Someone you know is in pain. You know because it’s obvious and you want to DO something to help. But what can be done? Your instinct may be to say something to help alleviate the situation, but what? Having good intentions and being well-meaning doesn’t always guarantee that your words will have their intended result. Therefore, understanding the problem is paramount to being effective.

Sometimes, a person with misophonia is subjected to helpful suggestions that miss the mark. No one expects a person with a cold to “just get over it,” because we all understand that a cold simply has to run its course. Similarly, a person with a chronic illness isn’t expected to be cured overnight. Nor is a person with a neurological problem such as autism comforted by being told to “ignore” the unwelcome sensations the environment imposes on them. Again, it all comes down to understanding the problem.

In the case of misophonia, people have strong, immediate negative emotional reactions to exposure to certain sounds or other sensory input. These reactions are thought to be neurological in nature and not conscious decisions guided by intellectual processes. Since the triggers that elicit these responses can mirror what most people might consider annoyances, it can make it difficult to really understand the situation. It can be difficult to make an appropriate suggestion or comforting remark.

It’s not helpful to tell someone with misophonia to “get used to” a problematic sound or to suggest that they “learn to deal with it.” This is not possible and therefore not appropriate advice. Other unwanted advice would be: “stop letting it get to you,” “you’re being difficult,” “you’re just doing this for attention,” or to suggest that a person will or can “grow out of it.” Those comments would suggest that the negative reactions made to sound triggers are within a person’s cognitive control or are a personality trait. As this Is not thought to be the case, the comments carry some measure of blame and may say more about the observer’s comfort level and feelings of frustration than a desire to be effectively helpful.

So what can or should one say? Sometimes, no words can actually fix a problem. But when one knows that someone cares or acknowledges the problem as real can be validating. Asking what would be helpful or if there’s something specific one could do to help alleviate stressful situations lets a person know they’re not alone. Just as with other illnesses or disorders, listening can be a very powerful means of support.

Want to do more than listen? Learn about misophonia! Become aware of its effects on those who have to deal with being constantly adversely affected by sounds that you don’t even notice. Awareness of the problem is the first step and understanding the consequences of misophonia the second. People with a sensory sensitivity such as misophonia will be grateful for your desire to understand and support them. Their struggle to live in a world that bombards them with overwhelming “incidental sounds” causes them great distress.