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).
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.