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Dear Therapist: I Have Misophonia and My Loud Neighbor is Making Life Miserable

Creator:
Published:
April 30, 2024
April 29, 2024
Read this article to learn how to deal with misophonia when experiencing unwanted noise from neighbors.

Dear therapist,

I have misophonia, probably brought on by parents whose arguments often were accompanied by shattering dishes, slamming doors, banging heavy objects on tabletops, etc. Thanks to anti-anxiety medication and noise-dampening headphones, I've been able to manage my reactions to loud noises. But I recently moved into an apartment building with paper-thin walls, where I can hear neighbors talking on the phone, watching TV, etc. It's been hard to deal with some days — I've had to sit in my car to get away from the cacophony. Last year, a mentally ill older woman, likely with dementia, moved into the unit next door. She used to watch her TV at top volume: when I asked her (nicely) to turn it down, she cranked it up even louder! I finally had to ask management and Adult Protective Services to intervene, and it has gotten better, somewhat, but she's taken to banging on the walls when I'm vacuum cleaning, running the dishwasher or garbage disposal, normal day to day activities. I've already tried talking to her, but it's evident by her sarcasm and sour behavior that she's not remotely sympathetic or responsive to my requests.

Recently the noise level in the building has gotten worse — the landlord is repairing/remodeling a unit upstairs — which combined with my neighbor is driving me to despair. I either hide in my bedroom with my headphones clamped to my ears, or I flee to a coffee shop and easily drop $20 for a large coffee and treats, so I can justify sitting there for a couple of hours. There have also been evenings this past week where I did not want to go home after work. I can't afford to move or break the lease, which isn't up for another year, but I don't think I can continue living like this. Any suggestions? 

— Overwhelmed and Exhausted Neighbor

Dear Overwhelmed and Exhausted Neighbor, 

I can only imagine how frustrating it is to be in a situation you feel powerless over. I hear the stress, anxiety, despair, and trauma in your words. And I think that’s where I’d like to support you most — working through the trauma. 

Your parents’ arguments with all the loud noises are very traumatizing, especially for a young child. It sounds like your parents, whom you depended on for safety, were also the source of your fear and distress. Your body keeps the score, and now your neighbor is here to remind you of your unresolved past. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to be stuck in the past. Loud noises and all those clamoring “threats” to your brain and body no longer have to be a source of harm because you’re now an adult who can meet your distress with love. 

Notice how the things you’ve been doing to work through it are forms of management and avoidance. 

It’s not love.

And how could you really know how to move closer to what’s hurting within you with love if that wasn’t modeled to you? The strategies you’re employing to protect yourself are most likely familiar to the ones you employed as a child and were necessary to get you to where you are today. 

So, dear overwhelmed and anxious neighbor, it’s time to take a nice, long, deep breath and try something new. Your brain and body (and that little child within you) desperately need that.

And here’s what I am suggesting. 

First, explore the harm done by your parents with a trauma-informed therapist. Let your pain be witnessed by a compassionate and trained other. 

Secondly, learn body-based tools to regulate your nervous system and become desensitized to the noise. (The trauma-informed therapist should be able to help you with this.) 

Thirdly, extend compassion (love) to the child within you who needs someone to see their distress, regulate their little body, and show them that they’re safe. 

It’s always good to start small. Maybe use what you know, but this time, add more compassion. So when you put those headphones on, put your hand on your heart and say, “You’re safe now. It’s going to be okay.” Hold something soothing and take deep breaths. Or when you go to the coffee shop, journal how you’re feeling. 

My hope is that as you practice these little actions of love and develop additional ones, the noise becomes less distressing. It may be annoying and frustrating, but your body and the little child within you will know there’s nothing to fear — they’re safe.

— Brya Hanan, LMFT

Creators:
Grotto, Brya Hanan
Published:
April 30, 2024
April 29, 2024
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