Why do I hate other people's love?
November 30, 2012 6:10 PM   Subscribe

I have extreme negative reactions to witnessing public displays of affection (PDA) or overhearing sex (e.g. anger, disgust, heart racing, crying). I get that I need therapy, but what kind should I be looking for?

Hello all! I've slowly realized over the past couple of years that most people probably don't react so negatively to these sorts of things, and that I might be able to fix this about myself. I just don't know where to start! I'm super embarrassed about this, so apologies that I have no clue how to talk about it. More detail for those interested:

Examples of things that lead to a "mild" response (e.g. anger, disgust, frowning without realizing, heart racing, avoiding, ears pounding for some reason):
- seeing/overhearing people kiss in public
- seeing people grope one another
- hearing people say sexually explicit things
- extended lusty gazes between people

Examples of things that lead to an extreme response (e.g. nausea, muscle weakness, heart racing, crying, straight-up fleeing the scene, fear over encountering these situations in the future):
- overhearing sex
- overhearing a faint sound that might be sex (e.g. dog barking, rhythmic noise, people's voices on television)

Background: I'm pretty sure this started the first time I (at least knowingly) overheard sex, when I was a teen (mom's first post-divorce-from-my-dad boyfriend). I then had to hear it A LOT in college, naturally. I think my disgust with PDA followed from the sex thing, where before, I thought PDA was kinda gross and annoying but I didn't get emotional about it.

I'm 23 now, and am generally happy with life, social connected, etc. I have a happy/healthy sex life with my partner, but have had somewhat traumatic sexual experiences with an ex when I was 17-18. I don't think this last thing is relevant, but I'm not sure. Also, fwiw, deliberately watching porn alone doesn't cause this reaction.

The goal is to not have such extreme (esp. physical) reactions so that I can get through life more easily and not think that kissy people are lecherous assholes. I've done CBT before for other issues, and I'm not sure it would work for this. I'm looking for thoughts on types of therapy/intervention/resources that would be helpful. As a bonus, I'd really like to know if I'm not the only person in the world that has this problem!

Thank you!
posted by Manlee Forresiddy to Human Relations (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like a phobia, and the general therapeutic response to phobias varies but often includes short-acting anti-anxiety medication and/or therapy. Figuring out the source of it doesn't seem to really help much in my experience and based on my research. It's mostly behavioral stuff. I'm not a mental health pro, though.

I have a phobia of kissing and other related things, so I sympathize.

Good luck!
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:22 PM on November 30, 2012

You could try something from the third wave of behavioural therapies which focus less on challenging thoughts and more on changing your attitude to uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Maybe acceptance and commitment therapy or dialectical behavior therapy.
posted by niruniru at 6:26 PM on November 30, 2012

I had the same issue until my late 20's. No idea where it came from. To be honest, not sure how I got over it. I have been on antidepressant/anti-anxiety meds for years- I'm guessing that helped.
posted by KogeLiz at 6:26 PM on November 30, 2012

You might look for a behavioral therapist. It's my understanding that systematic desensitization has been effective, and there are a variety of behavioral techniques that are used now to address phobias or anxiety responses. From what I understand, the patient is systematically exposed to gradually increasing amounts of the stimulus they dislike, coupled with relaxation techniques. There's also a technique called flooding, where they just immerse the patient in so much of the fear-inducing stimulus that they are forced to address it. Wikipedia has it that this is faster but less effective that the slower, more systematic approach, but a behavioral therapist will explain your options and the pros and cons of each.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:03 PM on November 30, 2012

If it's a phobia, then a therapist who specializes in phobias can help. An evidence based treatment for phobias is systematic desensitization, so perhaps look for someone with experience in that. You can look for people who treat more common phobias (fear of flying, etc.).

If it's more than a phobia, and more similar to a vasovagal response, then therapy is less helpful. In the latter case, it is more unconscious ("autonomic") via the vagus nerve, and the only treatment is to avoid triggers.

Though if you don't typically pass out, and simply want to flee, then it's probably a normal phobia and would be responsive to treatment like described above.
posted by kellybird at 10:47 PM on November 30, 2012

Not sure if this is related or not but I have a similar reaction to smacking noises (which includes hearing people kiss, eat loudly, etc) - and I found out that my condition has a name: misophonia.

If I'm around someone who is eating loudly it usually makes me lose my appetite and also makes me angry and panicky. This also extends to me being annoyed watching someone chew like a cow even if I can't hear them, because I know what they sound like.

Like your reaction to sounds that could be sex, I have a similar reaction to sounds that might be someone popping gum until I realize that it's something else. Or sounds that might be someone eating sloppily until I realize it's the dog, then I'm fine. It's bizarre.

Unfortunately the only thing that really works for me is making sure I always have ear plugs with me (I started buying earplugs regularly when I had roommates anyway because, while sex noises don't bother me particularly, they are distracting) or I always had my ipod or some source of sound.
posted by fromageball at 5:21 AM on December 1, 2012

Sounds like misophonia.
posted by watercarrier at 12:12 PM on December 1, 2012

Nthing misophonia. Some sights and sounds (especially kissing noises) have been like fingernails on a chalkboard my entire life. I used to think there was a psychological explanation (like I hate other people getting kisses when I'm not), but now I think it must be some neurological/chemical thing. I don't consciously judge them, I don't mind the concept of PDA, I don't even mind doing it myself -- it's just watching it makes me squirm. I also really can't stand chewing and slurping noises.

I find that it's better when I'm getting more touch, and it's better when I'm less anxious. But I still cannot STAND mouth noises or watching mouth actions.

So, at least you're not alone!
posted by 3491again at 1:56 PM on December 1, 2012

Misphonia seems to about sounds; your issue seems to be about public affection, regardless of sounds.

Affection is about attachment, emotional safety, and sexual exchange. Seek a counselor with expertise in relationship or sexual issues. There are *lots* of them, because *lots* of humans with problems have problems in these areas.

I can't suggest whether "which" specialist to pick - relationship or sexual. They're intertwined. Lots of therapists handle both.

Best of luck. Your willingness to seek help is solid proof that the ONLY person who can change you is willing to do so. You just need a therapist to help guide the change. It's a thousand times harder to go it without a guide.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:10 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

EMDR might be helpful in your case.
posted by bunderful at 8:07 PM on December 1, 2012

Thanks so much for all of the helpful replies! I'm not sure about misophonia since I always thought the issue was specific to sexy-type things, but I do get perhaps unreasonably bothered by other noises, so it's possible.

I've never thought of it as a phobia, either! I think looking at the issue from these two angles will help me eventually find the resources I need. It's hard for me to pick favorites, so consider yourselves equally best!
posted by Manlee Forresiddy at 8:05 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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