Is misophonia real? If you listen to some people, the answer is no. But there is a place where one can find at least 18,500 people who have a different opinion. That’s how many people belong to one misophonia support group on Facebook. For those people, there is no question about whether misophonia exists.
The naysayers have quite a few weapons in their war on misophonia. What is it that fuels their certainty that misophonia isn’t real when science and medicine haven’t fully weighed in yet? Do they know something scientists, doctors, and researchers don’t? It seems very unlikely.
All of the tactics that misophonia detractors use are twists on what some people are already saying about recognized health conditions like depression and anxiety. Did you know that some people don’t think that mental illnesses exist? But generally, misophonia is not grouped in with mental health disorders. And despite misophonia’s ability to produce physical symptoms, it is not thought to be a physical illness like the flu or migraine headaches. This ambiguity makes misophonia hard for some people to understand.
Pashak TJ, of the Department of Psychology, Saginaw Valley State University, USA offers these examples of how people devalue “invisible disorders:”
· Some people use blame (e.g., “he’s not depressed, he’s just lazy”), disinterest (e.g., “why would I care about someone’s touchy-feely issues?”), distrust (e.g., “I think those labels are just excuses”), prejudice (e.g., “I won’t associate with crazies like her”), minimization (e.g., “it’s a waste of time and energy to consider those things”), illegitimacy (e.g., “psychology isn’t a real science like chemistry or physics”), disbelief (e.g., “they just act that way for attention”), and antipathy/apathy (e.g., “they need to pull it together, they’ve got it no harder than everyone else”).
These examples may sound a little familiar to people with misophonia.
So why is it that people don’t care about things that don’t affect them personally? Some would say that this is a feature of human nature. People are social animals, and we want to interact. When people are different or sick, it changes our social interactions. We could say it’s not as much fun. And, physically sick people aren’t always healthy to be around. Another factor could be that many are more comfortable being around like-minded people.
Ignoring other people’s problems may be attractive, but it doesn’t always work out. As an individual, we may not have the same illness as the next person, but we may know someone that does. So, to some extent, it does affect us. What happens when WE become the person with the illness? When that happens, we don’t think getting help or accommodation is too much to expect.
In the end, what can we do about the people who don’t think misophonia is real? It’s possible to change people’s minds but it isn’t easy, and it won’t always occur.
First, it’s always good to take a look at things from the other side. Why do people discount the existence of misophonia? Are they stressed themselves with some other issue that takes up a lot of their time? Do they have baggage that prevents them from being empathetic? We can’t always know what is motivating people. Having some awareness of where the person is coming from can be a big help in reaching them.
Another way to effect change is by being a conduit of information. Facts and figures do sometimes sway people’s opinions. If you belong to a large Facebook support group, mentioning that there are many thousands of people in the group takes the conversation to a different level; it can take the focus off of an individual with misophonia. Concrete examples of the symptoms and triggers of misophonia may not always be acknowledged or respected (at first). But familiarity with a subject is powerful. Education is generally helpful to people and can assist in making better decisions.
People tend to believe what they already know. You may have heard of this as confirmation bias. It’s very prevalent, as we all tend to look for confirmation of what makes us most comfortable. But people can change. It does happen, although it often takes a lot of time and energy to see the change occur.
Sometimes, it helps people to know that their preconceived notions were correct at the time they were formed. One might suggest that the validity of misophonia is being perceived differently now because of new facts and figures. Add to that the real-world example of an actual person with the disorder (you) along with opportunities to see how the disorder affects you as an individual presents three concrete reasons for the doubter to reconsider their skepticism of misophonia being a legitimate disorder.
Like many other misunderstood subjects, putting a human face on an issue has a positive effect on how the issue is perceived. When it comes to close friends and family members, we may expect that our relationship should already count for something. We want and expect courtesy and accommodation without debate. But, sometimes we have to work for these things when they’re not forthcoming. It’s worth putting in the work here because it’s vital that people see how misophonia affects individuals.
The discussion of whether misophonia is real or not is important. Misophonia needs to gain recognition and share legitimacy with other intangible disorders. People’s attitudes about new disorders change over time. It’s possible that the next revision of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) will include misophonia or that it will receive an ICD (International Classification of Diseases) diagnostic code. Both of those advances would have a profound effect on the legitimacy of misophonia as a discrete disorder.
Given education and time, people will become more familiar with sound sensitivities. Perceptions will change, and we will see public acceptance of misophonia as legitimate.