Repetitive words and phrases irrationally irritate me. Why?
September 13, 2016 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Repetitive words or phrases irritate me way beyond all rational explanation. Can you help me understand why?

Repetitive sounds in general drive me up a wall (ticking clocks, dripping faucets, tapping pens) but now a variation of it is also happening while I read, watch tv, or talk with people and I'm not sure how to deal with it.

Hearing or reading overused words/phrases set my teeth on edge. Here are a few examples:

Any variation of "That being said..."
"Who has two thumbs and..."
"Special snowflake"
"Just sayin'"
"Ok. So. (We went shopping and...)"

When I see overused words and phrases that most people could ignore or roll their eyes at, I become ridiculously tense and usually either tune out or simply stop reading/listening. Unfortunately, it doesn't end with written words or phrases. I also have a lot of trouble focusing on conversations with people who have verbal tics like ending every other sentence with the word "right".

It even happens while watching TV or movies. I love Gilmore Girls, Suits, and anything Adam Sorkin but the repetitive dialogue sometimes actually makes my stomach churn:

(Made up example:)
"Where's Jill?"

"I don't know, maybe she went for coffee."

"Why would she go for coffee?"

"I didn't say she went for coffee, I said maybe she went for coffee. Do you think she went for coffee?

"Why would I think she went for coffee? You're the one who brought up coffee."

My reaction to these kinds of things vary from irritated to tense to outright angry, depending on how much I'm required to read or listen to it (tv show vs. work presentation). Not only are these reactions irrational, they're also unfair to the writer/speaker who obviously isn't in the wrong here. I'm certainly not judging people on how they speak or write, nor can I say I've never done the same thing, so I end up feeling pretty guilty about it all.

What do you think is behind these reactions and, more important, how can I deal with it?

Probably related: I have misophonia, particularly related to chewing and sniffing sounds, and general sound sensitivity that cause certain noises and pitches to physically hurt my ears.
posted by _Mona_ to Human Relations (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd love an explanation for this, because this exact thing has been happening to me for my entire life. It's definitely the repetition of the phrases that makes me insane, and I have the same issues with noises (repetitive sounds, sound sensitivity, etc) that you do.
posted by Coatlicue at 6:57 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You would make a perfect candidate for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It looks at the relationship between your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Your misophonia is attaching irrationally negative thoughts and behaviours to something traditionally seen as pretty benign. (outright anger at verbal repetition would be so exhausting! You must need some kind of relief!).

It takes a while to work through. You could start with this book: Mind over Mood

Good luck! You deserve relief!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:22 AM on September 13, 2016 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry, I don't have real information, but I've long wondered why repetition in conversation frustrates me so much (both listening and having to repeat myself). It's not just repetitive words, either. Listening to people reword and restate what they've just said also drives me irrationally batty. I also figured it had something to do with my misophonic tendencies. So at least a data point.
posted by wintrymix at 7:31 AM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Halfway through your post, I was thinking 'This person has to have misophonia.' I have it too. Food sounds in particular drive me to such murderous rage I have trouble calming down for hours afterwards. Animal eating sounds don't do it, though, I'm not sure why.
Repetitive words in books and movies - I remember one book I was reading that I had to abandon part way through. Every single person would talk like so:
"did you see x?"
"I did, yes"
"Very good, yes"
"What a wonderful person, no?"
"He is, yes" - and so on. (Aaaaaaargh)

So yes (Sorry). The misophonia is probably related. I've found that what helps me most is to just leave the room, if I can, or stop watching or reading whatever it is. At work presentations, perhaps take a few extra bathroom breaks when you find yourself wanting to rip out your hair? If this is not possible, focus on the idea that the repetition is not something the other person can help, just like your reaction to it. When I had to listen to lectures by professors with verbal ticks, I would keep a running tally in the corner of a notebook, and turn it into a game/something to be amused at, rather than just tense up and wait for it to be over. Deep breathing exercises also help. Sometimes I do a kegel every time the trigger word is used. If the word or sound gets earwormed, I listen to a song I like at max volume to replace it. I've also found that more things trigger me if I'm stressed or getting less sleep than usual.
Don't worry about feeling guilty, your irrational hates are not something you can guilt out of existence. I've never tried CBT, but it seems like it might help.
posted by and her eyes were wild. at 8:07 AM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't know anything about misphonia.

It's inherently irritating -- it wastes your time -- when people string out or misdirect an otherwise clear idea with a lot of extra words. And it's irritating, too, because you could have written or spoken the whole thing much more clearly, but you're forced to listen to their gunked-up version.

Your Sorkin-esque example is perfect. Why have that useless conversation about who brought up coffee? These are silly people who aren't being straight with each other. This is not good entertainment for anyone who values clarity and good sense.

Not only are these reactions irrational, they're also unfair to the writer/speaker who obviously isn't in the wrong here. I'm certainly not judging people on how they speak or write, nor can I say I've never done the same thing, so I end up feeling pretty guilty about it all.

So no, your reactions are not irrational, or unfair, you are indeed judging, and you don't need to feel guilty about it. You are right about clear and direct expression being better than uncreative noise.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:09 AM on September 13, 2016

Best answer: Sorry, I don't have any good theories, really, but I'll just add that I also have misophonia. Hearing someone else's music or iphone games on the subway can send me into a murderous rage, and same with someone loudly chewing gum on the subway anywhere within earshot (no, I have never actually murdered someone on the subway -- yet). And more relevant, I'm also driven insane by popular catch phrases similar to the ones you cite above. (As an example, "Awesomesauce" can actually ruin my afternoon.) I mention this because it lends some credence to your theory that the two problems are related.

For me, I'm afraid, the only thing that helps with the noise problem is removing myself from the stimulus, so in my own opinion, the annoyance is hard wired. Telling me to just ignore it or do deep breathing or what have you is sort of like saying "Just breathe through it" while someone is giving you a root canal without Novocaine. With the words problem, the only thing that helps is to just bury it, i.e., keep reading stuff I like so that I forget about it. In other words, distraction.
posted by holborne at 9:40 AM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

I teach writing to 7th graders at the moment, and so I deal with a lot of this. I would generously estimate that only about 15% of what they write actually means something. The rest is there because some teacher somewhere taught them to rephrase the question, then gave them sentence starters and transition words that they memorised and so they always use the same ones (In conclusion, That being said, etc.).

It drives me crazy, so I do everything I can to get them out of it, but it does take a lot of practice to train them NOT to do this. And I'm sure next year, they'll be trained right back into it, because it's "easier" to teach writing that way. Sometimes I fantasise about burning the whole lot of the papers (metaphorically, obviously, because it's all digital) because there really is so much BS that there's hardly anything left after you remove it.

So I don't have better tips than CBT, as mentioned above, but I hope that helps somewhat with where people get it.
posted by guster4lovers at 1:13 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Gunk" may contain great value. Clarity is only one aspect of communication, and not necessarily the most important. Carve the signal out of the noise.

I do this, but I wrench myself out by focusing on the emotional overtones of the words, which are infinitely more subtle than mere vocalizations. Can you refocus on a different aspect of speech?

Echolalia: CBT
posted by fritillary at 2:56 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have a ridiculously hypocritical version of the same problem, in which I have all kinds of verbal tics, but I am irrationally annoyed when other people have them.

To get all meta on you, I don't like the word misophonia, even though it serves a useful purpose. There is no question in my mind that the phenomenon is real because I have it pretty bad, but "misophonia" hasn't been studied or identified in any kind of medical context as yet, so the clinical sounding name seems inappropriate.

But my annoyance at that and all the other words and phrases that annoy me is qualitatively different from my annoyance at ambient sounds. It's not nearly as bad, and I can reason my way through the annoyance at words and phrases.

First, I try not to dwell on it or come up with good reasons for my annoyance, because that just makes it worse. Just because something is rational doesn't mean it's reasonable. I also remind myself that people aren't doing these things to annoy me, and that repetition and verbal tics do serve their own purposes.

Phrases like "OK so" and "that said" have meaning. They serve as filler--a sort of verbal loading animation while you're thinking of how to phrase something--or as segues. "That said" is an introduction to a caveat or opposing perspective. And both of those phrases are extremely cool because I use them all the time.

In defense of repetition, I've found that when I don't repeat myself, people misunderstand me, so I rephrase things and emphasize qualifiers when they're relevant. That way, people are less likely to misunderstand unless they're just being hostile. I hate doing that, but I do it anyway to avoid that sort of thing.

But the thing that helps the most for me is to remind myself that I am pretty annoying too. On top of the verbal tics themselves, being irritable all the time is irritating to others. And it perpetuates itself. When something is actively annoying me, like if someone's eating loudly or playing music on a tinny cell phone, I fuck everything up. I make typos, I mispronounce and misuse words, I tangle up my grammar, and I repeat myself excessively. So I can relate to people doing that. Maybe they're just jangled up and having a hard time getting words out.

I am 100% with you on the Gilmore Girls thing, though. I have tried to watch that show and I just can't stand it. I can tolerate rapid fire speech when it serves a purpose, like when it's actually delivering rapid fire information, or when it's in music I like. But the dialog in that show is almost physically painful to me, in the same way that a parking lot full of chirping cars is. I solve that problem by not watching that show. If someone is talking to me like that in person, I just tell them to please slow down or extricate myself as quickly as I can.

Everyone has a few things they just hate for no good reason.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:05 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have this (plus all the other things you mention) pretty badly too. I will note that it is notably aggravated by my general-life-happiness-quotient dipping, or some other unaddressed or persistent irritant in my life being present. I've learned to treat the more extreme reactions to sounds as a bit of a canary in the coal mine, and to do a review of how well I'm tracking in my self-care generally. Things like:

* Am I getting enough sleep?
* Am I eating decently?
* Am I getting enough exercise?
* Am I getting enough social interaction?
* Am I getting enough alone time?
* Am I getting enough creative outlets?

It might not be the same for you, but when the above things are in balance for me, I'm usually pretty content and able to deal with the human race selfishly existing all around me as they seem to insist on doing.

Another coping strategy I have is pretending my annoyance is a peevish and irascible toddler. I am in charge of the toddler. The toddler will be irrational and cranky and unreasonable, but nevertheless I must look after it and make sure its needs are met and try and generally deal with it. I have no idea why it helps, but it seems to.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:00 PM on September 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

I don't know either. But in response to a similar question a well known spiritual teacher once answered: Who knows why? Maybe it's because of something that happened in a previous life? Or several life times ago? How about we go all the way back to the life-time you had as an amoeba in the sea? Does the why really matter? What matters is what you're feeling now and the thoughts that you have now that are causing these reactions in you. It's the thoughts happening in the present moment that are the culprit not something that may or may not have happened in the past.

I recently started CBT with a therapist and what's funny is that this therapy method seems exactly along the lines of what the spiritual teacher said... only way more science-y. I guess it makes sense since I've known people who've had the kind of therapy that makes them delve into their past to find out the "why's" and years later they don't seem to be any different. If anything some of them got worse. So maybe the why really doesn't matter? Maybe that answer comes to you later... or not. Does it matter as long as you know how to control the thoughts that cause your reaction? I just started therapy so I can't speak for my own results yet, but seems like it's worth a try for you.
posted by manderin at 7:48 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

ooooh, I am with you on [sentence]+"right?" as of late. casual use negligible for me, but I hate when people I admire end up overusing it within some larger argumentative strategy. I guess because it seemed to gain popularity after it was specifically pointed out as a signal of sly-acknowledgement-but-also-coy-persuasion-and-I'm-not-listening-anymore, I kind of resent it as see it as condescending. (others may not, though.)

everyone's got at least a couple peeve-phrases or peeve-pronunciations. they may phase in and out as trends go, but some people probably have a locker full. for me, it definitely depends on my general stress level. I work a headphones-for-11-hours job that I don't really enjoy, so I've been listening to a LOT of podcasts to try and make the day bearable. and I've gotten outsized-ly angry at some shows -- especially ones whose content I basically like! because arrgh why ruin the content with that weird buzzword/phrasing/audio production/song transition! aren't they aware of how it sounds to the listener AT ALLLLLL?! -- and have had to throw off the headphones and go take a tea break.

I think it's fine, or kind of unavoidable, with passive audio intake like podcasts and TV. it's totally okay to stop, pause, skip ahead, shelve it for later, or shelve it for never. of course, when it's people are speaking to/around you, it's hairier -- we can't always roll our eyes, or tut, or mimic because we'll be a passive-aggressive jerk.
... or can we? maybe we can! we should acknowledge to ourselves that it's jerky. and then afterward we could apologize for having acted like a jerk. but whatever happens, it's not the end of the world. we can't control everything, and language is painfully, beautifully human. I think that's the greater point I'm trying to make.

my father is a huge perfectionist, control freak, English-language-prescriptivist, and also had a rather stressful career that would still be hanging around like a dark cloud after he came home. from time to time he could shake it off, but he would also rant about the very stupid things other people did that irritated him. actually, he wouldn't mention what they did, but instead would just hyper-focus on some trendy/overused phrase that drove him up the wall that were deployed during, for example, a work presentation. I remember being about ten years old at the dinner table as he went on a long, stern tirade about how my brothers and I should *never* use the words "paradigm" or "proactive" ("BECAUSE IT JUST MEANS 'ACTIVE'!!!") and that it's only what business-speak idiots say. (uh... what five-to-thirteen-year-old is gonna try and use "paradigm" on the schoolyard?)

there's no reason for me to assume you're anxious about control, or that you are super stressed out by your job. but, do either of those ring at all? or did you have this parent?

those words were in addition to a zillion other examples over the years of phrases that jarred him. I could forgive him in the moment and call it a Dad Quirk, but cumulatively it got to me after a while. while watching TV, he would correct characters talking aloud. what seemed like a trigger word for him actually triggered that instant, shouty language-superego response. he'd get hung up and not even catch the rest of what was happening. again, with TV, this affected no one but himself. however, he'd do the exact same thing to me, my siblings, and especially my mom -- as we would be talking. what was truly annoying as I got older was to witness outright how, for my mother, English was not her native language. he would shout over whatever she was trying to express to us, mid-sentence, as though this would correct her speech. he's been doing this for three decades, and you know what? she's still making slips, or flubbing a new/buzzy expression she heard on TV, or putting a sentence together awkwardly. try as he might, he can't control her language, even though he'd be a perfect grammar teacher as he's a total black-and-white thinker about it -- right-versus-wrong.

the catch: she isn't a willing student anymore. she just wants to communicate. (and she can. gracefully, uniquely, stiltedly, confusingly, and all.)

to wit*: my father has studied many languages, but never speaks in any of them unless it's some set thing he can quote perfectly. meanwhile, my mother does all sorts of foreign-language communicating, bureaucratic form-filling, instructions manual reading, joke-telling, news-anchor-aping every dang day.

incidentally, I've found that as you start to study a foreign language and try to speak with a real person, you realize how easy it can be to panic in conversation. then, if you can recall buzzwords or set phrases in that language, you roll them out REAL quick, just to say *something* at all. then you have 10,000x more empathy for people flubbing in English(/native language). it's a source of comfort again, if only by comparison with the language you're learning.

and as your study continues, you gain appreciation for certain phrases, accents, dialects, idioms, differences, novelties. even if you don't like some new slang, you may wonder how it was created. rather than hang an entire sentence on one off word, if you keep yourself open to the real intent behind the language (foreign or native), the feelings in the eyes, the motivation for that weird word-coinage, it's more compelling -- or at least more interesting in the moment. then the moment passes. in another moment, you might even use the slang or linguistic tic that you thought you didn't like.

sorry I can't speak to misophonia itself. obviously, this brought up a lot of baggage. (to therapy we go!)

incidentally 2, during my first session of talk therapy I heard a really helpful thing. after she listened to how I felt guilty over getting angry about x, y, and z, the therapist pointed out how "secondary" emotions (i.e., the guilt that came in response to the initial anger) are often the more confusing and damaging than the initial/primary feelings. we can feel those primary emotions, and they sooner or later pass, but untangling the secondary reactions TO those first feelings often requires more work, whether it be re-wiring (CBT-style), analysis/reflection, or perhaps just a little more effort to ease up and let those feelings speak their origins (perhaps in another therapy session).

* um I wrote this, but I don't even really know how/when to use "to wit." I apologize ;-)
posted by cluebucket at 9:24 PM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

People laughing and making small talk around me annoy me greatly, too. I'm not sure why - perhaps it's other people intruding on your conciousness?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:41 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

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