Misophonia, the panic and anger reaction to sounds

Misophonia is a newly discovered disorder which makes sufferers react to sounds with anger.

Strong negative emotions are induced by certain sounds sending the Misophonia patient into a spin of unwanted feelings and panic attack symptoms and a full “flight or flight” response.

Scientists have discovered that they can trace the way the brain responds to sounds and monitor the route through the brain using MRI scanning. Plotting the direct link between the input of sounds through to the resulting emotional responses. Due to these brain imaging techniques it appears that the brains of Misophonia sufferers are ‘hard wired’ in such a way as to produce the symptoms.

I would be curious to know what makes scientists think that this wiring is ‘hard wired’. If a psychological reaction can be traced through the brain, is that evidence of hard wiring? Cannot all emotions, fears, panics, have a neurological explanation? Would not any emotional response to any trigger, light up the MRI screen in a similar way?

Maybe these MRI scans are supporting scientists in an inaccurate mood of fatalism in how emotional responses occur in a person. Creating the title Misophonia makes the condition ‘genuine’, the scans are ‘evidence of a physical basis’ for the problem and patients are no longer laughed at by their GPs.

What happened to the concept of Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to be adaptable? Neurogenesis, the ability to create new neural pathways has been a big feature of neuroscience for the last 20 years.

Neuroplasticity has given much hope to therapists because it supports the patient in their quest for change and development. The old hard wired model of the brain has roots, not only in ideas about the brain, but in Freudian ideology. Freud contended that childhood or even infancy is the time where your future is decided, that your brain (your psychology) is fixed from that early time.

The discovery of how the brain adapts through life, Neurogenesis, gives hope where there was once a fatalism.

My suspicion is that because brain imaging can trace a brain response from a trigger such as sound to an emotion such as anger, scientists are saying that it is a done deal. Look, there is the link on the screen, those links are how things are, no cure.

What about those that suffer from panic attacks? Surely similar brain pathways can be traced. It is well documented that panic attacks are curable, that whatever pathway had been set up in the brain can indeed by re-routed to produce calmer responses. Those that suffer from phobias would have a well defined neurological pathway. Many phobias and panic responses can be treated successfully.

Interestingly researchers have found that the condition worsened in response to cognitive behavioural therapy in one patient.

But surely, if you can talk it up, you can talk it down.

How seeking too much reassurance can weaken you

I hope this brief blog piece on seeking reassurance might be of help to those suffering from worry and fear. 

There is a line that separates useful guidance and support on one hand and a destructive pattern of seeking to much reassurance on the other. When the line is blurred a person can seek more and more reassurance at the expense of building their own sense of strength in themselves, an independent spirit. 

An example of this is Health Anxiety. Getting clarification from the doctor about one’s health can be a life saving journey to the surgery and is an important part of ‘looking after one’s self’. However we can also seek (or feel the need) for diagnosis of every twinge that we get which leads to worry and fear. 

Another example is in relationships with our nearest and dearest. Sharing our concerns and worries with a loved one is one of the most rewarding aspects of human relations. However when it is taken to an extreme it can undermine our sense of self and lead to bitterness and arguments.

So how do we get the balance right? 

One answer is to accept that there is a limit to what another person (or organisation) can do for our peace of mind and that seeking reassurance is not always a healthy thing to do. Bitterness and anger might also be a sign that we are making excessive demands that will eventually undermine us. That is not to say that we should give up our ability to campaign against injustice however. 

Another answer might be to focus on the concept that the dreaded possibility that we are trying to avoid is actually something we can handle. The dreaded thing might be bad and uncomfortable but is something that can be dealt with. Being held to ransom by the thought “I cannot bear it” could haunt a person for years when the reality could be quite different. Most of the things we imagine will happen don’t happen and if they do who is to say how we might actually respond?

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