SHHHH… You’re Driving Amber Tozer Crazy!
This is dedicated to everyone who thinks violent thoughts when they hear certain sounds, and to their loved ones who are confused and/or offended by it.
For some, all it takes is a sound to drive them into a fit of rage. They go absolutely bonkers, looney, mad, sad, angry and frustrated — usually followed by a wave of guilt. The trigger? It’s pretty much the sounds of other people living.
Chewing, swallowing, breathing, coughing, sniffing, tapping, whistling, repetitive clicking, scraping, etc.
No one enjoys listening to this stuff, but for some it puts them into a state of fight or flight. It’s unbearable. The sound of someone chewing, even a little bit, feels like abuse. Their heart rate goes up, their palms sweat, and they think violent thoughts. In a matter of seconds, a nice person can turn into a monster. One minute, they’re volunteering at a homeless shelter or driving a friend to rehab and the next they’re seconds away from throwing their boyfriend out of the car for eating a crisp.
For me, when I hear someone eating, it’s as if my nervous system stubs its toe. No, that’s a dumb analogy. I don’t know what it’s like. I hate writing sometimes. Let me try again. The sound of someone eating is so painful and unbearable, it feels like I’m actually inside the person’s mouth being chewed up and if I don’t run, remove myself quickly, they will swallow me and I’ll turn into a one of their turds in the toilet. Much better, can not wait to receive a Pulitzer for that sentence.
The other day, a man sitting next to me at a cafe was eating a sandwich out of a bag. He’d shove his face in the crinkly bag, take a bite, then chew really loudly and swallow with an audible gulp. I wanted to call up his parents and tell them they did a bad job. I started to sweat, my heart raced, I thought I was about to die and the only way to survive was to kill the sandwich man. My entire life faded into the background and all I could focus on were these sounds. Crinkle, crinkle, chomp, chomp, gulp, gulp. Before I knew it I was yelling, ‘Jesus Christ! You’re loud.’ He got up, walked away and finished his panini near the entrance to the bathroom, where he belonged. Just kidding, I felt horrible about it (and relieved).
It’s always been a dream of mine to shout at someone for chewing, but I’ve been too scared to do it. I guess now that I’m in my 40’s, and don’t need any new friends, I’m no longer afraid. As I watched the sad man eat his sandwich from a safe distance, near the toilets, I googled ‘hate the sound of chewing’ and discovered there is a condition called Misophonia. There is a label. It’s a thing.
mis· o· pho· nia | \ ˌmi-sō-ˈfō-nē-ə \
Definition of misophonia : a condition in which one or more common sounds (such as the ticking of a clock, the hum of a fluorescent light, or the chewing or breathing of another person) cause an atypical emotional response (such as disgust, distress, panic, or anger) in the affected person hearing the sound.
Technically, the word Misophonia means the ‘hatred of sound’, which is very dramatic. It’s not like people who have it hate music. We only hate certain sounds.
I hope you find relief in knowing that you aren’t a gross piggy eater…
Thrilled to discover information on this sound madness, I was curious to see if any people on Twitter had Misophonia — and the response was nuts. I asked about certain sounds and how people felt when they heard them. Thousands of people responded. Click here to read the thread — it’s funny, sad, tragic.
Although Misophonia seems to be a fairly new discovery, it’s been featured in many media outlets, including NPR , where I discovered the very fancy and smart Jaelline Jaffe, PhD. She’s a psychotherapist who specializes in Misophonia. I got in touch with her and she graciously answered a few questions.
The most common reaction to a triggering sounds seems to be uncontrollable rage, followed by guilt. Why rage? Why not fear or classic anxiety? Why does it feel like the person making the noise is attacking us and we must fight back?
I believe this condition is related to the survival part of the brain reacting as it did for cave man. Hearing sounds that are potentially life threatening resulted in a fight or flight charge of adrenaline. Because there is no life-or-death threat in someone chewing gum, but the adrenaline is still kicked up, the person has to dispel that energy somehow, usually by raging or fleeing the scene.
A 2015 study in The Australian Psychiatry suggests Misophonia is associated with obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. Do you agree? Have you found any other common traits amongst people who have it?
I have seen a large correlation between people with Misophonia and OCD and anxiety disorders. Other common traits appear to be high intelligence, extremely alert hearing and perception, perfectionism, judgmentalism, and an expectation that others SHOULD have similar reactions.
Aside from wearing headphones or walking away from the sound, what can one do if they’re stuck in a triggering environment?
First, you can begin by inhaling and then exhaling more. This changes the oxygen/carbon dioxide ratio in the brain, which shifts from the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight) to the parasympathetic (relax) side.
Then move your focus to something else (colours, objects, textures, etc). We cannot pay attention to everything at the same time, so you can begin to crowd out the space the trigger is taking up in your mind. You can also try ascribing the sound to a different source (‘That sounds like _____, which I don’t mind …’).
How can we talk about this with our family and friends? Is there a casual, light hearted way of saying, ‘I can’t stand the sound of you eating and breathing and I feel like punching you in the neck?’
How about something like. ‘So you may have noticed that I often leave the room when you are eating. I would really prefer to be able to spend time with you, but I have a very severe reaction to the sound of chewing. It’s a neurological thing. I wish it weren’t the case but it is. So, I would greatly appreciate it if you would chew quietly, mouth closed, and not loud crunchy things when I am sitting here. Otherwise if I get up and leave, please excuse me, as I am just trying to prevent a meltdown!’
Any tips for people who live with someone who has Misophonia?
Don’t take it personally when the Misophone gets upset. It’s the sound, not the person that is upsetting. Be thoughtful about what/how you eat when they are in the room. Don’t mock or deliberately make sounds you know are upsetting.
How do you think we can continue to spread the word and open up to our friends and family about being a Misophone?
Awareness of this condition is the responsibility of everyone who knows what it is to educate and inform those who do not. So be prepared to explain to your friends, family, doctor, and anyone else. Spread the word!
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Wow. It’s all fascinating isn’t it?
My goal in writing this is to spread the word about Misophonia and to figure out a way to talk to our family and friends about it. For those of you don’t have this condition, if someone says to you, ‘The sound of you chewing really bothers me,’ I hope you find relief in knowing that you aren’t a gross piggy eater, you’re just with someone who has a unique sensitivity to sound. Or, maybe you do eat like a pig and you better stop it.
In a time where people are saying, ‘Everyone is so sensitive and offended by everything!’ I’m happy to add the sound of breathing to the list. Cheers to awareness.