What is misophonia?

In this blog you will learn what is misophonia and the main features of misophonia.

Misophonia: When sounds make your life difficult


I am going to be writing a series of blogs about misophonia, discussing what it is, how to differentiate misophonia from PTSD symptom and auditory sensory sensitivity, and how to reduce the impact of this often debilitating condition.


What is misophonia?

Misophonia, also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome, is a condition characterized by a significant sensitivity to certain sounds, which triggers intense emotional reactions to specific sounds, often leading to feelings such as intense anger, anxiety, and/or disgust.

Misophonia can significantly impact the quality of life of those who suffer from it. A more traditional view of misophonia emphasizes the person’s overt reaction to the triggering sounds. However, people with misophonia truly experience those sounds as intense and overwhelming, it is not just a matter of choice or control.  


What are some of the main features of misophonia?

These are some of the features of misophonia:


Trigger sounds

These are specific sounds that are registered and perceived as unpleasant, overwhelming and/or annoying that evoke a strong emotional response. One of the interesting facts about misophonia is that it is mainly sounds produced by other people, such as chewing, breathing, humming and whistling sounds that trigger a misophonic reaction. Research has found that similar sounds made by animal do not tend to trigger the same reactions. There are other noises that can be trigger sounds that are not produced by people, such as repetitive engine or machine noises and the sound of someone else’s telephone conversation on speaker phone.


Emotional response

In misophonia, the reaction to a trigger sound is often intense and immediate. People with misophonia may experience a range of negative emotions, including anger or rage, irritation, anxiety and/or disgust. Dr Jane Gregory, who is currently doing some important research on misophonia, found that even people without misophonia find certain common trigger sounds annoying or irritating, the intensity experienced by the person with misophonia is significantly more intense. Many people with misophonia describe the experience of trigger sounds ‘overwhelming’.  The emotional response is often perceived as disproportionate by those around the person with misophonia.


Physiological reaction

Alongside the emotional response, individuals may experience intense physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, muscle tension, or a “fight-or-flight” response. This reaction can be exhausting and distressing because of the intensity. People often fear not being able to manage the intensity or the quality of the experience, and many people worry that they will behave in a way that is unlike the person they want to be (e.g. shouting, being rude, etc.). The physiological reactions are often accompanied by a degree of tension and containment, and a sense of internal conflict between saying something to the person making the noise and trying not to behave in a way that is socially inappropriate. Common reactions such as looking at the person making the noise, putting headphones in front of the person producing the sound, walking out of a room, etc., may be experienced as somewhat helpful, but do not tend to be satisfactory in the longer term because the person has not been able to express their needs in an open and assertive way.


Coping behaviour

Misophonia can significantly influence our behaviour. There are some behavioural strategies that can help manage situations with trigger sounds, such as wearing headphones, leaving the room or strategically placing yourself with your back towards the source of the trigger sound. 

However, there are less helpful strategies such as persistently avoiding situations where triggers sounds are present or likely to occur. People with misophonia often experience debilitating anticipatory anxiety, worrying about what a situation is going to be like. This anxiety can contribute to the avoidance of certain people or certain people in certain situations (e.g. avoiding the ‘trigger’ person at meal times), which can put a strain on relationships.


Mismatch between needs and societal expectations

Signs of misophonia often start to be experienced in childhood or early adolescence, and tend to persist throughout life. The severity of the condition can vary, and it tends to fluctuate over time. People’s reactions and how validating or invalidating they are can influence the severity of misophonia. Invalidating reactions to misophonia episodes, even if well intentioned, can make the impact of misophonia worse.

The environment in which you live also affects the impact of misophonia. Stress levels influence how much capacity we have to cope with trigger sounds. For example, living in a household with several children, noises in the classroom or office, living near a noisy building site and high levels of stress can make coping with misophonia more difficult.

It is  often the conflict between wanting to be socially accepted and wanting to have your needs met  and to feel understood that contribute to anxiety, avoidance and feelings of shame and guilt.


Misophonia is a debilitating condition, often misunderstood by people around the person with misophonia.

Having healthy coping strategies can help, as well as having a supportive network of people around you. 

Although misophonia is a neurological sensitivity, there are factors such as social invalidation, living in an environment with persistent and uncontrollable trigger sounds and stress levels that can influence the impact of our reactions to the sounds and our capacity to deal with them.

Was there anything new you learned about misophonia today? Is there anything that you would like a loved one to know so that they can understand your experience?

In my next blog about misophonia, I will explain the difference between misophonia, auditory PTSD and trauma symptoms and auditory sensory sensitivity. And what to do if you happen to experience more than one of them.

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