The earliest memories of my misophonia struggles are of family trips during which I’d sleep on the hotel bathroom floor to escape my dad’s snoring. Fast-forward a couple decades, and my sound sensitivity has become the source of most — if not all — fights between my fiancé and me. There’s really no magical cure. But out of a desire to get this disorder under control (and to ensure my engagement doesn’t get called off), I decided to try hypnosis for misophonia to see if it would offer even a tiny bit of relief.
There’s a chance you’ve never even heard of misophonia, especially if you’re blessed enough not to be drastically affected by certain noises. But it’s a real disorder and involves being emotionally and psychologically triggered by select sounds. “People who suffer from misophonia have reactions to particular sounds that range from rage, anger, and annoyance sometimes to the point of wanting to flee,” says DeAnna J. Crosby, Psy.D., clinical director at New Method Wellness, a California-based rehabilitation center.
In my case, that anger and annoyance bubbles to the surface when I hear my fiancé — who I love — make noise doing things that, well, keep him alive. “Why do you think it is that when I’m literally trying to stay alive, you get annoyed?” he asked me one night after I snapped at him for the gulping sound he made while drinking La Croix. The truth is: I have no idea. Of course I want him to live. I just wish he didn’t eat/drink/use silverware/breathe so loudly, because it triggers me to completely lose my cool. Enter: hypnotherapy.
How Hypnosis Can Help Treat Misophonia
Hypnosis works with your unconscious mind, aka the part of your brain that can’t stand certain sounds. “Misophonia doesn’t happen in the conscious mind, so hypnotherapy could alleviate some symptoms of it by working on the unconscious,” says Crosby. Specifically, hypnosis is a technique that trains your brain to move between different levels of consciousness — i.e., shift your attention — so you have more control over how you react to whatever the trigger sound is.
I just wish he didn’t eat/drink/use silverware/breathe so loudly, because it triggers me to completely lose my cool.
I had never tried hypnotherapy before and was skeptical how it would play out over Zoom. I already get into a trance when I’m in virtual meetings — how would this be any different? I logged on and met with Shauna Cummins, a New York-based certified hypnosis practitioner and author of WishCraft, and learned it’s a lot like meditating: There’s no magical force you have to be in the presence of — all you need is your mind. “[Hypnosis] is similar to the savasana state at the end of yoga,” she said. “There’s no right or wrong way to experience it, you don’t have to pay attention, it’s very relaxing — it’s just about cultivating a quiet, safe space.”
That safe space comes into play whenever you’re facing a sound you’re sensitive to. “It’s very hard when you’re stressed and facing a situation [like a trigger sound] to approach it from a conscious level because it’s not rational,” Cummins told me. “So [with hypnosis] you go into the imaginal mind to bypass that conscious, critical mind to go into more of a relaxed, dreamlike state where you can begin to make changes.” Easier said than done, considering I want to flip the kitchen table Teresa Giudice-style when I hear my fiancé slurp soup.
What It’s Like To Do Hypnotherapy For Misophonia
Cummins took me through four hypnotherapy techniques over the course of a nearly two-hour session. Each one felt kind of like a meditation, but rather than sit there and try to stay present with your thoughts, hypnosis involves your imagination (which I found much easier to work with — I’d prefer to think about fantastical things than attempt to sit in silence as my brain decides to run through my to-do list).
The first one put me into a relaxed state, then had my mind focus on a place that brings me peace. Cummins instructed me to feel this place with all my senses — the sun on my skin, the smell of the air, the texture of the ground. I pictured myself lounging on the beach in Tulum, piña colada in hand, next to my fiancé, who had tape over his mouth (kidding). Then I was tasked with imagining a peaceful sound, which could be anything you’d like. My mind immediately started to play “When Doves Cry.”
But then the session switched gears, and I had to focus on a stressor. “You might see it like a color or a substance,” Cummins said. Indeed, I saw red thinking about my fiancé chewing cashews.
“To have a different experience just by shifting your attention is your natural ability.”
Cummins said to bring my thoughts back to my peaceful place with the peaceful sound. “To have a different experience just by shifting your attention is your natural ability,” said Cummins. After I came to, she explained that hypnotherapy is all about learning how your mind works and making it work for you (dream scenario: I learn how to hear a Prince song whenever my fiancé’s eating). “One of the basic tenets of hypnosis is that under every response or behavior is a positive intention,” she explained. “Misophonia is pre-cognitive and you have a physiological response to the sound before you can think about it. So hypnotherapy offers different perspectives where you can learn how to respond differently.”
The other hypnosis techniques worked in similar ways. It felt promising, but I was eager to see how my new mind tricks would play out when faced with my trigger sounds.
Dinner the night after my session involved eating out of bowls with spoons. Hearing the sound of silverware banging on a plate or in a bowl, then hearing that silverware clang against teeth (and then — shudder — that slurping sound from the spoon) usually takes me from zero to pissed in a matter of seconds. I resolved not to cave. Not tonight, misophonia.
As my fiancé took his first bite, I transported myself to my peaceful place and focused on hearing the relaxing sound I imagined earlier. I didn’t enjoy his eating noises, but actively thinking about a different sound gave me time to pause before reflexively snapping at him. When we watched TV later, my cursed ears became transfixed on his particularly loud breathing. I felt my body tense up, but I conscientiously took a deep breath and used my imagination to calm down. I was, rather miraculously, chill enough to kindly ask him to clear his nose (yes, I know how I sound here).
I felt pretty accomplished on day one. Unfortunately, the victory hasn’t quite lasted. A recent coffee slurp gave me the fantods, and hearing my fiancé crunch on potato chips the other day almost made me burst into tears. But — at the very least — I do see hypnotherapy’s potential. I just need more training and practice so I can permanently stop seething with fury when hearing my fiancé eat and, uh, breathe.
Palumbo, D. (2018). Misophonia and Potential Underlying Mechanisms: A Perspective. Frontiers in Psychology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6034066/