Misophonia can be scary, confusing and upsetting for the people around us. I get a steady stream of emails from people each month asking: “What can I do? How can I help?” There is an army of mums, dads, brothers, sisters, partners and best friends who want to understand and be there and help, but don’t know where to start. The problem is, with little guidance or professional help on offer, we’re all desperately trying to feel our way around a disorder about which very little is known and let’s face it, it’s hard. The good news is, if you’re close to someone with misophonia there are things you can do to help.
But before we get started a quick public service announcement…
If you’re the parent, sibling, lover or friend of someone who has misophonia, thank you. The fact that you’re reading this article shows, beyond measure, that you care. Thank you for being there and for wanting to understand and wanting to help. It might feel like we don’t appreciate you (especially when we’re flashing a dagger-like glares at you across the kitchen table when you accidentally bang your fork) but we do.
Ok, let’s get back to business.
Here are 6 actionable things you can do to help:
- Understand that it’s not your fault – The fear-flight-fight response that your loved one feels every time they hear certain sounds is just a part of their brain (the amygdala) misinterpreting that sound as a danger signal. If you happen to have made the ‘trigger’ sound then you might be in their line of fire, but you’re not the cause of the disorder, it’s not your fault. Any upset or tantrum that ensues isn’t really directed at you as person, even if it might feel exactly like that!
- Try to avoid being confrontational – Most (reputable) studies indicate that misophonia is a neurological condition. In other words it isn’t ‘learnt’ and won’t just go away or lessen over time. Saying that “you just need to get over it” or to “stop overreacting” is a bit like screaming at a blind person: “START SEEING!”. They can’t help it and it will only make things worse and cause the situation to escalate. Getting frustrated is totally understandable but will raise tensions and leave both of you feeling hurt or upset. Remember, your loved one likes this disorder even less than you and would do anything to make it stop. The physiological reaction caused by a trigger sound won’t go away, but over time they will find ways to cope.
- Don’t let misophonia dictate how you live your life – It’s bad enough we have it, you shouldn’t have to suffer as well! Try to be considerate and mindful, but don’t feel like you have to tread on eggshells whenever you’re around that person. I know this is hard, particularly for mums and dads (no one wants to see their child in pain) but if you’re constantly tip-toeing around each other you’ll both be stressed and on edge all the time and it can make things worse. It’s important that your loved one is able to find coping mechanisms and support that works for them in different environments.
- Remain calm and level during an episode – Misophonia causes high stress levels in your loved one’s body (causing cortisone and adrenaline to race around their system) during an episode. The best way to help them calm down and reset is to try to be patient and understanding. You don’t have to endorse their behaviour (particularly if they’re being aggressive) but let them know you’re there for them and that you don’t think they’re ‘stupid’ or ‘weird’. Try to speak softly and calmly and without judgement until the moment has passed.
- Give them space but let them know that you’re there if they need you – Sometimes they may experience a total sensory overload and will just need to get out of the room. It might seem like they’re being rude or childish but they’re probably doing this as much for you as they are for themselves. Moving away from the situation gives them time to reset and prevents them from lashing out and saying something they don’t mean and might later regret. In calm moments, if it seems appropriate, try talking to them about how misophonia makes them feel. You’ll get a much better understanding of the disorder and they’ll feel supported and less alienated.
- Allow them to use tools and devices to help mask sounds in difficult situations – Putting on some background music or even having the TV on during mealtimes can work wonders, others find white noise can help. Adding another layer of sound in the background often helps to dull the intensity of a misophonic reaction. Sometimes that’s not enough and as any misophone will tell you, the humble set of earphones is always a close ally! If you’re a parent, let your son or daughter use earphones or headphones in their room when they’re trying to concentrate.
That’s it. I hope you found some of these helpful.
Even if you’re able to act on just one of these points, it really could help to alleviate the stress and anxiety that misophonia can cause.
With the right management and encouragement, people with misophonia can develop and hone coping mechanisms that enable them to live a wonderful and fulfilling life.Want to learn more? Join a Workshop with Dr. Jennifer Brout or Duke CMER at Misophonia Education.