The fight or flight response refers to a natural reaction that a person experiences during a time of intense stress or fear. What does that mean? It is a natural response for your body to in a crisis, essentially your body has a built-in defense system.
Imagine that you are walking down the street and someone grabs you from behind, points a gun in your back and demands your wallet. His buddy ties your arms and feet and puts a gag in your mouth. How would you react? It would be highly unlikely that you would be calm and say, “sure, no problem, here you go, have a nice day.” No! Your fight or flight response will be instantly activated. Your blood pressure will increase, you will feel panic, possibly break into a sweat, you are anything but calm. There is a huge rush of adrenaline. You may experience super strength and try to fight back or you may be frozen in time praying for this event to be over, filled with hopelessness. What can you do? You cannot get away, he has you tied up. He takes your wallet, your cell phone and keys and in the blink of an eye, they are both gone.
After this type of traumatic event, do you honestly think that you can just calm down and go back to your normal happy mood after the assailant leaves? Of course not! You are going to need ample time to settle down and most likely this event will continue to haunt you for days to come. In all likeliness, you are going to be nervous about walking down that street again.
I am sure that you are asking yourself, “what the heck does being held at gunpoint have to do with Misophonia?” Good question. Although the event itself does not, the fight or flight reaction is something that a sufferer experiences a great majority of the time. I know it is very difficult for someone who does not suffer from Misophonia to understand the disorder, but I think it is just as important for them to understand the fight or flight reactions that we live with because of the triggers. Common assumptions are that we can ignore or tune out the noise, but we cannot. When we are triggered our fight or flight response is instantly activated.
Of course, there are other examples in which a person can experience fight or flight, but I wanted to give you an example of the feeling of pure terror and helplessness because that is how a Misophone feels when triggered.
Now, imagine if you lived most of your life in that fight or flight mode. Misophonia is a condition where sounds activate the fight or flight response, period. We have no control over what triggers us, nor can we control our fight or flight response. Just as the victim above will have a different reaction to the above situation, a Misophone will also react differently to triggers.
You have heard the term “sound rage”, this is when the sufferer goes into fight mode. A Misophone can literally go from being the nicest person in the world to the Incredible Hulk in seconds from exposure to a trigger sound. We are not even talking about prolonged exposure, it could be as simple as one quick click of a pen. Just because the click stopped does not mean that our fight mode does, it will take a significant amount of time to recover from that trigger. For some people, it may take a few hours, for others several days. Obviously, other factors should be considered, a person that is hormonal, tired, hungry and anxious will most likely have a stronger reaction to the triggers.
When a Misophone is triggered and goes into flight mode, basically they try to escape their triggers. A mild trigger might make someone get up and leave the room, a more severe reaction will mean they storm off, as fast as they can. It is important for a sufferer to have a safe place, a place that they can go to get away from triggers. Typically, this is a room in the home. In my case, it is my bedroom. I can close the door, turn off the lights and sit in the dark, I can plug in my wave lamp, or I can just curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out. No matter what it is that I am doing, in my case, it is very important that I am alone. My family knows (and it took a while to get them to realize it) that I need my quiet time.
Away from home, it’s not so easy. I do have a severe case of Misophonia which greatly impacts my daily life. If I must go to an event, I spend a decent amount of time planning my coping strategies. What if this happens? Where can I go? I have been stuck in situations without a plan and the consequences were brutal. Just as a school or business has an emergency plan, I have an emergency plan for myself.
Reactions do not necessarily have to be fight OR flight, in many cases it can mean fight AND flight. Many times, the fight mode hits first, rage and anger hit, then you realize, “I just have to get the hell out of here.” There is nothing worse than being in the flight mode and you have no escape. I have had several situations with my daughter, she is terrified that I will hurt myself and many times has tried to obstruct my path to escape. Just thinking about it makes me feel anxious and overwhelmed. My advice for a sufferer is to always have an action plan. You know your triggers, you know your reactions, be proactive.
My advice to friends and family, please try to understand that we cannot control out triggers or reactions. Please give us the space we need to cope and recover. Please try to understand that this is something we cannot control.
Fight or flight, it may be our body’s natural defense mechanism but to a Misophonia sufferer, it is more like torture.Want to learn more? Join a Workshop with Dr. Jennifer Brout or Duke CMER at Misophonia Education.