Involuntary Emotional Response

The misophonic response is an involuntary reaction that’s jerked out of the person. You are not choosing to react. If we look at the brain in the figure below, there are three regions identified. Let’s consider what is happening in each region.

At the top is the cerebrum, which is the thinking brain. With your thinking brain, you can think, “Okay, I’m going to stay calm.” But with misophonia, the person can’t stay calm when they are triggered.

The part at the bottom of our brain, in the brain stem, is called the autonomic nervous system. Many people call it the lizard brain or reptilian brain. The lizard brain controls our reflexes, and this is the heart of misophonia.

The limbic system is what lights up when we have these strong emotions. Misophonia is a combination between the reflex reaction of the lizard brain and the emotional reaction of the limbic system that’s just yanked out of the person. People with misophonia just can’t stay calm when they are being triggered.

The popular view of this misophonic response or reflex is that you hear or see a trigger, and you immediately experience extreme emotions without intentionally doing so. This reaction is involuntary. You didn’t have it at birth, so one would conclude that it’s acquired, meaning you’ve developed it or it has developed. So now you hear this trigger and instantly feel the emotions. This is the popular view of misophonia as shown in the figure.

This is also the way that misophonia is described in peerreviewed journal articles, which report misophonia research studies.17 In fact, there is one article entitled, “Misophonia: A Disorder of Emotion Processing of Sounds.” But I find that misophonia is fundamentally not about the emotional processing of sounds. It is about a physical sensation and emotional reflex that happens when you hear a trigger. You hear normal sounds, but you literally feel (physically) a trigger.