Noises other people make

I came across an article that smacked me upside the head in a aha! moment when suddenly, things start to make so much more sense.

The article is called The Other as Noise and talks about a condition called Misophonia.

There are different ways to define this condition.

Definitions include:

  • sound rage
  • selective sound sensitivity syndrome
  • the inability to tolerate the sounds other people make

It was coined by a pair of audiologists, Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, in 2003.

The condition is classified as a mental rather than an acoustic one. It is a unfavourable association for sounds other people make, like rubbing, sniffing, scratching, crackling, wheezing, whistling…it triggers some negative emotion in the misophonic person which might lead to outbursts like anger or repulsion.

You ever found yourself feeling annoyed when someone nearby was chewing loudly, or tapping their fingers incessantly, or making certain noises while swallowing? It’s the repetitive sounds that emit from the person that cause the negative emotion in people who may suffer a little from Misophonia.

The way the author described it was particularly interesting:

“I try to ignore sounds, but I can’t.”

“When I hear certain sounds, I don’t just hear them; I observe them. I linger over them.”

“When I hear the weak, repetitive sound, neat and syncopated, of someone chewing gum I know they are not to blame, they’re acting normal, but I can’t keep myself from giving them a dirty look.”

For a while, before he understood that there is an actual name, and explanation, for this condition, he thought that the tendency to be highly irritated by the personal noises others make just made him an asshole.

The condition is sometimes associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, hyperacusia, and Tourette’s syndrome.

The reason why this article impressed on me isn’t so much because I feel I have Misophonia, but because my hearing in somewhat impaired (I lost some of my hearing during a childhood illness) which means that certain sounds come into my brain altered, or muffled, or distorted. I process some sounds differently from someone who has normal hearing, and this may cause me to react, sometimes negatively, toward the person making the sound.

For instance:

If I’m sitting someplace working on my laptop and someone starts doing something behind me, I may not have heard them enter the room, but I suddenly hear noises that weren’t there before. It causes my body to tense up in a way that it shouldn’t. I mean, I’m in my house, there are people in the house who live with me, there is nothing to be tense about.

If I was a normal hearing person, I would have heard the sounds a person makes as they walk into the room. I would have heard the footsteps. Hearing these sounds would have been subconsciously observed, probably, since chances are I would not have interrupted my task at my laptop. It would not have broken my concentration. Plus I would then have associated the next set of noises with that person subconsciously as well, like when they take a glass out of a cupboard, they’re opening the fridge, they’re turning on a tap…

Those noises would have been registered and processed subconsciously by a normal hearing person.

But I do not have normal hearing. My hearing is impaired. I hear things, but depending on the frequency, the sounds come in distorted. So, I’m sitting at my laptop working, it’s quiet, and suddenly I hear the clanking of dishes. This startles me and simultaneously causes a negative emotion in my body. I feel tense. Where did this sound come from? Who is making it? There is someone behind me?

It’s a little unnerving. Particularly if I was facing away from the area where the noises are coming from. (I.e. I didn’t see the person enter or I would not have reacted that way.)

It’s fascinating and important to recognize, especially if you’re living with people who are losing some of their hearing due to age. They may not know themselves that their hearing is compromised, since hearing loss in older people is often gradual and not always recognizable. But now that you know there is a condition that explains why someone may seem grumpy or suddenly have anger outbursts that seem out of place, you might be able to make the association. You entered the room, he didn’t see you, you start talking or turning on the kettle, and he’s interrupted and surprised (and angry at himself for not having noticed).

That sort of thing.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting and great food for thought. Click the link above if you want to read the entire article. This post is just my spin on it. And if you recognize some of these conditions or have experienced them, share with us!

See you in the comments.


31 thoughts on “Noises other people make

  1. There are a lot of sounds that drive me insane. Most associated with eating and drinking, but there are others. Sometimes I can drown them out and ignore them, but most of the time I can’t. And yes, they tend to make me irrationally irritated or even angry. My daughter has the most obnoxious water bottle on the planet that sounds like someone loudly gulping. If she has that stupid thing around me, I want to take it and smash the thing to pieces. Instead, I just give her a dirty look and ask if she can just not or take it somewhere else. She thinks it’s funny to come closer and drink right next to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hadn’t heard of this before – thanks for blogging about it! It certainly is fascinating, as well as your own perspective about how hearing loss can warp sounds. This post reminds me of the song “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, where one of the women shot her husband because he liked to POP his gum, and she couldn’t stand the sound. I think we have a diagnosis!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When my Mom starts chewing gum in the livingroom I have to pack up my stuff and move to my bedroom. I don’t know how to explain it but certain nerves in my body have a physical reaction to it that is even worse than the noise itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Misophonia is a topic I’ve blogged extensively about for my freelance client/former employer. I find it fascinating, though I can’t say it affects me in the least. I’m the guy who actually enjoys running his fingernails over the chalkboard just to watch other people squirm, ha.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting. I find I can be really intolerant of other people’s noises when I am particularly tired. Normally these things don’t bother me at all but if I’ve had a long day and/or not enough sleep any noise can go right through me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. One of my co-workers chews with his mouth open. Really loudly. Usually I take no notice, but given the lengths we have gone to with our children to get them to keep their mouth shut while eating, sometimes it triggers me ENORMOUSLY lol

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes this is me 100%. I have a son with Tourette Syndrome and his noises drived me batty. I literally would rage. Poor guy not his fault. I have since learned it’s not my fault either and have done some hypnotherapy to reduce my sensitivity. My whole book is about my sensitivity to sound. I wish I knew earlier I had this! Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I spent the earlier part of my blog in 2012 – 2017ish writing about Tourettes. I do a lot less of that now as I switched from how to fix tics to how to fix me. It changed everything for me in a good way. But man, I still get triggered and I still rage on the inside – occasionally snap outwardly. But much better. Good luck. I feel for you. It gets better with practice.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. In someone without a diagnosis I can understand the frustration that comes from what must seem like constant irritating noise that won’t stop. I suppose, after a long, long time of this anger or lashing out could be the result, but perhaps those folks are prone to anger issues regardless of the cause??

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As we get older, all of our senses dullen and become selective. It is part of the aging process. Both my wife and I have experienced this a great deal She hears the dog snoring at night, I do not. I can sleep through a thunderstorm, but jump up wide awake if I hear any noise that is out of place, even if that noise is mixed in with noises that SHOULD be there. My wife can completely block out the sound of the fan in our room, but pick up on the cat meowing 3 houses away. My problem is this: by giving it an official name, you allow people a built in excuse. An excuse to ignore. To be irresponsible. Not everybody, as most people realize the condition is adaptable, but the few that are looking for a built in reason to deflect blame. How long before it becomes a defense in court, or a reason to quit work at 30 and collect disability? For years it has been “hard of hearing” and “selective hearing”. I think I will stick with that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get a little overwhelmed at times with all the ‘new’ labels for ‘conditions’. This article however struck a cord because I experience some of the symptoms some of the time.

      I think my dad may have, as well, before he started aging. And his hearing is considered normal (he’s over 80)…

      Either way, the article gave me some insights to things I didn’t understand before, while simultaneously a thought tugged at my conscious: must we have another label for another condition?

      In this case, the more severe symptoms someone may exhibit (out of place anger, rage) shows an awareness of the source of the problem. If it was explained to the person suffering from the reactions, and the people they are living with, it might reduce the friction that could result from it. I.e. husband getting mad at me for yelling at him that he startled me when all he did was turn on the tap. Me feeling discombobulated because I didn’t even hear him come in, much less understand what the noise was that was happening behind me (water rushing from the tap). All I felt was an interruption. All he did was turn on a tap.

      Now, we both know that it has to do with my impairment, and the distortion of the noise coming at me at a time when I didn’t expect a noise to happen in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow. I liked your response. Good insight. I just chalk it up to “damn, I am getting old”. I just fear that it will be used as an excuse – “Your honor, my client could not possibly hear her say no as he has this condition called——, so it cannot be legally rape”. I know this is the extreme, but once it is an official condition, it becomes lawyer bait.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re not far off though…these things do happen. People taking advantage. Ugh. I think keeping this in mind, too, is important. Thank you for sharing. I hope my readers read the comments too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. My brother suffers from this. It is particularly disturbing at meals–as he cannot bear the sounds of chewing. He was hearing impaired as a child (corrected with surgery), so we always thought it was because he didn’t learn to cope with sounds as a kid. (We used to torture him by eating carrots.) It turns out it is a very different mechanism–but the result is the same–noises make him crazy. Not over-the-top crazy, but irritable, annoyed, even cross. He says that inside, he has rage, which he fully knows is inappropriate. He tries to cover by playing music during meals (that helps a lot), but it still interferes with human interaction. Simultaneously, in our family there is a genetic form of hearing loss. I first noticed in my 30s. It’s not serious, but I no longer enjoy events in noisy restaurants–I miss too much of the conversation. Two of my sisters are similarly afflicted. It seems only to affect the females in the family. I wonder what future family events will be like…none of us able to catch the conversation…over the music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder what your brother would say to the article. I mean, I’m not affected as badly as that, I don’t have the condition, but I do sometimes show similar symptoms…so maybe mild form? I don’t know. It doesn’t happen regularly…

      And I get it about the noisy restaurants. I think more people are affected about this than meets the eye… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.