You might not have heard of misophonia, but if you are often infuriated by the sound of chewing, breathing, snoring, a clock ticking, or any other specific trigger, you may have experienced it. In fact, it’s thought that one in five of us have it.
Sounds Like Misophonia addresses what the condition is, how it manifests, and provides a guide to managing it. Read on for an extract.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Written by clinical psychologist Dr Jane Gregory, who founded the first two misophonia clinics in London and Oxford. This is the first practical self-help book to make sense of the condition, and help you design your own treatment plan tailored to your unique experience.
Using techniques from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Jane guides readers through evidence-based strategies and step-by-step exercises to review and adjust patterns of reacting to sounds.
With humour and understanding, Jane offers practical ways so you can get on with life in this noisy world. Jane is joined by contributor Adeel Ahmad, host of the popular Misophonia Podcast. Adeel shares case studies from other sufferers around the world.
There is no cure for the condition, but Sounds Like Misophonia helps provide solutions to living a fulfilling life, instead of fighting against it.
Imagine you are a meerkat.
You are standing on guard and the survival of your meerkat crew depends on you being able to detect the slightest hint of danger while the others forage for food and entertain the kids.
You have to know when a hint of danger becomes a real enough threat that the group needs to get back to safety. You also need to make sure you don’t send everyone back into the burrow every two minutes, wasting precious foraging time because that fluttering autumn leaf looked ‘kinda like a hawk from a distance’. It’s a vital job and not just any meerkat can do it.
In a group of meerkats, there are ‘super guards’ who not only spend more time on guard than others, but are also more likely to stop their own foraging at any potential sign of a predator, even when they are not on guard duty. The super guards are not necessarily the dominant or oldest meerkats, there is something special about them that means they get this role. My guess? They have misophonia. And it’s part of the group survival plan.
It makes sense that humans have super guards too. Somewhere along the way, a tribe survived because one of its members didn’t ignore the rustling in the grass and the rhythmic footsteps of a predator in pursuit. Those footstep-noticing genes survived to be passed down.
Their descendants noticed heavy breathing and repetitive coughing and avoided a deathly respiratory virus. The next generation made it through a sweeping epidemic because they refused to eat with their infected friends whose blocked noses meant they had to eat with mouths agape, spraying germ-laden spit into the air with every bite. The survivors decided to implement a closed-mouth eating policy and the etiquette-abiding genes were passed down, because they were able to get along and look after each other in a group.
The genes that tell you not to ignore these little clues of danger continued to save lives and be passed down until we get to me, today, wondering what the evolutionary benefits were for wanting to smother your husband in his sleep because of his snoring.
I can only imagine that if there were a lion outside our cave and his snoring was going to get the whole family killed, better to sacrifice one than all? Or maybe my husband is an unintended victim in this evolutionary marvel and it’s actually the lion’s snoring I am supposed to be listening out for? Yes, that must be it: I hear the lion snoring outside my cave, barricade the doors and save the family.
Ideally, without having to sacrifice my snoring husband.
I was watching TV with my partner and I heard a sound of trickling water coming from outside our entrance door. I opened the door, only to see that there was a leak coming from the ceiling into the hallway. My partner was shocked how I was able to hear it beyond the loud television playing.
In situations like those, I feel that my sharp attention to sounds can be helpful.’
The ability to tune into subtle clues for potential danger can save our lives. Remember when the best-known sign of Covid-19 was a repetitive cough? Those of us with misophonia finally put our skills to good use, detecting the slightest cough from a mile away. When you’re walking late at night, your brain has the capacity to filter out the sound of traffic and zero in on the sound of footsteps behind you.
Tuning into certain sounds among competing noise is not limited to misophonia: under stress, your brain is supposed to switch that feature on. With misophonia, it’s hard to switch it off.
Come the zombie apocalypse, my misophonia will earn me a super guard role in the human rebellion. Think about it: I am programmed not to ignore the sound of heavy breathing, dragging feet and repetitive language.
If I heard the sound of something eating brains, my body would instantly prepare me for battle. I mean, I’ve nearly decapitated someone for eating spaghetti carbonara too close to me. The rest of you will be able to sleep soundly knowing that I will wake up at the slightest rustling and kick into action. That is, unless you sleep so soundly that you snore. Then I’m going to let the zombies have you.
‘I notice when things are out of place. I am also hyper aware if someone else seems even remotely uncomfortable. I have been told that I have a good sense of perceiving others’ emotions fairly accurately.’
But sadly, life is not all meerkats and zombies. If it was, misophonia wouldn’t be a problem – or it certainly wouldn’t be your biggest problem.
Life is noisy. Far too noisy for a super guard who just wants to be able to ignore the rest of the world and do some foraging of their own. Not only are you unnecessarily alert to all the danger clues, but your brain is also way too quick to react as though that fluttering autumn leaf in the distance is actually a hawk.
We may not fully understand the role of the brain in misophonia yet, but the good news is that our brain patterns are not fixed. Connections in our brain change based on our experiences, including the experience of therapy. Brain studies are so impressively sciencey, they can make you feel like their results mean more than they really do. Sometimes finding out that a problem can be seen in brain scans can make you feel like that means there is nothing that can be done about it.
But, what happens in the brain is a reflection of what we are experiencing. We can change the connections in our brain. We can use medication and treatments like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to target the brain, which then influences what we experience. Or we can use therapy and behaviour change, changing what we experience, and therefore changing what happens in our brain.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am researching misophonia, a phenomenon where individuals experience an extreme negative emotional reaction to certain sounds, like eating, heavy breathing, rustling and repetitive tapping. At the more severe end of the scale, misophonia is a disorder that can cause substantial distress and interfere with relationships, work and study.
In my work as a clinical psychologist, I have been adapting cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for the unique presentation of misophonia. Many patients have found it helpful for reducing distress and impairment caused by this curious sensory phenomenon. Whilst there is no know cure for misophonia, psychological therapies might be able to improve symptoms and functioning.
My current research aims to find the key cognitive and behavioural mechanisms of this phenomenon, and to test whether therapy techniques can change these mechanisms.
I am a clinical psychologist and am completing this research under the Wellcome Trust Doctoral Training Fellowship Scheme for Clinicians.