A Sticky Subject

I recently posted a question on various Misophonia Facebook groups, as well as the Sound Sensitivity Yahoo group, asking what religion were family and family of origin of respondents. Before explaining why I asked, let me make two big disclaimers: I am NOT a theologian or expert on religion. Neither am I a statistician, and this is NOT a scientific study. These are just questions and some speculation as to what the answers might indicate.

I make no judgments here. I am simply observing and later commenting on the outcome of this very informal and non-scientific survey. Please read with an open mind and with curiosity as to what you might make of this information.

THE SURVEY

As I work with various clients/patients dealing with medical issues, particularly misophonia, some common themes often arise. These topics come up in discussions regarding relationships with family members, friends, or others in their lives. After many conversations that touched on two of these themes, I began to wonder how family history, and specifically religious upbringing might have impacted views of the self, and how those, in turn, may have influenced the evolution of personal experiences with this vexing and demanding condition.

When I asked the question about religion and religious upbringing, I got almost 100 replies in a few days. Some were simple and straightforward, one word answers. Others were complex and went into family history. Many commented that their current religious beliefs are not those with which they were raised. Again, bearing in mind that I am not well versed in religious differences, I was struck by the numbers, as they unfolded. I will lay out what I received, what I think it might indicate in terms of misophonia, and welcome comments from those with more understanding of the complexities of religion than I have.

It was difficult to merge categories, for example as some people said “Christian,” while others named a specific denomination. I will leave it to each reader to group the replies, as you see fit, and I will do the same and explain my thinking below. I included Church of England, Protestant, Presbyterian and Episcopalian with Christian, but broke out other denominations.

1 MENNONITE
7 BAPTIST
38 CATHOLIC
19 CHRISTIAN
8 METHODIST
5 LUTHERAN
4 LDS
4 JEWISH
10 ATHEIST/AGNOSTIC/NONE/OTHER

relig symb

 

Note what your first impressions of this list might be … Frankly, I had no idea what the percentage of each group is in the general population, so after seeing these results, I looked it up. Here is one version of what I found, from a recent ABC News Poll:

Most of the 50 affiliations cited are Christian denominations, ranging from the Assembly of God to the United Church of Christ. Added up they show that 53 percent of Americans are Protestants, 22 percent Catholics and 8 percent other Christians, such as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But what I noticed – and what peaked my interest in discussions with clients in the first place – was what seemed like a high number of Catholics and other Christian denominations. According to that poll, 22 percent of Americans identify as Catholic, but over 40 percent of those who replied to my question were raised Catholic (though many said they no longer practice). Adding together the numbers from the ABC Poll, 61 percent identified as Protestant or other Christian, while my survey found a combined total of 44 percent. I did not indicate above, but many of the various named religions in my survey were prefaced by or followed by such words as “strict” or “very strict” or “very conservative” or “German” other similar qualifiers.

Bear in mind that this is NOT a scientific study, that those who replied were self-selected, and may not statistically represent the community of people with misophonia as a whole. Nevertheless, I found this interesting, and reflective of my clients, as well. So why does this interest me, as a therapeutic clinician working to assist people who struggle with this condition? And what were the two themes that peaked my professional curiosity?

THEMES

Here are some examples that relate to these two themes that I have often heard from teens and young adults:

  • I feel really bad about this problem, like I am a burden to my family.
  • My mom is already stressed and depressed — I cannot tell her more details of how I really feel because she won’t be able to handle it.
  • Hardly any of my friends know about this problem. I don’t want to tell them.
  • People who do know usually forget and do things that bother me, and then they apologize a lot, which makes me even more uncomfortable.
  • My dad is the worst trigger for me, but I cannot say anything because he thinks I am over-reacting.
  • I don’t want my teachers to know, because they will embarrass me in class.
  • My mom is my worst trigger, but I can’t discuss it with her because she gets angry and defensive.
  • I am so angry at my little brother, but I can’t do anything about it because he is not trying to be a problem — he just IS.
  • Sometimes I think I cannot take it anymore and I just want to die … But if I killed myself, my family would be even madder at me. And I can’t tell them I feel that awful, because it will just make them feel worse.

Although you may see it otherwise, to me these thoughts all reflect two main themes that I hear in many of my sessions: guilt and shame. Let’s start by defining those terms, which people often use interchangeably.

 

GUILT

 

SHAME

Focus on behavior: I did something bad or wrong. Focus on self: I am bad for what I did, or just for being who I am.
“I’m sorry – I made a mistake.” “I’m sorry – I AM a mistake.”
“If only I hadn’t …” “If only I weren’t …”
Linked to empathy and understanding other perspectives; can be motivating to work toward change According to research, highly correlated with addiction, depression, aggression, eating disorders, violence, bullying, suicide ***

*** and maybe we can speculate, also correlated with medical problems that involve one’s self-perception, such as misophonia

shutterstock_102187789

DISCUSSION

Religious beliefs give shape and comfort to those who practice them. People often find community and support from their church or other religious groups, and I have been told of many who share their medical concerns and receive prayers and compassion from other members of their congregations. It is one of the best qualities of being a part of a religious community.

On the other hand, many religions include a focus on guilt and shame. People with misophonia often seem to feel guilty – for the pain they are causing their family members, for the need they have to leave a situation, for making other people uncomfortable, etc. – as if they are doing something deliberately and could “just stop it” if they wanted to or if they just tried harder.

In addition, I believe they are experiencing shame – for being a person with this disorder, for not being able to “just stop it,” for the perception that there is something wrong with them for not trying harder.

And so we come to my curiosity behind this survey. I wondered what role shame, a fundamental aspect of many religious traditions, might play in relation to misophonia. Many clients, both teen and adult, have told me that, at least initially, their family was not understanding, blamed them for this behavior, criticized them for disrupting the family, or for embarrassing the family with other people (like sitting at a different table, which invited others to attack the parents for being too indulgent, or not strict enough). And many feel embarrassed to tell others about the problem, again I think as they are somewhat ashamed, as if they are at fault for having this condition.

When people with misophonia decide to tell others, to divulge this “secret,” there can be significant relief. They still have this problem, but no longer have to act like they don’t, which is exhausting. When they find a simple explanation, they don’t have to glare and hope the person understands the meaning of the dirty looks – which they rarely do. (“I’m having trouble concentrating on this test because I am distracted by that gum – here’s a fresh piece that I hope you will please save for later.” “I have a sound sensitivity and certain sounds hurt my ears – it would be great if you would eat those crunchy things in the lunchroom, instead of at your desk.”)

CONCLUSION

I realize I am treading on thin ice here, that discussions about religion are generally not appropriate, especially coming from a professional who is not in the field. I also know that it is hard enough to be a parent, let alone a parent of a child with special needs, and that anything that feels like criticism of parenting will raise defenses, even if intended as an observation, not a criticism. I also realize I may be inviting attacks and hostility by raising these questions.

What I hope can occur is that families can consider how their personal attitudes and upbringing may have had an impact on themselves and their kids, and maybe bring some light to a subject mostly kept in the dark. I think many of the respondents to this survey already made that connection in some ways themselves, as they replied that they were raised in one way, but left and found their own path when they could. My desire is to find ways to make life easier for families and individuals struggling with misophonia, and I am hopeful that this will be another avenue for that to occur.

Your thoughts on this complex subject are invited. I do hope you will think about what you want to say and avoid outright attacks!

Love to the misophonia community,

DrJ

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