What Is Mirror Touch Synesthesia?

Updated February 20, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do You Experience Mirror Touch Synesthesia?

Synesthesia is commonly known as a feeling that is produced by one sense when a different sense is stimulated. The experience is sometimes described as the ability to see music or hear colors. Only about two percent of people in the entire world experience mirror touch synesthesia, which makes it a pretty rare condition. Mirror or mirror-touch synesthesia specifically refers to the ability to see and feel what other people are seeing or feeling. It is like empathy, only 100 times stronger. It can be so severe that it disrupts your life if you have the condition.

Empathy Makes Us Human

You have probably heard of empathy. This is the ability to understand other people's feelings and thoughts. Most people can be empathetic, though oftentimes to different degrees. Empathetic people can put themselves in another’s position and, in a sense, feel what they feel in a specific situation. This is often a necessary social skill for humans and other similar animals who may need to work together to have the best chances of survival.

Sympathy Versus Empathy

Sympathy and empathy are two different things. Sympathy means you can understand other people's situations from your point of view. Empathy means you can see and feel things another person is going through as if you were experiencing them yourself. Empathy is something that, in general, people are born with. But anyone can nurture and develop their empathetic capabilities.

The ability to feel things that other people feel may seem like it would be a blessing. But it can be a very stressful condition that can seriously affect your life. Many of us sympathize and empathize with others on a regular basis, but we are also typically able to walk away from these emotions to pursue other things in life. Those who experience mirror touch synesthesia may feel so empathetic that they can feel like they are quite literally feeling the same pain as others and may be prone to overstimulation or overwhelm.

What Causes Mirror Touch Synesthesia?

This condition is typically a developmental disorder, but it has also been known to affect individuals who have lost one of their extremities. The somatosensory mirror system (or sensory receptors) are hyperactive in some people, causing them to be able to feel what others feel. These sensory receptors are all over your body and are connected to neurons in your central nervous system.

However, the severity of the synesthesia will typically vary for everyone. Some people are barely able to notice the sensation, while others are physically and emotionally overpowered by the condition. In one study, a functional MRI was able to show that those with mirror-touch synesthesia have an increase in activity in certain areas of the brain when seeing others experience certain stimuli.

Some experts also believe that the condition may be genetic. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that certain types of synesthesia were genetic and were able to be determined in neuroimaging studies. According to these experts, the neurons in the brain of these subjects were crossed or misfiring, causing the individuals to feel and see things that others do not. Likewise, color sequence synesthesia is almost always found in individuals who had relatives with the condition.

Diagnosing Mirror-Touch Synesthesia

To diagnose mirror-touch synesthesia, there are two criteria that you must meet. They include:

  • A synesthetic response or the unconscious sensation of feeling what others you observe are feeling.

  • Experiencing higher levels of empathy than others. 

Do You Experience Mirror Touch Synesthesia?

In most studies, individuals were instructed to watch another being touched and state whether they have a synesthetic response and how it feels. It was found that the object being used to touch the other subject was important in this study. If the item used for touch was a solid or hard object, like a hand or knife, the sensation was much stronger than if the object used was soft, such as a feather.

Also, medical experts were able to pinpoint the differences in the brains and central nervous systems of those with mirror-touch synesthesia. To determine the actual brain stimulation activity, researchers typically use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) or a transcranial direct current stimulation (TDC).

However, those who have mirror-touch synesthesia can also feel emotions from others such as sadness, anxiety, and anger. When observing others who were feeling these emotions, the synesthetic was feeling these emotions without even trying. 

Projective Synesthesia Disorder

Mirror touch synesthesia falls under the umbrella of projective synesthesia. Projective synesthesia disorder (PSD) is a condition in which the individual can see certain shapes, forms, or colors when experiencing other things. 

One form of this is chromesthesia, which only affects one out of every three thousand people. If you have this condition, you may see colors when you hear a certain type of music. Another type of PSD is grapheme-color synesthesia, which is the ability to see a number or letter in a certain color. For example, you may refer to the letter C as red or the number two as yellow.

Mental Health

People with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses may be more susceptible to mirror-touch synesthesia as well. If you notice symptoms like changes in energy levels, mood, appetite, personality, or other key parts of life, it may be worth seeking out professional help to figure out what’s going on beneath the surface.

Help Is Waiting For You

It is common for those experiencing mirror-touch synesthesia to have questions. If you do, or if you believe this condition is having a negative effect on your life, you might want to consider seeking help via online therapy. Because you don’t have to leave your home to attend sessions, online therapy can help save you the time and money you might otherwise dedicate to commuting, childcare, and other expenses.

Research suggests that online therapy can be a useful option for treating mental health concerns as well as making care accessible. In fact, one recent review of several studies on online cognitive behavioral therapy found it to be a more cost-effective mode of treatment for most patients. Working with the right professional can help you understand mirror touch synesthesia, mental health disorders, and other factors that may contribute to your experiences.

Read what others have to say about their experience with BetterHelp below.

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Mirror touch synesthesia is a condition in which a person may feel or experience the emotions of others in a quite literal sense. Caused by differences in the brain that may lead to overactivity in response to certain stimuli, this phenomenon can make it difficult to navigate relationships without causing stress and pain. However, working with a licensed mental health professional may help you find tools to support yourself and make things easier.

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