A world full of annoying sounds: What it’s like living with misophonia

A world full of annoying sounds: What it’s like living with misophonia


This is, as I’ve become aware in the past year, not just an adorable personality quirk: it’s misophonia (literally “hatred of sound”), or (the ironically sibilant) selective sound sensitivity syndrome. Or, as Broadly’s Callie Beusman’s amusing misophonia essay put it: “Every little breath you take makes me furious.”

The condition was identified within the last 20 years and named in 2002 by Emory University researchers Margaret and Pawel Jastreboff.

Some research has indicated that misophonia may be related to other conditions, such as synaesthesia, PTSD or OCD, while other studies have recommended it be “classified as a discrete psychiatric disorder”. One study revealed a nearly 20-per-cent incidence of the condition in the sample group; roughly that many of my Facebook friends have reacted with enthusiastic relief when I’ve posted articles about misophonia.

Typically, symptoms are described as going beyond mere annoyance and into feelings of rage or panic. Certainly, that’s been my experience – in fact, my response to my own shit-list of “hell sounds” is a nice, even middle ground between rage and panic. That scene in The Breakfast Club where Ally Sheedy is biting her fingers is worse than any horror film I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Cannibal Holocaust.

I have been known to move to the front of the tram carriage if a person near me is a loud gum-chewer or nail-picker, if only to avoid glaring at them as though they’ve just garotted a puppy. Headphones and the collected works of Black Sabbath are helpful.

Last year, I was heartened to read a column in the New York Times by Dr Barron H Lerner, professor of medicine and population health at NYU Langone Medical Centre, in which he copped to living with misophonia. Finally, my feelings of rage at open-mouthed gum-chewers seemed to be gaining a hint of legitimacy. “I can’t stand it when someone behind me at a movie chews popcorn with his or her mouth open,” he wrote. “I mean, I really can’t stand it.”