Deni’s Story – Misophonia as a Conditioned Reflex

Here is one person’s misophonia story that clearly ties the development of her misophonia to stress at the dinner table.

“Misophonia began for me when I was 15 years old. I developed a strong reaction to the sounds made by my various family members when we all ate dinner together. It was not random chance that caused it. If you are right that misophonia begins with children that link a sound to a very negative emotion, then I can definitely state I made a negative emotional link with my family eating because of their extremely adverse reaction to me losing weight. Let me explain, so that it all makes sense.

“I was a really fat kid, always at least 50-60 pounds overweight. My parents are overweight, and my dad and grandma are people who equate food with love. Growing up, my dad always wanted us to eat as much as we possibly could, regardless of being hungry. He would praise us for it! My grandma (Dad’s mom) would always offer us a drink and a home baked dessert whenever we would arrive and was genuinely offended if we didn’t eat or drink something on arrival, even just a glass of juice or milk. When I was little, I was always happy to eat “on command”, with no regard to whether or not I was actually hungry.

“I was the only one of us kids that was overweight because of this. I have two brothers and they were both skinny as could be, even though it seemed they also “ate on command.” I could never understand why they were skinny and I was fat. But I didn’t really worry about it except in gym class, when I couldn’t pass the Presidential Physical Fitness tests and all the skinny kids did. I felt really down about it then. I also felt really bad one day in the fourth grade when the school nurse took our height in centimeters for school records, and mine was at the time, 160. She accidentally wrote it in the “weight in pounds” space. She laughed when she did it and said “oh my, you’re only 5’3”, you wouldn’t want to weigh 160 pounds!” Then I got on the scale and it read 172, and she was mortified – went silent, said nothing the rest of the exam. Then that summer my parents got a letter from the school suggesting I be put on a program of increased physical activity and food intake monitoring to help me lose a little weight. I really wasn’t worried about it, but it impressed me with the fact—now I knew I was fat because I was eating too much and not exercising enough. Yet I didn’t know what you could do about it, I just desperately wished I was one of the in shape, physically fit children. I figured they got the “skinny” genes and I got the “fat” ones, that I was just different.

“That is necessary to understand – my whole life I wanted to be thin and in shape, didn’t know how, but was not worried about it. We come to age 15, when I took a general health class in high school. One topic covered was the mathematics of weight loss – calories in vs calories out, etc. This was just the ticket for me. I learned why I was overweight. I learned all about what is in our food, how to count calories, how to lose weight, and I put everything I learned into practice. I started monitoring what I ate, how much I exercised, and pounds just melted off! But I had to reduce the amount of food I was eating, not take seconds, and so on. My new way of eating – normal portions, and only eat when I am actually hungry – greatly offended a few members in my family, and they got really upset with me. Not necessarily outright open rage, but a constant subtle theme of “you are wrong, you need to eat when we say.” It turned every single meal into a battleground of nerves…”here’s Deborah and she WON’T eat!” And there I was thinking, “But I want to be healthy, and eating too much isn’t right.” Once, my grandma made me get on her scale once and prove that I did in fact weigh 120 pounds, not 90 like they all thought – they all thought I was anorexic, but I was really only eating normal portions instead of two or three helpings at dinner, plus dessert, and so on.

“I was always a kid that highly valued making my parents happy. It made me upset that I was making my family upset. I was not willing to compromise good health, but I do not handle criticism well, I never have and I didn’t then. I am sure that is why I developed my intense aversion to hearing them chew. My dad’s jaw popped when he ate, and he breathed really heavily as he ate. That drove me crazy, and I hated myself for feeling so averse to people I really love! I could only handle meals by plugging my ears and usually I’d end up crying, because I knew I was being offensive but I also knew I couldn’t do anything to stop it or ignore it. I didn’t want to be that way, I didn’t plan it. I certainly didn’t enjoy it.

“You asked about what techniques work to deal with misophonia. Reflecting over my life, the only thing that worked for me is total avoidance of the trigger sound for a long time, until the mind can relax about it. A few years ago I realized I didn’t have any reactions to people eating. But I had spent probably 6-8 years avoiding all meals with anyone unless there was background noise – even throughout dating and marriage I avoided it – and my husband was very kind to play music on his iPad every time we ate together. Maybe two years ago I realized I hadn’t cared about people eating for so long I couldn’t remember the last time I cared. It happened one day when my husband was eating something and I hadn’t put a fan or music on…and I didn’t even notice it. It seems to actually be gone, which is amazing. I had a meal with my family not too long ago where their eating just didn’t bother me. I imagine that avoiding the offending sound for so long taught my mind to forget that it was a trigger, and it’s just gone. And the fact is – now my family accepts that I’m a health conscious person and no one gives me any grief about it, and I suppose there is no reason for the trigger to return.

“But I should note, that doesn’t mean misophonia is gone–sad to say. I developed an intense aversion to the trigger of bass beats from loud rap music a few years ago. I tried to deal with it, but the only thing that worked was total avoidance. I’ll explain. I had a neighbor that played this stuff a few times a week, and it got to being such an intense trigger I couldn’t handle even a car driving by playing rap. I would go into a tizzy and get either furious or start crying uncontrollably. It didn’t end until this neighbor moved and I had about 6 months to a year (I forget which) away from it. Now I can handle a car driving by playing rap, without any emotional reaction. I notice it, think unemotionally that it is obnoxious, but I don’t feel anything. I feel normal about it. But the way I dealt with it at the time was to leave the house when the music was on, or shut all the windows and turn on fans. But “dealing with it” was not a permanent solution, DID NOT WORK, in the sense that I’d still get freaked out every time I heard it. I resented having to put on a fan. I felt it was not fair. It was only having it actually gone and getting to live a relaxed, happy existence made a real difference. I don’t suppose you can call that cured, or overcome. The aversion to people eating, however, is definitely done. I’m currently struggling with a concrete pipe factory a block away from the home we just bought a month ago. This is getting ridiculous, I don’t think I can “avoid” an entire factory that makes noises I can’t stand all day and night (24 hour operation!), but I can’t justify making our family move right away. I really do need to solve this issue ASAP.”