Can you feel someone hurting telepathically
These people feel your pain in their body
"When I saw my puppy break her leg, I felt a sharp pain in my arms and legs," says C.C. Hard. Her reaction to an animal hurt may seem a bit extreme to you, but for the 52-year-old massage therapist from San Francisco, such sensations are commonplace.
She belongs to a small group of people who are affected by so-called mirror-touch synesthesia (MTS), the sensory reproduction of observed touches. For some people, the sight of violence - or even sex - can make them feel as if they are experiencing what they have observed firsthand.
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You should have heard of the more classic forms of synesthesia, such as word-color synesthesia or music-color synesthesia. But MTS or touch synesthesia plays in a completely different league. People with this extremely rare neurological condition can feel the same sensations as the people watching them - whether on a screen or in everyday life.
When Hart series like game of Thrones or watches war films, she can really feel the pain of the other: "The torture, the mutilation and killing make me hyperventilate. It hurts when I see people being slashed and beaten down. I can't really do comedies either watch, because there is a tendency to 'injury jokes' - people who act stupid and lie on their noses with their bikes or something. That's not funny to me at all. It hurts me. "
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Although there are no official figures on how many people actually have MTS, Dr. Jared Median from the Department of Psychology and Brain Research at the University of Delaware said that about one to two percent of the population is affected. The number could be even higher as a formal diagnosis of MTS is rarely made.
Mirror neurons in the brain - which become active when people observe other people's behavior - are likely the cause of this condition. Some scientists assume that people with MTS have an above-average number of these mirror neurons.
C.C. Hart is a massage therapist with touch synesthesia | Photo courtesy of those shown
It is hardly surprising that many people associate this state with extreme empathy. For example, when Hart sees a friend rocking back and forth, sobbing, she feels her own body start moving and mimicking the movements. She remembers "electric lightning bolts" going through her legs, back, and arms when a friend burned her hand on the stove.
For 43-year-old Nicola, synesthesia can take many different forms: "When I see a person hurt, I feel a sharp pain in the same place. And when someone has a cold, it feels like I've been in small biting insects in my nose and mouth. But I can also feel when people are stroking or holding something. If you hold a cold banana in your hand, I can feel it even when my hand is empty. That's why I don't watch porn. "
The film lecturer from South Wales, who did not want to give her last name for privacy reasons, says that because of this special quality she has to take some precautions in her everyday life. "So that I'm not overwhelmed, I have to research places before I go and films before I see them. There is too much going on in crowds and at parties where people are eating and drinking can be too fast for me I tend to avoid such situations. "
It's similar hard, but she likes to attend ballet. "It feels like I'm doing sports at the same time." Touch synesthesia can also respond to such performances. "I tense up and contract my muscles like I'm dancing on this stage myself," she explains. "If I'm not careful, I'll accidentally kick the seat in front of me. That's why I always try to sit in the front row. I don't like to disturb other people with my unintentional movements."
Since this is an extreme psychological and physical condition, it is not uncommon for touch synesthetes to clash with people who generally question or challenge the existence of their condition. Nicola complains: "It can be very tiring to explain that to people." There are always people who think it is funny to surprise you with something. "They'll do something stupid to make you feel it."
Since the majority of MTS sufferers I have spoken to are female, I contacted neurologist Dr. Joel Salinas asked why more women seem to be affected by this form of synesthesia. Doctor Salinas has MTS himself. The author of Mirror Touch says, "MTS seems to be fairly evenly divided between men and women." However, he advocates the hypothesis that women share their touch synesthesia more often and more voluntarily with other people and talk about their experiences than men - and therefore more cases are discussed by women in private.
"It taught me not just to think about what it was like to be in someone else's footsteps, but to literally feel in it."
Salinas also emphasizes that MTS is not a disease. "It would be more accurately described as a neurological phenomenon or a perceptual property." But why do some people develop this special ability? Salinas attributed this to genetic factors: "If you have synesthesia, there is a higher chance that there is at least one other family member with synesthesia. MTS is also much more common among people with autism spectrum disorder than the general population . " Salinas also points to people's willingness to engage with these experiences, as well as the brain's ability to classify these experiences as meaningful.
When you consider that touch is such a central part of our lives, it's no wonder that those with touch synesthesia retreat to home alone. Hart also confirms that everyday interactions can quickly overwhelm them: "It can be exhausting to constantly interact with other people when I feel their bodies just like mine."
Nicola sees it the same way: "You can sometimes come to really dark places. When a friend is in pain or is depressed, you can feel like a curse. You feel his pain - physically and emotionally."
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But despite the dark abysses that touch synesthesia opens up, that doesn't mean that the perceptions just have to be negative. Nicola says that MTS allowed her to understand other people better and to see the world from a different perspective: "With all the terrible pain, there are also beautiful feelings such as stroking hair, a kiss on the face and holding hands."
Hart even attributes her professional success as a massage therapist to her special ability: "It feels like I'm the one being massaged. I feel warm and a little ticklish, almost as if my skin is glowing. My pleasant experiences with MTS contributed to the longevity of my career and my ability to work full time in such a physically demanding field. "
Although neurologist Salinas admits that touch synesthesia makes him more prone to reflexively feeling other people's darkest feelings like his own, he wouldn't want to trade with anyone in the world. "It taught me not just to think about what it was like to be in someone else's footsteps, but to literally put myself in my shoes," he says. "And I have transformed this feeling into mercy, goodness and hope."
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