy me” or “irritate me” or “distress me” or “bug me.” Here’s the problem: these are common words in the English language, and other people think they know what they mean. For example, you say, “I don’t like that sound.” Well, I don’t like cooked turnips. Since I know what it means to not like something, I think that the way I feel about cooked turnips is similar to how you feel about crunching. I think, “Okay. I understand what you mean. You should just get used to it.” But I’m clueless. Or if you say, “That sound really bothers me.” Well, houseflies bother me. So I know what it means to have something that bothers you. So I think I understand what it means for you to get triggered. But I don’t understand. I’m clueless still.

This is why I use the word “trigger.” A particular sound “triggers” me.

The listener is going to think or say, “What? I don’t know what you mean.” Now they are starting to communicate, because the person really doesn’t know what the trigger is like.

Or if you say, “Oh that sound is one of my triggers,” or “That is one of my triggers,” then they are going to say, “Oh, okay. It is something that I don’t understand. It’s not something that you just dislike.” We all have to deal with things that we dislike. But it’s a trigger, and triggers are completely different than things that we dislike.

When you’re talking about your misophonia with a person who’s close to you, you want to be careful to not attack the person. If you can make it impersonal a little bit, you’re better off. So remember the sound is detected by your lizard brain and your lizard brain is the one that assaults you. It zaps you. It attacks you physically and emotionally. So avoid attacking the other person. Don’t say, “You make me so mad, I want to…” or “I hate it when you chew like that.” Try something like, “That sound really triggers me,” or “I lose it when I hear that sound.” You’re talking about you and a sound, not the other person. “When I hear your eating, it triggers me.” Remember it’s a reflex. The other person isn’t physically hurting you. It’s your lizard brain that you want to be mad at.

When describing misophonia so that others might understand, call it a neurological condition, neurological disorder, or a reflex disorder. Say, “I have a neurological condition called misophonia, where certain common sounds trigger a reflex. The reflex is very unpleasant and it causes extreme negative emotions. In fact, getting triggered is like a physical and emotional assault. It’s like getting slapped [poked with a stick, an electrical shock, or zapped with a cattle-prod].” Choose the phrase you like, depending on what you experience when you hear a trigger. And you might say, “When I’m triggered, I can’t concentrate on anything else because of the extreme emotions.” That is a fairly accurate and understandable way to describe misophonia, and much more informative than just saying, “I hear those sounds and I get angry!” People don’t really relate to that. But everyone knows what a reflex is and what a reflex does to you.

Sometimes I write letters of accommodation to employers or schools, and this is how they sound: “It’s my professional opinion that John has a neurological condition known as misophonia or selective sound sensitivity syndrome. Because of this condition, when he hears a trigger sound he experiences involuntary muscle reflexes and the tightening of the muscles. There are many sounds in his life that are trigger sounds.” And then I give examples. I also work with the individual to try to determine their physical reflex, because it is easier to understand misophonia if you describe the physical component of it.

I might write, “When the sound is detected by his autonomic nervous system (ANS), the ANS quickly constricts muscles in his neck and shoulders,” or whatever the individual’s physical reflex is. “This is much like he’s receiving an electrical shock. This reaction makes it difficult for him to stay in such an environment where he is repeatedly receiving electrical shocks.” By reading such a statement, people understand that misophonia is a neurological condition and that it is a reflex. My clients have usually been successful in getting their schools and employers to make accommodations for them.