It could be chewing, footsteps, sniffling, throat clearing, keyboard clicking, crinkly food wrappers, smacking lips, the sound of the letter “P”, slurping, or, really, anything.
If this sounds like you, perhaps you have misophonia–a decreased tolerance of sound. (Check out the Misophonia Activation Scale for self-diagnosis.)
Highly sensitive people are more sensitive to the world around them, so it makes sense that misophonia could be a cross-over symptom that some HSPs experience.
“Misophonia is a selective sound sensitivity which means you really, really, really hate certain sounds,” a misophone acquaintance, Vivienne, told me. “Particularly anything to do with the mouth. So, crunchy wasabi peas and loud breathing are some big triggers. Sometimes even the sight of people eating can activate it.”
And the reaction can be severe. She says that some triggers make her feel “trapped, invaded, tight in the chest, really anxious and sometimes really, really angry. Sometimes it’s so bad I have to escape and have a little cry.”
One Reddit user wrote, “I can’t stand gum, chewing, nail biting. It literally makes me want to punch someone, cry, scream, crawl out of my own skin.”
Vivienne says, “Another weird quirk is that often, the people you love the most are the people who trigger you the worst. Some of my worst trigger-ers are my family and my boyfriend, and they’re the ones who do their best to minimize it for me. It can affect relationships negatively.”
Fast-forward to about 2:25 in this video to see the intriguing story of Josh, a 20-something start-up founder who can’t stand to be around his friend and co-founder due to his misophonia. In the video, Josh allows his friend to trigger him, and the results are distressing.
Misophones like Josh often find that they need to structure their lives around the disorder.
Working in a cubicle was difficult for Vivienne due to the aural triggers that inevitably arose. The triggers can distract and anger to the point where focusing on work is impossible. Eventually, she struck out on her own to work for herself; now she can better control her environment.
Read more about why working for yourself might be the best job for HSPs.
How do people deal with misphonia? There is no cure–not really even a treatment. The disorder is not well studied, but awareness is growing. It seems that most misophones aren’t without a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. Getting enough sleep, exercise, meditating, and maintaining a good diet are also essential. Caffeine may exacerbate symptoms, but drinking chamomile tea regularly may help calm you down (as can a glass of wine).
If you think you have misophonia, know that you aren’t alone. I highly recommend checking out the misophonia reddit for support, as well as this excellent book, Understanding and Overcoming Misophonia.
Do you have misophonia? What has been your experience? What has helped? Leave a comment below.