How are social anxiety and misophonia similar? They both change a person’s social life. They’re both invisible. People are likely born with them. And they’re not something children or anybody else talks about. So people don’t usually know what they even are. Some of us born decades ago have undiagnosed adult misophonia social anxiety . We’ve had to wait to figure out the name for what’s secretly wrong with us.
Social anxiety isn’t shyness; it’s not fear when you have to do a speech or sweaty palms before a group event. Social anxiety is overwhelming fear so stressful, the person might completely avoid social situations or any situations where there might be other people.
Misophonia is dislike of certain repeated soft trigger sounds, like chewing, clicking, rustling, tapping. That’s how Dr. J.P. Jastreboff defines misophonia in his neurophysiological model of tinnitus and decreased sound tolerance. Not hate. Dislike. So misophonia isn’t when a person “hates” listening to somebody eat gross or sloppy noisy. Misophonia is overwhelming dislike so stressful, the person might avoid social situations or any situations where there might be other people eating or making trigger sounds.
I’ve never met anybody with social anxiety before. Then last week I was chatting with a teen who said they were feeling really alone. They were the only person at their school diagnosed with social anxiety. They wondered about the future. Could they work? Would they be hermits? I took a chance and mentioned that I have social anxiety too.
I saw the disbelief flicker across their eyes. I knew what they were thinking. I was going to start yapping about how once I forgot the lines in a school play or some other normal social fear.
“You’ve been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder?” they demanded.
“No. It wasn’t a thing back when I was little.”
They still looked doubtful.
I told them a good story about my social anxiety. “At the end of kindergarten, my teacher asked my Mother if I could speak. I was mute for 9 months of kindergarten. She told them I was just shy.”
The teen started to laugh.
“Nowadays, I think that would have been picked up as a problem.”
We shared more stories. I asked about treatment. We talked about learning to cope. They seemed to feel better knowing they weren’t alone, and seeing that I was doing ok even with social anxiety.
I’ve never met anybody who admits they have misophonia. At least not outside a hearing healthcare clinic. Somebody in an online misophonia forum commented that they always used to think they were a horrible person for the terrible thoughts they were having. They felt much better knowing they weren’t alone.
I always thought I was crazy when I was a small child. Everyone made normal eating sounds at my house growing up. No gross, sloppy, or extra noisy chewing. But I couldn’t stand the sounds. There’s no way to explain unless you have misophonia. Even the lightest of trigger sound drove me mad. I wanted to kill them. Anything to stop the noise.
Pressure would build in my chest and ripple up my shoulders to my ears. Like turning into the Incredible Hulk. You can’t stand up and scream, “SHUT UP!” when people are eating a meal. People with misophonia learn to bottle the emotions inside.
When people go tap, tap, tap on their cell phone texting or playing a game in the same room, you can’t stand up and scream, “SHUT UP! I CAN’T EFFING TAKE IT ANY MORE!”
When the man in the seat beside you on a flight from Paris to London starts to suck on his teeth, you can’t turn and scream, “SHUT UP OR I’LL KILL YOU!” My hands were twitching. Getting ready to strangle him. He was lucky it was a short flight. Or I’d have been guilty until proven innocent.
I learned tricks along the way. For example, if somebody is spitting sunflower seed shells or chomping corn nuts, I eat them too so my loud spitting and chewing noise covers up their outside noise. Nobody has ever noticed me spit and chew in synch with them. Or I excuse myself and hide for long periods of time, not returning until I’m sure everyone has finished making the soft sounds I hate. I mean dislike.
I think it’s much better now for kids growing up with social anxiety or misophonia. They’re not alone. It’s not just them. It’s a real thing. But don’t forget about all the adults who grew up with undiagnosed misophonia social anxiety. We’re still here. Coping with fear and incredible dislike.
If we’re together and I make you go talk to somebody, it’s my social anxiety acting up. I still feel bad the grocery store workers thought my young child was lost when I made them go ask what aisle the canned peaches were in.
If we’re together eating or sitting “quietly” and I hopefully ask, Are you done yet? it’s a clue you’ve triggered my misophonia. Stop eating. Stop tapping. Stop whatever little sound you’re making over and over and over again. Because I can’t stand it anymore. I’ve plotted a lot of murders, and I’d hate for you to be the first non-fiction one.
Robb, M.J. (2015, Winter). A Silver Jubilee Tribute to Pawel J. Jastreboff, Ph.D., Sc.D., MBA. Tinnitus Today.40:3. 14-19.
Jan L. Mayes MSc Aud(C) RAud is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author, audiologist, and hearing healthcare educator. She specializes in tinnitus, hyperacusis, noise-induced hearing system damage, and darkly disturbing, macabre horror fiction.