Monday, 7 April 2014

Misophonia. Whatever next?

Nothing to do with the subject in hand, but I thought I’d treat you to a recent snap of my grandchildren.

Forgive the digression.  You know how we grannies dote . . .


My daughter Grace (Buzzfloyd), her nose ever faithfully to the trail, continues to track down instances of the Neurological Weirdness that besets our family, with a view to better understanding and empowering its members – herself and her son in particular.  Snuffling suspiciously along the criss-crossing paths of the forest of Life, she has come across this one.


All the women in my family have this.

What is it? Well, the “mis” part you'll recognize from misanthropy and misogyny – it’s an inherent aversion to something, a profound, irresistible, instinctive innate dislike – going beyond dislike, actually; intolerance.  Inability to tolerate.  And the “phonia” – well, symphony, telephone, phonic – it’s to do with sound.

So misophonia is a near phobic aversion to sounds.  Not just any sounds.  Social sounds; human sounds.  The sounds people make when they eat with their mouths open, for example. Or the sound of a lower-middle-class English person socially acculturated to start a cup of tea with an inward slurp followed by a release of breath, “Aaaaaaahh . . . .”  As the tea-drinker releases his audible “Aaahh”, the misophone responds with an internal, inaudible “Aaaaaaaagh!!!!” and has to apply every ounce of self-discipline to stay still and keep smiling, resisting the impulse to scream, run from the room or let fly an astonishing and unreasonable stream of invective.  The children of misophones learn early to eat with their mouths closed and move quietly through the world.  Which begs the question; to what extent is misophonia endogenous and neurological and inherited, and to what extent is it a psychological trait acquired through socialization?  It is easy to mistake one alternative for the other.  You get this in many manifestations of human idiosyncrasy – heart disease for example.  It is said to be inherited, but then if there’s one thing we inherit and have the devil of a job altering, it’s our eating patterns.  Either way with misophonia, it’s a powerful, visceral force; and my family have it in spades.  Grace tells me that once when they were small I even asked a guest at our home if he would please not eat with his mouth open as I was trying to train my children not to do so.  I can’t believe I actually did this, but I do know I was even crazier as a young woman than I am now – it’s taken years of assiduous work and study to acquire whatever levels of calm and sanity I have now (however tenuously) attained.  So Grace is probably right.

One of us can’t stand the noise the water distiller makes (a quiet electric fan running for some hours).  When my children were little I had to give them notice of running the vacuum cleaner – and we still avoid vacuuming the floors because the noise does our heads in.  We sweep, when and where we can.  One of us, as a child, couldn’t help the involuntary noises she made because of one neurological disorder but couldn’t bear the minor eating noises others made, because of her misophonia.  It’s all rather wearing.

Some people have it really badly.  A friend of Grace’s was reduced to tears at the prospect of attending a wedding reception (her own, for all I know) because her husband’s family all eat with their mouths open.  We don’t have it that badly.  It doesn’t make us cry.  But we’d probably leave early.  Or not go.

I have an intense aversion to social events where people have their mouths open in that particular kind of welcoming social smile.  Wet. Gleaming teeth. Souls not tucked in properly.  That’s (one reason) why I like the Society of Friends; they keep their mouths shut most of the time. They aren’t alarmingly friendly.  Such social events are often venues for the noises that torture misophones.  I can’t even bear the photos in fashion magazines where the models have their mouths open in supposedly inviting or seductive expressions.  And the visceral revulsion that homophobes experience about the prospect of homosexuality afflicts me about all displays of sexuality  especially on the TV or on films. Any danger of a screen kiss and I shut my eyes tight in horror, and if it’s the wet sucky licky kind I wrap my hands round my head as well so I can’t possibly see or hear them and someone has to tell me when it’s gone. Ugh.  Screen sex, ditto.  Can’t bear it.  The notion of sex doesn’t distress me, whether homosexual or heterosexual, and my own intimate relationship rolls along fine.  It’s the screen sound and visuals that reduce me to crumpling horror; like being overwhelmed by mucusy gastropods (oh gosh, look, some people do it on purpose!). Well, I know snails are silent, but I think in this instance it’s all tied up with the misophonia.

But now, here’s the thing. It seems there are in the world people with philophonia as well (or should that be philaphonia?).  Not philophobia.  That’s a recognized term for the irrational fear of emotional attachment or of falling in love.  I don’t have that, though I have the darnedest job staying attached, to anyone or anything, but that’s another story.  No, philophonia is a word of my own creation, meaning the opposite of misophonia.  A philophone likes the sounds the misophone can’t bear.

An introvert as well as a misophone, silent and as folded-in as an sea anemone, I can pass through any place unrecognized and ignored, because I give out no signals.  I didn’t realize anyone gave out signals until, walking through the town centre with a friend who can’t go anywhere without being constantly stopped by acquaintances who recognize him and want to chat, I began to realize he was causing this by making little sounds.  As soon as he saw someone he knew, he began making very tiny sounds in his nose like incipient guinea-pig vocalisations, repetitively. Yes, I am barmy.  Yes, it would take a misophone to notice.  But yes, this is true. Mini subliminal sounds.  Drawing attention. Curious.  And it seemed to be working.

But now, here’s the thing. I, a misophone, live in a misophonic household all with neurological dispositions in that direction trained and exacerbated by me, their mother (mea culpa) into an extreme condition; except one of us.  For my husband, gentle reader, is a philophone; a man with a sound track, communicating with the world through a seamless unconscious unintentional interweaving of exhalations, grunts and whistles throughout the day.  If he sits down on a chair, it’s with a satisfied “Oooooh” and a sigh of pleasure at how nice it is to sit down.  Sometime two or three times.  A salesman of extraordinary ability, when he locks into advocating a product, I’ve noticed (a misophone would) he emits infinitesimally small smackings of the lips at the end of each phrase – inviting and encouraging, I suspect, on a subliminal plane, and imperceptible to those who are not misophonic.  Contentedly, as he potters round the bedroom of a morning searching for his socks and his vitamins, he whistles through his teeth. I must restrain the compulsion to give full vent to my misophonia, and end the catalogue there.  On occasion, I have looked at him with amazement and said “You are the noisiest man I have ever met.”  And of course, in this household of narrowed-eyed misophones padding through life in stealth mode with their mouths shut like traps, he comes within a whisker of death every day.  It is a measure of how much we love and esteem him, for a dearer man never walked the earth, that we continue along together.  And also because by this time we know a disorder when we see one; misophonia is quite common, but it is not normal, if you see what I mean.

But silence is golden.


Ganeidaz Knot said...

THANK YOU!!! Pen. Now I understand why I send my Dearest to eat anywhere else that is not near me. He is a noisy eater & it revolts me! My teeth are promptly on edge, my nerves jangling & for this he comes within inches of death any time he, I & food are in the same vicinity. *sigh* He turns the t.v on, I turn it off. He talks, I blog. ☺

Pen Wilcock said...

Misophonia. That's what it is. Easily confused with misanthropy under some circumstances. xx

Suze said...

You have described some of my behaviour to a T. My mother prattles non stop and I am very deaf. Can we please keep the world a little quieter so I can hear the important stuff. Excess noises are grating.

Then you describe the visual excesses the spew across the screens. I don't' want them either.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hi Suze xx

Anonymous said...

Last night I left the room 'cos the noise of 1 person eating was too loud. But I had coped OK when 10 people were eating and talking. Strange. I had thought disliking food and drink realted noises was down to links to an eating disorder, but maybe not.

Hawthorne said...

Oh Ember, you made me laugh so much with some of your descriptions! I'm with you concerning vacuum cleaners, and definitely with you about the squelchy tv kissing and tv sex!! Yuck, yuck, yuck! Bless you, my Sister! x x

Judy Olson said...

Oh Pen, MY husband is the noisiest person I've ever met! This is quiet me, in my house with my noisy husband!! I cannot believe there is a name for this and other people have it too! I laughed and cried at the same time, although I have stopped laughing and just crying now.

Anonymous said...

Oh my life...50% of what you wrote is me! Although I smile a lot so I don't think you'd like being near me :-D

I think a lot of it is learned though. My Dad used to go nuts about hearing me breathe when eating so I learned not to...and also learned to hate hearing other people do it. Also, I hate when people smack their lips at the end of a sentence...or any other time...or slurp tea...or a miriad of other things...*sob*


Pen Wilcock said...

Heheh - hello friends - I knew there had to be some reason why we all spend so much time talking to each other silently online!

daisyanon said...

Gosh, I have sometimes wondered if social customs have changed when I wasn't looking and that is why so many eat noisily with mouths open.

Aren't children trained to eat quietly anymore?

I cannot stand it. Never could, even as a child.

I hate public transport for that reason. Hate sitting next to someone who starts eating.

I am also developing an extreme aversion to people who accumulate food around their mouths as they eat and do not remove it.

Such a relief to know that if I am an obsessive in these matters, there are others like me.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah yes, the munchers on the bus . . . xx

Jenna said...

Wow! And here I was calling it my absolute aversion to "auditory clutter." Since I'm currently unemployed, I have gone along shuffling around my house and life and never noticed, not even once, that the house was dead silent (save birds outside and that kind of thing) until someone mentioned it. I also recently picked up a friend in my van for a trip to Baltimore and she squirmed for some minutes before finally pleading, "Can we have the radio on?" I don't usually remember I even HAVE a radio in the thing. (Sorry, Sirius?, Pandora? or those other things) I think I must just more enjoy what's going on in my own head--the ramblings, the on-going fact-finding, the LISTS, the music, the prayers. Don't conflutterate me with that other stuff. Ditto "visual clutter."

Quietly yours,--Jenna

Pen Wilcock said...

Conflutterate - what a fabulous word! xx

margaret said...

I was shy and introverted as a child and taught to walk, talk and laugh quietly (without teeth) in the convent – and I liked both. I hated the contrived jollity of nursing and air-stewardessing and now at 50 I have consciously chosen to avoid human noise. I like voices and laughter (not on the telephone) if they are quiet but I hate places where there are great gaggles of people laughing and talking such as shopping centres, city streets, pubs, restaurants and cinemas and I can't deal with them, only shops occasionally from necessity. I get anxiety attacks and it is mostly the noise. Next to noise, yes, it's open mouths. I cannot understand at all why everyone nowadays has to be photographed apparently guffawing. When I was small and yawned widely my mother would say, “Thank you, Pearl, for that view of your spleen,” or something similarly facetious but now everyone, absolutely everyone and all well past the age of four, is shown with mouths open in a way that (to me) decent people reserve for the dentist. And, as I type, my housemate is driving me loopy. He's been poodling about all morning breathing (the nerve of the man!) and making happy little tooting noises like a French horn warming up and now he's reading a book. I can't hear the pages from two rooms away but I can hear him eating chocolate as he always does when he reads and every now and then he murmurs, “Aaaaaah this is the life” yet the Jackdaw Wars outside my window aren't bothering me a bit!

Marsha Johnson said...

Consider supporting the Misophonia Association,

We plan to hold the 2nd Annual Misophonia Convention, October 10-11' 2014' in Orlando, Florida.

Rapunzel said...

You too????
I sleep at the opposite end of this large house from my mister, because whether he snores or whether he stops breathing for a few seconds then starts again, either one wakes me up. Over and over.
I once visited a LOVELY church with really a really nice and welcoming congregation, enjoyed a LOVELY service and a delicious church supper afterward...and thought "this is the place for me, good food, good people, good spirit!", until the gentleman across from me at the table stuck his finger in his mouth to dislodge something from each side of his dentures, there was a slurpy sound to go with this, and the whole proceedure looked so repulsively lizardy somehow that I left rather quickly afterward and could never again bring myself to enter the place. Ewwww.

As a child the sound of someone blowing their nose would gag me.

How I managed to raise a passle of children I shall never know. Grace I guess, certainly not my own skill and patience : )

It is indeed good to know none of us are 'the only one' !

Pen Wilcock said...

Margaret - thank you, such an interesting and vivid description! I had a similar upbringing!

Marsha - thanks - I don't usually publish any advertising whatsoever on here, but this could be helpful to readers experiencing severe levels of difficulty.

Rapunzel - Yikes! The dentures!!


Anonymous said...

That link is interesting. Especially the bit about triggers to visual sights. I wonder if that explains why I can't watch movies in which people are humiliated? Movies like National Lampoons that my mother loves leave me wanting to throw up because I feel the embarrassment that the characters should feel and just don't get me started on my reaction to the X Factor auditions!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Pen,
Great post! I have a highly sound sensitive friend that your descriptions match, and she appears to have passed this on to her daughter. I have seen them go around with their hands over their ears, and when we were in worship dance together we had a hard time agreeing on music. I myself am glad to have found another human being who cannot stand catalog photos of women with their mouths open in a seductive non-smile. I find it highly offensive, and incongruous, as the catalog's clothes are not seductive. I suspect they are prompted to do so by the catalog's photographer. It does not make me want to shop from them, and have thought of complaining, but am uncertain how to address the issue. I am weirdly sensitive towards things in my left field of vision, and choose seats accordingly, and my husband's habit of rubbing one foot against his other, with accompanying cyclical friction noise, drives me to distraction. He can keep this up for hours on end. We seldom cohabit the same room! So I keep telling myself that if everyone were the same, it would be a very dull world.But on your blog, birds of a feather are certainly sticking together!

Pen Wilcock said...

I wonder if any men have the same problem?

a siganoff said...

Beautifully done! Thank you for this.
I have been active in the Misophonia community since "the beginning" and have seen too many instances of people with Misophonia separated from family-of-origin birth and raised by neurotypical people only to find their Misophonic-genetic-link later in life.
I contend that the ones who insist on teaching us strict manners are Misophonic themselves. This is most assuredly genetic in origin and not learned behavior.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ooh - thank you so much for getting in touch: I'm very interested in your confidence that misophonia is inherent and not acquired. My own family is such a complex bundle of neurological phenomena that this doesn't surprise me at all! What we have acquired, at least, is the ability to keep it in check!

Anonymous said...


An enlightening post. In times past, would the 'silent' orders of monks and nuns have provided a calm, quiet refuge for those who find the aural clamour painful to unendurable?

As someone with a vision impairment of the Braille reading, guide dog using variety, the soundscapes around me are for me 'vision' as well as hearing.

However, I am right there beside you re the disgusting audio effects/existence of biological intimacy on the large or small screen - do producers, script writers and directors feel we absolutely must have a blow for blow biology lesson 'just because they can'??? cheapens the act of intimacy in my thinking, but that's another argument for another time.

Of interest, the foisting of audio upon we in the vision impaired community over Braille is jarring; to read for oneself and have a brief resbite from the auditory is refreshing to say the least - sometimes one's ears become weary - though I would expect the almost inperceptible but nonetheless existant sound of one's fingertips tracking over each Braille line might cause a little queasiness to the mesphonic individual - not to mention related sounds of a Braille display as the little piezo-electric 'dots' raise and fall to make Brailel characters, the cycling through each line of text and the quiet friction of the reader's fingertips over the refreshable Braille display.

For me the horror sound is that of an emery board being used - it evokes a sensation in me akin to that which many experience when hearing fingernails down a blackboard



Pen Wilcock said...

Oh gosh - interesting insights, Sarah!
As to the monks and nuns - they usually (except Cistercians) ate in community, so were not protected from the sounds most misophones can't bear!
I'm interested in your comment 'sometimes one's ears become weary'; and I can immediately see that would be so. You are reading this by software converting it to spoken words?
For myself, the sound of fingers on Braille would be companionable, not annoying; but I think misophones vary - the water distiller fan irritates my daughter badly, but I don't mind it. xx

Anonymous said...


Thank you for an equally thoughtful and timely reply. The sounds of tucker time aren't a problem for me, but the husband of an old acquaintance used to chew so dreadfully that even my teeth were set on edge - the percussive knocking of his teeth together - I could feel the enamel wearing away bite by bite!! Holy Cow!! the misphonic who has the misfortune of sitting next to him at table would be rather perturbed to say the least, me thinks. My mob for the mostpart are crunchers or largely quiet at table and my little nieces are being raised with good, sociable tablemanners; even at two and four, they're doing so well - I am very proud of them - and their parents for doing such a fantastic job raising them.

Buzfloid would likely find the ethanol plant just down the river from us unbearable, its refinery white noise an ever constant backdrop to otherwise peaceful surrounds. They employ a good many people on three shifts per day though, and for a struggling rural community as is mine, such is a godsent. They are responsible also, not 'fouling the nest' as it were, the river very clean and with good fish thriving.

And yes, I am listening to your blog via a text-to-speech screen reader; I have the makings of a good Braille setup with a much better screen-reader waiting to go but need a better laptop to run it on and wil be purchasing said computer soon; but the hard-copy book needing no batteries, emitting no electro-magnetic radiation, nothing beats it!! And a well looked after Braille book will give in excess of fifty years of reading pleasure if not manhandled too badly though half a century of touch will dull the dots somewhat. (in past times, each Braille page was coated with a thin film of shellack to preserve the tactile reading material so properly produced books bound in something more sturdy than cardboard (all too common) will give the reader in excess of eighty years worth (remember, the oldest Braille books are less than a century and a half old - odd that tactle media took so long to come about after the West's embrace of moveable type).

Even well into the 20th century, Braille books for lending libraries were still transcribed by hand, dot by dot with a slate and stylus. Sorry to wander off topic.



Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks, Sarah - I love the comments on this blog! I learn so much! x

Suze said...

For Sarah I trained to teach visually impaired persons and still remember my battle with Braille. It is decades since I have taught and still odd snippets sneak into my thoughts. My children think it is a mazing that I can read the signage in public places but for me it is no more than a party trick now.

I pray you can afford your new laptop very soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pen,
I had to comment, I usually just read. I had to leave the university library the other day because the person in the next study cubicle was eating and I felt like crying. I found a quiet corner in the courtyard with some birds for company and did my reading there. Today in my lecture the girl next to me was typing notes on her laptop and I felt very tense because of the keyboard sounds. I've always felt odd about my aversion to noise, that is until my aunt visited me from Holland last year, and we found we had so much in common including an aversion to noises. In fact meeting her shed light on a lot of my eccentricities ;) We have never met before and from what she told me about my grandmother I 'm sure most of my oddities are inherited (although I don't hid in the cupboard when people knock on the door or keep a goat in the kitchen)
I showed your blog to my beloved and he just nodded in agreement. He likes to have the radio when driving which I can kind of cope with if he doesn't try to talk to me at the same time - then my brain feels like it's going to explode and he usually regrets it immediately. He's used to me turning the tv off, needing to shut the computer down because the fan hums and having a silent house most of the time.

Pen Wilcock said...

Aha! Join the club, Saskia!! x

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