Author – Susan Sluiter (M.A. RAU) – Clinical Psychologist and Trainer
Chewing noises drives me crazy – what is Misophonia? I can’t stand the noise!
What is Misophonia?
Misophonia is an extreme oversensitivity for certain soft repetitive noises and repetitive visual images. It causes immediate and debilitating feelings of intense anxiety, anger, resentment and irritation. This increases with prolonged exposure to the noise and if escape is impossible. The anxiety that is caused by the specific noise is so intense that it can be described as crossing over into blind rage. It causes immediate uncontrollable anger and an attitude of resentment towards whoever is producing the noise. There is usually the irrational perception that it is done on purpose which intensifies the rage. The following are examples of misophonia noises; chewing, pen clicking, snoring, breathing and any movements that could make a sound.
According to the Misphonnia Institute misophonia is an extreme emotional response accompanied by physical reflex reactions. They quoted the results of a study that was done on the brain imaging and physiology of misophonia. The brain imaging study by Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar, The Brain Basis of Misophonia (2017) provides evidence for the emotional reflex response of misophonia, and it is driven by the vmPFC which is an emotional learning brain structure. But there appears to also be a physical reflex that occurs, which is usually a skeletal muscle flinch. The physical reflex can also be deeper inside the body. There are reports of individuals with the stomach, intestine, or oesophagus constriction, urge to urinate, or a sexual sensation. This will be discussed more on other pages. A study of the physical reflex of misophonia (Dozier & Morrision, 2017, Phenomenology of Misophonia: Initial Physical and Emotional Responses) was published in the American Journal of Psychology.
What causes misophonia?
There are different psychological theories on the causes of misophonia since it was identified as a disorder in 2012. The conditioning theory could be seen as the best explanation of how it develops.
People are not born with misophonia. It develops in the context of severe stress and anxiety. It usually develops as a result of a complicated stressful and anxiety-provoking relationship with a specific individual or in relation to a specific stressful context. The brain consists of an extremely complicated network of associations of sensory inputs which become sensory triggers. Let say for instance a child has a parent, let’s say a mother who makes them extremely anxious and stresses them intensely. Eventually, there will be certain mannerisms, facial expressions, smells, tones of voice etc. which the brain will associate with that individual and with that feeling of stress and anxiety. These attributes will thus trigger the anxiety reaction in the child. In other words, if the mother speaks in a certain tone of voice, the child will immediately feel stressed and anxious.
Let’s say hypothetically speaking, the family sits around the table and the child already feels extremely anxious and stressed because of the triggers associated with the mother and maybe because there could be contributing current stress-provoking dynamics, and the mother chews while the child feels this stress, the brain will then incorporate the mother’s chewing with the other anxiety and stress response triggers. In other words, chewing is then associated with anxiety and stress. If this happens repetitively, the triggered response to the mother’s chewing will be reinforced and will become stronger and stronger. The brain could later associate the sound of chewing, in another context with stress and anxiety and elaborate the sensory triggers to include all chewing noises and not just the mother’s chewing noises. This association network and sensory triggers theory are applicable for the explanation of all the different noises associated with misophonia. Like for instance severe anxiety and stress in the classroom and the clicking noise of a pen.
Can misophonia go away by itself?
Misophonia usually does not clear up by itself. In fact, it has a tendency to become much more severe as time goes by as the brain incorporates more and more sensory triggers to the anxiety, anger, stress-producing responses.
What can make misophonia stop?
In my opinion, tracing back the stress and anxiety experiences to their roots and clearing them out by doing thorough memory processing, is the most powerful therapeutic intervention to stop misophonia in its tracks. When memory processing is done, the triggers of the responses are eliminated. Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR) is according to my experience and professional opinion, the most powerful memory processing tool and results have shown that it is extremely effective in getting rid of misophonia.
Where can I get TIR done?
You can go onto the Applied Metapsychology International -Traumatic Incident Reduction America (AMI-TIRA) website to find a TIR facilitator near you or you can contact me for an appointment.