The Individual Physical Reflex

A trigger produces an involuntary response or reflex. Ninetyfive percent of the people I work with can identify a specific physical reflex to a trigger. They hear the sound and have a particular physical reflex. It may be the contraction of muscles in the neck, shoulders, chest, arms, face, hands open, hands closed, feet, legs, toes, or butt. It can be internal reflexes such as esophageal, intestinal, or stomach constriction, nausea, sexual sensation, or the urge to urinate. There’s a wide range of reflexes. Sometimes the reflexes are complex and involve many muscles. One person’s reflex was similar to catching a ball that hit her chest both hands came to her chest and her elbows pressed toward her sides. The uniqueness in the physical reflex of each individual is part of what suggests that misophonia is not just a genetic condition that kicks in, but is something that develops because of both the neurology and the experience of the person.

Kate Morrison and I conducted a study in 2016 which tested 26 adults for their initial physical reflex response. Each person was tested on three of their triggers (two auditory and one visual). About half had a similar physical response for all triggers, and half had different responses. For example, one person had their abdomen muscles tighten when he heard chewing, but his hands clenched when he heard typing. This table shows the distribution of different initial physical responses.

Initial Physical Response Number of Participants (n=26) % of Participants
Shoulders 13 50.0%
Arms/Hands 11 42.3%
Neck 9 34.6%
Chest 5 19.2%
Back 5 19.2%
Abdomen 4 15.4%
Jaw 3 11.5%
Thighs 2 7.7%
General tensing 2 7.7%
Sexual (e.g., clitoral,vaginal) 2 7.7%
Warmth 2 7.7%
Toes 2 7.7%
Stomach/Nausea 2 7.7%
Breath 2 7.7%
Torso 2 7.7%
Head 2 7.7%
Face 1 3.8%
Numb sensation 1 3.8%
Various 8 30.8%
None 4 15.4%

The two participants in the study with a sexual sensation response were both females, but I know of several reports of males who have a penile sensation response, so a sexual response is not limited to females.

Some physical reflexes are almost imperceptible, such as a slight head jerk or a twitch of the eye. Others are very strong. One person said her reflex felt like having a shovel stabbed through her chest and out her back. Another person said her reflex felt like someone was pulling a string out of her spine. While there’s going to be some repetition among thirty to forty million people who have misophonia triggers, these are unique physical responses and very few others would describe them in the same way.

The reflex can be difficult to perceive because of the strong emotions that you have. The overwhelming emotions that come immediately after the trigger can make it difficult to perceive that there was an initial physical reflex response. It is kind of a onetwo punch the little physical reflex and then these strong emotions, or the little physical reflex and then the fightorflight response. This makes the physical reflex hard to notice.

If you want to know your physical reflex, you need a very small trigger short and quiet, maybe a half second or less, barely audible. You can record the sound of your trigger and then play it back so that you can adjust the volume. I suggest you use the free Misophonia Reflex Finder app. With this app, you can record the trigger and then control both the volume and the duration of the trigger. Some people need to have a session on the Neural Repatterning Technique, which I also developed. This treatment method, which uses the Trigger Tamer app, plays the very small trigger every thirty seconds or so, along with relaxing music. The trigger is so weak that you do not experience the negative misophonic emotions. You can recognize the reflex because you are relaxed and experience the trigger many times during a thirtyminute treatment. This technique will be explained in the chapter Treatments for Misophonia.