Misophonia: The Terror of Listening to My Son Eat

Misophonia: The Terror of Listening to My Son Eat

Zach Rosenberg didn’t know why he’d get irrationally angry while listening to his family eating until he learned that his reaction was being triggered by a very real neurological condition

During mealtimes with my son, it’s like someone has put a microphone next to his lips. It’s as if I hear the glands in his mouth squirting out saliva, dousing the food even before it’s off the fork, which slices across the enamel of his teeth. I hear the shapes of his molars fitting into each other as his jaws come together and more saliva fills the remaining crevices of his mouth. I hear his tongue lapping around, molding the food into crumbled, wet balls, mashing them backward down his throat. And that second swallow… that’s just crumbs and saliva.

Nope.

I vividly remember hating the way that certain people ate when I was a teenager. I could hardly stand to be at a table with these people—which was disappointing because they were my family and close friends. I got older. Moved out, moved away. I wasn’t around those members of my family all of the time. I wasn’t living with those friends. So, occasional meals with them weren’t as much of a problem.

But now I’ve got a son and, sometimes when we’re eating together, I do everything I can to not explode into a billion irrationally annoyed and screaming pieces.

I’ve always asked people if they could “not eat like that.” I’d give friends hell if they weren’t chewing with their mouths closed, though it really didn’t have much to do with whether they chewed with their mouths open or closed.

After one particular lunchtime when I had to sit in another room while my wife and son had lunch, I knew I had to do something about it. Nothing breaks your heart more and makes you feel more stupid than hearing your five-year-old son say, “This is just how I eat, Daddy.”

Because he’s right. He’s doing nothing wrong and, once I made sure that I told him that, I whisked away to my online dad blogger support group. I figured they were in the same place in life as me, so they might know what I’m talking about.

I asked if anyone else was filled with complete and unfair rage while listening to others eat. And then it happened. At least TEN other dads said that they experience the same thing. I wasn’t alone. And then one of them gave me a name for it—MISOPHONIA. Literally, the hatred of specific sounds.

Nothing breaks your heart more and makes you feel more stupid than hearing your five-year-old son say, “This is just how I eat, Daddy.”

The dad that put a name to my irrational behavior also linked to a New York Times piece that immediately made me feel better. Before knowing about misophonia, I was just uncomfortable and angry at the table. It made me feel like I was being needlessly cranky and particular. Because after all—I wasn’t grossed-out by the sounds my own mouth was making, and I knew I was making sounds. And telling my wife, who remains married to me through years of me snoring, that I’ve got a problem with the sound that her saliva makes as it saturates the food in her mouth and lubricates the bolus of food as it slides down her throat… well, it doesn’t go over well.

Misophonia isn’t to be confused with hyperacusis—which is an over-sensitivity to certain frequencies or volume ranges of sound, or phonophobia—a fear of loud sounds. I love all sorts of loud music—and misophoniacs (which I just made a word) often enjoy loud sounds. It’s just that those barely-audible, insignificant sounds somehow get inside their heads and create the “fight or flight” response.

Research is still very young, as misophonia has been recognized as a disorder for less than fifteen years. Experts don’t have a lot of answers, so they’ve kicked around the ideas that the disorder is linked to bad memories, trauma, or just plain ol’ genetics. But it’s been found that that misophoniacs are more deeply annoyed by people they’ve got close emotional ties with—like family members. This is why I care about my son’s chewing, but not the random people at the table next to us at a restaurant.

A Dutch study that concluded way back in 2013 found that 52.4% of their misophonia-sufferers showed traits of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. For what it’s worth, when I get into my car, I “have to” tap the brake and gas pedals alternately a couple times before I can start the car. And I’ve admitted in the past that I can’t pee around other men (but, strangely, have no problem listening to them pee). That’s a whole ‘nother topic.

But I digress.

Just knowing that misophonia is a thing makes me aware that it’s okay for me to feel this way because I can’t help it. Or can I?

I can. I now feel better at the table. I’ve got an admittedly mild case, from what I’ve read about others’ experiences. My solution: I’d recently started putting on music during dinner and, besides just loving music, it helped to focus my mind somewhere other than my son’s inner-mouth-workings. Mealtime music won’t work for every case, but I’m pleased with my results.

The most important thing to me is that I can continue to eat dinner with my wife and son. I love having dinner with them, and the pleasure I get from having conversations with my family over home-cooked meals trumps my annoyances any day.

♦◊♦

Image courtesy of the author

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About Zach Rosenberg

Zach Rosenberg is a husband and father living in Southern California. He is co-founder of
fatherhood news site 8BitDad.com, and a contributor to HLNtv.com. You can also find him on Twitter @zjrosenberg.

Comments

  1. Mindyjay says:

    I have misophonia too. It was a relief to realize that it is an actual thing. The most frustrating part about it is how irrational you feel and people just think you’re an a-hole. Anyway, children don’t irritate me as much anymore only because I have to psyche myself out of it. For me, people who are in control of their lives have no excuse to eat with their mouths open, pop gum, or ruin their teeth sliding utensils across them. But children can’t always control those things. As a parent, I think gently reinforcing table manners instead of Hulking out will make you feel way better in the long run!! Good luck and I feel your rage!

  2. This is a real issue in my household. Silver-lining? We’re constantly complimented on how excellent our children’s table-manners are; they don’t have to know it’s because mommy dies a little inside when anyone chews loudly in her presence.

  3. It’s so nice to see misophonia getting some attention. I suffered terribly in high school because they allowed students to eat and chew gum (my least favorite thing in the WORLD) in glass. If it were quiet in the room I would go insane. For tests I would have to shove fingers in one ear and the other against a shoulder so that I could write. College wasn’t much easier. Teenagers and 20-somethings just don’t react well to being asked not to chew gum. I’ve found that adults are much more willing to listen… at least strangers are. The biggest problem I have is when I’m in a doctor’s office or other similar setting and the worker behind the desk (or even other works) are chewing / popping gum loudly… You don’t want to approach them and say “Hello, you’re chewing so loudly that I can hear you across the room. Could you NOT do that?” And when your boss is the perpetrator? Forget it. I can’t even imagine what I’ll do when I have children, though your advice for music is helpful. I usually leave the TV on most of the time to drown out the ambient sounds of people and cats LIVING around me.

  4. David Wise says:

    Everybody’s got something. I get that way when I read stupid Facebook posts. Maybe mine is Facebookiphonia.

  5. I saw your post on FB, and I nearly fell off my chair. Wow. I grew up with a Dad who used to yell at all of us kids, because no matter what we did, we “smacked” our food too loudly. Then, as I got older, I realized I’d become just like my Dad — and the people closest to me were always the ones who bothered me the most. Then I read about the condition on Wikipedia, and discovered it is related in some way to Tourettes — which both my father and I have. Thank you for helping to make sense of my world!

  6. Oh shit. I have a touch of this, too. I used to get pissed at how my Dad used his fork and the way he inhaled as he took a bite. But just him!

  7. Maybe play some nice music at dinner so it’s not so quiet?

  8. Thank you for making me realize this wasn’t just me. I thought I was just an asshole.

  9. Erica L. says:

    What sweet relief to know that I’m not a crazy person. I have a SEVERE reaction to lip-smacking, mostly in the middle of the night from my dogs. If my husband does it, I wake him up and offer him water, or just yell at him. When he smokes a cigarette, (in my mind) it sounds like he’s planting a huge kiss on it with every drag and again, I yell. Maybe just knowing this is neurological will help me fight back the rage…

  10. Lori Daniels says:

    I read this with laughter, sorry! Not because it is funny but because I live this life and can so relate to how you feel. I unfortunately get overwhelmed auditorily and ofactorily, sucks to be sure. I’m glad you found music to help alleviate this, I have tried and sometimes music does help but, sometimes I get even more overwhelmed with those who are eating, the talking and the music. Something must give. I am a true believer in ear plugs, I can still hear people talk, but I can’t hear the noises that put me over the fucking edge of what seems to be raging anger over ‘nothing’. People close to me know how this bothers me, they are not surprised when I pull out the earplugs. In fact I just read your story to my boys. It was nice to share someone else’s story with them, they thanked me. I do believe I suffer from hyperacusis, UGH. As I said, I am hyper sensitive to sound and smell. The smell of my mother cooking cabbage is not only revolting but anger producing. I feel this way about other smells as well. Thank you for sharing, it was a joy to read.

  11. Rick Parker says:

    I was watching the TV show 20/20 about a year ago with my step Daughter and they did a segment on this very subject. The little girl they had on the segment couldn’t be in the same room with her mom because she would go into a violent rage at just the sound of her mom’s voice. Than they started talking about people like myself who cringe and get almost violently I’ll when they hear people eat. I always thought I was crazy because I couldn’t stand to eat with my family at the dinner table when I was young. I almost still can’t to this day. It is comforting to know that there is a name for my/our condition and that we aren’t alone. I now suffer from 2 rare diseases. Misophonia and Valley Fever and maybe hopefully both of them will get more news coverage and research

  12. YES. I always wondered why strangers noises didn’t really bother me much. My mom and I get into yelling matches when she eats dinner. She’s convinced her mouth is closed but IT’S NOT. I always find I want to mimic the noises too, like a little school bully. THIS IS HOW YOU SOUND.

    You should only have 1 audible crunch noise (if any) when eating crunchy food. I give great demonstrations on the proper way to eat a chip, if anyone is interested.

  13. Hm. Still sounds like an excuse to be a controlling asshole and treat your so called loved ones like shit. Perhaps I struggle with empathy for sufferers of this disorder because I was raised by one. I still feel emotionally scarred and traumatized by the contant barrage of criticism and bullying over things that felt as stupid and petty they as could possibly be. Beware parents: you can actually permanently damage your kids’ self esteem with this behavior

  14. Hm. Still sounds like an excuse to be a controlling a hole and treat your so called loved ones like sh*t. Perhaps I struggle with empathy for sufferers of this disorder because I was raised by one. I still feel emotionally scarred and traumatized by the contant barrage of criticism and bullying over things that felt as stupid and petty they as could possibly be. Beware parents: you can actually permanently damage your kids’ self esteem with this behavior

  15. Okay, Dawn, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that your post was on April Fools Day, you have got to be 100% joking! Let’s pretend that’s true anyway. What goes around, comes around and ignorance will catch up to everyone at some point. If you’re so traumatized by your experience of growing up in a household with a sufferer of misophonia, I’d recommend some professional help, really. Until you yourself experience the Hell that myself and several others on a 24 hour, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, you should seek understanding and be a positive contributor to a solution instead of a contaminant. Thank you, sweetheart!

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