MISOPHONIA IS A FAMILY DISEASE
I have collected stories from families now since 1997, and it has come to me that this is a problem for the entire family circle. As well as affecting friends and co-workers, social groups and even strangers!
How does this happen? Typically, the person with Misophonia is a child. Generally a child between ages 8-12 years old according to the collected data of my 21 years of experience. And this young child is as surprised, alarmed and upset by the onset of Misophonia as anyone else and in addition, does not have the vocabulary, experience, or knowledge to even understand or put into words, what is happening!
The other huge aspect of this problem is that nearly all of the time, the first trigger is most often the child’s parent or sibling. This is a true tragedy for the child and the family, in every sense of the word, because the child has been struck with this significant and life changing problem, and one of the most important support people in life, has become the source of the issue. That is such a sad thing for everyone in the family and particularly for the child.
The other depressing aspect of the situation is the fact that the parent or sibling, who has become also a major trigger and endures the retribution and negative effects of the responding/triggered child, which can include rejection, anger, verbal and physical abuse, glaring, crying or weeping, recriminations, immense sadness, frustration, and so much more. The young misophone cannot help their reactions and responses, this is a brain-generated process and it is almost surely sub conscious and involves the autonomous nervous system, and therefore is more like a fever or a rapid heart rate when nervous, a blush when embarrassed, these are response we have little control over with our conscious mind.
So the parent or the sibling feel an immediate and significant shift in this most intimate and loving of relationships, the bond between parent and child, or the very strong bond between brothers and sisters. The problem of Misophonia drives family members away from one another at a time when they feel great distress and want to be even closer to that family.
The issues relating to this situation deserve attention and discussion and recognition. The victims of Misophonia include the person, of course, and then the family members including the bigger constellation of family members outside of the nuclear unit, which could include grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and more. Most of the time, Misophonia is at its height during family dinners which basically encompasses all holidays and gatherings. Eating and breathing sounds dominate the Misophonia trigger list and these two categories are dominant in the family gatherings.
Recognizing and naming these family issues can help illuminate and create a healthier groundwork for discussion, education and preparation for day to day living. In my clinic, I created specific questionnaires for parents, siblings, teacher or caregivers, and others when I am evaluating misophones, and I include family members in the discussions and planning sessions as much as possible. Reviewing those rating forms which indicate the degree of distress experienced by parents and siblings, and encourage honest discussion with the patient with regard to the global effects of the condition, has led to many fruitful and healthy conversations.
Healing can begin when everyone realizes they are all victims of Misophonia and the far reaching consequences with regard to previously normal family rhythms and routines. New ways of conducting family activities can be created, tried, and reviewed for effectiveness. Learning how to express oneself with non-accusatory statements can be practiced and prepared, even nonverbal cues can be established with a simple quiet gesture that indicates, someone is leaving the space now. Or someone is taking a break or going to a quiet positive up building activity, and someone is going to simply go elsewhere and do other calming therapies or exercises.
Parents can work with other children and one another to discuss important aspects of Misophonia, what is typical, what is difficult, how we can help ourselves to avoid confrontations or accusations, how hard it is for everyone in the family, not just the sufferer. We all suffer with Misophonia living in the house, sometimes one parent is the trigger, and the other is trying to protect both parties, going back and forth between child and spouse, and this can set off many conflicts and difficulties.
Many young children with Misophonia up to age 18, assign blame to the trigger makers. They will chastise and admonish, even strike or bite or scratch, others in the family who inadvertently or accidentally or unconsciously make trigger noises or sounds. Visual triggers are important, too. The young misophones often blame others quite strongly and loudly and insist that everyone must follow the ‘rules’ even when the ‘rules’ are impossible to follow, like don’t breathe, or swallow, or talk.
Luckily, based on 21 years of clinical experience with Misophonia, this initial blaming appears to lessen significantly as the child passes 18 years of age to 21 years of age, and the intensity of the blaming appears to diminish. This habit is very hard for family members to endure, it often sets everyone on edge and feeling angry or defensive. Taking time with a psychologist or psychotherapist who works with whole families is a crucial step to managing Misophonia, sets up an outside authority, and can be used as a consultant for tune ups or re-invigoration of changing harmful patterns.
We must begin to view Misophonia as a family-affecting disorder and take steps to create the healthiest and most supportive home environment for these children. Finding noisy activities to create happy memories for families is something I often advise, which could include bowling, dancing, biking, exercise classes, boating, or other noisy activities that mask annoying trigger sounds and let families relax and laugh. Parents with children who have siblings as primary triggers must work hard to set up these same kinds of pleasant pastimes for their children to ensure that some positive moments are happening to offset the unpleasant times.
I hope this discussion is helpful. Engage in family counseling and enjoy vigorous movement oriented family fun, and hold tight to the good times.
Dr. Marsha Johnson, Audiologist