What Is Mirror Touch Synesthesia?

Updated February 09, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell

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Only about two percent of people in the entire world have Mirror Touch Synesthesia so you can say it is a pretty rare condition. Synesthesia is commonly known as a feeling that is produced by one sense when a different sense is stimulated. In other words, someone who can see music or hear colors. Mirror synesthesia is the ability to see and feel what other people are seeing or feeling. It is like empathy only 100 times stronger and can be so severe as to disrupt your life if you have the condition.

Can you imagine how it would be to see someone who is in pain and be able to feel their pain as if it is you who was hurt? Imagine if you were a nurse, doctor, or someone else who works with people who get hurt or sick. What if you were a psychiatrist or psychologist? These careers are probably not the best choices for someone who has mirror synesthesia. Or, maybe they are the perfect job. Wouldn't it be so much easier to diagnose someone if you could feel what they feel? If you could handle those feelings on a daily basis and were able to control it, you would make a fantastic medical professional for so many people. However, this is too much for most people.

Empathy Makes Us Human

You have probably heard of empathy. This is the ability to understand other people's feelings and thoughts. Most people are empathetic. Some more than others. You can put yourself in their position and see how they feel in whatever situation they are experiencing. This is what makes living beings so amazing. A computer can be programmed to understand feelings, but it cannot understand how you feel. This is not just reserved for humans either. Studies have shown that some animals such as primates, canines, and felines can understand how we feel.

Narcissists lack emapthy

However, some people have trouble understanding how others feel. Does this mean they are not human? Of course not; however, if you truly are unable to understand other people's feelings at all, this could mean you are a narcissist. But, no need to jump to conclusions. It may just be that you are not quite in touch with those inner feelings. A true narcissist also has no remorse, thinks they are more entitled than everyone else, and manipulate or deceive others to get what they want. If you are having trouble understanding other people's feelings, it could be due to a condition called empathy deficit disorder (EDD). You may have trouble tuning into other people. Especially people who think and feel different than you.

Losing Your Empathy

You can lose your ability to empathize with others. For example, if you are someone who normally empathizes with others but then you are going through too many of your struggles, you may become too absorbed in your issues to concern yourself with other people's problems. Some of us who are going through rough times tend to understand better how it feels when others have similar issues while others are jaded by our troubles and do not want to acknowledge those feelings again. However, most people are hard-wired to have empathy, so it will likely return eventually.

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Sympathy Versus Empathy

Sympathy and empathy are two different things. Sympathy means you can understand other people's situations from your point of view, but empathy means you can see things in the other person's point of view. A narcissist can even have sympathy, even if it is just used as a tool to pretend to know how others feel. Empathy is something you are born with and cannot be taught, but sympathy can be taught. You can be taught how to react when someone else is hurt or upset, but you cannot be taught how to feel something that someone else feels.

The ability to feel things that other people feel may seem like it would be a blessing, but in all honesty, this is a very stressful condition that can even become debilitating for some people. It is both physically and emotionally exhausting as well as terrifying and extremely maddening. Just being in a room with other people and being able to feel what they are feeling has to be such a jumble of mixed emotions as well as physical stimuli.

Mirroring Their Feelings

For example, while watching your friend do some gardening, she is stung by a bee in hand, and you suddenly feel a burning and stinging sensation in your hand in the same spot. Or maybe your sister is sad about losing one of her best friends, and she is crying, and you cannot help but cry too. Although it is named mirror-touch synesthesia, you may feel the sensation on the same side or the opposite side as the person you are watching. The term mirror, in this case, just means that you are mirroring their sensations, or feeling what they feel.

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 all connected to neurons in your central nervous system.

However, the severity of the synesthesia will vary for everyone, with some people barely able to notice the sensation and others who are physically and emotionally debilitated 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 in the study were crossed or misfiring, causing the individuals to feel and see things that others do not. 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
  • Higher levels of empathy than others

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In most studies, individuals were instructed to watch another individual 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 brain and central nervous system 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 such as sadness, anxiety, and anger. When observing others who were feeling these emotions, the synesthetic was feeling these emotions without even trying. However, empathy is much more common than synesthesia, and most of us feel happier when observing others who are happy or having fun. Of course, those with mirror-touch synesthesia feel empathy at a much stronger level than most of us.

Projective Synesthesia Disorder

Mirror-touch synesthesia is projective synesthesia. Projective synesthesia disorder (PSD) is a condition in which the individual can see certain shapes, forms, or colors when hearing the music. One form of this is chromesthesia, which only affects one out of every three thousand people. If you have this condition, you can see colors when you hear a certain type of music. So, you can feel the colors. 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 are more susceptible to mirror-touch synesthesia as well. Are you having trouble concentrating or have been sleeping more than usual? Maybe you are so tired that you do not want to get out of bed on most days. Or you have trouble falling asleep, and when you finally do, you cannot stay asleep for longer than an hour or two. These are just a few other the signs you may be suffering from some type of mental health condition. Some others include:

  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Eating more or less than normal
  • Lack of interest in favorite activities
  • Extreme and chronic fatigue
  • Constantly worrying about one certain thing or everything in general
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Help Is Waiting For You

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If you or someone you care about has any of these symptoms or you believe you may be suffering from synesthesia or another mental health condition, help is out there. In fact, with BetterHelp.com, you do not even need an appointment. Just click on this linkand answer a few questions. A licensed professional with experience in your specific issue will contact you right away, and you will not even have to leave the house.

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