I See Pain & I Feel It – Mirror-touch Synesthesia

I’ve always had this strange and inconvenient ability to feel pain when I see it. The emotions of other people also tend to rub off one me. For me this is a strange situation, since I struggle with empathy and identifying emotions (even my own).

What is Mirror-Touch Synesthesia?

The condition, known as mirror-touch synesthesia, is related to the activity of mirror neurons, cells recently discovered to fire not only when some animals perform some behavior, such as climbing a tree, but also when they watch another animal do the behavior. For “synesthetes,” it’s as if their mirror neurons are on overdrive.

I find this extremely ironic, since my ability to empathize with other people seems to be extremely week. People on the Autism Spectrum tend to have spiky profiles. Perhaps this explains the apparent crossed wire.

Maybe my lack of empathy comes from problems that I have with theory of mind (the ability to attribute mental states). I feel pain, and cannot ignore it, however when my mental state of mind changes, there seems to be a delay between the change and when my mind registers a change.

Synesthesia and Empathy
Think about the last time you watched someone take a bad fall or listened to a friend grind his or her teeth. For a split second, you cringe at the thought of physically feeling what they must feel. In a sense, we all empathize to some degree with the physical feelings of others. For an individual with mirror-touch synesthesia, however, the area of the brain that creates this empathy is hyperactive. These individuals don’t just cringe at the thought of comparable pain, but they might actually feel it themselves.
– See more HERE 

I hid this “ability” for many years but it has been with me since I was a child. When I was young, the kids and adults did not seem to have this ability. When I tried to explain what I was going through people dismissed me. Nobody seemed to believe what I was trying to say, so I stopped talking about (and shamefully hid) this super power.

A significant minority of otherwise healthy people experience not just the emotional component of pain, but also the sensory one, when they observe others in pain. When asked about the pain they experience when observing somebody else in pain, all thirty one responders spoke about it as if it was normal, and assumed that their experiences were representative of the population as a whole. Interestingly, no significant relationship was found between the reported levels of pain intensity and empathy, or feelings of disgust or unpleasantness.

More on Science Blog HERE.

Hopefully that hopes to explain how when I see pain, I also feel it.


13 thoughts on “I See Pain & I Feel It – Mirror-touch Synesthesia”

  1. This is really interesting, I had to read it to Mr, Mango. For years he’s been laughing off his “sympathy pains” about anything from pregnancy to my lupus symptoms. I have witnessed him legitimately start being pained by aches in simillar areas to where I experience that he helps with (migraine acupressure, doing dishes because my hands act up). I never knew there was as much actual research being done on it. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Have you seen “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?” The explorers are sent to recover an “Empathy Gun”, which was the product of a design project commissioned by fed-up housewives. The three men fire it at each other, and all of a sudden understand each others’ experience of the situation. When they turn it on the female, nothing happens. She shrugs and observes “I’m already a woman.”

    As for the rejection by your female intimates: they may have renounced it themselves as a form of self-protection, and been encouraging you to do the same. In a predatory world, being empathic is no one’s idea of a good time. There’s that great scene in The Green Mile in which the wrongfully convicted healer testifies that “It’s like pieces of broken glass in my head.”

    In my most pointed encounter with a severely autistic child, I was positioned on the couch across the room from him. He scanned from corner to corner, rapidly skipping across my location to avoid my eyes. After ten minutes of this, his mother came in and explained “He’s just so sensitive.”

    My understanding is that mirror neurons have been rebutted, so there is no viable physiological explanation for this phenomenon. I tend to categorize it as “spiritual,” by which I mean a phenomenon that emerges from the negotiation of the boundaries between the “I” and the “we.” My prejudice is that during their procreative years, women are biochemically predisposed to be a “we”, which is the only thing that I can understand as enabling them to endure the nine-month-long parasitic invasion known as “pregnancy.” I have read (in Reviving Ophelia?) that women seem to reclaim their individuality at menopause.

    But clearly there are people who value and honor this gift that you possess. When deployed in a supportive community, it can propel miraculous healing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I found out when I was in my 30’s about synesthesia, it was an AHA! moment. What you wrote about learning to hide your “super power” as a child, rang threw me like a bell! I learned early that most people don’t taste in colour!
    As for pain mirroring I never once thought it had anything to do with synesthesia! I always thought it was an empathy thing, but reading your blog gives me a better insight into the WHY’s about the way I am! Thank you once again!

    Liked by 1 person

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