I came across an article that smacked me upside the head in a aha! moment when suddenly, things start to make so much more sense.
The article is called The Other as Noise and talks about a condition called Misophonia.
There are different ways to define this condition.
- sound rage
- selective sound sensitivity syndrome
- the inability to tolerate the sounds other people make
It was coined by a pair of audiologists, Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, in 2003.
The condition is classified as a mental rather than an acoustic one. It is a unfavourable association for sounds other people make, like rubbing, sniffing, scratching, crackling, wheezing, whistling…it triggers some negative emotion in the misophonic person which might lead to outbursts like anger or repulsion.
You ever found yourself feeling annoyed when someone nearby was chewing loudly, or tapping their fingers incessantly, or making certain noises while swallowing? It’s the repetitive sounds that emit from the person that cause the negative emotion in people who may suffer a little from Misophonia.
The way the author described it was particularly interesting:
“I try to ignore sounds, but I can’t.”
“When I hear certain sounds, I don’t just hear them; I observe them. I linger over them.”
“When I hear the weak, repetitive sound, neat and syncopated, of someone chewing gum I know they are not to blame, they’re acting normal, but I can’t keep myself from giving them a dirty look.”
For a while, before he understood that there is an actual name, and explanation, for this condition, he thought that the tendency to be highly irritated by the personal noises others make just made him an asshole.
The condition is sometimes associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, hyperacusia, and Tourette’s syndrome.
The reason why this article impressed on me isn’t so much because I feel I have Misophonia, but because my hearing in somewhat impaired (I lost some of my hearing during a childhood illness) which means that certain sounds come into my brain altered, or muffled, or distorted. I process some sounds differently from someone who has normal hearing, and this may cause me to react, sometimes negatively, toward the person making the sound.
If I’m sitting someplace working on my laptop and someone starts doing something behind me, I may not have heard them enter the room, but I suddenly hear noises that weren’t there before. It causes my body to tense up in a way that it shouldn’t. I mean, I’m in my house, there are people in the house who live with me, there is nothing to be tense about.
If I was a normal hearing person, I would have heard the sounds a person makes as they walk into the room. I would have heard the footsteps. Hearing these sounds would have been subconsciously observed, probably, since chances are I would not have interrupted my task at my laptop. It would not have broken my concentration. Plus I would then have associated the next set of noises with that person subconsciously as well, like when they take a glass out of a cupboard, they’re opening the fridge, they’re turning on a tap…
Those noises would have been registered and processed subconsciously by a normal hearing person.
But I do not have normal hearing. My hearing is impaired. I hear things, but depending on the frequency, the sounds come in distorted. So, I’m sitting at my laptop working, it’s quiet, and suddenly I hear the clanking of dishes. This startles me and simultaneously causes a negative emotion in my body. I feel tense. Where did this sound come from? Who is making it? There is someone behind me?
It’s a little unnerving. Particularly if I was facing away from the area where the noises are coming from. (I.e. I didn’t see the person enter or I would not have reacted that way.)
It’s fascinating and important to recognize, especially if you’re living with people who are losing some of their hearing due to age. They may not know themselves that their hearing is compromised, since hearing loss in older people is often gradual and not always recognizable. But now that you know there is a condition that explains why someone may seem grumpy or suddenly have anger outbursts that seem out of place, you might be able to make the association. You entered the room, he didn’t see you, you start talking or turning on the kettle, and he’s interrupted and surprised (and angry at himself for not having noticed).
That sort of thing.
Anyway, I thought it was interesting and great food for thought. Click the link above if you want to read the entire article. This post is just my spin on it. And if you recognize some of these conditions or have experienced them, share with us!
See you in the comments.