Don’t let the smiling kids throw you off. This is really a horror story.
Sip. Slurp. Chomp. Smack. Gulp. If listening to someone chew their food makes you want to either smack their lips off or chew your own ears off to make the noise stop, know that you are not alone. And not only do you have plenty of company but you have some pretty famous company thanks to perky talk show host Kelly Ripa’s recent admission that even the sound of someone chewing gum can enrage her. As a highly sensitive person myself who has spent an inordinate amount of time digging my nails into my legs to keep from going all Alec Baldwin on my kids when they eat a popsicle, when I first heard about this I was like, “Yesssssss, another crazy box I get to tick off! I’m totally going to shoot the moon with this mental health shiz! I win!!”
This sensitivity, called Misophonia, literally means hatred of ordinary sounds. According to the DSM people who have misophonia are most commonly angered, and even enraged, by common ambient sounds, such as other people clipping their nails, brushing teeth, eating, breathing, sniffing, talking, sneezing, yawning, walking, chewing gum, laughing, snoring, typing on a keyboard, whistling or coughing; certain consonants; or repetitive sounds. Some are also affected by visual stimuli, such as repetitive foot or body movements, fidgeting, or movement they observe out of the corners of their eyes. Intense anxiety and avoidant behavior may develop, which can lead to decreased socialization.
Misophonia isn’t limited to just eating noises, although those seem to be the most common triggers. Some people are enraged by noises like pets licking themselves or finger tapping. There’s also thought to be a strong genetic component and a link to tinnitus (a.k.a. ringing in the ears) so there’s clearly more going on that people being “too sensitive” and why it doesn’t work to tell people to “just get over it.”
I’m going to guess that listening to other people chew – especially chew noisily – isn’t on the top of anyone’s favorite list. There’s a reason moms have been chastising their kids about chewing with their mouth open or talking with their mouth full since the dawn of time. (Little known fact: Eve didn’t hate apples because they got her kicked out of the garden, she hated apples because if she had to listen to Adam chomp his way through another one she was going to throw one at his head. It’s like totally in the Bible.) But while most people are merely irritated by people who chew their gum like camels (CAMELS, I tell you!), it sends some people into a blind rage. Ripa admits to screaming and having to leave the room while people are eating. For some sufferers, it is so overwhelming that they isolate themselves from others and may have depression or even suicidal thoughts as a result.
Well, hmpf. My version isn’t the worst case scenario for once. While I do know that feeling of being absolutely filled with rage over the noise of people chewing or burping, it’s never made me do anything worse than make some snotty comments and/or leave the room. (Okay, and that one miserable car trip where I harangued my husband for clearing his throat every five seconds. That was a long drive. I’m sorry, honey.) Well good on me?
Whether or not it’s the worst possible manifestation, I’ve still had to learn to manage it. Thankfully I’ve always managed to remember in the moment that it’s not socially acceptable to mow people down just for irritating me, like some despotic tyrant. (Thankfully.) But I do have a few tricks that help me. (And I hope that you guys will chime in with your tips too!)
1. Background noise. Listening to someone chew in a silent room is t-o-r-t-u-r-e. With four kids, our dinners are usually nonstop chatter but if one of my kids is, say, having a snack, I often have NPR on low volume on the radio. My mind usually focuses on the talking instead of the chewing.
2. White noise. Some people like to turn on fans or noise machines but those things are insanely irritating to me too. For some reason though running the dishwasher or the washing machine is all good. I do that often. Plus I get my laundry done. (Not folded, mind you, just washed. The folding happens so rarely that every time I do it, my kids get all excited because they think my in-laws are coming.)
3. Chewing. It sounds counterintuitive but it also helps Kelly Ripa so, you know, one example is an anecdote but two is hard science. That’s in the Bible too. Anyhow, if I’m eating with people then I don’t generally hear their chewing noises and all is good. Kelly explains that’s how she gets through her on-air food segments – the noise is generally drowned out by clapping or talking or she’s chewing too.
4. Learning to feel uncomfortable. Yeah, sometimes you can’t block it out and you can’t run away from it. Like having dinner in a quiet restaurant with a previous boss. And in those cases all I can do is simply acknowledge that a) it bothers me and b) it won’t kill me. It’s not ideal but I can sit politely and quietly while listening to someone chew. (Although it’s often hard for me to focus on what they’re saying.) It takes practice feeling uncomfortable and feeling safe and in control at the same time. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (retraining your automatic responses to the trigger) and Exposure Response Prevention (getting used to being in the presence of the trigger) are both immensely helpful and can work pretty quickly.
Anyone else get super duper irritated or enraged by certain noises?? Please share your pet peeve and how you’ve learned to deal with it!
*I should note that like I pointed out above, I don’t seem to have it as bad as some. My misophonia seems relatively mild. Also, most scientists agree that while you can learn to ameliorate it, there is no known “cure” for it. I’m not a doctor and my advice should not be taken as medical advice, yada, yada, yada.