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How understanding the trait of "Highly Sensitive Person" can help us understand and cope with Misophonia...

Updated: Feb 29

The  topic of “Highly Sensitive Person” keeps popping up in the experiences of Misophones. What is it about a “Highly Sensitive Person” or “HSP” that can help us understand the phenomena of Misophonia?

HSP is a biological trait (i.e. this is in our DNA and will not go away with therapy) identified and studied by Elaine Aron, PhD. over the past three decades. There is a TON of research and study behind this trait as well as helpful language and self-care strategies that anyone struggling with Misophonia can benefit from, as well as those that are wanting to support them.

The key traits of HSP are compiled into four categories with the acronym D.O.E.S.:

Depth of Processing – The desire for insight and the ability to reflect

easily Overstimulated – due to energy required to process stimuli, depth of processing, empathy

Emotional responsiveness and Empathy – strong emotional responses, empathic connections and delicate attunement

Greater awareness of Subtle Stimuli –attention to small details in sight, sound, smells, emotional states of others and “energy” of places as it relates to a bigger picture


How does this connect with Misophonia? Here are some quotes from Elaine’s books:

“One general rule is that when we have no control over stimulation, it is more upsetting, even more so if we feel we are someone’s victim. While music played by ourselves may be a pleasant, heard from the neighbor’s stereo, it can be annoying, and if we have previously asked them to turn it down, it becomes a hostile invasion.

Pg 9. of "The Highly Sensitive Person" by Elaine Aron, PhD

You notice every little thing. This can be whatever is especially nice, such as the sweet smell of an infant’s skin, the sound of your child’s soft breathing at night, or the way the sun strikes your teenage daughter’s hair. You are also bothered by things others may hardly notice, such as the sound of children chewing with their mouth open, jangling keys in your partner’s pocket, or a bit of a whine added to a request”.

Pg. 17 of "The Highly Sensitive Parent" by Elaine Aron, PhD

I don’t know if Elaine knows about Misophonia, but it’s like she gets it!  Time and time again, the Misophones I’ve shared this information with have found it to be extremely validating and helpful in understanding our experience as well as giving us language to explain experiences that are often hard to find words for. Self-care is super important if you are dealing with Misophonia, and the recommendations Elaine gives for HSP’s are also super helpful for Misophones.

**A special note—HSP’s and those on the Autism spectrum share many traits but they are not the same. If you identify as being on the spectrum, you may find this info does not completely resonate with you. However, the self-care needs are often the same or similar—especially around managing sensory input sensitivity. Please take what is helpful and leave the rest if it doesn’t fit.

There is much that could be said about how the HSP trait explains so much about the Misophonia phenomena—here are just a few:


 - Emotional reactivity – HSP’s feel things more intensely than non HSP’s and helps to understand why a Misophone might have such a strong emotional reaction to a trigger—we just feel things more intensely—good and bad.
- Empathic attunement – many HSP’s report “knowing what someone needs before they do” and we can get upset if that attunement is not reciprocated—it is hard to understand that other folks do not experience the world in the same way as us. As a Misophone, it is especially upsetting if we are in pain due to a trigger sound and those around us are “oblivious” to our suffering.
- Hypervigilance – one of the reasons why we have HSP’s in our population that HSP’s are the “alarm bells” for a society/community. HSP are more aware of dangers and can alert others to these dangers. This takes a lot of energy, so it is also exhausting. Misophones are often on “high alert” for the next trigger sound/sight and can’t relax until the sound/sight stops or we can get away from it. This makes sense if you think about how our reaction to triggers has been found to be in parts of the brain responsible for identifying danger.
- Nervous system activation – Many HSP’s experience near constant nervous system activation due to the innate trait of environmental awareness. This experience can become chronic if we grew up in an environment that was not or did not feel “safe” and has many negative health effects. As Misophonia also leaves us in an almost constant state of nervous system arousal, doing what we can to address anything contributing to the experience of “not safe” is worth exploring.

There is much more to know about the connections between HSP’s and Misophonia. I highly recommend reading these books for yourselves as no two HSP's look the same. There are also many helpful videos on YouTube on this topic and how it relates to interpersonal relationships, self-care, pitfalls, and the “dark side” of being a HSP.

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